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Posts Tagged ‘Jackson’s Whole’

It’s been a long time coming, and it may have seemed like it would never get here, what with glaciers and drifting continents overtaking it on all sides.  But this week’s installment of The Vorkosigan Saga Reread finally brings us to the end of Captain’s Vorpatril Alliance, that Lois McMaster Bujold novel which, unlike so many others in the Vorkosigan Saga, doesn’t concern itself directly with Miles Vorkosigan, or even his mother, but instead focuses on perennial sideman Ivan Vorpatril, given a perhaps uncomfortable spotlight for once.  This week I cover the last chapter and the epilogue, as the denouement denoues itself nicely.

Chapter Twenty-Five

With Gregor’s decisions made, things start to move very quickly.  The Cordonahs are, officially, being deported, which isn’t the most prestigious way to be leaving the planet, but since they do want to leave, they accept it.  Lady Alys throws them an excellent farewell luncheon, and then they are escorted to go pack, except for Lady Moira, who is dragged off for a hasty debrief by Duv Galeni; he laments that two hours was not nearly enough for a century’s worth of information, so he plans to send an analyst and one of Professora Vorthys’s history students along with them for the beginning of their trip in the hope of gleaning more information.  A lot of the documents they found are still classified; they’re declassifying as many of them as they can, but there are some facts about the old ghem-junta that, even after a hundred years, they may not want to get out.  Even the declassified ones will be enough to make a number of historians’ careers, though, and the history textbooks may need to be heavily revised.

Vormercier’s yacht will be supplied with a military crew to take them to Komarr, mostly to ensure that they arrive there and not somewhere else; afterwards they can hire their own commercial crew.  Amiri is apparently still planning to go back to Escobar, and a government courier vessel from Komarr will be expediting him there, after which any potential bounty hunters will be problems for Mark and the Duronas.

Tej goes to speak with her mother, who’s busy packing; Lady Alys courteously leaves them alone.  The Baronne asks Tej if she’s packed, and Tej says that she’s going to stay with her husband; Udine reassures her that she doesn’t have to, their earlier insistence that she stay with her husband just being a ploy to keep her safe.  Tej says that she’s already made up her mind, and when her mother objects that it was too quickly, she asks how long it took her to decide she wanted Shiv.  The Baronne then invites her to at least ride along with them for a while, perhaps to Pol; Tej, not sold on the image of being stuffed into a ship with her family, and Byerly, says she’d rather just say her goodbyes here.

The Baronne allows that at least she’ll be safe; they’ll be heading to Fell Station with their war chest, a bare hundred million Betan dollars, which after all the deductions is barely five percent of their find.  Tej assures her mother that they will be able to make do with such reduced resources.  The Baronne asks what she sees in Ivan, and she finds it hard to explain–it’s what he sees in her, and how restful his approach to life is, his waiting-and-seeing.

Later, Ivan and Tej have time for a chat with Rish and Byerly, who tells them how Ser Imola has been swiftly dealt with, not much fight left in him.  By laments having to flee the planet so swiftly, having to pick and choose from his apartment like it’s on fire, leaving strangers to pack things up; apparently his new cover is that he was conspiring with the Arquas and is fleeing with them to keep from getting arrested.

“I’m sure you’ll do well,” Tej tried to reassure him.

“It’s bloody _Jackson’s Whole_.  Where enemies are killed and eaten.”

“We do not!” said Rish indignantly.

Byerly waved this away.  “I speak, of course, metaphorically.”  Though he looked as if he weren’t entirely sure.

“Well, if you get in over your head, just try channeling your great-great-grandfather Bloody Pierre,” advised Ivan Xav.  He added after a moment.  “Or your great-great-grandmother.  For you, either one.”

By cast a sneer at him.

Ivan tells Tej that one of the few people Pierre was supposed to have been afraid of was his wife; By reminds Ivan that Vorrutyer history is notoriously unreliable, and belatedly congratulates Ivan on winning Tej’s affections.

Luxurious groundcars appear to drive them to the shuttleport, thanks to Lady Alys; a pair of men in Vorbarra livery appear with two boxes of the Ninth Satrapy gold coins, as a personal gift from Gregor, which Shiv points out wryly is also precisely 5% of them.  He tells them convey to Gregor that “Baron and Baronne Cordonah are as pleased to accept his memento as he is to bestow it”.  The rest of the money will be transferred digitally later, less this advance.

The Baron comes to say farewell to Tej, commenting on the Barrayaran tradition of “giving away” the bride, though Ivan tells him that they also have been known to have elaborate marriage contracts.  Shiv reiterates the invitation for Tej to join them for a few jumps, and she reiterates her refusal; he tells her she’ll be welcome back at home anytime, and she refrains from pointing out that they don’t have their home back yet.

“Look at it this way, Dada.  You’re coming away from Barrayar with everyone’s freedom, a ride, and a war chest.  Not to mention the covert alliance with The Gregor.  I can’t imagine any House heir alive who could match that bride-price, right now.  It’s princely, more literally than anyone here quite lets on.”  Barrayarans!  “And do you think that you’d have had any of it if I hadn’t married Ivan Xav?”

Shiv shakes Ivan’s hand, and gives him a father’s warning that he better take good care of his daughter; Ivan assures him he will.  After they’ve departed, Ivan asks if offering to kill people was a traditional Jacksonian expression of affection.  Tej reminds him of the story she’d read about his Aunt Cordelia’s gift of Vordarian’s severed head, and Ivan says he’s a more modern Barrayaran than that.

Their meeting the next morning with The Gregor was very short.

“Ylla?” said Ivan Xav in a confounded voice.  “Where the hell is Ylla?”

Comments

You know, it would be a bit easier sometimes if Jacksonian Houses behaved a little more like actual families.  By which I mean–House Cordonah was run by the Arquas.  Shouldn’t that make is House Arqua?  Or shouldn’t their family name be Cordonah?  I realize that we have lots of cases where that doesn’t happen, but those are like when you have an actual political entity, like a country.  You can change from one dynasty to another and not have to rename the country.  But I never got the impression that Jacksonian Houses were tied to geographical areas.  They seemed to have divided the planet on more economic lines, staking out their territory based on their business rather than the land they occupy.  I could be wrong, I suppose, but that’s the impression I always got.  So I guess it’s more like a business trademark, where you don’t want to change the name of your company because your customers would get confused if it was House Stauber trying to sell their weapons rather than House Fell.  But I just want to know–can I call the Arquas Cordonahs, or not?

