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Good evening, or morning, or noon, or dusk, or locked-in-a-metal-box-with-no-sunlight; it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that spot on your dial for the relentless and impenetrable charming and witty summarization and commentary on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, which is, in many ways, a saga about the Vorkosigans.  One of the ways in which it’s not a saga about the Vorkosigans is the way in which the book I’m in the middle of, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, is about a Vorpatril instead of a Vorkosigan, but he’s a Vorpatril with close ties to the Vorkosigans, so I suppose that’s all right.  This week I trudge through Chapter Sixteen, which has one of those tedious dinner parties in it.

Chapter Sixteen

In the lift tube up to Mamere’s apartment, Tej tells Ivan that she hasn’t managed to tell them about Simon yet; Ivan wonders what they were talking about all that time, but it’s too late by now.  The doors open for them, and Tej steps forward to introduce her family to Alys and Simon Illyan, though she just refers to him as her “stepfather-in-law, Imperial Service, retired”.  The Baron, at least, seems startled by his name, but shakes his hand heartily and refers to his memory chip; Illyan tells that how it was removed upon his retirement.  On their way inside, Illyan confides to Ivan that he was touched at being referred to as a “stepfather”; it’s not that he really wants to be married to Lady Alys, but he’s getting tired of being introduced as an “um”.

Tej’s ancestors are reunited with her siblings, and Byerly as well, who Ivan notes always seems somewhat diffident around Illyan, though he twits Ivan about the sheer quantity of his new in-laws.  Illyan seems to be taking charge of Baron Shiv Arqua, Lady Alys of the Baronne Udine and her mother, both of them covertly watching the “youngsters”.  Ivan tries to figure out the dynamic among the Jewels and the Baron’s full children, which doesn’t seem to fit into the “acknowledged bastards” status they’d have on Barrayar.

He overhears part of the conversation between Illyan and Shiv, the Baron talking about how Prestene’s takeover must have been an inside job, that a trusted subordinate must have betrayed them.  Illyan commiserates, saying that’s how his memory chip was sabotaged, explaining that his retirement was forced by its removal, not the other way around.

The dining room is opened, and they are all seated, Ivan unfortunately separated from his wife, between Star and the Baroness; Ivan quickly discerns that Ma Kosti has been appropriated as cook for the evening.  Lady Alys begins by asking Lady Moira ghem Estif about her stay on Earth, Ivan being urged to volunteer comments on his own visit there, though of course leaving out the inappropriately exciting parts.  Lady Moira had apparently mostly spent her time there doing genetics work, rather than just being a retiree.

Star, who’s a bit tipsy, asks if her mother’s conception was planned by her Constellation, but Lady Moira says that ghem-haut breeding is not nearly as tightly controlled, in hopes of serendipity.  She was never romantically attached to her husband, but she was able to do a small part in helping replace the son that he lost–a story unfamiliar to most of those present.  Apparently the General’s son had a Barrayaran lover, and they were together in Vorkosigan Vashnoi when it was destroyed, though they didn’t find that out until after they’d already retreated to Komarr.  They’d stayed on Komarr because of the General’s acquisition of a number of voting shares, but Lady Moira herself had never become a citizen, and in fact still doesn’t have any citizenship of her own.

The conversation then breaks up into a female side (mostly concerned with various types of breeding technology) and a male side (more military-focused), with Ivan somewhat separated from the latter, as much as he wishes to hear the one-upmanship contest between Illyan and the Baron.  Dessert is Ma Kosti’s trademark maple bug-butter ambrosia, which Ivan declines to mention to anyone present.  Afterwards, Illyan invites Shiv into his study, a rare honour, accompanied by a rare Vorkosigan brandy; he shoos Ivan out, despite Ivan’s desire to work something out with his father-in-law.  Byerly asks after the two men shortly thereafter, and Ivan indicates the study; he asks By if he thinks that Shiv is trying to pull some hustle on Illyan.

By shrugged.  “Well, of course.  Arqua has to be hustling every possibility he sees, right about now.  Trying to get support for his House in exile, in the interest of making it not in exile.  It was less clear”–By hestitated–“why Simon seemed to be hustling him back.  Even more subtly, note.  Unless it was just habit, I suppose.”

“That’s a disturbing thought.  The two of them, hustling each other.”

“Yeah.  It was…rather like watching two women trying to make each other pregnant.”

Ivan asks By if Rish has outed him yet, and By admits he doesn’t know.  He hadn’t planned, when he revealed his real job to Rish, that the two of them should come to Barrayar.  He asks Ivan to find out, and Ivan complains that he hasn’t even had a chance to talk to his wife.  They are interrupted by Pidge joining them, complimenting Ivan on his mother’s hospitality, and also turning the topic to Simon Illyan, noting his non-Vor name and asking why he’s only a captain.  Ivan explains about how Illyan’s predecessor never took a rank about captain either, though the current head, Guy Allegre, was already a general before he was appointed.

Ivan notes that Illyan did rate a vice-admiral’s pay, though; Pidge asks how much that is, exactly, and Ivan declines to tell her.  She then asks about Illyan’s personal wealth, and is surprised when they don’t know; By notes that Illyan lived a fairly frugal lifestyle and didn’t seem to have any vices to fritter away his money on.  Ivan recalls to himself a revelation shared with Illyan when they were drunk a couple of years earlier.

Through a progression of subject that were soon a blur in Ivan’s mind, they had somehow got on to just what Illyan did and did not recall or miss from his memory chip, at which point Ivan had learned just where the largest and most arcane pornography collection on Barrayar had been secreted…

It’s not as if I acquired most of it on purpose, Illyan had protested.  But the damned chip didn’t allow me to delete anything, whether I picked it up inadvertently or in a moment of bad mood or bad judgement or bad company, and then I was stuck with it forever.  Or in the line of work, oh, God, those were the worst.  Do you have any idea how many truly appalling surveillance vids I had to review in forty years…?

