Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Jackson’s Whole’

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

Chapter Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


 

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

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

It’s Wednesday night, again, and that must mean we’re back here at the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I get to make another post following the works of Lois McMaster Bujold in the Vorkosigan Saga.  This week I continue on through Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, following fan favourite and occasional idiot Ivan Vorpatril as his romantic life takes a turn for the interesting.  This week I manage to cover Chapter Three, which once again features both of our main characters, Ivan and the mysterious Tej…

Chapter Three

As soon as Ivan leaves, Tej and Rish check out possible escape routes.  There’s only one door, but it opens onto a hallway with two lift tubes and emergency stairs; there’s a balcony, but it’s a bit high without antigravity or rappelling gear.  They can’t find any surveillance gear either.  The lock is quite good, though of course a mere locked door won’t stop everybody.  Rish puts their clothes into Ivan’s compact washing machine, and Tej, finding his bathroom, decides to take a long bath.

The scent of him still lingered in the moist air, strangely pleasant and complex, as if his immune system was calling out to hers: let’s get together and make wonderful new antibodies.

She appreciates the brief sensual moment, before it is lost in the reminder of her precarious situation, in the months since the fall of her House.  On Komarr things had been seeming to calm down, until last night brought it all back.  She wonders again who Ivan Vorpatril is, and why he came into her life.

When she emerges from the bath, Rish is using the comconsole to see if Dome Security has released any information on the night’s intruders; all she’s found is bare statements of fact, no new information.  She notes that nobody’s outbid the arrest order yet, though Tej says that she doesn’t think they do that here; Rish is forced to agree, seeing some of the other crimes reported.  Tej says the bath is free, and Rish is willing to take advantage of it, though she does wonder how Vorpatril can afford such a nice apartment on officer’s pay; Tej says she thinks this is just temporary lodging while he’s here from Barrayar.

Tej wonders if they can look him up on the comconsole; on Jackson’s Whole, that kind of information wouldn’t be available for free, but Tej’s Betan childhood tutors described an open information network on their home planet, which was one of the most advanced, technologically, in the wormhole nexus.  At the very least, they can see what public information there is about him; Rish agrees that she should give it a try.

Tej starts looking for his name, and quickly discovers how many Barrayaran names there are that begin with “Vor”, and even hundreds of Vorpatrils.  She sorts them by significance, which puts Count Falco Vorpatril at the top, but Ivan isn’t his son, so she moves on.  After moving through a few officers, she remembers the middle name “Xav”, from the card he gave her, and that narrows it down to his proper record.  Nothing much on it, though she does note that his birth date and his father’s death date are the same, and wonders what that was like, with a parent he’d never known.

She remembers that he’d send the vase to somebody “Vorkosigan”, and looks up that name too.  That family seems to be much smaller, only about a dozen adult males, but Count Vorkosigan seems to be the second most person in the entire database, and his son Miles, an agemate of Miles, also seems to have an impressively long entry.  She only knows the basic history of the Barrayaran Empire; they hadn’t planned on spending a lot of time here, just passing through the jump stations.  She knows about its Time of Isolation, the Cetangandan invasion, and Barrayar’s counter-invasion of Komarr after the Cetagandans were driven off…and the botched invasion of Escobar after that.

It was still a matter of profound respect and awe, to Jacksonian students of the great Deals of history, how evil Emperor Ezar had managed to hang on the newly discovered planet of Sergyar during the treaty settlements, adding it firmly to his empire before dying and leaving his throne to a five-year-old grandson.

Jackson’s Whole is just as happy to have several systems’ buffer between itself and the Barrayaran Empire, but unfortunately there are also several systems still in the way of Tej and Rish’s escape to Escobar, or Beta Colony.  She returns to Ivan’s record, but can’t find anything there to lead her to believe him more than a dull middle-rank officer…so how had he gotten involved in their problems?  Rish emerges from the bath, they share a wine-and-ration-bar brunch, after which Tej falls asleep on the couch.

Ivan blames his slight lateness on a bubble-car jam; Admiral Desplains notices his somewhat squinty appearance, and is amused but skeptical of Ivan’s assertion that he was kidnapped and tied up by two beautiful women.  Ivan only barely manages to stay awake through the morning’s three-hour meeting, and afterwards grabs a coffee, painkiller and rat-bar lunch before deciding to talk to someone at ImpSec Galactic Affairs.

He’d met Captain Morozov before, after the Mark incident, and trusts him sufficiently to talk to him.  Implying, though not outright stating, that he’s getting information for Desplains, he asks Morozov about a suspected Jacksonian, and gives him a description of Rish.  Morozov immediately brings up a startling image.

The vid showed a group portrait, posed and formal.  Rish, it was clearly Rish, knelt on one knee, second from the left.  She was wearing very little: a gold thong and a winding pattern of gold foil that appeared to be glued on, barely covering other strategic points and twining up to her neck as if to present her face as an exotic blossom.  Surrounding her were four other women and a man.  They had slightly varying heights and builds, but all looked equally lithe and shimmering.  One woman was white and silver, one yellow and metallic gold, one green and gold, one red and garnet, and the man was jet black and silver.  Six faces differently but equally exquisite, smiling faintly, serene.

Morozov says they’re Baronne Cordonah’s living Jewels–Pearl, Ruby, Emerald, Ropaz, Onyx, and Lapis Lazuli (Rish).  They were partly decorative, partly dancers, and what Jacksonians called “jeeveses”–unswervingly loyal servants/slaves, their loyalty ensured either genetically or through conditioning.  Ivan recognizes Cordonah as the name of one of Jackson’s Whole’s jump-point stations, and Morozov says that the masters of House Cordonah were, until recently, Shiv and Udine ghem Estif Arqua.

Ivan immediately asks why “until recently”, and why there’s a Cetagandan ghem name in there, and Morozov offers to tell him the story; Ivan checks the time, but isn’t going to pass up free information from an ImpSec analyst.  General ghem Estif was, as most Barrayarans would know, one of the last generals involved in the Cetagandan occupation of Barrayar; he’d been awarded a haut wife, and they lingered on Komarr after being driven off-planet rather than return home for a fatal apology to the Emperor.  They had a daughter, Udine, who married a Komarran shipping magnate; when the Barrayarans invaded Komarr, Udine and her husband fled offplanet with the aid of Shiv Arqua, a mercenary captain from the Selby Fleet.  Udine soon left her husband and settled on Jackson’s Whole with Arqua, who she helped rise in House Cordonah.  Ivan speculates on what Shiv Arqua’s appeal might be; Morozov shows him a picture of the couple, Udine tall and gorgeous with long haut-woman hair, and Shiv Arqua dark-skinned, stocky and bald.

Morozov says that the Cordonahs had moved into the hostage recovery business, and had a remarkably good track record; they were also willing informants, admittedly for both sides, but with high quality info, and Morozov admits he misses them.  He explains that several months earlier they’d been victims of a hostile takeover by House Prestene, and nothing had been heard of them since, so it’s assumed that they’re both dead.  He asks Ivan where he might have seen this Lapis Lazuli, and Ivan hastily excuses himself, because he’s genuinely running late now.  Morozov says he hopes they can talk again soon, and conveys his best wishes to Ivan’s stepfather; Ivan says that Simon Illyan isn’t his stepfather yet, and belatedly realizes why an ImpSec man might want to get into his good books…

At the end of the day, Ivan is heading out of the office with Admiral Desplains, his mind whirling, trying to figure out where to pick up food for his guests, when a security guard calls out to them to wait.  Apparently two Dome Security people want to interview Ivan; Desplains wonders what trouble Ivan could have gotten into after only four days, and Ivan says that he doesn’t know, not adding that he certainly has his suspicions.  Desplains tells Ivan to go along and talk to them, and he can report in the morning.

Ivan finds the security officers, Fano and Sulmona, in a small and unappealing conference room; Fano, a man, is in plainclothes, Sulmona, a woman, in uniform with stunner and shock-stick.  Fano invites him to sit down, while Ivan tries to remember that counterinterrogation course he took back at the Academy; he agrees to let them record him, as he’s sure they’re being recorded anyway.  As he’s feared, they’re investigating his connection with “Nanja”; she hasn’t been seen since her apartment was broken into, and he was one of the last to have seen her, having been placed at her work before she went home.

Ivan tells the story mostly straight, with a few modifications.  For one thing, he pretends to have met her by chance at the shipping shop, and then met her again by chance on her way home; he insists to the skeptical security people that he wasn’t stalking her, and could take no for an answer, but he thought he’d give her another try.  He also omits mention of Rish, claiming that Nanja shot him with a stunner; Fano asks if he’d been attacking her, and Ivan says, nettled, that if he’d been trying, he’d have succeeded, but she took him by surprise.  He skips to waking up tied up to the chair, and claims that he tried to escape quietly, not knowing whether or not he’d fallen into the hands of anti-Barrayaran terrorists or something; then the men appeared outside the window on the float-pallet.

Fano says that the men initially claimed to have seen Ivan while on their way to return a borrowed float-pallet, and broke in to try to rescue him; Ivan says that they definitely did not know he was there when they cut their way in, and asks if they’d fast-penta’d them to check the story.  Fano says they did, apparently not being important enough to have any implanted allergies or anything, their organization preferring to rely on a cell system so they didn’t know too many of their fellows.  They confirmed that they’d been hired to pick up Nanja and her maidservant and hand them over to another cell; Ivan says he never saw the maidservant, that he’d tried to convince the burglars to release him, but they were stunned by people he couldn’t see, and who were gone by the time he got free, and he had no desire to hang around.

Sulmona then brings up the recording of the anonymous tip that brought them in, and dryly notes that they now have a positive voice-match on it, and a record of his bubble-car rental a few minutes later.  Ivan admits he wanted to bring Security there without getting further involved, before the two goons woke up.  Fano reminds him that he committed crimes both by leaving the scene and placing a fake call; Ivan says he had a major stunner hangover, which may explain why he sounded drunk, and just wanted to get out of there before he was late for work.  When they ask him what important duties he was afraid to miss, he tells them that it’s classified; they ask about a potential fast-penta interrogation, and he refers them to his commanding officer, who would have to refer the request to Guy Allegre himself, which they all know means it’s not likely to happen.

“Yes, but didn’t you even report this incident to your own security, Captain?” asked Fano.

“I reported it in brief to my commanding officer.”  True in a sense, but oh God, wasn’t Desplains ever going to fry him in the morning over that.

He says that he wasn’t on duty when this happened, so he considers it just a misadventure, a bit of a mystery, but that’s ImpSec’s job, and if they want him to know what happened, they’ll tell him.  Sulmona says she doesn’t like not knowing what happened to the woman; Ivan says she probably just went into hiding somewhere else, and Sulmona wonders why she didn’t go to Dome Security instead of running away.  Ivan shrugs and says they should look to where she came from–which, supposedly, was in Olbia Dome.  They thank him for his cooperation, and he escorts them out.

Comments

I’d never really thought to wonder why Barrayar did end up with Sergyar after the abortive Escobar war.  I guess I just assumed that they had actually discovered it before Beta Colony–after all, they had their supply depot in place already when Cordelia and the Betan Survey team were exploring it.  Even if they kept it a secret from everyone.  And that was before the actual Escobar war.  Of course, Sergyar wasn’t mentioned by name very often for several books, and it took a long time–maybe until Mirror Dance, when Aral was being offered the job of Viceroy–before I clued in that it was the planet from Shards of Honour.  Apparently the Jacksonians, at least, were impressed by Ezar hanging on to the planet despite the ignominious defeat.  The Barrayarans can’t have given too much up in the peace treaty, since I don’t recall reading anything about forced disarmament or anything.  Maybe they just had to pay reparations or something…

It’s a little amusing that Ivan’s biographical entry is so small, especially compared to Miles and Aral.  I’m going to assume that Miles’s still doesn’t contain any mention of the Dendarii Mercenaries, since it’s still technically a secret, however certain they are that the Cetagandans know all about it, but I guess between his unfortunate birth and his later career as an Imperial Auditor, he’s had enough to fill a respectable entry.  Ivan’s damsel-in-distress misadventures probably don’t get the same kind of writeup, he’s not married, and he’s spent a lot of time avoiding the limelight, so his own birth is probably the most notable thing in there.  Though, while he isn’t close to inheriting the Vorpatril Countship, he is reasonably close to the Vorkosigan Countship (less so now that Miles has a son, of course–and do Gregor and Laisa have kids yet?), with its concomitant weak claims on the Imperium, so you’d think that would warrant a mention too…  Or maybe there’s just a big long list of “Line of Succession to the Barrayaran Imperium” with his name at #8 on the list or something.