It’s a nice short chapter to tie off the book, except it really doesn’t.  The Arquas (or Cordonahs) are being hustled off the planet quite quickly, and Tej isn’t really doing her utmost to spend every last second of that time with them, because she’s really looking forward to not being oppressed by their presence.  I mean, she’s happy they’re alive, but she’ll be happier when they’re alive somewhere else, now that she’s found an alternative family in good old Ivan Xav.

So it falls to the epilogue to really resolve matters, to show us the direction things moved in over a slightly longer span of time.  And also to tell us something about this Ylla place.

Epilogue

Ivan is posted as Senior Military Attaché to the Barrayaran consulate on Ylla, though there turns out not to be any other military attachés for him to be senior to, or anyone at all besides the consul, who is somewhat dispirited.  They arrive on the city where the consulate is located during its dreary winter, with Tej heartily jumpsick.  Ivan, used to the much more hectic workflow of Vorbarr Sultana, is able to whip the consulate into shape without much effort, and quickly discovers that it doesn’t really need to be in the capital, as long as it’s near a shuttleport and the comconsole net.  So he moves the entire consulate to someplace much nicer on an equatorial island, hires a clerk, and gets his work down to an average of three mornings a week.  Ylla’s oceans are, unfortunately, unpleasant to swim in, between the irritants in the water and the carnivorous native lifeforms, but they’re nice enough to look at.

A batch of mail arrives one sunny afternoon, and Ivan brings it out to where Tej is sunbathing; his morning’s work is done, where he’s been working on his first annual performance review, toning down the consul’s overly-positive remarks to something less likely to get him transferred to somewhere less salubrious.  Gregor had said that it would probably be at least two years before things blew over enough for him to come home, and they’d also had only a day to pack for their galactic exile.

Ivan’s packet includes a birthday greeting (for his 36th) from Admiral Desplains, who doesn’t seem to be as fond of Ivan’s replacement, but implies that he doesn’t expect Ivan to return to his old post, either.  Tej says that Rish writes that they’re working on repairs to Cordonah Station, Topaz has replacement legs so the Jewels can perform again (they’d been amputated as punishment for helping Tej’s parents escape from Prestene captivity), and Erik has been pronounce cryo-revivable, but there are complications.  Apparently Erik was actually House Prestene’s inside man, so they’re keeping him on ice for a while, mostly as a threat to keep Star and Pidge from fighting too much over the succession; once they’re better entrenched, then maybe they’ll bring him back in a more subordinate position.  Tej notes that she’s happy to be out of family politics.

Rish doesn’t mention anything about Byerly, but Ivan has a letter from him, sent around the same time.  He tends to be a little overly verbose, but Ivan happens upon a mention of the brooch which Lady Moira had picked up in the vault; apparently it actually contained the genetic samples of the Barrayaran population from the Ninth Satrapy.  Ivan isn’t sure what the Barrayarans would make of that, especially since many of their ancestors would be clonable from those samples.  He reads further, and discovers that Lady Moira had offered to sell them back to the Star Crèche, for ten million Betan dollars; a Star Crèche envoy came all the way to Jackson’s Whole to make the pickup, and when she was there, Lady Moira ceremoniously destroyed the brooch, apparently as payback for being culled from the haut a century earlier.

Lady Alys had written to Tej, telling her about the galactic tour they’d been on–also heavily encouraged by Gregor, with Laisa’s help–and have now returned from, without too many unfortunate incidents.  Ivan recalls his last conversation with Gregor, about what had gotten into Illyan.

“I think he was bored, Gregor.”

“Bored!” Gregor jerked to a halt, taken aback.  “I thought he was exhausted.”

“Right after the chip breakdown, sure.”  Profoundly so.  “For a while, everyone–even Mamere and Simon himself–assumed he was some fragile convalescent.  But…quietly–he does everything quietly–he’s grown better.”

“I thank your mother for that, yes.”

Yeah, really.  Ivan shied from trying to imagine the biography of a post-chip-Simon minus Alys, but it might have been a much shorter tale.  “He’s fine when she’s with him.  But she’s been going off to the Residence a lot, lately, leaving him to his own devices.  And then Shiv came along and pushed all his old buttons, and, well, here we all are.”

Ivan suggested that Gregor find some kind of occupation for him in future, not as heavy or full-time as his previous job, but something to give him some variety.  Tej continues that they have dedicated the new ImpSec building, with Illyan cutting the ribbon, though refusing the honour of having it actually named after him; the building is not built near the old site, but somewhere with fewer holes under it.  Next letter is from Aunt Cordelia to Ivan; Tej had met them during their stopover on Sergyar on the way offplanet, and Simon and Alys had stopped there on their way back.  What his mother hadn’t mentioned, though, was their visit to the Orb on Beta Colony.

“They signed up for some sort of one-week deluxe instructional course.  That doesn’t sound too… Role-playing?  Because Mamere thought it might be easy for Simon to get into on account of having done covert ops in his youth.  And the first day was pretty rocky, but once she persuaded Simon to stop treating the mandatory psychological interest survey as a hostile interrogation, things smoothed out…and…”

Mercifully, Cordelia changes the subject at that point to their sailing expedition on the less-toxic seas of Sergyar.  Tej suggests they stop at the Orb when they go back, though of course she doesn’t need any sexual instruction herself.  Ivan asks about the “survey” that had troubled Illyan, and Tej describes it as a sort of brain scan done while they show you images, to determine what kinds of things you like, but also a way of finding potential problem customers.  Of course, this being Beta Colony, those problem customers are still allowed in, just supervised differently; some of them are just disturbed by the things lurking in their brain.

Finally, there is a letter from Miles; he writes that the old ImpSec building was purchased by a Barrayaran investor who turned out to be Mark Vorkosigan, who has not only managed to get the building raised up to its previous level again, but now plans to reopen it as a hotel/restaurant/nightclub, which Miles heartily disapproves of.  He also mentions their decanting another infant, Lady Elizabeth Vorkosigan; as Tej looks at the baby pictures, he contemplates how he’s somehow become an uncle, through no fault of his own, and compares it gingerly to the prospect of eventual fatherhood.  Tej, apparently thinking on similar lines, points out neutrally that one wouldn’t want to drag a uterine replicator, or an infant, through all those wormhole jumps back to Barrayar.