There were some things, Ivan reflected, that no man should know about another, not even or perhaps especially his um-stepfather.

Pidge insists that Illyan’s career must have lent itself to some sort of “personal acquisition”, especially for a man as clever as him.  Ivan realizes that she has a point, but he still believes that Illyan didn’t have time for any vices; his passion was ImpSec, and his drug was adrenaline.  He has to admit, though, that he doesn’t know whether or not it bothers Illyan that Mamere is so much richer than him, whether he’s satisfied with his retirement pay.

Ivan doesn’t get a chance to talk with Tej before the party breaks up–Simon and Shiv emerging from the office at last, seeming to have come to some understanding, and Alys, Moira, and Udine having ascended to using each other’s first names.  Illyan expresses to Tej a certain admiration for her father and his turn for salesmanship.

Tej has been trying to avoid Ivan all evening, with her thoughts whirling around buried Cetagandan treasure, though she’s relieved that her father seems to have come off well enough in his initial meeting with Simon Illyan, despite her failing to brief him about Illyan earlier.  As they prepare for bed, she keeps chat to a minimum, and makes it clear she’s too exhausted for any bedplay.  Ivan gets up to ask Rish if she’s spilled the beans about Byerly yet; she says she hasn’t, except of course to her family.

Ivan asks Tej if she thinks her father is trying to suborn Illyan; she quarrels with his choice of words, insisting that “suborn” implies something treasonous or evil, and her father would never do that.  Ivan says that’s good, because anyway Illyan’s loyalty has been tested enough times that he wouldn’t fall for something like that anyway.  Ivan asks her what’s going on, and she tells him she can’t tell him until she knows whether he’s in it with the rest of them or not; privately she thinks that he’s likely to want to claim the whole treasure for Barrayar anyway.  Ivan says that married couples shouldn’t keep secrets; Tej says he keeps secrets from her all the time, as part of his job, and Ivan says that’s different.  Tej says that he does talk in his sleep sometimes, though.

“I talk in my sleep?  About classified…”

“It’s kind of hard to tell.”  Tej composed her mouth into Ivan Xav’s accent and cadences, and recited, “‘Don’t eat that avocado, Admiral, it’s gone blue.  The blue ones have shifty eyes.'”

Returning to the previous subject, Ivan says there’s no need to keep it from him if it’s benign; Tej, in her exhaustion, let’s slip that there’s a thing that they’re looking for, and Ivan realizes it must be something to help reclaim their House.  He doesn’t have a problem with that, but it concerns him that it’s something they’re looking for on Barrayar; Tej refuses to “play fast-penta” with him any more, though Ivan mentions that it’s actually a kind of party game, “Fast-penta or dare”.

“Barrayarans are strange.”

“Yes,” Ivan Xav agreed with a pensive sigh, then seemed to belatedly decide this might be considered a slur on his homeworld and revised it hastily, “No! Not as strange as Jacksonians, anyway.  Or Cetagandans.”

Tej says that it’s not just the House, it’s also Erik and Topaz, prisoners of Prestene, Erik maybe even unrevivably dead.  Ivan wonders that they want to try to retrieve them, then, if Topaz is just a Jewel, not really one of Shiv’s children at all, but Tej said that he never seemed to make that distinction with them, treating them all as his own.  Tej asks about Ivan’s own relationship with Illyan, and Ivan says that it happened so late in his life that he hardly knows how to think of his as any kind of father figure.  He stutters through a list of classified incidents that he can’t tell her about, before she gets annoyed and shuts him up.

Comments

What is it about the dinner party chapters that they never end up being as much fun as I think they should?  This isn’t as bad as the disastrous one in A Civil Campaign, though at least that one served as a solid transition point to advance the plot.  I guess this one does start the thing that goes on between Shiv Arqua and Simon Illyan, the nebulous thing that I’m not sure is ever precisely cleared up.  (Probably it is, I just can’t recall right now if it comes out at the end or not.)  And, as you can tell, it just doesn’t seem to be very quotable.

I also don’t recall if Lady Moira’s tale of her stepson’s death in Vorkosigan Vashnoi is relevant to anything, or just illustrative in some way.  It has enough space dedicated to it that it seems like it should be relevant.  Do we find out exactly who the stepson’s lover was, for instance?  Does it had something to do with the finding of the Cetagandan cache?  Something else I don’t remember.

I’m never quite sure how homophobic Barrayaran society is supposed to be.  We don’t get that many gay characters, and the societal expectations do tend to be highly heteronormative.  Aral did have his affair with Ges Vorrutyer, which Vordarian tries to use to disrupt his marriage, so one gets the impression that it is at least frowned upon.  (Not by Cordelia, of course.)  And then there’s Byerly Vorrutyer, too.  Maybe it’s just that queer-bashing is mostly pre-empted in lout society by mutie-bashing.  (Though maybe they consider it just another form of mutation…)

And, finally, at the end of the chapter we get the start of the real rift between Ivan and Tej.  Which I suppose is inevitable in your standard romance plotline–they have to have the misunderstanding so they can reconcile later.  And it does make sense in the context of the treasure-heist plot that is going to be taking over the second half of the book.  But it is, none the less, somewhat frustrating, and another part of why I don’t like this book as much.


I checked ahead, and there are twenty-five chapters in the book, plus an epilogue, so probably no more than, say, ten weeks left in the book.  More than halfway, which is almost a little surprising.  But that means I’m on the downward slope, I suppose.  Another chapter next week, probably…

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

Chapter Fifteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your wits, at least.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A long silence fell in the back of the groundcar.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Prepare yourself for the ultimate in science fiction reread blogs–the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  Thrill to the summarized action and choice quoted dialogue!  Exult in the thoughtful and insightful comments!  (Yuk.  Who writes this stuff?)  This week we surge another chapter into Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, getting all the way through Chapter Eleven, in which things are burned and people stay out far too late.