Ivan has now found out some more details about Tej’s probably Jacksonian origin; it seems highly likely at this point that she’s related to House Cordonah in some way, and possibly to the Baron and Baronne themselves.  I’d forgotten about the Cetagandan connection, though I guess Udine herself, born and raised on Komarr, may not have identified as Cetagandan, and was obviously won over to the Jacksonian point of view at some point.

The interrogation scene is almost a bit tedious, since we’re going over the same events again, this time with a cover story, so unless the point is to establish the Komarran Security personnel as characters (which I don’t think we are), it could have been handled with a simple “Ivan told them what happened, leaving out Rish and Byerly’s mission entirely” or something like that.  Oh, well.


 

This is one of the few books where I read a substantial sample before the book came out, in this case the first six chapters, so we’re only halfway there so far.  So far I am not feeling an urge to pick the pace back up, so for now, expect another chapter next week…

Read Full Post »

The last day of April is winding its way to a close–Walpurgisnacht, the Canadian tax deadline (in years not affected by the Heartbleed bug, at least)–with the First of May, May Day, so close we can taste it.  On some planets, like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Barrayar, they don’t seem to celebrate either much–in fact, I’m not sure what the heck kind of calendar they have on Barrayar.  Anyway, it’s time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, covering another couple of chapters from one of Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, in this case Diplomatic Immunity, which includes a few Barrayarans but is mostly set on Graf Station in quaddiespace, populated by a four-armed (and zero-legged) free-fall-bred subrace.  This week I’ll cover Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, wherein, the mysterious fugitive Firka having been apprehended, we find out a lot of more about what’s really going on…

Chapter Twelve

Firka’s captors tell Miles that they caught him in a freight bay, after he tried to bribe one of them to take him out to another dock to catch a jumpship; Miles wonders briefly if Solian may have managed to disappear that way as well.  They strung him along and then captured him and brought him in.  When Nicol asks, they admit they didn’t see any sign of Bel–known to them all as a well-liked supervisor–though they did ask their prisoner before taping his mouth closed; they offer to put their ingenuity to work making him more eager to talk, which Venn politely declines, at least for now.  The patrollers take possession of Firka and his duffel bag, electing to keep him on the pole for now.

Sealer Greenlaw and an Adjudicator she introduces as Leutwyn have arrived by this point.  Miles clarifies their assumption that Firka came in with the Barrayarans, telling him he joined the ships after they docked, and accuses him of planting Solian’s blood, as well as the hot riveter assault and the attack on Bel and Garnet Five.  Miles asks the Adjudicator if all that, plus Bel’s unknown location, isn’t sufficient justification for a fast-penta interrogation.

“Here as well,” the adjudicator admitted. “But a fast-penta examination is a delicate undertaking. I’ve found, in the half dozen I’ve monitored, that it’s not nearly the magic wand most people think it is.”

Miles cleared his throat in fake diffidence. “I am tolerably familiar with the techniques, Adjudicator. I’ve conducted or sat in on over a hundred penta-assisted interrogations. And I’ve had it given to me twice.” No need to go into his idiosyncratic drug reaction that had made those two events such dizzyingly surreal and notably uninformative occasions.

“Oh,” said the quaddie adjudicator, sounding impressed despite himself, possibly especially with that last detail.

Miles says he’s fairly certain he has an ample supply of leading questions for the witness.  Venn points out that they need to process Firka first, and he wants to see what’s in his duffel bag.  They take Firka and his bag into a back room, take hand- and foot-prints (both do indeed prove to be webbed), and restrain him properly before untaping him from the pole.  The duffel contains clothes, weapons and tools, the receipt for the hot riveter, a blonde wig, and a dozen sets of identification.

They scan the IDs and find that half of them claim Jacksonian citizenship, and the rest claim citizenship to one of the Hegen Hub’s neighbours.  Three of the IDs bear the name Firka, but only one of them bears any resemblance to their captive, whose picture also graces the identification for Russo Gupta, and a jumpship engineer’s license from Jackson’s Whole that Miles says is almost certainly forged, to the quaddies’ shock.  The other IDs seem to be for other people, Grace and Hewlet, and other pseudonyms.  They remove the tape from the prisoner’s mouth, Miles suggesting the “pull-it-off-quick” method.

Chief Venn begins the interrogation, asking his real name, and he grudgingly admits to being Russo “Guppy” Gupta, and the other IDs belonging to dead friends.  Gupta insists that he doesn’t know Bel Thorne, and didn’t assault him or Garnet Five; Venn has Garnet Five herself brought in, to positively identify him.  Gupta admits, then, that he doesn’t know where the herm is, that he left it in the bin next to hers.  Venn asks Gupta if he’s willing to swear to that under fast-penta; Gupta claims to be allergic, but Miles produces allergy test patches and demonstrates that Gupta has even less of an allergy than Miles’s own mild case.

Venn tells Gupta it’s time to stop lying now, whether voluntarily or through fast-penta, and asks Leutwyn to confirm that they have cause for an “involuntary chemically assisted interrogation”, which he does.  Leutwyn does insist that they desist from treating their captive with unnecessary discomfort; when asked, Gupta admits he would like to spray his gills.  The quaddies test the solution he proposes to use, which proves to be little more than water and glycerin; Gupta agrees to behave and they remove his restraints, and he turns out to be thoroughly comfortable in free fall.  Gupta exposes his chest and expands his rubs, revealing gill slashes between them; he sprays them and seems to acquire some relief thereby.

Miles asks where he’s from, speculating on Jackson’s Whole, but unsure what House would have been responsible.  Gupta, impressed by Miles’s knowledge of the place, says he was made by House Dyan, part of an underwater ballet troupe, or at least their crew.  The late Baron Ryoval staged a takeover of House Dyan, and, perhaps fortunately, cut Gupta loose, to do odd jobs (and not necessarily legal ones, Miles suspects) for five or ten years.  Miles gets Gupta to clarify that he wasn’t shooting at Miles or Bel the other day; Gupta asks who Miles is, and Miles introduces himself, though devoid of honorifics, and just says he was sent by the Barrayarans.

What the devil was keeping that fast-penta? Miles softened his voice. “So what happened to your friends, Guppy?”

That fetched the amphibian’s attention again. “Double-crossed. Subjected, injected, infected . . . rejected. We were all taken in. Damned Cetagandan bastard. That wasn’t the Deal.”

Something inside Miles went on overdrive. Here’s the connection, finally. His smile grew charming, sympathetic, and his voice softened further. “Tell me about the Cetagandan bastard, Guppy.”

Gupta asks despairingly what the use is; Miles tells him that, as a Barrayaran, he has inherited a long-standing grudge against the Cetagandans who tried to take over his planet, and that certainly gets Gupta’s attention.  He tells Miles how the Cetagandan hired them, and their ship–Gras-Grace, the brains, Hewlet, the pilot, Firka, for books and documents, and Guppy himself for the tech, a bunch of misfit ex-Jacksonians.  Miles asks about the cargo, but all Gupta knew was that it was “gengineered mammals”, and part of the Deal was to not ask any more questions; Miles declines to fill him in further.  The pay was good, though.

All they were supposed to do was take the cargo from Vervain through the Hegen Hub, Pol and Komarr to Rho Ceta.  They took an unscheduled side trip to an uninhabited system before Komarr, to rendezvous with another ship, something Cetagandan and official-looking.  The Cetagandan moved all of his own cargo off of it, and then the ship went off on an odd trajectory, deeper into the gravity well.  The Cetagandan himself was travelling alone, and barely talked to anyone except Firka, who was fixing up the cargo manifest to give it a more innocuous origin; Miles asks about the Ker Dubauer name, and Gupta says he didn’t take on that identity until later, probably on Komarr.  Miles wonders how impSec is going to react, knowing that a Cetagandan operative like “Dubauer” passed right through Komarr without them noticing.

The Cetagandan, not yet Dubauer, parted from Gupta and his crew at Komarr–Gupta tracked him after that by the size and weight of his cargo–giving them cordial farewell handshakes.  Gras-Grace advised them not to linger in the Barrayaran empire, not even to spend their new wealth.  They were out past Pol before they started to get sick, fever and swollen pink welts from the points where the Cetagandan had last touched them.  Gupta retreated to the water-tank in his cabin, which he’d done up nicely, and floated there for hours, wracked with pain, before eventually he was forced to leave or begin fouling his water.  He was still feeling horrible when he got out, and threw up on the floor, but he could still walk; the ship was still running, but quiet.  He found the others, in various states of deliquescence, even their bones dissolving, steaming and stinking.

The ship was no good to him now, without a pilot, but he took everything that belonged to the others, including Firka’s cache of credit chits and doctored IDs, into a thoroughly decontaminated escape pod, and abandoned ship.  Three days later he was picked up by a passing ship, claimed his ship had fallen apart, and kept quiet about the biohazard.  He made it to Komarr, tracked Dubauer outward by his cargo, and headed for Graf Station to cut him off.

Miles asks about Solian; Gupta says he’d wanted to deal with Dubauer the first time he left the Idris, but he never did leave the ship.  To get on board, he had to take a cabin on the Rudra; he thought that if he couldn’t kill Dubauer himself, he could turn him over to the Barrayarans.  He made contact with Solian off the ship, and he supposes that Solian followed up on his tip and fell afoul of Dubauer, which probably got him melted like his shipmates.

Miles surmises that Solian had a nosebleed there, so Gupta was able to get a sample; Gupta says he’d spilled the blood because he didn’t want everyone to keep thinking Solian had deserted, and because he was afraid Dubauer would sneak off the Idris in mid-space again.  He didn’t know that the Barrayarans would end up attacking the station, though.

“Er . . . did you have any questions, Chief Venn?”

Venn was giving him a most peculiar stare. He shook his head, slowly, from side to side.

“Uh . . .” A young quaddie patroller Miles had barely noticed enter during Guppy’s urgent soliloquy held out a small, glittering object to his chief. “I have the fast-penta dose you ordered, sir . . . ?”

Venn took it and gazed over at Adjudicator Leutwyn.

Leutwyn cleared his throat. “Remarkable. I do believe, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, that is the first time I’ve ever seen a fast-penta interrogation conducted without the fast-penta.”

Miles glanced at Guppy, curled around himself in air, shivering a little. Smears of water still glistened at the corners of his eyes. “He . . . really wanted to tell somebody his story. He’s been dying to for weeks. There was just no one in the entire Nexus he could trust.”

Comments

Now everything is explained, more or less.  We know what happened to Solian, and why his blood ended up on the floor.  We know who the rogue riveter was, and who he was shooting at, and why.  That, and the Corbeau incident, pretty much led to the mess everyone was in.  We still don’t know precisely what the ba’s cargo is, or where it came from, but it seems pretty clear to me that the ship they rendezvoused with didn’t have a lot of people left alive when the ba sent it spiraling into the sun.  What happened on that ship?  I’m going to assume that the ba had some plan worked out with whoever was on that ship to get those fetuses, because why else would they have been meeting up with Guppy’s ship in a random uninhabited system, and then presumably double-crossed them and killed everybody, with more of that virus, or maybe something more airborne.

“Gras-Grace” is a weird name.  Maybe no worse than Guppy, but at least that makes a certain sense–Gupta + aquatic = Guppy.  Her ID card read Grace Nevatta…so where did the “Gras” come from?  The picture on there is described as “stout” and “pleasantly ugly”, so I guess it may be just from the French for “fat”, but Guppy never really explains it.

I always forget about House Dyan when I’m running through Jacksonian Houses in my head, but then I guess Fell, Bharaputra and Ryoval get the lion’s share of the attention, and Dyan got absorbed by Ryoval anyway.  I can’t remember the Houses that get mentioned in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, though, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for it there.