Ivan muses on how he’s four years away from being a twenty-years man, which, he explains to Tej, is when a Barrayaran soldier either takes early retirement or re-ups with an eye to command rank.  Tej asks which he’d prefer, and Ivan says he’s not as keen for high rank as he may have been when he was younger; the consul has suggested he move into the diplomatic corps, which is not an uncommon career path, though it would involve more travel.  Tej decides it might not be so bad, to suffer through wormhole jumps once in a while, if it keeps them from having to spend too much time with their families; Ivan points out that her linguistic talents would certainly come in handy.

In all, in truth, it was a problem for another day, Ivan decided.  When life and chance handed you an afternoon as idyllic as this one promised to be, it seemed profoundly ungrateful not to pay attention.

Ivan ran a toe up Tej’s shin, and began attending.

Comments

So Ivan and Tej got kicked offplanet for a temporary exile, the way his mother and Illyan did, though apparently for a little longer.  Ivan does, at least, get to get some advantage out of his penchant for laziness, at least in the sense that he’s willing to put in a little hard work to make his life easier in the long run.  And the rest is just like the thing where they tell you what happened to the characters after the events of the movie, to some extent.

Illyan and Alys went off for a while, did the Orb thing, and went back home.  Mark bought the old ImpSec HQ with nefarious commercial purposes in mind, while they built a new one somewhere else.  Miles and Ekaterin had another baby.  And Ivan contemplates his future, now that he’s been jolted out of his prior career track; would he have been thinking about it so much if he’d still been sorting snakes for Admiral Desplains (and still single)?

I should probably do some kind of summation of the book.  I was dissatisfied with it my first time through, and my reread hasn’t altered my views all that much.  I rarely managed to maintain a two-chapter-per-week pace, which I managed much better in A Civil Campaign, for heaven’s sake, where the chapters were huge, and mostly that was because I wasn’t that interested.  The book starts off a little slow, picks up for the wedding, slows down when we go back to Barrayar as Tej meets familiar characters and gets presented with recaps of earlier events, and then sinks into a morass of Jacksonian relatives.  Ivan gets lost by the wayside for chapters at a time, until finally he joins them in the vault and actual excitement happens.  The pace still seems jerky, the Arquas and Ser Imola getting brought in too abruptly, the Vormerciers vanishing just as suddenly, the romance progressing and then stopping dead before eventually resuming.

Ivan is just not the same kind of protagonist as Miles, or even Cordelia.  He is reluctant to act, and generally shies away from the plot in most of the books we see him in, unless dragged into it by Byerly or Miles, or kidnapped as a hostage or something.  He’s not a total incompetent in a crisis, but he tries much harder to avoid them, or situations where a crisis might even potentially arise.  So he doesn’t get involved until he has no choice, and it takes a little too long to get him to that point.  While Ivan’s stellar showing in A Civil Campaign made me think that a book with him as the star would be a great idea, in practice it felt more like Dr. Watson getting his own story, or Xander Harris, or some superhero sidekick, or something.


 

Next, of course, is CryoBurn, after my usual week off.  Which I also didn’t like that much, despite its actually having Miles as a protagonist, and maybe I’ll figure that one out too.

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Boy, is today your lucky day!  Depending on when “today” is, of course.  But let’s presume that it’s the day that you’re reading the latest entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread (which is what this is, you know, what with all the discussion of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga and all), and you are flabbergasted to discover that, for no particular reason, this entry actually manages to cover two entire chapters!  How unpredecented!  Well, except for that time when I missed a week, a few months ago, and of course almost all of the other entries for all of the books which weren’t Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  But still, I’m impressed with myself for putting in the extra effort this time, and you’re the ones who reap the benefits of it (see below)…

Chapter Twenty-Three

Tej interrupts Ivan and Byerly’s conversation to ask if they’ve found Rish and Jet; By says no, dismayed, though they have found Star.  Tej says Rish and Jet were in the tunnel when the bomb went off.  One of the soldiers sends a little robot probe into the tunnel, and Ivan restrains By from attempting to follow, telling him it’s best to leave the engineers to do it, so they won’t have to be rescued themselves.  By examines the inhabitants of the vault, and asks who the extra three are; Tej tells him about Imola and his guards, who By says ImpSec was already looking for.

By tells them that Ivan and the Arquas seemed to have just vanished, and he didn’t realize at first, when he heard about the explosion near ImpSec, that there might be any relation.  An ImpSec patrol had followed suspect energy signatures into the garage, and found Imola’s goons trying to make off with Star; two of them escaped into the tunnel, there was an exchange of stunner fire, and that, apparently, set off the bomb.  They didn’t find out what was really going on until Star woke up and told them about the people trapped in the tunnel, and then eventually they alerted Illyan and Lady Alys.  Once they determined it wouldn’t be practical to go in through the garage, they brought in the equipment to dig down from above.

Ivan tells the soldiers to treat this as a Class Two Biohazard area, and they pass on the information with well-concealed dismay; Ivan tells the others that he wants to at least discourage casual visitors, given the value of the contents of the vault.  By asks if there’s really a fortune down here, and Ivan shows him enough to convince him, after with By starts talking furiously on his commlink.

The engineer operating the probe looks up and tells them that he found the two missing people, and they’re following “Rover” back now.  Sure enough, a very muddy Rish and Jet stumble into the vault a few minutes later, and Rish plasters herself gratefully over By.  She tells how, when she and Jet saw strangers coming down the tunnel, they ducked into a side branch by the storm drain; when the explosion happened, it deafened them for an hour, and they were trapped by rising water, and then left in the dark by their fading cold lights.    Ivan gives Rish a hug in sympathy for her predicament.  She says their air pocket was just giving out when the water began to drain away, and then the robot probe appeared to guide them out.

Rish and Jet are sent up first for medical examination, and then Imola and his goons under guard, and the Arquas in pairs; Tej stays with Ivan to go up last.  The medevac floater is a little cramped, able to accommodate two people sitting on the stretcher if nobody has to lie down; they rise through the cone-shaped hole dug down to the vault, with engineers trying to stabilize the sides.  When they rise above the ground Ivan sees the dirt they dug out in a huge pile spilling over the sides of the park and blocking streets, but at least it’s stopped raining.  Heavy equipment is parked all over the place, floodlights are still on despite the rising sun, soldiers are everywhere, security vehicles fly overhead.  A combination biohazard/accounting team is preparing to descend into the vault, and a fair quantity of ImpSec personnel are outside watching the spectacle.