Chapter Eleven

They stay in for the entire day after the visit with Gregor, limiting explorations to the comconsole and ordering out for food.  Only the next day does Ivan discover that the women’s desire to stay in has more to do with a distaste for traveling in his two-seater groundcar, so he proposes renting a larger model.  They begin planning on some excursions around the city, but are interrupted by a door chime.

Ivan reassures the women that whoever made it up here will have been cleared, but he’s less than pleased to see that the visitor is Byerly Vorrutyer.  Reluctantly, and not without déjà vu, he lets Byerly in, though he says it’s not the best place to try to avoid Lady Alys.  By said that it’s already too late for that; he was arrested as soon as he got off the shuttle, mostly as a cover to take him to his debriefing.  He admits that he had spent the shuttle trip in the company of two of his co-agents, call girls from Vormercier’s party yacht, nothing much to do (besides writing reports) for eight days…

“What’s a call girl?” asked Tej, her brows crimping in puzzlement.

“Uh…” Ivan sought a translation.  “Like a Betan licensed practical sexuality therapist, only without the licensed and the therapy parts.”

Tej says it sounds like a risky profession, and By says that since they were also informers, he was anxious to get them out of danger in time.  He’s been officially cleared after his supposed interrogation, but left looking foolish, which is good for his cover.  Privately, he was commended and promoted for his efforts…and then demoted again for having gotten Ivan involved, which was the most annoying way they could have done that.
Tej asks how By had become a spy; By says some of them come in from the regular Imperial Service, and some of them recruited as civilian experts.  He himself was neither–he’d turned his hand to dissolution when he first arrived in the capital, and one of his fellow rogues turned out to be undercover ImpSec, who found By a useful helper until he decided to secretly recruit him.

Ivan asks what his mother said, and By says that she was mostly there to get his side of the events on Komarr.  He says they need to get their cover story for that event straight before they start telling too many uncleared people about it.  Mostly they can just take out the part about the Vormerciers, and cast it as a whirlwind romance turned into an impromptu wedding (with By as a spur-of-the-moment witness) because of the threat of deportation.  It’s probably too late to cover up Tej and Rish’s identities, so they can just pose as refugees of a Jacksonian palace coup, which will at explain them well enough to Barrayarans at large.  Tej points out the length of the list they’ve already told the real story, but Ivan assures her that none of them are likely to spill their secrets.

By then invites Rish out for a dinner date; he’s supposed to go out and say rude things about both ImpSec and Theo Vormercier, and he thinks that Rish’s appearance will help him be noticed while he does so.  It’ll also help them get used to her, and he can show her a side of Barrayar that stodgy old Ivan wouldn’t.  Rish accepts the invitation, and while Ivan is initially worried about letting her out of his site, the prospect of an evening alone with his wife is also appealing, so he only gives By a token warning.

Tej and Rish ask if By is bisexual, or what; Ivan says he has no idea.  Tej and Rish mention the various scents they’d smelled on him that first night on Komarr, which Rish think settle the issue firmly, implying he’d had a very busy two days at least.  Ivan doesn’t want to talk about it, and tells Rish that By will surely be keeping her under surveillance on their “date”; she doesn’t see a problem with this, and enlists Tej to help her pick out an outfit.  Ivan is left with the worrying notion that By might actually have been told to use Rish as bait…

They are back late that night, and Ivan waits up to let Rish back in, to Tej’s bemusement; the next night she is back even later, after another date to watch dancers, and the night after that she calls to let them know she won’t be back at all.  That is the night before Ivan’s birthday, which Tej has become intensely curious about.  They wake up and get dressed early, Ivan in his uniform, and drive to a nearby place; all Tej knows about what’s going to happen is something about burning a lock of hair for his dead father.

Municipal guardsmen are keeping people away from the spot, apparently, though Ivan is expected and welcome.  He points out the plaque as the spot where his father died, according to his mother–right before her eyes.  Christos arrives with Lady Alys and Simon Illyan shortly thereafter; Ivan’s mother wishes him a happy birthday, which Illyan notes is half of the traditional “three score and ten”.  Tej recalls what she’s heard about the so-called War of Vordarian’s Pretendership, which seems unreal when she thinks that she’s eaten pastries with Gregor, and that Padma Vorpatril’s death was barely a footnote.

Lady Alys welcomes Tej, who is self-conscious in the new knowledge that she actually _saw_ her husband being killed.  She tells Tej about the Barrayaran memorial service, noting it isn’t always performed this regularly.  Christos has set up a brazier, and Lady Alys fills it with scented wood and bark; she and Ivan add their previously-prepared hair clippings.

Lady Alys nodded to the plaque.  “This is where my husband was shot down by Vordarian’s security forces.  Nerve disruptors–poor Padma never had a chance.  I’ll never forget the smell…burning hair, among other things.  This ceremony always brings that back.”  She grimaced.  “Ivan was born not an hour later.”

“Where was his uterine replicator?” Tej asked.

Three faces turned toward hers; Lady Alys’s twisted in a wry humour.  She touched her stomach.  “Here, dear.”

Tej gasped in new and unexpected horror.  “You mean Ivan Xav was a body birth?”

Lady Alys assures her it was quite normal for Barrayar at the time, and Ivan was particularly large and two weeks late, which he protests was not his fault.  Her rescuers had taken her to an abandoned building to give birth, with Sergeant Bothari as midwife, and she had to bite on a dirty rag to keep from screaming out.  Ivan is older now than Padma was then, and Alys only as old as Tej herself; Tej suddenly realizes why Lady Alys is so welcoming to someone else who’s lost members of their family.  Illyan asks where he was at the time, and Lady Alys tells him he was smuggling out Admiral Kanzian.

Lady Alys asks Tej if she wishes to contribute some hair as well; surprised to be asked, she allows Lady Alys to clip off a lock of hair and add it.  Ivan lights the wood chips and they watch it burn; as the smell of burning hair grows pungent, Lady Alys tells the story, of how her husband panicked after she went into labour and insisted on going to find someone to help with the birth.  He was picked up by Vordarian’s men, fast-penta’ed and brought back to pick her up.  Alys says she always blamed him for his cowardice in fleeing from the birth, more than his bravery in attempting to fight back once she was taken.  Ivan changes the subject to how Koudelka got them out of the city in a grocery van.