Chapter Thirteen

Chief Venn asks Miles if he’s sure that the Cetagandan that Gupta is talking about is Dubauer; Miles says the blood sample he got confirms that Dubauer is a Cetagandan ba, and he explains to them what precisely that means, and wonders to himself what this ba is doing outside the Celestial Garden on Eta Ceta.  He tells them about the ba’s cargo, and nixes Venn’s suggestion to put out an APB on Dubauer; he warns them that if it knows they’re onto it, rattled as it doubtless is by now, mere civilians wouldn’t stand a chance against it.

“And your people brought this creature here, onto my station?”

“Believe me, if any of my people had known what the ba was before this, it would never have made it past Komarr. The trade fleet are dupes, innocent carriers, I’m sure.” Well, he wasn’t that sure—checking that airy assertion was going to be a high-priority problem for counterintelligence, back home.

Greenlaw asks if Gupta is likely to be contagious; Miles says he probably isn’t–at the very least, it seemed to be communicated by the ba’s touch, and if it comes from the Star Crèche the haut ladies would doubtless have made it self-limiting.  Gupta points out that he recovered from it, and Miles wonders why he did; he asks Gupta if he can have the Prince Xav‘s surgeon look at him and try to figure out why, but Gupta is too scared they’ll try to dissect him.

Greenlaw asks Miles about the Cetagandans, and why he’s so confident about this haut virus; Miles tries to explain the Cetagandan system to them, the ongoing haut genetic experiment which they slowly disseminate to the ghem.  Venn asks how the haut–who sounds like dissolute, idle aristocratic parasites to him–manage to keep the ghem in line, and Miles says that it’s rumoured the haut have an arsenal of biological weapons.  Greenlaw asks why they weren’t used on Barrayar then, and Miles admits they don’t really know the answer, but it’s suspected that it would have been considered too alarming to other nearby planets, and also that the war was mostly a ghem affair, the haut not being sufficiently concerned to contribute.  Most of the time they’ve heard of anything that might have been one of these bioweapons, it seems to have been an internal Cetagandan affair only, and they were all carefully contained.

Venn asks what they do with Gupta, then; Greenlaw says they should take him to the University clinic, where their best infectious disease experts can look at him.  Miles suggests that it would be safest if Dubauer doesn’t know that they have Gupta; since his capture has probably spread by word of mouth, he proposes they put it about that Gupta’s escaped, and put out the APB on him instead.  They keep his real location secret, and get some trained guards to watch over him, with experience with biohazards.  Greenlaw says they’ll have to get those in from Union Station Militia; Miles offers them Barrayaran medical corpsmen, which Greenlaw is dubious about, but she eventually agrees to take four volunteers.

Miles recommends that they stun Dubauer on sight, rather than risk contact; Adjudicator Leutwyn protests that that’s against regulations, but acquiesces, due to the threat of bioweapons.  Miles considers where they might be able to set up an ambush–one would be where it thinks they’ve taken Guppy, if they want to set up a fake holding area instead of pretending he escaped.  Another would be the Idris, where they could nail it the next time it asks to go on board; Gupta said that had been his plan.

Greenlaw says she’d like to take a look at the ba’s cargo, to see if she judges it a hazard to quaddiespace and meriting impoundment; Leutwyn points out that legally one is not normally allowed to do that with cargos not offloaded from their ships, unless they are a manifest danger where they are.  Miles thinks that impounding the cargo might be dangerous for quaddiespace, because it might make them a Cetagandan target.  Venn says he’d also like to come to the Idris to help set up the ambush; Miles insists on coming along, and Greenlaw eventually acquiesces.

Gupta is packed off by bio-protected quaddies, Nicol and Garnet Five head off to Nicol’s apartment to wait for news, and Miles contacts Admiral Vorpatril to arrange for the medical personnel to be sent over, and give him the disturbing news.  Then Miles and Roic head over to the _Idris_ with Venn, Greenlaw, Leutwyn, and two quaddie patrollers.  The two quaddie guards at the airlock, one of them playing jacks as they approach, report no unauthorized entrants.  Venn stays behind to start organizing the ambush, and the others enter the ship.

They go to look at the replicators in the cargo hold, which look to Miles much as yesterday, until he starts to notice some of them have amber indicators rather than green.  When he takes a closer look at the contents, he finds that one of the fetuses is clearly bleeding from some kind of wound in the back, which shouldn’t have happened inside a sealed replicator…  Venn receives a call from one of the guards from the previous shift, and relays the disturbing news that Bel Thorne brought Dubauer aboard at 0200 the night before, and he didn’t think anything of it until seeing the bulletin about Thorne’s disappearance that morning.  They don’t know yet when they left, and Venn heads off to check into it.

Miles is surprised; this would be only about an hour after Gupta left Bel in the recycling bin, and wonders how Bel was even conscious when Garnet Five didn’t wake up until hours later.

Roic, eyes narrowing, asked, “Could your herm friend have gone renegade, m’lord? Or been bribed?”

Adjudicator Leutwyn looked to Greenlaw, who looked sick with uncertainty.

“I would sooner doubt . . . myself,” said Miles. And that was slandering Bel. “Although the portmaster might have been bribed with a nerve disruptor muzzle pressed to its spine, or something equivalent.” He wasn’t sure he wanted to even try to imagine the ba’s bioweapon equivalent. “Bel would play for time.”

Miles surmises that Dubauer was looking for Gupta, and stumbled across Bel and Garnet Five after they were already unconscious.  The ba might have decided that grabbing Thorne and getting access to the Idris was a better plan than hunting down Gupta.  The ba had spoken of having to destroy its cargo, and taking samples before doing so; that may be what it’s been doing, and these fetuses may have some version of the bone-dissolving disease in them right now.

The Cetagandan wasn’t stupid. Its smuggling scheme might have gone according to plan, but for the slipup with Gupta. Who had followed the ba here, and drawn in Solian—whose disappearance had led to the muddle with Corbeau and Garnet Five, which had led to the bungled raid on the quaddie security post, which had resulted in the impoundment of the fleet, including the ba’s precious cargo. Miles knew exactly how it felt to watch a carefully planned mission slide down the toilet in a flush of random mischance. How would the ba respond to that sick, heart-pounding desperation? Miles had almost no sense of the person, despite meeting it twice. The ba was smooth and slick and self-controlled. It could kill with a touch, smiling.

But if the ba was paring down its payload to a minimum mass, it certainly wouldn’t saddle its escape with a prisoner.

Miles, afraid for Bel’s life, suggests that the herm may be aboard the Idris somewhere.  He suggests they search for it, though they need only look in places that Bel or Dubauer would have had access to.  He asks Greenlaw to keep anyone who hasn’t already been exposed from entering the Idris, and she agrees.  They go through the unsecured areas, finding nothing in unlocked cabins, kitchen or recreation areas, infirmary, nav/com and the rest of the cargo holds being sealed.

In the Small Repairs department Miles finds some of the Idris‘s bod pods, deflated…and one of them fully inflated.  Miles peers inside and sees a naked and clearly feverish Bel Thorne.

Comments

The lecture on the haut is pretty much a distillation of what Miles learned during the course of Cetaganda, though I don’t recall much detail about potential bioweapons in that book.  The theories about why the bioweapons weren’t used on Barrayar sound plausible, though some of it may be just that Bujold hadn’t fully come up with the haut in her head until after the Cetagandan invasion was established, and then had to come up with a reason herself.  Obviously the ghem weren’t afraid of using nuclear weapons, of course.

One wonders why Dubauer didn’t just take samples of the fetuses right at the outset.  The ba might very well have wanted the actual fetuses–I don’t recall what its motivations are right at the moment–but the samples must be an acceptable fallback.  It would have had more leisure time to secure these samples earlier in its trip, though, whether after infecting Guppy and his shipmates or on the Cetagandan ship or even on the docks at Komarr.  I guess it must have hoped the situation didn’t degenerate that far.  It’s amusing to consider its careful plan collapsing around it because of Gupta and Solian.

The news that the ba and the herm had already come on board the Idris, received only after they are already on board, was a nice twist.  Especially when Bel is still on there…and so, as Miles will probably soon realize, the ba probably is too…  And with unknown biohazards floating around, the whole ship may have just turned into a deathtrap.


So…immunity.  Get it?  Guppy has some weird kind of immunity!  And Miles is a diplomat, of sorts!  And “diplomatic immunity” is a phrase which exists!  …Yeah, that’s all I got about that title.  It’s not my favourite by any means, about on par with The Warrior’s ApprenticeMiles Vorkosigan and the Rogue Riveter?  Miles Vorkosigan and the Four-Armed Freaks?  Miles Vorkosigan in Quaddiespace?  Yeah, well.  Anyway.  Six more chapters left, three more weeks, with any luck.  So until the next one, I remain…that guy who does the Vorkosigan Saga Reread blog.

Read Full Post »

You’re standing at a fork in the road; a man stands before each fork, one of which always tells the truth, the other of which always lies.  Also, you’re not wearing any pants.  Suddenly you wake up and discover that it’s time, once again, for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  It’s like a dream come true!  Yes, before your eyes is a skillful summation and insightful commentary of two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, as Lord Miles Vorkosigan works on solving the mystery of what happened to Simon Illyan’s memory chip.  And just think, all you need to do is read it…

Chapter Twenty-Two

Miles hangs around in Haroche’s office all day, mostly kibitzing, which Haroche endures patiently.  They won’t hear anything back from their galactic enquiries for weeks, but Miles doesn’t want any possible lead overlooked.  When they exhaust all their leads, Miles and Haroche wonder if Miles should go to Jackson’s Whole himself, with all of his experience dealing with Jacksonian Houses.  Miles briefly entertains the possibility of commandeering a fleet with his Auditor’s credentials, but decides against it.  He thinks there’s still something to be found somewhere in ImpSec.  He leaves the office and wanders around ImpSec, poking his head into all sorts of crannies he’s never needed to know about, and this turns into a systematic top-to-bottom survey of the entire building.

He left behind a trail of disruption and dismay, as every department head frantically searched his conscience for a reason why the Imperial Auditor might be visiting him. Ha. Guilty, every one of ’em, Miles thought dryly. Several made a point of explaining their budgetary expenditures in what Miles felt was excessive detail, though one blurted out a wholly unasked-for defense of his recent galactic vacation. Watching these normally closemouthed men babble in panic was highly entertaining, Miles had to admit. He led them on with lots of well-timed neutral noises, like “Um,” and “Hm?”, but it seemed to bring him no closer to formulating his right question.

He could have kept it up around the clock, but he decides to err on the side of thoroughness, and goes home to sleep instead.  The presence of so much household staff at Vorkosigan Staff inspires him to return to work early, starting by meeting with Gregor.  Gregor has already been brought up to speed about Avakli’s report and Haroche’s inquiries; he expresses concern over Illyan’s condition.  Miles says it seems to him like Illyan is mostly just out of practice at paying attention.  He tells Gregor that he is happier with Haroche now; he seems to be on the ball, and learns from his mistakes.  Miles just wishes he had some handle to grasp at this problem with; he asks Gregor if he’s sure he doesn’t want a real Auditor on the case.  Gregor asks if Miles wishes to be relieved; Miles thinks about it, and says he just wants to offer Gregor the option, but Gregor doesn’t take it.

Alys and Laisa arrive, brightening up Gregor’s morning, and Miles says he doesn’t have anything else to report.  Laisa expresses ambiguous sympathies for Illyan–as a Komarran, he had a legendary reputation, but turns out to be just a man after all.  Laisa says she really came to invite Miles to a reception for her and Gregor’s friends next week, and asks Miles if he has a “young lady” to bring.  When he says he doesn’t, he senses that she’s hoping to share her happiness by trying to match him up, but she seems content to leave that until later, to consult with Lady Alys.  Gregor asks Alys to bring Illyan with her to a lunch they’re having with her and Cordelia, and Alys agrees, saying that she finds Simon’s conversations rather interesting now that they’re not principally reports.

Miles returns to his inspection of ImpSec, somewhat baffled by Cryptography, overwhelmed by Finance, and fascinated by Housekeeping and Physical Plant, where they are all too eager to show him the intricacies of the building once they learn he’s genuinely interested.  He’s impressed at the security and attention to detail, each room having a private filtration system, sufficient to keep microbes or poison gases from spreading throughout the building; the janitorial staff are all soldiers, well-paid and proud of their work.  Miles crawls through a few ducts, noting that they’re even video-monitored, basking in the camaraderie until it begins to remind him of the loss of the Dendarii.