As they debark from the floater, Ivan sees an approaching mob consisting of his mother, Simon Illyan, Allegre, and Duv Galeni.  Lady Alys hugs both him and Tej first thing, and Illyan shakes his hands firmly, but with a troubled air, and whispers an apology to Tej.  Allegre asks Ivan if he’s responsibly for it; Ivan says he isn’t, though he recalls uneasily the documents he signed taking responsibility for the Arquas’ actions on the planet when they arrived.  He asks them about Sgt. Abelard and his bomb, showing them the dog tags and telling them about the skeleton they’d found below.

“Is there really a treasure worth millions of marks down there?” Simon demanded next.  Galeni was right at his shoulder, for this one.

“Simon, there were millions in the first crate we opened.  Hundreds of millions down there, at the least guess.”  Ivan turned to Galeni.  “And crates of hundred-year-old documents packed to the ceiling, Barrayaran and Cetagandan.  They’re going to take years to sort.  I found a holograph letter from Prince Xav to Prince Yuri in one of them.”  He pulled the folded letter out of his jacket and handed it across to Duv, who took it; one glance, and his mouth, which had opened to say something–probably about correct document conservation starting with not folding up rare items and stuffing them in one’s pocket–just stayed open.  Ivan had never seen Duv’s eyes go so wide.

Captain Raudsepp has just finished processing Imola and his men, and tells Ivan he’s glad Lady Vorpatril is safe, though he swears he doesn’t know how they got onplanet.  Ivan tells him they’re locals, and fills him in on Imola and his dodgy business in smuggling, including the cryocorpse exporting; he emphasizes probably commendations for bringing him to justice, and happily leaves the case in Raudsepp’s lap, hopefully getting him off of the Arquas’ back.

Tej asks if they’re being arrested, and Allegre says that first priority is to get them to ImpMil for examination, with the biohazard risk; Ivan encourages him to get someone qualified to speak “old-high-medical” to Lady Moira for more information.  Tej’s parents and Byerly come up and encourage “Lady Vorpatril” to stay with her husband, presumably to keep her safe if the rest of them end up in trouble, but Tej chooses to interpret this as endorsement to stay with him period.  Shiv shakes Illyan’s hand and congratulates him on a well-played hand, and Illyan enigmatically tells him they’re not quite done with House Cordonah yet.

Allegre receives a call which apparently is announcing the Emperor’s imminent arrival, which he protests, but is apparently overruled.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, Gregor arrives in a groundcar with an escort of armsmen and ImpSec.  Gregor is genuinely happy to see Ivan and Tej rescued and safe.

His eye fell on Simon, watching this with his mouth gone wry.  “And Simon.  What the hell?”  The Why was I blindsided? look was very clear in the Emperor’s eye, which Ivan could only be grateful was not turned on him.  Yet.

Simon gave him a beleaguered head tilt.  “You know that long lunch appointment I made with you for tomorrow?”

“Yes…?”

“I should have made it for yesterday.”

Gregor then thanks General Allegre for his good work, and goes over to give his personal thanks to Colonel Otto, head of the engineers.  Otto asks Ivan about the Mycoborers that Star mentioned, and Ivan gives him a brief resumé before encouraging him to talk to Lady Moira for more details, and get someone from the Imperial Science Institute qualified to understand what she says.  The Mycoborers do seem to have potential, he notes, but more as a weapon than as a building tool just yet.

A Captain Roux, more mud-spattered than most of the engineers, arrives on a float-bike to speak to Otto; he says they’ve found the storm sewer’s outlet into the river.  It had been blocked up, but recently become unblocked; now what’s coming out is mud, at a prodigious rate of several cubic meters a second.  Allegre asks where that would be coming from, and Otto says they’ll find out soon enough, but right now they have more important things to figure out.

“Guy,” called Gregor, still staring.  “Has ImpSec HQ always been sort of…tilted up on one side?  Or is that an optical illusion?”

Allegre looked around; his gaze grew arrested.

Gregor went on, uncertainly, “I’d not seen it before from his angle of view.  Maybe it’s just more of Dono Vorrutyer’s subtle disproportions devised from his cracked theories on the psychology of architecture.”

Ivan wheeled around as well.  So did everyone else.  Simon, Alys cluching his arm, and Tej came over to Ivan’s side.

Ivan blinked.  He squinted.  Gregor wasn’t wrong; the left side of the ImpSec building did look slightly higher than the right.  Or…the right side lower than the left…?

In the courtyard of the building, cobblestones begin popping out of the ground, and then the front steps crack, twisting the huge bronze doors.  The building seems to be levelling out, but Otto observes that it’s just that both sides are now sinking.  ImpSec men begin to evacuate the building, to Allegre’s dismay; Illyan says that it’s probably those who grew up in earthquake country coming out first.  He tells him to commend the ones who stayed at their post–and promote the ones who were smart enough to leave.

Illyan watches, mesmerized, as the building continues to sink; it’s stable enough that it stays together, but it only takes a few minutes for the first storey to sink beneath the ground, and by the time it begins to slow, the third-storey windows are at ground level.

“Well,” said Gregor, in a choked voice.  “There’s…a surprise.”

A startling cackle broke from Simon’s lips.  He clapped a hand over his mouth, and managed in a more measured voice, “My God, I hope no one has been injured.”  Except then he cackled again, louder.  Lady Alys gripped his arm in worry.

Gregor finally lets his armsmen drag him away from the spectacle, and Lady Alys herds Ivan, Tej and a reluctant Illyan away home.

Comments

The two moments that hold this novel together, the ones that support the plot like tentpoles, are Ivan and Tej’s spur-of-the-moment wedding, and the sinking of ImpSec Headquarters.  Once you get here, it seems like most of the rest of the plot is leading up to it.  “How can I sink ImpSec HQ?” wonders the author.  This leads to the underground vault, which leads naturally to the Cetagandan connection…but it can’t be that direct, Ivan wouldn’t marry a Cetagandan, so let’s bring her in by way of Jackson’s Whole…  The Mycoborer fits into that as well, as the kind of thing a Cetagandan or a Jacksonian might get access to, a tool to loosen the earth just enough.  The bomb is also important, of course, but on a place like Barrayar it’s not that hard to find out lying around somewhere.  So there you have it.