Alys tells Tej she’d decided that, once Ivan was married, she’d leave the ceremony to him and his wife, because she feels like thirty-five years is enough mourning to do; and she’s tired of the memories and the emotions that go with them.  Ivan says he didn’t realize that; it was just something they did, every year, from when he was very young, and he’d looked forward to going to the nearby bakery after it was done.  The fire burns out, and Christos cleans up the remnants and stores the brazier away.

Alys invites them back to her flat for breakfast, which they accept.  On the drive Tej says that it must have been a morbid way to celebrate his birthday every year, and he says that they also tended to throw elaborate parties later in the day, until he became too old for them.  When he entered the Imperial Service Academy, it felt like the end of childhood, but he’s not sure how mature some of the new ensigns are these days.  What the ceremony did teach him was how unwise it was to get involved in politics, since it left him without a father.  His mother hadn’t brought up some of those details before, though, and he wonders why, if it was such a bad memory, she’d had the plaque intalled in the first place, and why she hadn’t stopped years ago.  Tej suggests that she may have just been waiting for the next generation to start.

Comments

I never did it myself, but I recall that, regularly, idiot junior high students would put some hair into a Bunsen burner because they’d heard that it stank.  And it did, every time.  (As did sulfur, ditto, so perhaps I got the two smells mixed up.)  So I’d imagine that they would want some scent added to the wood to try to offset it.  And I imagine it worked about as well as such things usually do.  I thought that nerve disrupters did their damage directly to nerve tissue, though, so I wouldn’t have thought they’d actually burn anyone’s hair, but maybe there’s some kind of induction heating effect or something.  Or maybe hair was burning for a different reason.

This chapter is another kind of story retelling, though, encapsulating a couple of chapters of Barrayar; though Tej of course is mostly ignorant of the events, it still gets repetitious to those of us who have read that book.  That is one of the problems of later books in the series, especially one that’s trying to keep the books independent–there’s so much to sum up.  I was noticing it already in Memory, but at least this book gets to skip a lot of the events which are only about Miles.  Still, Alys, Ivan and Illyan between them have a fair amount of history to recall.

The backstory of Byerly, on the other hand, is almost too little, but it does explain how he ended up working for ImpSec and how he manages to maintain his cover, by getting arrested and “interrogated”.  I’m not sure why bringing Ivan into things got him into such trouble, though; was it just Lady Alys throwing her weight around, or would any high Vor have been just as bad?  Ivan’s clearance level is pretty high, considering all the stuff Miles got him involved in (thinking again of Memory here), so I’d think it would be better than somebody who was less in the know.


Another week, another chapter.  Next week, another one?  No promises of two, unless I find myself with a lot of extra time or something.  Like if I suddenly gain the mutant ability to go without sleep, perhaps.  Until then, keep those books in the air!

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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.

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

Rish nodded understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the game?”

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

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

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

“For what, exactly?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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Forsooth, and hearken unto me!  Let it be known that this day, or mayhap truly this night, shall be brought forth upon the face of the Internet a posting in that ongoing chronicle known to all and sundry as the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  The wondrous author known as Lois McMaster Bujold has spun a dazzling tale of the saga of the Vorkosigans, and, oft, their fellows as well.  The tome to which I am currently dedicating my efforts is known by the name of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, and indeed concerns itself with the mighty adventures of the fearles Captain Ivan Vorpatril, cousin of famed hero Miles Vorkosigan, and this night we reach, at last, the sixth chapter of this stirring tale, wherein the alliance of the title is brought to a swift an unexpected start…

Chapter Six

Tej leans over the edge of the balcony watching for Ivan Xav’s return; several initially-promising green-uniformed prospects have failed to pan out.  Rish says she’s making her nervous, and Tej says Ivan should be bringing dinner; Rish says that her parents should, apparently, have told her suitors to bring food rather than House connections.  Tej said she was never particularly interested in business alliances, and the discussions they brought which tended to dominate family meals; she recalls her sister Mercedes Sofia Esperanza Juana Paloma but called “Pidge” after the translation of “Paloma”, and wonders if she got out okay.  She knows Erik, her oldest brother, didn’t get out, but her middle brother Amiri is likely still safe, having already gotten out.

She finally spots Ivan Xav, heavily-laden, who comes up in a few minutes with bags of groceries as well as take-out food from a Barrayaran Greekie restaurant nearby.  He explains to them about the assorted colonists from pre-Isolation Barrayar, the smallest group of which was the Greejs; they’ve interbred quite well, but some of them keep stubbornly to their languages.  He also got more instant groats, and when Tej asks about them he demonstrates mixing them with boiling water; Tej isn’t that impressed with them, but assumes they’re some sort of comfort food.  Ivan explains that they generally have things added to them, and adds that they’re sometimes dyed different colours and used for weddings.

Ivan seems more relaxed this evening, for some reason, ruefully lamenting how the shortness of the Komarr night makes it hard to sample much of the nightlife and still have time to recover for the next day.  He tells them that his cousin Miles–his only cousin on his father’s side, though he has a few more distant ones on his mother’s–had told him about something that they might be interested in, and he brings up a video of a performance of the Minchenko Ballet Company from Quaddiespace.  Rish recalls seeing Baron Fell’s quaddie musician once, but she didn’t know about their dancing…Rish and Tej watch the performance in fascination; Tej sits next to Ivan, who puts his arm around her, and she snuggles up to him, remembering watching shows with her father.