He knocks off early, has dinner with his mother and Illyan, and chats about Sergyar; the next day, he pesters Haroche until Haroche suggests sending him to Jackson’s Whole again, and then resumes his tour.  He spends time in Analysis, talking with Galeni and the other analysts, including those working on other problems, and discussing the impending wedding with Guy Allegre.  Finally, as Miles had planned, he arrives at the Evidence Rooms last thing in the afternoon–a converted dungeon from Mad Emperor Yuri’s days, now filled with documentation, weapons, drugs, biological samples, and more bizarre items.  He plans to browse the weapons room, perhaps spend some time with the crossbow and soltoxin gas canisters responsible for his physical deformities.

The sergeant at the front desk is a little nervous at Miles’s presence, and Miles assures him he just wants to sign in and take a tour.  The sergeant is puzzled to find that Miles is listed as not cleared to enter, which turns out to be Haroche’s revocation of his access from earlier.  Miles encourages him to call Haroche and clear the matter up, which he does.  Miles is idly browsing the history of the times he’s visited the Evidence Rooms before, reminiscing, when he notices the last date is listed as twelve weeks ago–the day he’d returned to the planet, finding Illyan out of town, and the time being while he was walking home.

His eyes widened, and his teeth snapped shut. “How . . . interesting,” he hissed.

“Yes, my lord?” said the sergeant.

“Were you on duty that day?”

“I don’t remember, my lord. I’d have to check the roster. Um . . . why do you ask, sir?”

“Because I didn’t come down here that day. Or any other day since year before last.”

This is the loose end he’s been looking for, Miles suspects.  He tells the sergeant to summon Ivan Vorpatril, who arrives with alacrity from the other side of Vorbarr Sultana.  Ivan tells Miles he’s looking gleeful and manic, and Miles says that somebody has hacked ImpSec internal security records to lie about him.  Not only was the entry to the Evidence Rooms recorded, but Miles’s departure time from the building has been altered to match, and the video records of the day have gone missing.  He supposes that this could be unconnected with the memory chip sabotage, but he wouldn’t bet on it.  He tells Ivan to cancel their dinner plans, and puts him in charge of the Evidence Rooms, which he’s declaring sealed to anyone that he doesn’t personally authorize.

He asks the lieutenant in charge of the rooms about their inventory procedures, and is told that they do physical inventory once a month, and nothing has come up missing in the last year.  Miles tells Ivan to requisition some security-cleared men from Ops, unconnected with ImpSec in any way, to come in and help him inventory the Evidence Rooms.  Miles himself will stay out of it, in case there’s any suspicion that he tampered with anything, and he has witnesses that he hasn’t entered it that day.  He then takes the Evidence Room staffers with him and heads to Haroche’s office.

Haroche is unhappy to find out about the tampering, but asks Miles if he has witnesses to his walk home; Miles says he’s tolerably noticeable, and he’s sure that the police could find a witness if they tried, but also points out that, as an Imperial Auditor, he doesn’t need to alibi himself.  Miles sends the Evidence staffers outside, with strict instructions to stay put, then asks Haroche how he wants to deal with the evident mole in ImpSec.  They could shut down the whole facility until it’s been audited by outsiders, but he admits that would be a major inconvenience, but having it checked by staffers risks having the mole able to cover his own trail.  Haroche suggests assembling teams of three or more, chosen at random, to minimize chances that they’d all be moles, to check things a section at a time.  Miles supports the idea.

Haroche says he hates internal investigations, because they always turn out ugly.  Miles is still puzzled at the evidence room tampering, though–it seems like an attempt to frame him, but backwards.  It may have even been planted before Miles became an Auditor, when, as a recently-fired junior officer, he might have seemed the ideal target.

Haroche shook his head in wonder. “You confound me, Lord Vorkosigan. I believe I’m finally beginning to understand why Illyan always . . .”

“Why Illyan what?” Miles prodded after a long moment.

A lopsided smile lightened Haroche’s heavy face. “Came out of your debriefings swearing under his breath. And then promptly turned around and sent you out again on the stickiest assignments he had.”

Comments

I’m always amused when Miles’s plumbing experience is alluded to, even indirectly, as it is here.  I suspect the whole thing about the video recordings of the ducts is significant, but I can’t remember how just now; I know that the air-filtering system is, and I remember how.

Finding the extra log entry is a stroke of luck for Miles, or perhaps just a reward for being thorough.  Would he have noticed it if it hadn’t been for the delay caused by Haroche’s having locked him out earlier?  Possibly not, and who knows when it would have surfaced then?

The little scene with Gregor and Laisa seems to interrupt the flow of the chapter somehow, and doesn’t seem to come to much–I don’t remember the dance being that significant, or Laisa’s matchmaking impulses, or anything much except a little more of the growing Alys & Illyan relationship.  But I guess it is a reminder that Laisa and Gregor and Alys are still out there, while the action shifts to the heart of ImpSec HQ.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Ivan and his team check the Weapons rooms first, scheduling the Biologicals rooms for last in hopes they won’t have to do them at all.  In the wee hours of the morning, Ivan finds something in Weapons IV.

“I’m in a Weapons Room, right?” Ivan demanded, waving his inventory sheaf of plastic flimsies.

Miles tore his attention away from the chemical description of the nine-hundred-and-ninth item in alphabetical order in the Poisons Room: Ophidian Scrapings, Polian, Three Grams. “If you say so.”

“Right. So what’s a little box labeled ‘Komarran virus’ doing on Aisle Five, Shelf Nine, Bin Twenty-Seven? What the hell is it, and shouldn’t it be in Biologicals? Did somebody misclassify it? I’m not unsealing the damned thing till you find out what it is. It might make me break out in green fungus, or bloat up like those poor suckers with the Sergyaran worm plague. Or worse.”

It is on the Weapons Room list, but Miles agrees that it’s suspicious.  He pulls up its record, using his Auditor’s seal to satisfy its requirement for top-level security clearance, and begins to read it.  He quickly realizes that this isn’t actually a “weapon”, per se, nor a virus; it’s a “bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote”–the same microbes used against Illyan’s memory chip.  He and Ivan read the record together, which tells that it has been sitting on the shelf for five years, taken from Komarran terrorists in Vorbarr Sultana–terrorists associated with Ser Galen, Mark’s creator and Duv Galeni’s father.  Ivan asks if Mark could be involved with this, but Miles says Mark has been on Beta Colony for months, and the odds that he would have tried to pretend to be Miles are very slim, considering how much weight he’d have to lose, and how little Mark wants to be mistaken for his brother any more.  But he’ll have ImpSec double-check to reassure themselves, since they’re watching Mark on Beta anyway.

The microbes were created on Jackson’s Whole all right, and were intended to target Illyan as part of the overall plot which also included Count Aral Vorkosigan’s assassination at Mark’s hands.  ImpSec has already traced the prokaryotes to their creators, and Miles wonders how long it’ll take for them to realize that they’re trying to track down the same substance again.  He says that the fame was supposed to work the other way around–the prokaryotes were supposed to lead the investigators to the Evidence Rooms, which would lead to finding Miles’s fabricated visit, and making him a suspect.

Miles tries calling Dr. Weddell, but he’s not answering his comconsole, so Miles send the Imperial Guards to drag him down to ImpSec HQ instead.  By dawn Miles has assembled his team to enter the rooms.  A forensics expert examines the prokaryote container for fingerprints, but reports that it’s been moved a few times, and none of the prints are fresh; its sensors indicate it hasn’t been removed from the room, and there’s no hairs or fibers.  Ivan unlocks the box and opens it.  According the records there were six small capsules in the container originally, with one taken out and destroyed in testing five years ago.  But there are only three capsules in the box now.

“You mean,” moaned Weddell, “I racked my brains for a week reassembling that damned crap, and a whole undamaged sample was sitting downstairs all that time?”

“Yep.” Miles grinned. “I hope you like irony.”

“Not at this hour of the morning.”

The forensics man notes that the box’s lock was not forced open; Miles tells him to give it a full examination, and sends Ivan along with instructions to never let it out of his sight.  He tells Weddell to take one more capsule and confirm that it’s the same stuff that did for Illyan’s chip; no one but he is to touch the sample, and he will report to nobody but Miles himself; the other two go back on the shelf, locked under Auditor’s seal.

Haroche has actually gone home for the night, so Miles has to wait for his return to bring him up to speed on the events of the night.  Haroche says there’s no more chance it’s anything but an inside job.  They make a list of people who might have known about the sample–those who retrieved it, the Evidence Rooms staff, and their friends, plus the Komarrans and their friends…still a long list, but shorter than the entire population of the Empire.  Haroche also asks about Mark, and Miles gives him the same answer.  Miles says they can limit the list to those who knew about the weapon and also had recent access to ImpSec’s systems, but Haroche points out that there could be more than one working together.

Miles wonders about the motivations, why they tried to frame him–was he the only disgruntled employee in the right time-frame?  Haroche says speculating on motivations is too slippery, and best left for the post-mortem.  Miles says that whoever did this had to provide a scapegoat, a guilty party, because otherwise the search would continue until it found him.

“Three days.” Haroche smiled crookedly. “You went through all of ImpSec in just three days.”

“Not all of ImpSec, just the headquarters building. And it was more like four days. Still . . . somebody must be squirming. I hope. If they meant to hook ex-Lieutenant Vorkosigan, and instead got Lord Auditor Vorkosigan . . . it must have felt like putting in your line for a trout, and pulling up a shark. I may have arrived just in time downstairs after all. Given the several more weeks of lead time he was expecting, our assassin might well have thought to yank his plant in the evidence room and try something else. God, I’d love to know.”

Miles wonders who at ImpSec might have cause to hate him; the only one he can think of is Vorberg, and imaging him taking down Simon Illyan to get at Miles seems too twisted.  Haroche praises Miles for what he’s accomplished, calling it a good, solid lead.  Haroche wishes they could just fast-penta ImpSec people, but too many of them have the induced allergy; Miles says it’s too early to contemplate old-fashioned torture.  He says he’s going to get some sleep while they investigate the faked data and the forensic evidence.

Back at Vorkosigan House, he finds his mother, reading the Imperial Wedding history book, and asks where he can find Illyan.  Cordelia says he’s just sent for breakfast, and Lady Alys is with him; Miles surmises that she came by to drop off the book.  He goes up to Illyan’s quarters and knocks.

Pym had not lingered to serve the breakfast, it appeared, because instead of the retainer opening it, Illyan’s voice finally floated through the wood: “Who is it?”

“Miles. I have to talk to you.”

“Just a minute.”

The minute became two or three or four, as he leaned against the door frame and scuffed his boot on the patterned carpet. He knocked again. “C’mon, Simon, let me in.”

“Don’t be so impatient, Miles,” his aunt’s voice admonished him firmly. “It’s a bit rude.”

Eventually Lady Alys opens the door and greets him cheerfully; she’s wearing a dinner gown and her hair is loose, and Illyan is still getting dressed.  He tries to send Lady Alys away before giving Illyan the news, but she refuses to leave, and Illyan insists she stay.  So Miles briefs both of them on the night’s activities, Lady Alys approving her son’s achivements.  He asks Illyan if he remembers anything about the Komarran plot; Illyan mostly remembers the events on Earth, but has no memory of the prokaryote’s existence being reported to him, presumably lost with the rest of the memory chip.

He asks if Duv Galeni has been asked about it, since his father was involved in the plot.  Miles says he hasn’t brought Galeni up with Haroche yet, because he’s sure he’ll show up on the list eventually, but he doesn’t want to point Haroche in Galeni’s direction.  Illyan wonders if he’s leaping to conclusions, but Miles says he knows Galeni better than that.  Miles asks Illyan if he remembers taking a small brown capsule, and Illyan is positive that he doesn’t remember it, not even from his own doctor.  Miles heads off to bed before he incapacitates himself any further.  He awakens in midafternoon, checks on Weddell, who reports no progress.  Ivan calls, saying the forensics examination is finished and asking to be relieved to go home now; Miles guiltily authorized him to take it back to Evidence and then get some sleep.