Rish and Jet’s predicament, sadly, didn’t work as well for me.  They were lost and presumed in jeopardy, but there was nothing anyone could do about it, and we didn’t get to see it, just imagine it and then hear the details second-hand later.  If Rish had had any viewpoint scenes, then that would worked a lot better, but it was a little too late in the book to start them, I suppose.  Also, her character had started to fade into the background into the rest of the mass of Jewels and Arquas, after a promising early start.  But Byerly did get to be a little bit heroic, though by now his cover must surely be quite thoroughly blown, because how could they justify a supposed town clown doing something quite that heroic?

Ivan accounts well for himself, being sufficiently on top of things to be able to overwhelm Galeni, Captain Raudsepp, Guy Allegre, and Simon Illyan, which is not too shabby.  An uncharitable person might think that he’d been deliberately withholding information, but he did come into possession of most of it in the last little while; he just happens to be sufficiently respectable (as compared to, say, random Jacksonian in-laws) to be able to tell them all this and be believed.  But that’s the best thing for him to do in this situation, to get his information to the people best able to make use of it.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Despite any efforts ImpSec put forth, the events in Vorbarr Sultana are impossible to conceal–the dramatic rescue, the rumours of treasure and offworlder criminals and outright shenanigans, not to mention the sinking of ImpSec HQ.  The only thing they have managed to keep under wraps is the existence of the Mycoborer, which Ivan says is a good thing, because Barrayarans would likely react badly to the news that some alien fungus has been introduced willy-nilly into their ecosystem–Dismemberment of Mad Emperor Yuri badly.

After their release from ImpMil, the Arquas are moved into an apartment in Lady Alys’s building and kept there under guard and strictly sequestered.  Officially, they are “detained at the Emperor’s pleasure”, the only good point of which is that it keeps them from being summarily deported, yet.  They do receive some requests for media interviews, but the Baronne says that it would likely be a bad idea.

ImpSec HQ is still being evacuated of files and equipment, though Ivan wonders how they’re going to handle the evidence rooms in the lowest levels.  The sinking has slowed, but not yet stopped, the third floor now having disappeared underground.  Simon Illyan does keep his appointment to talk to the Emperor, though when he comes home he remarks on the unaccustomed levels of sarcasm that Gregor indulged himself in.  The contents of the bunker, meanwhile, have surpassed a tally of 1.1 billion marks.

“What,” said Pidge, peering over Ivan Xav’s shoulder, “is an Imperial Court of Inquiry“–she squinted–“most secret?”

“You could think of it as a subpoena,” said Ivan Xav.  “With fangs.  But it would be…be…”

“A charming understatement?” suggested Tej, peering over his other shoulder.

“No,” said Ivan Xav, in a distant tone, “not charming…”

He brings Tej to the Imperial Residence, and Byerly, Illyan and Lady Alys shepherd the rest of them.  The meeting is held in a subterranean lecture hall, in a part of the palace Ivan is unfamiliar with.  Gregor arrives as his staff are setting things up, and soon everyone is seated.

Gregor begins by listing the various jurisdictions involved in the recent events–the Vorbarra District Count’s Court, the Barrayaran Military Service, and the Imperium as a whole; luckily, he is the one in charge of all of them, and so he proposes to bundle them all together into a Star Chamber.  He gives them a chance to decide whether they would prefer this or not; Pidge consults with her parents and grandmother on the matter, and advises them to refuse, giving them the longest time to fight their way through the various courts.  Ivan points out that Gregor is offering them a sizable chunk of his time now, and probably won’t make the time available to them later, and also that he’s wearing civilian clothing rather than military or House garb, which implies he’s likely to offer them a deal of some sort…as long as they don’t annoy him or waste his time.  After further consultation, Shiv announces that they are willing to abide by the Star Chamber’s rulings.

Another group is then admitted–Duv Galeni, Guy Allegre, Colonel Otto, Dr. Vaughn Weddel, and Allegre’s wife Susan, who is also Senior Administrator of the Imperial Science Institute.  After they have been settled, Gregor notes two possible ways of solving a dilemma–starting from the facts, or starting from the desired outcome–and that he will be trying some combination of the two.  He starts by asking Galeni for facts about the bunker being reported “cleared”, and the late Sgt. Abelard.

Galeni comes up to the front, and begins by telling them about Captain Geo Pharos, the ImpSec officer who signed off the inspection of the bunker, and his assistant, Sergeant Vlad Norman.  They were both killed a month after the inspection in a construction accident (which, Galeni notes for Otto’s benefit, resulted in the hanging of the construction boss whose slapdash workmanship had resulted in the mishap).  Galeni says that Norman and Pharos could have simply blown off the inspection entirely, confident that nothing would be found and under severe time pressure, or they could have been purposely trying to conceal the contents of the bunker in hopes of being able to exploit them themselves; he can find no definitive evidence either way.

Moving on to Abelard, Gregor notes that he talked to Aral Vorkosigan, who doesn’t recall ever sending anyone to blow up ImpSec while Vordarian’s men were in control, though he’s not sure that, in the chaos of the Pretendership, he would necessarily have been brought into the loop on such an operation.  Illyan suggests that Negri, despite already being dead, would have been perfectly capable of setting up some kind of posthumous order.  Galeni notes that Abelard’s record was exemplary before the Pretendership, but it’s still possible he might have sided with Vordarian.  He was a senior guard at ImpSec, and wasn’t noted as missing until after the end of the war.  Gregor asks Galeni for his personal feeling, and Galeni says he thinks Abelard was cut off from his fellows and left to find his own way to fight; he suggests finding Abelard’s old colleagues and interviewing them if they really want to find out more about the man.

Gregor then moves on to the bunker itself; he is interrupted by Pidge, who points out that according to Barrayaran law, there is a 10% finder’s fee due to those who find lost items, including historical artifacts confiscated by the government, and she wishes to file such a claim on behalf of House Cordonah.  She points out that without their efforts, the vault may never have been opened and its contents found at all.  Gregor says that he is aware of the precedent, and says they will get back to it.  Galeni says that he has put Professora Vorthys in charge of curating the historical documents from the vault, which have been removed to a secure location.

“Our best guess of the value of the rest of the items inventories and removed so far–as of this morning; I checked on the way here–is”–Galeni cleared his throat, unaccountably dry–“three point nine billion marks.”

Make that accountably dry, Ivan corrected his observation.  Gregor, who had hitched himself up on the edge of the comconsole table, nearly fell off it.  Shiv Arqua rubbed his forehead, his face screwing up like a man suffering from the sharpest twinge of existential pain in history.