After the show ends, Rish asks how much longer Ivan will be on Komarr; Ivan says he’s been there for about seven days, and normally these trips are about ten days…  He’s pretty sure that By’s business will be done sooner, though, since things seemed to be moving on that end.  Rish says that they only have a few more days in his safe house, then, and Ivan admits it; he offers to perhaps book it another week for them, or see if By comes up with another arrangement.  He also suggests that they make a deal with ImpSec, to share information with them in exchange for help.  Tej is not eager, saying she knows that dealing with somebody more powerful generally ends up in getting screwed, and ImpSec has no reason to treat them well; they might decide to trade them to House Cordonah’s new owners, for instance.  Ivan protests that ImpSec tends to be pretty honourable, but Rish says their first job is to protest their own Empire’s interests, and Ivan can’t gainsay it.

Tej puts Ivan off with a promise to think about it; after he leaves the room, Rish asks if she’s really considering it or just wants to put him off guard until they can run, and Tej says she doesn’t know if they have another way out.  They could always rob his wallet and head for another dome, one with an offplanet shuttleport, but she’s not eager for another furtive escape; Rish says they’re out of good choices, now they just have to pick the least bad one.  She chides Tej for snuggling with Ivan, and Tej retorts that Rish seems a little too interested in Byerly.

The sun is not quite up, and Ivan is almost dressed for work, when the apartment buzzer sounds, and keeps sounding, as if someone were leaning on it.  Ivan checks the security vid and it’s an unusually edgy-looking Byerly, despite the oddly late/early hour; he lets By in, who immediately tells him that they have a problem as he heads down the hallway to wake up Rish and Tej.  The women rouse quickly, and Ivan finds Tej delightfully rumpled despite her cheerlessness.

By tells them that Theo Vormercier hit upon the clever idea of reporting Tej and Rish to Komarran Immigration as illegal aliens, hoping to get the authorities to find them so he can take care of them once they’re in custody.  Ivan’s name is already linked to them courtesy of Dome Security, with whom Immigration shares a database.  Ivan says he’ll just be at work, so they can talk to him there, but By says that these people have the authority to issue warrants, so it won’t stop them from searching his apartment while he’s gone, and there’s nowhere for the women to hide.  Tej says they’ll have to get away immediately, and By starts to tell them he has a plan, to Ivan’s relief; he doesn’t want to lose touch with Tej just yet.

Just then, the door buzzer goes off again; Ivan checks the vid, and this time it turns out to be the dome cops Fano and Sulmona.  By says they can’t be associated with Immigration, so they must have some other reason to be there; Ivan asks, and Fano says they have a warrant for his arrest for kidnapping.  They’d found vids of him escorting “Nanja” into a bubble car after she disappeared from her apartment, and she hasn’t been seen since; Fano, personally, suspects the charge is actually murder.  Ivan is flabbergasted, and they retreat to the living room for a short conference.

Ivan says that he should be able to clear this matter up simply by letting them in, showing them Tej, and convincing them that she’s there of her own free will.  By says they won’t believe she’s not under coercion unless they take her away from him; Tej says that House Prestene’s people will be able to get her, and their only way out is “the balcony”.  Just then, Ivan’s wristcom sounds, with Admiral Desplains’s ringtone; when Ivan perforce answers is, Desplains bellows at him, furious that Ivan tried to hide the ImpSec report until he found out about the felony charge against him.  Ivan says that he can explain, but he can’t talk right now, as the cops have started pounding on the door, so, against his better judgement, he signs off on the Admiral and refuses to answer it when the tone sounds again.

Ivan suggests they block the door, to buy time, so they drag the furniture into the front hallway; the dome cops seem to have been joined by another group, probably the Immigration people, which seems to have delayed them slightly while they figure out whose jurisdiction takes precedence.  The building manager is also there with a key; By uses his stunner to short out the lock before he can open it, and Ivan protests that now they’re trapped inside.

Tej swung around, stared deeply into Ivan’s eyes, gasped, “I’m so sorry it has to end this way, Ivan Xav.  I know you tried,” and flung her arms around him.  Ivan found himself holding what would, under other circumstances, be an absolutely delightful bundle of warm, soft woman.  He opened her mouth to her frantic kiss nonetheless, and his arms wrapped her in turn, snugly and securely.  He wasn’t sure what was happening here, but O god don’t let it stop…

Tej pulls away and tells Rish it’s time; they head for the balcony, though By moves to block them, stunner at the ready.  Ivan asks what they’re doing, and Rish says they’re going over the edge, and Ivan soon realizes that they’re planning to kill themselves; he protests that the dome cops will think that he pushed them over, but Rish asks if he has a better plan.  Ivan tosses his buzzing wristcom into the fridge as the forces outside begin pounding on the apartment door in earnest and Rish and By point their stunners at each other, and spots something on the kitchen counter that gives him an idea.  He grabs the economy-size box of instant groats and heads back to the living room.

“This’ll do the job!”

“You’re going to throw cereal at them?” asked Rish, perplexed.

“Or shall we all sit down and have a hearty Barrayaran breakfast together while the police break in?” asked By, in an all-too-similar tone.  But both stunners drooped.

Shrugging off the sarcasms, and dear God hadn’t he had enough practice at that in his life, Ivan drew a long breath.  “Tej.  Will you marry me?”

“What?” she said.  It wasn’t a thrilled sort of what? either, that ought to greet such a proposal, more of a have-you-lost-your-mind? what.

Ivan insists that, in Barrayaran law, his wife would instantly be a Barrayaran subject, which would keep Immigration from having any grounds to take her, and should help settle the dome cops too.  He begins making a circle of groats as Tej protests that surely they’ll need to leave the apartment to register it first, and Ivan says that Barrayaran couples marry themselves, and it takes effect as soon as they say their oaths; most people elaborate it a bit, but that’s what the ceremony boils down to, and it’s still binding.  By admits that Ivan’s telling the truth; Ivan says he can get them back to Barrayar with his military allowance, and once they’re there she’ll be free to divorce him any time she wants, once she had a better course of action.  They’ll need a Count’s permission to do it, but Count Falco Vorpatril is an old friend of his mother’s, so it shouldn’t be any trouble.  Tej says she doesn’t know the oaths, but Ivan says he’s been to enough High Vor weddings to have them memorized by now.