Later that day, Dr. Chenko calls him to say they’ve prepared the seizure-triggering device, and want to know when he can have it implanted.  Miles says it’s not a good time right now, since there’s so much going on; Dr. Chenko warns him to avoid stress, as another seizure may be building up.  After signing off from the call, Miles remembers that this is the night of Laisa’s party, and he should, luckily, be able to attend.  He calls Delia Koudelka to ask if she’s free that night, but she says she’s busy…as, alas, are her sisters, leaving Miles obliged to attend on his own.

Comments

Oh, now I remember what’s happening with Laisa’s party.  But the party itself will have to wait for the next chapter.  Any guesses who Delia’s date is?  Miles is clueless, of course, as he is to most of the romantic undercurrents in this book.  For instance, Lady Alys is having breakfast with Illyan, wearing last night’s clothes, and they take a few minutes to answer the door, and it goes right over his head.  I guess Lord Vorkosigan really is on the verge of sexlessness.

I’m not sure if the prokaryote sample was deliberately misfiled in Weapons, or if it was a mistake, or if it was somehow considered the right place to put it at the time.  Either way, it’s an oddity, which is of course why Ivan eventually managed to notice it there.  It can’t really have been planted there for the Illyan attack, though, if it hasn’t been taken out in five years…unless someone was canny enough to tamper with the records to backdate its movement to the Weapons room.  And did Illyan really forget being briefed about it…or did it somehow get omitted from the briefing entirely?  Did someone manage to hide its very existence from Illyan, and hence from anyone who could told him?  It’s all highly suspicious…so things are going to have to come to a head soon.  Possibly more than one.


Six chapters left, three weeks…with luck, that’ll leave my week off just in time for the weekend I’m gone for a convention.  The plot’s gotta wrap up soon, as all good things must come to an end, and sometimes they even have a denouement.

Read Full Post »

Look, another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread is poking its nose out of its burrow!  Is it true what they say, that if it sees its shadow, that means another six weeks of winter?  Of course not; that’d be ridiculous.  It’s a little thinner than usual, though, consisting of only a single chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Mirror Dance.  Why is that?  Well, I guess it’s either because I decided that the next (and last) two chapters of the book go together better, both being set back on Barrayar rather than on Jackson’s Whole, or because I decided to steal a little extra time this week at the expense of Future Me.  Sorry, Future Me.  I did already read those last two chapters, so there’s that.

Chapter Thirty-One

“Did you find them?” Lord Mark asked.

“Yes,” said Bothari-Jesek tightly.

“Did you destroy them?”

“Yes.”

Mark flushed, and leaned his head back against Lilly’s chair, feeling the weight of gravity. He sighed. “You looked at them. I told you not to.”

Elena said she had to check that she had the right tapes, and Mark says she could just have destroyed all of them.  She admitted she did, eventually–first she turned off the sound, then fast-forwarded, then spot-checked, before giving up.  She couldn’t believe that there were hundreds of hours; Mark said there was only about fifty hours, but shot from different angles, intended for Ryoval’s later enjoyment and/or analysis.

She says she understand why he wants them destroyed–they’d be horrific blackmail leverage.  She offers to swear to secrecy, but Mark says he doesn’t care about that–he’d rather people knew what happened, to keep from having that kind of secret shame.  But he couldn’t bear Simon Illyan getting them, and Lord or Lady Vorkosigan catching a glimpse of the contents.  She says that Lt. Iverson was livid at finding out she’d destroyed them, and is going to complain to his superiors; Mark says if they dare to raise a stink about it, he’ll ask where they were for the last five days.

Her face was greenish-white. “I’m . . . so sorry, Mark.” Her hand touched his, hesitantly.

He seized her wrist, held it hard. Her nostrils flared, but she did not wince. He sat up, or tried to. “Don’t you dare pity me. I won. Save your sympathy for Baron Ryoval, if you must. I took him. Suckered him. I beat him at his own game, on his own ground. I will not allow you to turn my victory into defeat for the sake of your damned . . . feelings.”

He says that if ImpSec knew what was on those vids, then they’d never be able to leave it alone, and he’d end up having to relive it over and over again.  And Miles especially would be devastated.  Mark looks outside to where the first shuttle of Duronas is leaving, and revels in the feeling that he’s rescuing another load of clones from Jackson’s Whole.  Elena points out that they’ll do a physical exam, at least, and Mark admits he can’t conceal all of the effects of those, but Lilly Durona’s the only one who saw how bad he was right after the escape, she treated him herself without leaving any records, so by the time the ImpSec doctors get to look at him it won’t seem as bad.

Elena says that he can’t avoid treatment entirely–the Countess would spot it soon enough.  Mark starts to talk about how badly his brain is miswired, and how he may be a worse monster than Ryoval, before catching himself and shutting up.  He knows he sounds crazy, but he thinks he’s really just taking the long road to sanity.  She says it looked like he was faking a split personality in some scenes, and Mark said he wasn’t faking anything, but his personality didn’t split as much as it “inverted”.

“You have to understand,” he told her. “Sometimes, insanity is not a tragedy. Sometimes, it’s a strategy for survival. Sometimes . . . it’s a triumph.” He hesitated. “Do you know what a black gang is?”

Mutely, she shook her head.

“Something I picked up in a museum in London, once. Way back in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, on Earth, they used to have ships that sailed across the tops of the oceans, that were powered by steam engines. The heat for the steam engines came from great coal fires in the bellies of the ships. And they had to have these suckers down there to stoke the coal into the furnaces. Down in the filth and the heat and the sweat and the stink. The coal made them black, so they were called the black gang. And the officers and fine ladies up above would have nothing to do with these poor grotty thugs, socially. But without them, nothing moved. Nothing burned. Nothing lived. No steam. The black gang. Unsung heroes. Ugly lower-class fellows.”

Realizing he’s definitely babbling, he says that, if nothing else, Galen is peanuts next to Ryoval, and he beat Ryoval, so now he feels very free.  Elena says he seems almost as manic as Miles right now, and warns him about the possible impending crash.  Mark calls it a “mood swing on a bungee cord”, and Elena says that it’s at the top of the arc that everybody else has to watch out.  Mark blames a lot of it on the medications he’s on, some of which is wearing off.  As Elena turns to go, Mark tells her he knows what he wants to be–he wants to be the kind of ImpSec analyst who gets his people to the right place, and on time, not five days late.  Elena doesn’t laugh, but says, as an ImpSec remote operative, she’d like that a lot.

She gave him a half-salute, and turned away. He puzzled over the look in her eyes, as she descended out of sight down the lift-tube. It wasn’t love. It wasn’t fear.

Oh. So that’s what respect looks like. Oh.

I could get used to that.

Mark sits for a while, just staring out the window, contemplating getting himself a float-chair, for his broken foot, of course, before the stimulants wear off.  Miles arrives with a young Durona girl; Mark contemplates his brother’s emaciation, and wishes he could transfer some of his bulk to him.  Miles asks Mark if he recognizes the girl; Mark begins to say he’s seen a lot of Duronas recently, when he suddenly recognizes her as the girl from the clone-creche.  Miles explains how he smuggled her out to join her sisters, and that she’s going to Escobar too.  Mark discerns that Miles is not only trying to make Mark feel better, but also trying to show that he can rescue clones too, in a bout of unconscious sibling rivalry.  He begins to think that, as a brother, he’s going to enjoy tormenting Miles in subtle ways.  He congratules Miles cheerfully, but his attempt to laugh shows him on the edge of control.

Lilly Durona Jr. tells Mark she still thinks he’s funny-looking, but…she gives him a peck on the cheek and flees the room.  Mark and Miles discuss the show of gratitude, agreeing that it’s better than Illyan complaining about lost equipment.  Mark tells Miles about the confrontation between Illyan and the Countess, and realizes how much they have to talk about now.

A House Fell courier arrives with a delivery for Mark, the promised credit-chit for his share of House Ryoval.  Mark predicts that Baron Fell will have short-changed him, but not enough to be worth arguing over, and confirms it by scanning the chit.  Miles asks how much, and Mark makes him admit he was sleeping with Rowan Durona before telling him–two million Betan dollars, close to four times that in Barrayaran marks.  Closer to 2% the value of Ryoval’s assets than 10%, though.  Miles is temporarily speechless at the amount, then asks what he’s going to do with it.  Mark says he wants to invest it in the Barrayaran economy, but he plans to give a million to ImpSec for their services, which flabbergasts Miles.

“Nobody gives money to ImpSec!”

“Why not? Look at your mercenary operations, for instance. Isn’t being a mercenary supposed to be profitable? The Dendarii Fleet could be a veritable cash cow for ImpSec, if it were run right.”

“They take out their profit in political consequences,” said Miles firmly. “Though—if you really do it, I want to be there. To see the look on Illyan’s face.”

Mark says he should be able to recoup the amount in a few years, anyway.  He intends to become rich, to give himself a value that nobody can doubt.  He can even move out and get his own place, so he’s not still living in his parents’ house by Miles’s age…  Miles tells him, bemused, that he may be the first Vorkosigan to turn a profit in business in five generations.  After a short silence, Mark says he knows that piecemeal clone-rescue isn’t the answer to the problem; Miles agrees that he need to invest in the technology to reduce the demand.

Their departure shuttle arrives, and Miles goes to check on it; Mark enlists the Duronas to shift him into a float-chair, giving him one final shot of stims, and prepares to go home, for the first time in his life.

Comments

I’m still not sure why Mark is giving money to ImpSec, especially after he complained about their tardiness.  Maybe it’s supposed to be a pointed hint that they need better-paid analysts.  He says he wants to go work for them, too, but then he talks about business investment…can he do both?  Maybe his investment won’t require as much active participation, but there might be conflict of interest with his ImpSec intelligence.  I don’t recall him being an analyst in later books, but maybe it just doesn’t go into his day-to-day work that much, and he does spend time off-planet, so I’m not sure.

So apparently Elena’s secret mission was to destroy the incriminating tapes that Ryoval made of Mark’s torture sessions.  It’s probably a good thing that somebody did, since Mark has a good point about how ImpSec wouldn’t have been able to just let it go.  The “respect” thing is nice, especially considering how far Elena had to go to get there.  Not as far as Elli, of course.

This must be the “how much Mark has grown” chapter.  He’s mature about Lilly Durona Jr.’s lack of expressed gratitude for her rescue, he’s settling into being Miles’s brother, different from him and willing to play with the role.  He knows what he wants to do with his life, or at least has some goals.  Of course, the remainder of his growth arc will be when he goes back home (for the first time) to Barrayar, Vorkosigan House, and Kareen Koudelka…

<hr>

Two more chapters next week, I promise.  Unless I get really busy with something.  But it’s just the sweet, sweet denouement back on Barrayar (yay!), and really a kind of farewell to Mark, or at least an au revoir, since he doesn’t get to be a viewpoint character again until A Civil Campaign–we get to focus on Miles again for a bit.  Until then…

Read Full Post »

Against all odds, another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread has crawled up out of the depths of the Internet and found its way onto this blog.  It has digested two more chapters of Mirror Dance, the 29th and 30th ones, bringing us even closer to the end of the current book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  Let’s see what it’s made of, shall we?

Chapter Twenty-Nine

The Ryoval guards bring Miles to the Ryoval facility, but they are disturbed to find doors open, vehicles missing, and guard posts unattended.  They let themselves in, and strip Miles as per their orders, but they’re reluctant to do more without further instructions, Ryoval not being supportive of individual initiative.  They bring Miles into the facility in search of the Baron, hands still cuffed behind his back.  Miles deduces that this is Ryoval’s new research facility, relocated after his raid of a few years earlier.

They reach Ryoval’s office, and again wait several minutes before the guards get the nerve to go inside, though at least they also decide not to beat Miles up while they wait.  Finally one of the guards explores a little further, and cries out upon finding Ryoval’s dead body; the other guard brings Miles to join him.  Ryoval’s brain has been burned out, and his hand cut off.  Miles wonders exactly what type of control Ryoval had over his guards, to have them flawlessly obedient while not complete automata.  He concludes that Ryoval must have been a nearly godlike figure for them, and begins to be apprehensive of what they’ll do after his sudden removal.