“Almost four billion marks, Duv?” choked Gregor.  “Really?”

“So far.  We hope to have cleared the upper floor by the end of the week.  I have absolutely no idea what we’ll find on the lower one.”

“More of the same, as I recall,” murmured Lady ghem Estif.

Galeni notes that most of the contents of the vault are worth a lot more than they were when they were stored, and surely somebody else must have known they were there, but no other Cetagandan entrepreneurs ever came back for them.  Lady Moira says that’s probably because the ghem-lords who owned them were executed on their return to Eta Ceta in defeat.  Galeni tells Lady Moira he’d be gratified to speak to her later, if she can.

Gregor then calls Otto up to try to explain the suddenly subterranean nature of ImpSec HQ.  Otto puts up a three-dimensional display on the comconsole table, showing ImpSec HQ and neighbouring buildings, the nearby terrain, the bunker, and the storm sewer.  He says that Abelard may well have made his tunnel starting from the storm sewer, which may have left a weak point in the pipe.  He adds the Mycoborer tunnels, many of which he postulates having spread out in the area underneath the ImpSec sub-basements, and notes that the tunnel walls end up hard but brittle, weak in tension, and the force of the explosion doubtless caused them to crack.  The storm sewer pipe also blew out, and part of its drainage collapsed, so the water made its way into the tunnels instead, weakening the walls  and increasing the pressure.

When they dug down with the grav-lifters, Otto theorizes, the vibrations may have also helped unclog the storm sewer drain; what came running out would have been mud from the Mycoborer tunnels under ImpSec HQ, and the decrease in pressure would have caused the building to begin to settle into the space that the mud was vacating.  He says that the building shouldn’t sink too much further by this point.  Gregor thanks him for his cogent explanation; Otto says that what he wants to know is what’s going to happen with the Mycoborer remnants that are now washing downstream, and Gregor says that that’s what he brought Dr. Weddell here to answer.

Weddell begins by saying that they haven’t yet found any evidence of live Mycoborer cells downstream from the capital, though they have found remnants of the tunnel wall.  In addition, their tests with live cells in the laboratory indicate that they do not thrive in salt water.  Tej notes to Ivan that Weddell is another former Jacksonian; he says he and Gregor know, but not to mention it to anyone else.

“While I do strongly recommend we continue to monitor, it is my opinion that the Mycoborer is less a hazard than several other biological nightmares you Barrayarans have lived with for years, not excepting this planet’s own native ecosystem.  Preudence yes, panic no.  Add it to the list and go on, I’d say.”

Gregor eyed Weddel.  “Would you, personally, today, drink water taken from the river downstream of Vorbarr Sultana?”  In his present mood Gregor was not above personally testing that very question, Ivan suspected.  On Weddell, that was.  Did he have a liter bottle tucked away behind the podium?

“Yes,” said Weddell, steadily, “if it was first boiled to destroy all the eighteen other lethal pathogens usually present.  Normal local water treatment should protect your subjects.”

Gregor asks Dr. Allegre to check into Weddell’s claims about the water treatment, and she promises to do so.  Then he switches to wider Imperial concerns, pointing out that while Barrayar does not currently have significant interest in Jackson’s Whole, that could change if Cetaganda were to take an interest in the system; he speculates that House Prestene may in fact represent the beginning of some Cetagandan action aimed at a wormhole monopoly.  Shiv notes that that’s been tried before, to no success, but Gregor points out that Prestene has two of the five they’d need, and Baron Fell, traditionally the hardest to overcome, may not be around much longer.  In such a case, Barrayar might find it prudent to have an ally among the Jacksonian houses, and a secret one would be even better.

Gregor offers House Cordonah their ten percent, less expenses.  There was no loss of life, so there won’t be survivors’ pension in the tally, but he would wish to include expenses incurred in the unearthing and investigation of the vault, which Shiv agrees would be reasonably.  He also says they will need a new ImpSec building, which lights up Illyan’s eyes with excitement, and draws Allegre’s interest as well; they would also need to clean up the old building, and put some money aside in case there does prove to be Mycoborer contamination down the line.  He does, however, propose to give House Cordonah a free jumpship, which Byerly immediately realizes means Vormercier’s confiscated yacht; Gregor apologizes in advance for the questionable décor.  He also offers them their own personal ImpSec liaison, and one on the verge of familial ties to the Arquas, in the person of Byerly himself.  Allegre opines that Byerly seemed to be in need of a new challenge, which By protests, but only weakly.

Shiv and Udine retreat to the hallway to confer in semi-private, which they do at length; eventually they return and agree to Gregor’s Deal.  Gregor shakes their hands and wishes them luck.  Shiv asks for one personal favour, which is that he be allowed to personally inform Vigo Imola of the estimated valuation of the bunker’s contents; Gregor allows it.

Armsman in front and secretary trailing, Gregor paused on his way out to deal with whatever next crisis might be crowding his queue.  Because a three-planet empire delivered upset snakes by the basket-load to this man’s office, every damned morning.  Yeah–for all the talk of men coveting the emperor’s throne, Ivan had never yet heard anyone speak of coveting his desk.

“Ivan.”  Gregor’s mouth twisted.  “Captain and Lady Vorpatril.  I want to see you tomorrow.  My secretary will call with your appointment.”

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Why is this the first mention we are getting of Guy Allegre’s wife?  At least, I don’t recall her ever being mentioned before, not in any of the books since Allegre was first introduced (I believe) in Memory.  It’s not clear whether she is the Senior Administrator or merely a Senior Administrator, which may be a significant difference.  This being Barrayar, it’s possible that the odds of a woman rising to being actually in charge of a major Imperial institution, even in something so namby-pamby as science, are fairly low.  It’s actually impressive, though now I wonder if her husband’s influence has helped.  (Or maybe he married her after she rose to that position.  Not impossible.)

It is kind of nice, I suppose, to have a few people brought in who we weren’t already familiar with.  I mean, for our historical experts we have Duv Galeni and Professora Vorthys, who we’re well familiar with by now.  For our scientific expert we have Vaughn Weddell a.k.a. Hugh Canaba, though he is delightful as always on the subject of the Barrayaran ecosystem.  Makes me think he might drink a lot of distilled water.  (Where is Enrique Borgos these days, I wonder?  Still on Barrayar, married to Martya?  I don’t know if we ever find that out…maybe a mention in CryoBurn somewhere…)  Anyway, having Otto there as a bona fide expert but not a personal acquaintance of Miles and Ivan is at least a bit refreshing.  Susan Allegre would be good too if she had anything to do in this scene, which she really doesn’t.