Tej glanced toward the balcony.  Toward him.  Toward the balcony.  Toward him.  Why is this a hard choice?

“You can’t tell me you’d rather jump off a twenty-story building and smash in your skull than marry me,” Ivan went on desperately.  “I am not a fate worse than death, dammit!  Or at least not worse than that death, good God!”

Tej asks what about Rish, since he obviously can’t marry both of them; Ivan glances to By for help, but Rish says no before he can even ask the question.  Ivan says he’ll hire her as a lady’s maid or something, so she’ll be properly employed, and they should be able to make that work with Immigration too.  Rish asks who’ll protect them from ImpSec, and Ivan promises that he can take care of that; he can call in some favours, or find people who can, like perhaps his mother’s “gentleman friend”…though maybe only as a last resort.  By says that he doesn’t want to be anywhere nearby when Ivan tells his mother about this…but he agrees that it should work, at least in the short term, though the long term terrifies him.

“And after what you just did,” Ivan went on to Tej, disregarding By’s last comment, “you can’t convince me that you’d rather kiss the pavement than kiss me.”  My mouth is still tingling.  “Not that you’ll have to kiss me, if you don’t want to.  Totally up to you, what happens after, I hope that goes without saying.”

Rish tells Tej they’re out of time for the other options, they might as well try it, and she accepts, if dubiously; she steps into the circle of groats with Ivan, with By and Rish as witnesses (By says he won’t be able to look away).  Ivan then starts his oath, fumbling a little bit at the beginning, and having to ask for Tej’s name again, but he gets it right without even fumbling over the “ghem” part, and then coaches Tej through her own oaths.

“And that’s it!” said Ivan.  “We now pronounce each other spouse and spouse, before these witnesses, and I get to kiss you.  Again.  For the first time.  Because before, you kissed me, right?”  He locked himself to her lips, rolling his eyes as By stepped forward and swept a break through the groat barrier with his shoe.  They swung out of the circle together, Byerly stretched his neck and pecked her on the cheek in passing, and six irate, swearing Komarrans stumbled over each other out of Ivan’s hallway and advanced upon them, stunners at the ready.

Ivan drew a wad of cash from his wallet, thrust it into the startled Rish’s hand, and added, “You’re hired.  Officially.”

And, as a uniformed woman reached out to seize Tej, who shrank away, Ivan continued in a forceful bellow modeled directly on Count Falco: “Unhand Lady Vorpatril!”

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I’m informed by those who should know that the marriage of convenience is an old standby of romance literature, particularly of the historical variety, with two near-strangers bound together by law and having to come to terms with each other…and eventually falling in love, of course.  Not sure how plausible it is, but not being a strong believer in the “everyone has only one Soulmate somewhere in the world with whom they can fall in True Love” theory, I’m willing to buy that it may happen from time to time.  Even on first hearing the title I was pretty sure that this book would include Ivan falling in love and/or getting married, and by this point I was pretty sure it would be with Tej.  I can’t recall if I was expecting the rushed affair from this chapter, but I suspect I wasn’t too surprised.

I was half expecting a By/Rish wedding too, but I guess neither of them was quite ready for that, and the “employment” scam will probably work well enough.  Rish isn’t as big a target as Tej anyway, so not at as much risk, perhaps.  They do seem to have a certain attraction, but both being more reserved (well, reserving his inner self, at least, in By’s case) were less likely to want to leap into something like that.

It’s true that Ivan does have a few favours he can call in by this point if he needs to get ImpSec off his (and Tej and Rish’s back).  Maybe he’s reluctant to call on Simon Illyan himself–retired, but not without a fair bit of clout in ImpSec quarters still–but Miles definitely owes him a thing or two, he’s on Gregor’s shortlist, he certainly earned a favour from Count Dono Vorrutyer, and even Countess Vorkosigan would be a potential ally (if, perhaps, far afield on Sergyar).  And his mother, too, I suppose, though that’s doubtless also someone he’s reluctant to call on.  She, of course, is going to be somewhat taken aback by his sudden marriage, to an offworlder (a part-Cetagandan Jacksonian, no less!), and quite frankly I can’t even recall how she does react.  I guess we’ll find out.

Ivan also provides Tej with the guarantee that he won’t be forcing her to accede to his “matrimonial rights”.  I’m still not clear how unbalanced your standard Barrayaran marriage is, or was, with regards to the rights of a wife.  Things like custody rights seemed to have archaic, man-centered rules–witness the custody issues with Nikki Vorsoisson–but it didn’t seem like a husband had a legal right to sex from his wife whether she was willing or not.  I’m reminded of the Count who with the dozens of daughters from A Civil Campaign, whose wife certainly wasn’t shy about forbidding him the bedroom.  Anyway, it’s good of Ivan to think of that right away, and make it clear right off the bat.  Admittedly, he’s said before that he’s confident enough in his abilities that he makes it a point never to force himself on an unwilling woman, so it may not be enlightenment as much as just self-confidence.  But I don’t recall him ever getting angry for being spurned or anything, so I guess he’s just a nice guy that way.


 

So that was fun, wasn’t it?  And after that…what happens next?  Is Ivan in trouble with his boss?  Are the Vormerciers and Prestenes still lurking out there?  Will Ivan really be able to keep ImpSec off their backs?  And is the rest of Tej’s family quite as dead and gone as she thinks?  I can’t promise we’ll find that all out in the next chapter, but hopefully some of it, at least…  Next week, same Vor-time, same Vor-channel!

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Wherever you may be, reading this on computer or tablet or smartphone or comconsole vidplate or direct neural link or smartpaper or regular paper, or perhaps projected on a wall or printed on a cake, not to mention all of the places you could be listening to some kind of audio version of it, or perhaps reading it in Braille with your fingertips, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Thank you for spending time here when you could be just reading the book yourself, and I hope that if you are reading it, and you are a previous reader of the works of Ms. Lois McMaster Bujold, I am evincing a pleasant sensation of nostalgia in you as you remember how much you enjoyed reading this book yourself the first time…or, perhaps a pleasant anticipation of reading it again sometime (or even for the first time, but that’s not really my goal here, because there’s spoilers for, like, the entire plot).  This week I have the pleasure of rendering unto you the fourth Chapter of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is, as one might expect, called Chapter Four, or at least what happened in it.