The senior guard explores the rest of the office and returns to declare Ryoval’s flier gone and his defenses broken down.  While they waver in indecision, Miles suggests they look for other survivors and witnesses, maybe even the assassin, while silently wondering about Mark.  They argue about what to do with Miles, finally electing to bring him along.  In the rest of the facility, they find dead guards and techs, random bloodstains, signs of violence and vandalism.  In the lowest level, four of Ryoval’s most extreme experiments, barely even human any more, have been dispatched by some merciful tech.  He ascertains none of them was Mark, though he suspects them to have been former Ryoval employees.  Seized by inspiration, Miles claims to have seen one of the creatures move.

“Can’t have.” The senior guard stared through the transparent wall at a body which lay with its back to them.

“He couldn’t possibly have witnessed anything from in there, could he?” said Miles. “For God’s sake, don’t open the door.”

“Shut up.” The senior guard chewed his lip, stared at the control virtual, and after an irresolute moment, coded open the door and trod cautiously within.

“Gah!” said Miles.

“What?” snapped the junior guard.

“He moved again. He, he, sort of spasmed.”

Once both guards are in the room, Miles shuts the door and locks them in.  When one begins trying to cut his way out with a plasma arc, Miles turns down the oxygen until they pass out.  Then he finds some cutters and manages to cut his shackles.  He finds no weapons but a laser-scalpel, and heads back through the facility, wishing for some clothes.  He wonders if Mark is locked up somewhere, and breaks open every door he can find in a frantic and fruitless search.  In the small cell near Ryoval’s quarters, he finds traces of a former occupant, blood and other stains.  No Mark, though, so he resolves to find his way out.

He hacks his way past the locks on Ryoval’s comconsole and finally gets access to public channels.  He eventually decides to call the Barrayaran consulate, i.e. ImpSec, pretending to be Admiral Naismith, and wonders why they hadn’t come here looking for Mark already.  Half an hour later a Lieutenant Iverson comes down with a squad, expressing disbelief that the facility is already secured, and telling Miles they’ve been looking for this place for years.  Miles asks after Mark, but Iverson only know about a tip to raid House Bharaputra, obviously placed by Rowan after her escape, but Miles says he’s not there anymore.  He asks after the Dendarii, and Iverson says they’re sending a squad as well.

The Dendarii representatives shows up armoured, and Quinn is ecstatic to see Miles himself again, but he addresses her on a professional footing and asks what’s been going on.

She looked slightly overwhelmed. “Since when? When you were killed—”

“Start from five days ago. When you came to the Durona Group.”

“We came looking for you. Found you, after nearly four bleeding months!”

“You were stunned, Mark was taken, and Lilly Durona hustled me and my surgeon off to what she thought was going to be safety,” Miles cued her to the focus he wanted.

She says that at first Lilly Durona wasn’t concerned about his disappearance, but eventually realized that Miles and Rowan hadn’t just gone to ground.  ImpSec took some time to work through their pet theory of Cetagandan agents and start focusing on finding Miles and Mark.

“Right. But you suspected Ryoval had Mark.”

“But Ryoval wanted Admiral Naismith. We thought Ryoval would figure out he had the wrong man.”

He ran his hands over his face. His head was aching. And so was his stomach. “Did you ever figure that Ryoval wouldn’t care? In a few minutes, I want you to go down the corridor and look at the cell they kept him in. And smell it. I want you to look closely. In fact, go now. Sergeant Taura, stay.”

Taura tells him that Quinn had no respect for Mark at all, but she herself came to realize that he’d come very close to success with the creche raid, and he was trying very hard when nobody else was trying at all.  He asks how they could leave Mark in Ryoval’s clutches for days, and she insists they really did think he’d figure out he had the wrong one.  Miles hopes things weren’t as bad as they looked.  Once the other Dendarii return, he tells them it’s time to focus on Mark.

Elena asks Miles who he thinks killed Ryoval, noting that it was an unarmed fighter who was also handy with a tool kit, and says she thinks it was Mark.  Miles expresses disbelief, but Elena tells him about the fight in Vorbarr Sultana, and notes that he was intended to kill Aral Vorkosigan.  Miles realizes that, out of touch as he is, not to mention the seizures and his still-growing organs, he may not be the best choice to be in charge.  Elena starts to tell him something else about his father when they’re interrupted by Iverson telling him that Baron Fell has just arrived to collect Ryoval’s body.  Miles tells him to let Fell in with one bodyguard, and they’ll talk.

Fell and Miles bandy words for a few minutes; Miles tells Fell how he was brought to the facility and found it pretty much that way.  Fell notes that he’s heard from a first-hand source, probably a Ryoval employee who fled to inform him.  They go to examine the body; Fell notes the missing hand and laser marks in the head, and says he’d love to find whoever did this and offer them a job.

Just then a call arrives at Ryoval’s private console, which Fell says could only be accessed from outside with the code-key.  Miles is flabbergasted to see Mark on the screen, looking fleshly scrubbed but with bruises all over his face; Mark is glad to see Miles come back to himself.

“I’m at Lilly Durona’s. God, Miles. What a place. What a woman. She let me have a bath. She put my skin back on. She fixed my foot. She gave me a hypo of muscle-relaxant for my back. With her own hands, she performed medical services too intimate and disgusting to describe, but very badly needed, I assure you, and held my head while I screamed. Did I mention the bath? I love her, and I want to marry her.”

All this was delivered with such dead-pan enthusiasm, Miles could not tell if Mark was joking. “What are you on?” he asked suspiciously.

“Pain killers. Lots and lots of pain killers. Oh, it’s wonderful!” He favored Miles with a weird broad grin. “But don’t worry, my head is perfectly clear. It’s just the bath. I was holding it together till she gave me the bath. It unmanned me. Do you know what a wonderful thing a bath is, when you’re washing off—never mind.”

Fell leans forward to ask Mark about the code-key, and Mark invites them all to “tea” at Lilly’s, including the ImpSec troops, because his own are too tired.  Fell asks if he really knows what he’s doing, and Mark assures them that he does, and wonders why nobody believes him.  Fell asks to speak to Lilly, but Mark says he can come along and talk to her directly; Fell agrees.  Mark asks if Elena is there, and says he wants a private word with “his armswoman”.  Miles is confused by the reference, but allows himself to be ejected.  Iverson arranges transport to the Duronas; Elena emerges to say Mark has given her some orders and she’ll have to catch up.

“That was Mark?” Miles muttered, heading reluctantly in the opposite direction. He couldn’t have acquired some other clone-brother while he was dead, could he? “It didn’t sound like Mark. For one thing, he sounded like he was glad to see me. That’s Mark?”

“Oh, yes,” said Quinn. “That was Mark all right.”

He quickened his pace. Even Taura had to lengthen her stride to keep up.

Comments

I guess some time passed between Mark’s departure and Miles’s arrival–how long?  Hours?  A day?  Somebody must have finally decided to check on the Baron before all hell broke loose.  Looks like it was only Ryoval, his threats and his conditioning that were holding his House together, because it disintegrated pretty quickly after that.  And Miles uses his fast-talk ability yet again to disable his enemies–that’s his own variety of unarmed combat.

I’m not sure that Miles, posing as Admiral Naismith, should have been getting quite as much cooperation from ImpSec as he did here, but maybe there were standing orders of some sort.  What would Illyan have to say about Naismith, after all?  If he knew that Mark was unlikely to be able to pose as him successfully, any Naismith that showed up would have to be Miles, and if Miles were alive…

Miles spends a lot of time worried about Mark and his fate, so it’s hilarious to see how well Mark has things in hand when he does call in.  And Miles is having a hard time catching up on developments with his twin during, and mostly due to, his period of death and recovery.  Elena, Taura, and even Quinn seem to have been won over to great or lesser degrees.  (Bel is technically in this chapter, but keeping pretty quiet.)

I would’ve thought that Taura might have had a few flashbacks about entering House Ryoval again.  Admittedly, it is a completely different facility from the one she was held in before, but the name would still probably give her foreboding, not to mention it’d probably have something of the same aura, possibly even the smell…

Chapter Thirty

The Dendarii, Baron Fell, and ImpSec (in a shuttle borrowed from House Dyne) arrive at the Durona clinic close to the same time.

As they were circling for a landing, Miles asked Quinn, who was piloting, “Elli—if we were flying along, in a lightflyer or an aircar or something, and I suddenly ordered you to crash it, would you?”

“Now?” asked Quinn, startled. The shuttle lurched.

“No! Not now. I mean theoretically. Obey, instantly, no questions asked.”

“Well, sure, I suppose so. I’d ask questions afterward though. Probably with my hands wrapped around your neck.”

“That’s what I thought.” Miles sat back, satisfied.

Baron Fell isn’t sure about letting the three armoured Dendarii accompany Miles into a House Fell facility, but Miles says that after the earlier force-screen failure, he feels like he needs a bodyguard.  He offers to leave the ImpSec contingent outside, and the Baron agrees.

Mark has staged a tableau in Lilly Durona’s penthouse, sitting himself in Lilly’s chair, broken foot propped up, surrounded by Duronas, including Lilly herself, but not Rowan.  A severed hand sits in a box on Lilly’s tea table, wearing a silver ring set with a large black gemstone.  Miles is disturbed at how bloated Mark looks, even though most of his body is covered up, leaving only his bruised face on display.  Mark’s right hand sits on top of a small control box, his finger on a button.

Baron Fell sees the box and makes a beeline for it, but Mark stops him, telling him that he’s got his finger on a deadman switch that will set off a small thermal grenade to incinerate the contents of the box, with another controller outside the room as a backup.  He warns them not to stun, jump, or annoy him or he’ll set it off.  Fell says he must know how valuable that is, and thus he’s bluffing, and Mark says he’s not feeling too kindly toward House Ryoval right now, but he’s willing to Deal with the Baron.

Fell and Miles sit down, their respective bodyguards wary, and Lilly offers tea.  Miles realizes that this is Mark’s show, but he wonders how sane Mark is at the moment.  Tea is served for Mark and Fell, though Mark’s hand is shaking badly and the young Durona serving girl lifts it to his mouth.  Mark then begins, stating that the ring on the hand in the box is Ryoval’s personal code-key, and that soon after Baron Ryoval’s death the vultures will begin descending on the House’s carcass.  He notes that someone in possession of the code-key would have a distinct advantage in the race to acquire Ryoval’s assets, and with Baron Fell being an actual blood relative, it would make his claim almost ironclad.  Fell says it’s not Mark’s to trade, and Mark says that it is–he paid for it, he earned it, and he can destroy it.

He then asks Baron Fell what the value of the Durona Group is, relative to House Ryoval.  Fell says it’s hard to calculate, but not more than a twentieth, though the intellectual property’s value is harder to calculate.  Mark offers him House Ryoval in exchange for the Durona Group, with an “agent’s fee” of 10% of Ryoval’s value.  Fell asks what he plans to do with the Duronas, and Mark says he will give them their freedom and let them go “where they wist”, most likely Escobar.  Fell sits back to think it over, and Miles begins to plan for contingencies in case the Baron decides to resort to violence.  Instead they begin to negotiate.

Fell asks to subtract the Durona Group’s value from the 10%, and have them leave all their property and notes behind.  Mark asks for them to be able to copy technical files and bring personal possessions; Fell agrees to the possessions, what each one can carry, but denies the files and says their credit account will remain his.  Mark and Lilly have a whispered conference, and then Mark tells him it’s a Deal, disarming the control box and relaxing his hand.  The Duronas instantly scatter to begin gathering their possessions.  Fell congratulates Mark on his dealing, and offers him a position as a galactic agent, and Admiral Naismith too if he’s willing; Mark says he’ll consider it if his other options fall through, and Miles says the Dendarii prefer offense, not defense.  Baron Fell says that if his lifespan were to increase, he’d have ample opportunity to pursue long-term goals now that the acquisition of House Ryoval has given him an “interestingly unbalanced” position, but Miles still rejects the offer.

At Fell’s gesture, one of his bodyguards carefully picked up the transparent box. Fell turned to Lilly.

“Well, old sister. You’ve had an interesting life.”

“I still have it,” smiled Lilly.

“For a while.”

“Long enough for me, greedy little boy. So this is the end of the road. The last of our blood-pact. Who would have imagined it, all those years ago, when we were climbing out of Ryoval’s sewers together?”