The Cordonahs do get at least a portion of the loot, as part of the deal.  If we take that as, say, eight billion marks total, of which they get 10%, or 800 million…minus however much it costs to build a new ImpSec headquarters, among other things.  How much is real estate and construction on Barrayar?  I don’t have a good feeling for it, but I suppose they should get away with at least half of that 10%.  Which is a far cry from 85%, if Vigo had played straight with them (6.8 billion?), but better than nothing.

I had vaguely heard the term Star Chamber before, so I looked it up on Wikipedia just now.  Apparently, in Tudor and Stuart England, it was a sort of nasty high court that could basically do whatever it wanted, and ended up being used for disposting of people that the Crown just didn’t like.  Luckily, with Gregor, we have an enlightened ruler who would never do that.  I wonder how these people would have fared under one of the less nice emperors of the past?


Two chapters left, or one chapter and an epilogue.  Will that take me one week, or two?  It’s too soon to tell, but if I’m taking Remembrance Day off, I suppose there’s a chance I may spend some of that time working on the next blog post, so I wouldn’t rule it out.  So you just might get lucky again…

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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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Can you keep a secret?  It’s well known than three people can keep a secret, if two are dead, though perhaps this is less obvious than it seems, because sometimes secrets will come out anyway.  Even if all three are dead, because there is, after all, Google.  It’s no secret, then, that tonight I am posting another entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that special series of blog posts dedicated to review and appreciation of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, featuring the exploits of a certain Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  This week we continue on into Chapter Fourteen of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, where Miles has only a small role, since we’re focusing on his cousin Ivan Vorpatril and his current, temporary(?) wife, Tej, whose Jacksonian family has unexpectedly turned up mostly alive…

Chapter Fourteen

As they are escorted into the waiting room, Ivan notes that the room is guarded, and they’ve been sequestered from other travelers; not yet officially detained, but that area isn’t too far away, which he refrains from mentioning to Tej and Rish.  Mahon, the Customs & Immigration officer, gets them past the guards, and Tej hurries towards her family; Mahon notes quietly to Ivan that the names these people were travelling under didn’t match any of the names that Tej referred to them by.  ImpSec Lieutenant Zumboti, who has accompanied them as well, loosens his stunner in its holster just in case.

Nobody in the room seems to unlimbering weapons; Tej’s father barely makes it to his feet before she tackle-hugs him, and Ivan has to turn away from the naked emotion on his face.  Rish somersaults to the feet of the Baronne before being raised up for a hug as well.  After that, the rest of the family mob closes in.  Ivan tries to identify Tej’s other family members; he picks out the sisters, Pidge and Star, both with red-brown skin, Pidge with matching hair and Star with dark hair.  The Jewels are mostly easier to identify, being colour-coded; the two young men left over turned out to be Amiri and Onyx.  Onyx’s skin is dark like the Baron’s, but patchy in places, apparently because of a disguise implanted on Escobar; Tej hugs olive-skinned Amiri, who rejoices over having found her alive, since they heard nothing about them for months.  Tej then bows to her Cetagandan grandmother, whose hair seems to have been cut alarmingly short.

Mahon asks Ivan if these are really all his relatives, and Ivan is forced to admit that they are, in fact, his in-laws.  He notes that not all of the family are there–Erik, Topaz and Ruby are missing.  He senses a certain edginess under their mood and wonders if it’s related to the missing family members.  Tej pulls Ivan over to introduce to her parents and grandmother.

In a voice gone breathless and shy, Tej said, “Dada, Baronne, Grandmother–this is my Barrayaran husband, Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril.”  As if she had several other husbands of various planetary origins tucked away somewhere…?  “He’s not a lord of anything, though.”

None of them seem that happy to meet Ivan; the Baron said they’d heard of him from Lily Durona, but it didn’t make much sense.  Tej says that the wedding did get them out of trouble, and she’ll explain later.  Ivan, sensing that the Baron isn’t too happy with him, greets them politely, even remembering the proper address to a Cetagandan haut-lady.  He asks how he can help them, and the Baron says that they should find out.

He calls Pidge (a.k.a. Sophia Arqua) over and introduces her to Mahon as their lawyer; she admits that while she’s practiced law elsewhere, she’s not fully qualified for Barrayaran law, but she’s studied up on it quickly in the last couple of weeks.  She says the question seems to be whether they are representatives of House Cordonah, and thus due diplomatic courtesy, or Houseless refugees, and thus due assistance.  Mahon isn’t sure about this, but all Lieutenant Zumboti says is that he doesn’t see them as a threat to the Imperium, so it’s not really his place to interfere; Ivan thinks this is pretty disingenuous of him.  Mahon mutters about only having two hours left in his shift, but allows himself to be led off by Pidge to work things out.

The Baron asks about Rish’s companion, and Rish introduces Byerly to them as her “um, friend”; they’re none too sure about him either, being a Vor, and a natural birth, but Rish vouches for his friendliness.

Tej asks about the newsvids she saw, which claimed to have shown their bodies, but the Baronne said those were fakes, and ended up making it harder for the Prestenes to announce their escape.  Rish asks about the missing members; the Baronne says that Ruby is under Baron Fell’s protection, but Topaz is still hostage, and Erik is dead, and it’s unknown if he’s cryo-revivable or not.  Rish asked if they’d gotten out after Star’s group, but the Baronne said they were held hostage for weeks before their escape.  Tej asks about her grandmother’s hair, and Lady ghem Estif said she sold it, on Earth, at auction, for a considerable sum.

“That was a pretty amazing sacrifice, for a haut woman,” Ivan offered, this seeming a less fraught topic.  “I once met some of the ladies of the Star Crèche itself, on Eta Ceta, some years ago.  Their never-cut hair was a major status-marker.”

Lady ghem Estif’s expression went rather opaqie.  “It is long,” she stated, “since I left the Star Crèche.”  She hesitated, looking at Ivan more sharply.  “Do the Consorts speak with Outlanders, now?”

“It was a special, um, event.  What was your clan, that is, your haut constellation of origin, before you married the ghem general?”