Chapter Four

It’s dark by the time Ivan returns, but he brings ample supplies of food, which interests the women much more than his insistence that they need to talk; they complain that all they had was wine and rat bars, but Ivan says that he didn’t even have wine.  Ivan brought a variety of food because he wasn’t sure if they had special requirements; Rish says her only problem is with meat from animals, but luckily they have lots of vat protein.  Tej is relieved that Ivan’s palate isn’t quite as undeveloped as his shortage of food supplies had hinted.

After they eat, Ivan collapses on the couch and is asleep in seconds.  They debate waking him, but decide that he probably manage to sleep at all tied up in the chair the night before, and besides, one of Rish’s shows is on; she’s become a devotee of Komarran soap operas since their arrival on the planet, since she rarely gets to go out.  Tej looks out at the dome, contemplating their situation, and notes that Ivan has put in several days’ supply, af if he’s expecting them to stay.  She half-heartedly tries to wake him, but to no avail.

After another few minutes, Tish came out to join her, smiling in a pleased way.  “I was right about Hendro Fon,” she informed Tej.  “He was faking the amnesia.  And the DNA sample had been substituted.  Sera Jenna was a real clone!  I’ll bet the trade fleet merge is off now.”

Tej asks Rish what she’s to do now, since she obviously can’t go back to her job; Rish says there’s not much to miss about it, but Tej had been hoping she could stay on for a while and actually get somewhere.  Nanja Brindis was her last fake identity, anyway, and not a very well-fleshed-out one at that, so she’s going to have to obtain another one somehow…which would be easier if they could get off-planet, but it’d be hard to get off-planet without one.  Rish says they could at least move to a different dome, but Tej points out that the others are all smaller, which will make it harder to hide.  They don’t have a lot of cash left, and they can’t risk trying to steal Ivan’s credit chit, though Rish idly suggests that they could sell his IDs; Tej says their funds are short enough that they’d be better off accepting Ivan’s offer of free accommodation for as long as they can.

Rish says she saw a show about the colonization on Sergyar, though she admits they skipped over the worm plague; apparently it’s possible to go to the colony as an indentured worker, but Tej thinks that sounds too much like slavery, and it’d be even harder for Rish to hide.  Rish says that the Vicereine is encouraging offplanet immigration, so she might be able to slip through, but it’d depend on being able to make it to orbit safely.

“There’s Captain Mystery, here.”  Rish nodded to the sleeping figure across from them.  “Captain Vormystery, I suppose he would correct that.”

“Ivan Xav, the one and only.  I think he likes me.”

“Oh, I can smell that.”  Rish smirked.  “He also has a slight breast fetish.”

“Don’t they all.”  Tej sighed.  The corners of her mouth drew up.  “Though not, in his case, for slight breasts.”

Rish says that she’d recommend Tej milk Ivan for all she could get, but his turning up was still a little too strange, and she doesn’t trust him; some random Komarran off the street would be less suspicious.  She says that she’d rather die than be used against the Baron and Baronne; Tej points out, dispiritedly, that there are no Baron and Baronne any more, and has to blink back tears.  Rish says that they need to plan carefully in case the only option is suicide, because they may not have much time to take advantage of the opportunity; painless drugs will be too hard to come by, but they could always try the slit veins in the bathtub.  Tej says that wouldn’t be too nice for Ivan Xav to come home to, but Rish said it wouldn’t be their problem; Tej says she’d almost rather do something more grandiose, like jumping from a tall building.

Rish says that Tej would stand a better chance without her, an old argument, and Tej says that she’s just as loyal to Rish as the other way around, even if it’s less genetically compelled in her case.  They have a good-natured dispute over nature vs. nurture, and Tej says they need a tiebreaker.  Tej points out that killing themselves would be better if they could pin it on the ones who are hunting for them, or even better, the ones who hired them, but consider that unlikely, if they can’t even do it while they’re alive.

They’re just discussing going to bed when the door buzzer sounds; Rish leaps to her feet, and Tej tries to shake Ivan awake, telling him there’s someone at the door, but doesn’t have much luck until Rish rolls him off the couch entirely.  Ivan wakes up disoriented, but eventually figures out that there’s someone at the door; while he goes to answer it, Rish and Tej dart off to hide, though Tej makes sure she can still see the entryway.

Ivan opens the door, and the visitor calls Ivan an idiot and asks what happened to him last night; Ivan grabs him and shoves him against the wall.  He protests and tells Ivan to be careful of the jacket; Ivan interrupts, calling him “Byerly” and an “ImpWeasel”, demanding to ask why Byerly set him up.

“What went wrong? I thought you would bring the woman back here!”

“Not on a first date, you twit!  You always end up at her place, first time.  Or some neutral third location, but only if you’re both insanely hot.”

Ivan relents and lets Byerly down, reluctantly allowing him inside.  Byerly asks Ivan how he ended up tied to a chair–something that is now in the official records, and with Ivan’s name attached–and how he ended up untied.  Ivan responds by telling the women to come out; Tej isn’t sure if they should trust this man, since Ivan doesn’t really seem to, but he already seems know about them.  When Byerly sees Tej, he exclaims with annoyance that she’s here, when he’s been looking for her all this time, but when he sees Rish he falls silent and expressionless, though Tej can see his pupils dilate, and she can smell his surprise, fear, and arousal.