Fell offers Mark a final handshake before departing.  Mark asks if he’ll hold to the Deal, and Lilly says that he will, if only because he’ll be too busy with absorbing House Ryoval to spare them much attention, and after that he may regret their loss, but not to extremes.  Then she heads off to organize their departure, and Mark slumps in fatigue.  Elli tells Miles that ImpSec is contacting her to announce they have reinforcements ready, and Mark says they can send them home, and maybe he’ll hitch a ride with them.  Miles says he needs to rendezvous with the Dendarii, but Elli says the fleet is fine, making ready to rendezvous at Escobar with their new ships, and Miles needs some attention from ImpMil.  Illyan will want him to go home, and then there’s his father…  Mark tells him about the heart attack and says they should have the transplant ready by this time.

“You were there?” What did you do to him? Miles felt as if he’d just had his magnetic poles reversed. “I have to get home!”

“That’s what I just said,” said Mark wearily. “Why d’you think we trooped all the way back here, but to drag you home? It wasn’t for the free holiday at Ry Ryoval’s health spa, let me tell you. Mother thinks I’m the next Vorkosigan heir. I can deal with Barrayar, I think, but I sure as hell can’t deal with that.”

Miles forces himself to settle down, afraid to trigger another seizure, and hoping that they’re not a permanent effect.  Mark says he’ll let the Duronas use his ship–the present from his mother–to get to Escobar, where they can sell the ship and he can pay her back, and the Dendarii can hitch a ride with them too.  Miles hopes that Elli, Rowan and Taura don’t get together and compare notes, or worse, become friends and decide to partition him.

It wasn’t, he swore, that he picked up so many women. Compared to Ivan, he was practically celibate. It was just that he never put any down. The accumulation could become downright embarrassing, over a long enough time-span. He needed . . . Lady Vorkosigan, to put an end to this nonsense. But even Elli the bold refused to volunteer for that duty.

Miles agrees to Mark’s plan and tells Quinn and Durona to arrange it, but asks Bel to stay behind for a talk with him and Mark.  He recalls how, in his amnesic state, he’d seen Bel as female, rather than male.  He tells Bel he can’t let it go back to the _Ariel_; after it admitted it’d known what Mark was up to and followed along on the rogue mission, Miles can’t let it go back to command, and asks for its resignation, which it offers.  Mark muses that it’s unfair to punish Bel and not him, but Miles thinks that Mark’s certainly gotten his share of punishment in any case.  Miles asks after Bel’s plans, and it says it isn’t sure; Miles says that Simon Illyan may be willing to keep it on as an ImpSec agent, and Bel says it’ll think about it on the way to Escobar.  Bel tells Mark that at least they managed to save a few clones, and that’s something.

Bel eyed Miles. “Do you remember the first time we ever saw each other?” it asked.

“Yes. I stunned you.”

“You surely did.” It walked over to his chair, and bent, and took his chin in its hand. “Hold still. I’ve been wanting to do this for years.” It kissed him, long and quite thoroughly. Miles thought about appearances, thought about the ambiguity of it, thought about sudden death, thought the hell with it all, and kissed Bel back. Straightening again, Bel smiled.

Elena appears and tells Mark she has to talk to him, in private; Mark says he’s too tired to get up, and Elena tells Bel and Miles to get lost.  Miles goes in search of Rowan, and finds her in her quarters, packing, in company with Lilly Junior.  Rowan is happy to see that he’s got his memories back (and is “really” Miles Naismith), but Miles admits that he got his memories back while they were together as Bharaputra captives, and she’s put out.  She’s happy that he managed to get Lilly Jr. out, though, and the Dendarii shuttle is already bringing Duronas up to Mark’s ship, so they should be offplanet before Baron Bharaputra figures it out.  She says they’ll be staying together on Escobar, at least at first, but they’ll be dissolving the group upon Lilly’s death, and she expects that House Ryoval staffers will be in the building by tomorrow.  Miles sees a control-box on the bed and realizes that Rowan was Mark’s remote grenade controller.  She tells him Mark’s arrival earlier that morning was quite impressive.

She asks Miles about his plans, and he says he’ll be going back to the Dendarii after he recovers.  He asks if the seizures will stop, and she says they should, but it’s hard to tell.  She asks if he’ll find the time to stop by Escobar, and he allows that he might.

He hesitated. I need my Lady Vorkosigan, to put an end to this wandering. . . . Could Rowan be it? The thirty-five sisters-in-law would be a distant drawback, safely far away on Escobar. “What would you think of the planet Barrayar, as a place to live and work?” he inquired cautiously.

Her nose wrinkled. “That backward pit? Why?”

“I . . . have some interests there. In fact, it’s where I’m planning to retire. It’s a very beautiful place, really. And underpopulated. They encourage, um . . . children.” He was skirting dangerously close to breaking his cover, the strained identity he’d risked so much lately to retain. “And there’d be lots of work for a galactic-trained physician.”

“I’ll bet. But I’ve been a slave all my life. Why would I choose to be a subject, when I could choose to be a citizen?” She smiled wryly, and came to him, and twined her arms around his shoulders. “Those five days we were locked up together at Vasa Luigi’s—that wasn’t an effect of the imprisonment, was it. That’s the way you really are, when you’re well.”

She says she knows now what a hyperactive adult looks like, and says that she loves him, but living with his domineering personality would drive her crazy.  Miles says that she’s supposed to push back, not let him push her around.  He wonders if he should use a Barrayaran go-between next time, to seal the deal before the woman gets to know him too well.

Miles asks Lilly Jr. if she’s talked to Mark yet; he’d be happy to know she managed to escape after all.  She says Mark had tried to convince her, but Miles talked better than he did; Miles says that Mark just bought her way offplanet with the rest of them.  He takes her arm and escorts her out of the room.

Comments

I’d forgotten that Lilly Durona was also a relative of the two Barons.  Actual blood relatives, or not?  Fell and Ryoval are labelled as half-brothers, but to what extent is Lilly related?  And Lilly’s clone Lotus is married to Baron Bharaputra–do they have any offspring?  I imagine they wouldn’t have any compunctions about using uterine replicators if they did…

So the Duronas do get rescued from Jackson’s Whole after all, though not by the Admiral Naismith they were hoping for.  I did vaguely recall that they did, but the details had eluded me–I guess it wasn’t done in some secret Dendarii escape plan, but through legitimate Jacksonian dealing, though I suppose there was a bit of murder involved in acquiring the main bargaining chip.

Bel was very quiet in the last chapter, and I guess it knew what was coming.  It’d earned it, though, paradoxically, mostly through taking over the initial clone-rescue operation after Mark had fouled it up and admitting it knew this wasn’t the real Admiral Naismith.  (It still feels wrong to use “it” as Bel’s personal pronoun, even if that’s what the author uses for it; I’ve had to go back and correct almost every single pronoun I’ve used for it, even in this paragraph.)  If Bel had pretended to be fooled, then Miles might have been able to let it off.  It’s a few books before we see it again…but we do see it again.

This may be the last we see of Jackson’s Whole, too.  I haven’t peeked ahead yet, but after this I suspect we go back to Barrayar for the rest of the denouement, though I’m not sure what there’ll be to occupy the last three chapters.  Then the next few books stick close to home in the Barrayaran Empire, before we get to go further afield.  There are Jacksonians in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, of course, but not on Jackson’s Whole itself.  Well, after this I think we’ve seen enough of it…  (And now I’ve peeked, and we still have another scene or two–Elena’s task for Mark being resolved, for instance.)

<hr>

Three more chapters!  Two more weeks, with any luck!  Mirror Dance almost through, and then Memory, yay!  And coming up on the blog’s two-year anniversary, too.  Will it take another year to get through the rest of the series, I wonder?  I can always tack Falling Free on the end, or maybe I can just heave a sigh of relief and reclaim two evenings out of my week.  But I’m getting way ahead of myself here.  Three more chapters of Mirror Dance, and then a few more books after that…

Read Full Post »

When so much in your world is changing, isn’t it nice to know that you can always rely on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  Even if I missed a few weeks in there, and changed what day I post…eventually there will be another installment in the blog devoted to a loving examination of Lois McMaster Bujold’s saga of the Vorkosigans.  For instance, this week I happened to do two more chapters in Mirror Dance, which follows Miles Vorkosigan and his clone-brother Mark (mostly Mark) through misadventures in and around the planet of Jackson’s Whole.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Miles and Rowan’s relationship continues to deteriorate in their shared confinement–she withdraws from interaction with him, and he keeps pacing and talking, trying to come up with an escape plan.  He admits that, with his memory back, he’s a little more reserved towards her.  They’ve been locked up for about four days, judging by meal frequency, and haven’t seen any more of the Baron; Miles wonders what his plans are, and if he’s been auctioned off yet.  Miles resolves to try something the next time their meal is brought.

The lock clicked. He spun, poised to dart forward. “Rowan, get up!” he hissed. “I’m going to try for it.”

“Oh, hell,” she moaned, emerging. Without faith, brow-beaten, she rose and trudged around the bed to stand by his side. “Stunning hurts, you know. And then you throw up. You’ll probably have convulsions.”

“Yes. I know.”

“But at least it’ll shut you up for a while,” she muttered under her breath.

Miles is surprised, though, when the servant with the food turns out to be Lilly Durona the younger.  Rowan approaches her, while Miles considers their options.  Rowan is bad at picking up his cues, but he can hope she’ll follow his lead.  He starts by pointing out how similar Rowan and Lilly look, then asks Lilly why she’s the one serving them.  Lilly says she doesn’t know what to make of Rowan; she denies that the Baronne sent her, but she told the guards that the Baronne wanted her to watch them eat drugged food.  Miles explains about Rowan and her relation to Lilly, and asks Rowan to tell her about the Duronas, though it takes him some time to settle down and let her talk.  Rowan asks Lilly if she knows about the brain transplanet, and Lilly says she does, and insists it’s her destiny to be united with her Lady, but Miles senses the faintest hint of doubt.

Miles wonders idly if they could wear each other’s clothes, then decides Lilly is probably too fat; to prove him wrong, Lilly insists on trying on Rowan’s clothes, which Rowan grudgingly assents to.  Once Lilly gets Rowan’s clothes on, they admit they were wrong, and Rowan tells Lilly to go look at herself in the  mirror.  Miles accompanies her, while behind them Rowan puts on Lilly’s clothes and fixes her hair to match, then is let out of the room by the guards.

In the bathroom, as Miles tries to distract Lilly, she brings up the clone rescue, and asks if he was their rescuer.  He hedges, still pretending to cryo-amnesia, saying it might have been him or his clone-twin.  Miles shows her the scars on his chest, and she’s convinced that he actually was killed.  She asks him about being dead, and he says he doesn’t remember much, but he does get a couple of flashes of memory.  He tells her she wouldn’t like it much, that being alive is better.

He kisses her, to show her the human contact that comes with being alive, and she comments that the Baron’s kissed her too.  The Baron seems to have been sampling her body already, though leaving her virginity intact, secure in the knowledge that her memories will disappear with her brain.  She is due to move back to the clone-creche when it’s completed.  Suddenly suspicious, she checks the bedroom and is dismayed to find Rowan gone.  Miles tells her that if she just keeps quiet about it, she won’t get in trouble, and that Rowan will probably be back soon.  He cajoles her into telling her about her life, what little there is of it, mostly sheltered except for the excitement of her capture/rescue by the Dendarii.

Eventually Lilly realizes that Rowan isn’t coming back after all, and Miles says she probably got away clean, or else they would have brought her back, or least come to fetch Lilly.  If anything, they might think that Lilly has gone missing.  Miles reassures her that Rowan probably wouldn’t have ended up taking Lilly’s place at the brain transplant, because closer inspection would reveal their differences.  Lilly is still upset, and Miles tells her that when they find out she can just tell them that he tricked her into staying.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “You are so beautiful . . . on the inside. You deserve to live. Not be eaten by that old woman.”

“My lady is a great woman,” she said sturdily. “She deserves to live more.”

What kind of twisted ethics drove Lotus Durona, to make of this girl an imitation-willing sacrifice? Who did Lotus think she was fooling? Only herself, apparently.

Lilly decides she wants to try kissing again, but after a while she comments that it’s different from that the Baron likes to do…she undoes Miles’s pants and starts to show him, but he pulls away, and she doesn’t understand why.