“Rond.”  Lady ghem Estif delivered the flat monosyllable without emotion.  The Rond were one of the mid-grade Cetagandan Constellations, though that was like saying “one of the mid-grade billionaires”.  But she regarded Ivan with the faintest new spark of…less disapproval.  As though he might be trainable, with the right program of exercises and rewards.

Mahon returns with an offer that, if Ivan will pledge for them as a relative, he can take custody of them as asylum applicants, with a two-week limited visa while their case is reviewed.  He mentions with disapproval the obvious falsities of most of the identification they’d provided, but he does admit their mitigating circumstances; he does, at least, have forms for this contingency.  They will also have to post a bond, for all nine of them, with a potential group discount; Ivan, sensing he’s not going to get out of this on time for work, calls to let them know he’ll be late.  A mere three and a half hours later, the process is completed, Ivan has sworn to be responsible for a number of things he privately things he has no control over, with the Jacksonians watching the process in interest.  Then they leave the shuttleport in a rented ground-van into morning rush hour.

Ivan takes them to a hotel, a utilitarian place not far from Ivan’s apartment, then says he has to go to work; he leaves Tej with the admonition to “not let them do anything”, and she says they’d probably like to just sleep.  Rish manages to part with By as well, and a few minutes later picks a bug from under her collar, tells it “Nice try” and ditches it.  Their rooms all adjoin onto a central lounge, and after depositing their luggage they all sit down to listen to Tej and Rish’s tale.

None of them are that impressed by Tej’s marriage to Ivan, even as a ploy, critiquing it severely, saying she should have held out for more; her father isn’t pleased that she turned down to many suitors just to end up with a Barrayaran (though, she admits, he never tried to push her towards anyone she didn’t like).  The Baronne asks if she knew of his high-level connections, and Tej admits she didn’t know until afterwards.  The Baronne is very interested in his proximity to the throne (or, as Tej corrects her, “camp stool”), but Rish says that apparently Ivan’s claim is tenuous, and Tej’s grandmother discourages them from trying to pursue it.

“Still, he’s in their military,” said Star.  “He can’t be totally clueless, in a crunch.  Maybe we could use him in our Security.  Our new Security, when we set it up.”

“Or in Administration,” said Pidge.  “You say he’s a kind of secretary?”

“Or in Hospitality,” said Jet, with a snigger.  “How well does he strip?”

Tej glowered at him.

The Baronne dismisses his career as make-work to keep him out of trouble, though Tej insists that he works hard, and his boss says he has a talent for spotting hidden political stakes (or was it snakes?).  The Baronne wonders about the Deal that Desplains made to get this “princeling” in his charge, which must have been a social coup for him; she asks if Tej has thought of the best way to exploit her relationship with Ivan.

Tej tells her about the plan to smuggle them out to Escobar; Star says she’d prefer to take out the bounty hunters more directly, as she’d dealt with those that House Prestene had sicced on her.  Tej tries to explain the divorce matter which had delayed their departure; her father tells her not to worry about it when they leave, though if she prefers they could certainly kill Ivan for her, a suggestion that Tej hotly protests.  Star wonders why Ivan didn’t just let the hunters kill her, if he was so eager for a divorce; Tej feels helpless to explain it to them, though she tries to tell them that Barrayar is a more complicated world than they think, a sentiment that only her grandmother seems to agree with.

Star grumbles about having had to leave their weapons behind, and offers to go scrounge up a new arsenal, which Tej tries to discourage her from, mindful of Ivan’s admonition.  Rish notes that ImpSec is likely keeping watch on them, and can protect them more ably right now; the Baron agrees and encourages them all to get some sleep.  Tej and Rish bid her parents farewell again, making plans to get together for supper, before they head back to Ivan’s flat.

In the hallway, Pidge grumbles to them that this detour has been costly and time-consuming, and Tej isn’t doing her part in their efforts to retake the House; she should be making a genetic alliance for them.  Tej protests that her father would never make her do that, and Pidge says that they don’t have as many options any more, and she should just suck it up and do it anyway.  Tej bids her farewell uncomfortably; she was so happy just a little while ago to see her family again, but now she’s unhappy again.

Comments

The ending of Chapter Thirteen made me keep reading halfway into this chapter, through the reunion with the family.  The second half of the chapter, though, I found somewhat unpleasant, and did not make me at all fond of any of Tej’s family, particular her sisters.  It’s also like, boom, here’s another ten-odd characters introduced all at once; we had some background on them before, admittedly, but now they’re all actually here, and of course they probably all want to talk (except Tej’s brother, who doesn’t seem to say much, nor do the Jewels), but that’s a nightmare for a reader.

I know that one can go through all sorts of personal changes, but fall back into the old patterns when you’re back with people who knew you before, because it’s easier that way.  Tej has become markedly less Jacksonian through her married life, mainly because she’s living in a much less Jacksonian place, a place where people are sometimes kind without expecting something in return, which is apparently an alien concept on Jackson’s Whole.  Which is probably why the purest Jacksonians are so intensely unlikeable.  Which must make Tej a bit of a white sheep in her family, the spoiled baby who didn’t have to learn the hard “truths” about the way the world works.  Her biggest ally right now seems to be her grandmother, the former haut who has a little more experience of non-Jacksonian worlds than the others, and she can’t be expected to be too sympathetic to the Barrayaran way of doing things.

By the end of the chapter I was heartily rooting for Tej to just go tell her family to stuff it and leave her on Barrayar.  She hasn’t reconciled herself to staying married to Ivan quite yet, but she’s certainly feeling distanced from her family; still, she’s just gotten them back, so she’s not ready to break ties with them.  Now she gets to be stuck between two worlds, growing more and more miserable due to her lack of actually telling either Ivan or her family what’s wrong.  Not sure if Rish is nearly as conflicted, probably just a little, since she was more Jacksonian than Tej in the first place; By is perhaps a little more Jacksonian than Ivan, so she’s not pulled quite so far off-center.


I’m sure I’ll do another chapter next week, no reason not to…and still not feeling the pull to go faster than that.  Don’t all reread blogs do that as time goes on?  I mean, Leigh Butler’s Read of Ice and Fire has certainly slowed down, right?  So it’s okay for me to do it too.  So, next week then.

 

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

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Mother.

He sat a moment, while lights blinked at him.

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

Love, Ivan.

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

Comments

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

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

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another inarticulate noise of protest from her son.

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

 

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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?

Comments

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

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

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


 

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

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

Chapter Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By opened his hands as if to surrender the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


 

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

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