Byerly regains his composure and greets Rish with a bow, asking to be introduced.  Ivan says they’re not actually cousins, as Byerly has been calling him, and formally introduces him as Byerly “By” Vorrutyer, noting he’s not a Lord anything, not being son of the Count.  Tej notes some resemblance between them, not sure whether it’s genetic relation or just general Vor cast genes.  She notes that he doesn’t seem scared of any of them, though he is still acutely conscious of Rish.  Tej greets By, and asks what he is; By suggests they sit down first, which they do.  He asks how the women got there, and Tej said that Ivan invited them, and Ivan adds that he thought it’d be a safe place for them to lie low, which it looks like it was, if By hadn’t turned them up there.

Tej asks again who By really is, and he asks her the same thing; Ivan pipes up with the information he had from Morozov about Rish being Lapis Lazuli and formerly owned by House Cordonah, before it was taken over.  Rish says some unkind things about the ones who had taken over her former House, but Tej forestalls her from saying more by offering a Deal, offering an answer for an answer.  She’s not sure he’ll go for it, since he could just stun them all and have them fast-penta’d, but he agrees.

He starts by asking Tej her real name, but she says that answer is worth her life, and she insists he prove he has an answer of equal value first.  He then sidesteps the questioning by getting Ivan’s story on what happened the night before; Ivan says By owes him big time for him having to “jump tall buildings with a stunner hangover”.  By asks why Ivan called Dome Security, and Ivan said he wanted to be sure the burglars didn’t have a chance to escape, and he was too suspicious of other authorities he could have called.  What he got out of it, though, was a lengthy interrogation with two officers who seriously wanted to pin something on him–though he tells By he managed to keep his name out of it–which his own boss will have a recording of by now.

Tej interrupts to ask By if he was the one who gave Ivan her picture, and how he knew they were going to be attacked.  By says that it was indeed him, and that he knew because he’d hired the goons in the first place.  He was trying to prove his trustworthiness to some people he’s “studying”, so he set up the kidnappers while trying to use Ivan to make sure Tej wasn’t there to be kidnapped–not knowing about Rish, or that they would be going back to her place after all; he didn’t know why they wanted her kidnapped in the first place, though.  She notes that By is obviously an agent of some sort, and asks what kind; he replies that that would be worth her name.

Ivan protests that her enemies know who she is, so why won’t she share it with her friends?  She says that they haven’t proven to be friends, and Ivan says that he has too, though he acknowledges her doubt of Byerly.

Tej rubbed her mouth.  Ivan Xav had a point.  “Is he trustworthy?” she asked him straight out.

“No, he’s a damned weasel.”  Vorpatril hesitated.  “But he won’t betray Barrayar.  if what you are poses no threat to the Imperium, you have nothing to fear from him.  Probably.”

Byerly cast Vorpatril a look of exasperated disbelief.  “Whose side are you on?”

“You’ve been known to make mistakes.  I distinctly recall pulling your, and your Countly cousin’s, feet out of the fire on one of ’em, spectacularly.  But do I get respect?  Do I get gratitude?  Do I get–”

Byerly, hunching, said, “You got another job.”

For some reason, this settled him.  “Huh.”

By accepts her Deal for her name; he tells her that he works for ImpSec, as a “surveillance operative”, normally in the upper-class social milieu, though he’s here following up on some of his upper-class people, criminals and potential traitors, who have moved on to a different venue here on Komarr.  Tej points out that it isn’t Barrayarans who are after her, and By says that his Barrayarans seem to be trying to capture her as part of a deal with those who are after her.  Ivan says that it was a pretty risky plan, and By says that they wouldn’t have been allowed to take Tej and Rish out of the Imperium, and now he suspects the two of them can give him a lot more information on these offworlder contacts.

Tej realizes that now that they know who By really is, he has a good motivation to keep them out of the hands of anyone who he doesn’t want to know his real job, which means this was a good move for them.  Assuming he doesn’t just kill them, but she doesn’t get that scent from him.

Tej swallowed.  “Very well.”  Her throat felt very tight and thick, as if it were closing off in some deathly allergic reaction.  “My full name is Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua.  My parents are–were–Shiv and Udine ghem Estif Arqua.  Baron and Baronne Cordonah.”

Comments

Wait a minute, Tej can smell By’s surprise, fear and arousal?  She notes that Rish can actually detect heart rates, which she herself can’t, but still…is this a haut thing?  Or is Tej perhaps a Wolfsister?  Maybe this explains why she seems so willing to trust Ivan, if she can read so much of his emotional state through smell, or her other senses.  Of course, Rish seems to be able to detect even more, and she’s less willing to trust, so I guess it’s not just that.

By isn’t “Lord” because he’s not the son of the Count…though he is a close relation of the current Count; admittedly, I can’t recall if he’s an actual cousin, or something more removed, but he was at least a friend to Dono.  Have Dono and Olivia produced any heirs yet?  If not, who would be Dono’s heir?  I suppose, after the whole legal issue from A Civil Campaign settled, he can make his heir whoever he wants, but I suppose Byerly wouldn’t be the best choice, and he’d probably be just as happy to avoid it as Ivan, or Mark.

I just did a quick Google of Tejaswini, and I’m convinced that this is not a name that Bujold made up, since the first several pages are dominated by celebrities from India.  I’m never quite sure about names ending in “j”, because I’ve had a lot of exposure to those Eastern European languages (not to mention Esperanto) where “j” is used for the semivowel we would use “y” for…and I know that vowel + “y” usually makes what we call a “long vowel”.  So if “j” was being used that way in “Tej”, it would be pronounced to rhyme with “day”.  But apparently it’s an actual consonant “j”, so it rhymes with “edge” instead.  It’s interesting that her nickname isn’t based on her _first_ name…especially considering she seems to be well into a habit of calling Ivan “Ivan Xav”.  For full symmetry, she should just call him “Xav”, but I guess that might be a little confusing.


 

Another week, another chapter…and likely another chapter next week, too.  Though Chapter Six looks to be the end of the “sampler”, which has a good ending line, so there’s a slightly chance I’ll push through and do two.  Don’t hold your breath, though.  You could pass out and hurt yourself.

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