“Just exactly so.” She was a child, despite her grown-up body, he was increasingly certain of it. “When you are older . . . you will find your own boundaries. And you can invite people across them as you choose. Right now you scarcely know where you leave off and the world begins. Desire should flow from within, not be imposed from without.” He tried to choke off his own flow by sheer will-power, half-successfully. Vasa Luigi, you scum.

She frowned thoughtfully. “I’m not going to be older.”

He remembers his first encounter with Taura, which may be subconsciously influencing his decisions, and assures himself that it’s a different situation, because Taura’s fighting for more life, while Lilly is trying to throw hers away.  He asks her if she wants to live, and when she is uncertain, he tells her all the things that he has to live for, even an “ugly little man” like himself–family, even his clone-brother Mark.

He talks her into going to sleep, on the bed, while he tries to sleep in a chair, and on the floor, but both are too uncomfortable, and he curls up on top of the covers next to her instead.  In the morning, he drowsily embraces her before she wakes up and pushes him away.  There’s a knock on the door, and he urges her into the bathroom, so they can keep the charade going.  After the breakfast is delivered, she emerges, and Miles tries to convince her that she can have sugar and sweet things with her breakfast.

“I mustn’t get fat. My lady is my destiny.”

“Destiny! What do you know about destiny?” He rose and began to pace, zig-zagging around bed and table. “I’m a frigging expert on destiny. Your lady is a false destiny, and do you know how I know? She takes everything, but she doesn’t give anything back.

Real destiny takes everything—the last drop of blood, and strip out your veins to be sure—and gives it back doubled. Quadrupled. A thousand-fold! But you can’t give halves. You have to give it all. I know. I swear. I’ve come back from the dead to speak the truth to you. Real destiny gives you a mountain of life, and puts you on top of it.”

She tells him he’s crazy, and he says she’s never even met a sane person in her life.  He tells her she could go to the Durona Group and they’d take her in in a heartbeat.  He tells her that the Baron probably never planned to keep Rowan except to keep Miles’s location from getting out, so once the Baron gets rid of him, she’ll be free to go.  She protests that she couldn’t, but he says she just needs to keep her head down and not talk too much; he also points out that she could tell people where he is, and who took him.  She escaped from the Dendarii, after all; she just needs to do it for herself instead of her Lady.  He attempts to fix up her hair in Rowan’s sloppy manner, and after lunch the guards come for him.

Another man tells “Rowan” that he’s her driver, and Lilly asks to be taken home, after giving Miles a parting kiss.  Miles tries to escape twice, but just ends up being carried upside-down for his trouble.  They put him into a groundcar and take him to a transfer point, where he is bound hand and foot and put into a lightflyer in House Ryoval colours.

Rowan, if she’d made it, must send anyone looking for him to Bharaputra’s. Where Miles would not be. Not that he was so sure Vasa Luigi wouldn’t just cheerfully sic them right on to Ryoval.

But if Ryoval’s location was easy to find, they would have found it by now.

By God. I could be the first ImpSec agent on-site. He’d have to be sure and point that out, in his report to Illyan. He had looked forward to making posthumous reports to Illyan. Now he wondered if he was going to live long enough.

Comments

Miles’s fast-talk skills come out once again, as he tries, and seemingly even succeeds, in winning Lilly Durona, Jr. over to his cause–or, at least, to her own, rather than Baronne Lotus’s.  It’s a lovely conversation, and it might now have worked on anyone much more worldly, but Lilly eats it up…at least, once he’s eroded her confidence in the “destiny” she’s been promised from childhood.  Seriously, Oser was the cleverest of Miles’s adversaries, the only one who figured out that you couldn’t afford to let him talk.

At least Rowan cooperated with him to some degree, however tired of each other they were by that point.  She probably thought his scheme was ludicrous, but by that point was willing to try anything to get out of there, get home, and get away from him.  I can’t remember at this point if they do somehow get the Duronas off of Jackson’s Whole, though at this point it seems unlikely, given their limited resources.  Maybe they do manage it, though.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

During one of Gorge’s force-feedings, Baron Ryoval comes to visit and the techs tell him that Mark seems to be enjoying his torture.  Ryoval speculates on what particular psychological adaptation is at work, but is surprised that it’s manifested already.  The tech says that his brain scans are unusual, and in an unusual way, as if parts of them were somehow shielded.  Ryoval is interested, and says that he should be able to deal with “Naismith”‘s defenses.  Gorge’s stomach begins to grow painful, but he won’t give in to Howl’s proddings; the Other still lurks, but he seems pleased when Ryoval asks them to bring Naismith to his quarters later for a closer examination.

He is brought to Ryoval’s rooms by two guards, his skin still patchy but bandaged up, and they put him in a chair, his hands bound behind his back.  They assure Ryoval that he’ll have trouble standing up readily, so he dismisses them and tells them not to interrupt; they obey, with a flat affect that shows they’ve been heavily conditioned.

Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other stared around with interest, wondering whose turn it was going to be next.

You just had your turn, said Howl to Gorge. It’ll be me.

Don’t bet on it, said Grunt. Could be me.

If it weren’t for Gorge, said the Other, grimly, I’d take my turn right now. Now I have to wait.

You’ve never taken a turn, said Gorge curiously. But the Other was silent again.

Ryoval plays a recording of one of Grunt’s sessions of sexplay, which Grunt watches with interest.  Ryoval wonders what the response will be if he sends the tape to the Dendarii mercenaries, but the Other is fairly sure that he’s bluffing, still wanting to keep “Naismith”‘s location secret.  The Other thinks that Simon Illyan would be an even better target, but he doesn’t speak.  Ryoval goes on to describe a potential scenario involving Elli Quinn, which even Grunt and Howl aren’t sure how to deal with, and they contemplate coming up with a new personality for the purpose.

The recording moves on to a torture session, one where Howl was given itching powder after the skin-removal treatment, and he’d scratched himself deeply.  He deliberately keeps himself blank, to deprive Ryoval of the pleasure.  The Other plans his move, after he’s recovered his breath, since soon Gorge will have made his plans physically impossible.  Ryoval wonders out loud how he’ll be able to bring him–or them–back.

Gorge and Grunt ask the Other what will happen to them; the Other promises that Mark will still feed Gorge and Grunt from time to time, possibly on Beta Colony, and Howl deserves a rest anyway.  He warns them that they might not like Ryoval’s plans, and they don’t need him to fulfill their needs.  Gorge asks how he can make promises for Mark, and the Other says he’s the closest to him.  Ryoval would hunt them down anyway, now that he knows they’re there.

Ryoval tells them that he’s bringing them a new friend, his clone-twin.  Lord Mark wakes up and screams; the Other pushes him back down.  Ryoval says that somehow Vasa Luigi acquired the clone, and he seems to be convinced that Ryoval’s is the clone and not the Admiral, but that won’t matter now that he has them both.  He tells them his plans, of which Grunt approves.  Ryoval then goes to unwrap his tools, while the Other negotiates with the other personalities to stay out of the way, to give him one chance.  Ryoval approaches with a surgical hand-tractor, and says that he’s going to pull out one eye.

Smoothly, Howl gave way. Last of all, reluctantly, Gorge gave way, as Ryoval walked toward them.

Killer’s first attempt to struggle to his feet failed, and he fell back. Damn you, Gorge. He tried again, shifted his weight forward, heaved up, stepped once, half-unbalanced without the use of his arms to save himself. Ryoval watched, highly amused, unalarmed by the waddling little monster he doubtless thought he had created.

Trying to work around Gorge’s new belly was something like being the Blind Zen Archer. But his alignment was absolute.

His first kick took Ryoval in the crotch. This folded him neatly over, and put his upper body within practical range. He flowed instantly into the second kick, striking Ryoval squarely in the throat. He could feel cartilage and tissue crunch all the way back to Ryoval’s spine. Since he was not wearing steel-capped boots this time, it also broke several of his toes, smashed up and down at right angles. He felt no pain. That was Howl’s job.

Killer falls over and tries to get back up, noticing Ryoval rolling around on the carpet clutching at his throat; he can’t use voice-commands on the computer any more, though.  He whispers to Ryoval that he was trained as an assassin, and hates being underestimated.  Finally he gets to his feet and kicks Ryoval until the Baron’s dead, a long, messy process that even Killer doesn’t enjoy.  Finally Mark emerges and praises Killer–originally one of Galen’s creations, he realizes–for his exquisite timing; Killer says he was taking Count Vorkosigan’s advice.

He finds a short-range laser-drill in Ryoval’s kit and uses it to cut open his shackles, though not without extreme difficulty.  Then he huddles in pain for a few minutes, before sparing a few thoughts for the poor clone-body that Ryoval had taken over.  Fearing the guards may come back in anyway, he uses the laser-drill to ensure that Ryoval’s brain won’t be recoverable.  He then waits for a while, in exhaustion, before deciding that the guards really won’t be entering their master’s quarters without orders, not for a long time.  It’s almost painful to begin hoping again, and though he blames ImpSec for not having rescued him, he’d forgive them anything if they showed up right then and spared him the work.

Lord Mark takes over and begins to plan their escape.  Ryoval must have had a backdoor, so Mark looks around.  He considers a shower, but doesn’t want to risk his healing skin, and thinks that at least he won’t have to worry about starving for a while.  Finally, in the back of the bedroom closet he finds the emergency exit.  Killer says it may be booby-trapped, but Mark says that it’ll be set up to faciliate a quick exit for Ryoval himself.  Killer breaks through the palm-lock with the help of Ryoval’s surgical kit, but it requires a further key.  Mark reasons that Ryoval would have kept such a key on his person, since he didn’t share any power within his house, and had no trusted subordinates.  He searches Ryoval’s body and finally settles on a ring on his right hand, cutting the hand free when he can’t loosen it; a little thought allows him to figure out which way Ryoval-in-a-hurry would orient it, and the door opens on a small lift tube.

Mark examines the tube, while the other personalities urge him to go, but he balks at the lack of a safety ladder.  He heads back to Ryoval’s bedroom to find some loose clothes he can stuff himself into, but nothing he can use for a ladder.  Instead, he cuts handholds in the side of the tube using the laser drill before turning on the anti-grav field, and climbs as normal, just using the grav field as a boost.  His broken foot slows him down, as does having to cut more handholds, but when he reaches a sound pickup and can’t produce a codeword in Ryoval’s voice, the grav field turns off and he almost falls under his suddenly-imposed weight.  The rest of the climb is slow and painful, but he reaches the top, disables the outward-facing defenses, and finds Ryoval’s private lightflyer.

Opening the door with Ryoval’s ring, he climbs in, figures out how to open the canopy, and lifts out into a barren, icy wasteland, the facility below completely hidden.  He heads east into the sunrise.

Comments

The dissociated personality here gets confusing more than once, because sometimes there’s a “he” where it’s not clear if it’s supposed to be the Other/Killer, or Mark (except that they don’t mention him waking up until after Ryoval’s death).  Not sure if it’s just an oversight on the author’s part, or what.  Luckily, he does seem to be reassimilating the other personalities to some extent, because he is feeling pain by the end, but they don’t disappear right away by any means.

Once again Mark’s supposed haplessness is belied by his assassin training.  The earlier scene in Vorbarr Sultana should serve as a reminder, and it’s possible that Ryoval would even know about the assassin trained by Galen, but he severely underestimated Mark’s level of competence.  I guess he was still thinking of Mark as “Admiral Naismith”, who was not noted particularly for hand-to-hand fighting ability…  Still, reasoning his way past Ryoval’s traps on the way out was all Mark.  Though Ryoval himself helped with his lack of delegation, so taking him out was really all that Mark needed to do.

Now, of course, Mark is heading out while Miles is being brought in.  I seem to recall that works out not too badly; Mark is really rescuing Miles again, this time in advance, sort of.  Leads to a fun conversation later, if nothing else.


After this we’re practically into the denouement, but I guess there’s a lot of knots to untie still–Mark and Miles to be reunited, the Duronas to be dealt with, and Baron Bharaputra, and probably Baron Fell, and it’d be nice if they got back to Barrayar…so still a few chapters, and a few weeks, left.  We’re out of the dark zone, at least; from here it gets more triumphant.  See you next week!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »