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Posts Tagged ‘Kareen’

It may feel like Kyril Island out there for a lot of us, but there is still hope, and warmth, as long as the Vorkosigan Saga Reread continues.  This week I managed to pull off another two-chapter post from Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, so there’s that.  So huddle around your computers, or smartphones, or whatever you may be using to read this, and remember that, on Barrayar, it’s summer, and it’s warm…at least in Vorbarr Sultana.

Chapter Eleven

Kareen and Martya peer at the front of the Vorthyses’ house, trying to figure out if there’s anyone there, when Nikki bursts out the front door and greets them.  They tell him they’ve come to talk to his mother, and he tells them she’s in the garden out back.  Kareen and her sister head through the house to the back yard, where Ekaterin is weeding busily; Kareen thinks it looks therapeutic.  She looks up and greets then, and Kareen admires the garden; Ekaterin says she’d started it back when she was a student, and her aunt has tried to keep it up.

They sit down in chairs on the deck, politely refusing Ekaterin’s offer of tea, because she knew that Ekaterin would have to go prepare it herself.  Guardedly, Kareen asks if she’s heard anything from Vorkosigan house; Ekaterin says she hasn’t.  Kareen is surprised that Miles hasn’t already starting trying to spin-doctor the dinner-party disaster; she says she’s actually worried about Mark, because she hasn’t heard a thing from him.  Ekaterin says she hasn’t heard, and Kareen says that she’s forbidden to visit or talk to anyone at Vorkosigan House; her parent made her swear, and then even stuck her with Martya as a snitch, which Martya herself isn’t happy about either.

Kareen complains that her parents seem to be trying to stop her from growing up; Ekaterin says that she does sympathize with the parental desire to keep your children safe.  Martya says that Kareen isn’t helping, the way she’s been carrying on.

“There’s something to that in both directions,” said Ekaterin mildly. “Nothing is more guaranteed to make one start acting like a child than to be treated like one. It’s so infuriating. It took me the longest time to figure out how to stop falling into that trap.”

“Yes, exactly,” said Kareen eagerly. “You understand! So—how did you make them stop?”

“You can’t make them—whoever your particular them is—do anything, really,” said Ekaterin slowly. “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste . . . years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that’s hard.” Ekaterin looked up from her lap where her hands had been absently rubbing at the yard dirt smeared on them, and remembered to smile. Kareen felt an odd chill. It wasn’t just her reserve that made Ekaterin daunting, sometimes. The woman went down and down, like a well to the middle of the world. Kareen bet even Miles couldn’t shift her around at his will and whim.

Kareen says it’s like they’re asking her to choose between her family and her lover, and she doesn’t see why she can’t have both.  Mark somewhat over-romanticizes families, so he’d be heartbroken if she gave them up for him.  She says that if she was a real adult, she’d have an income, and enough money to leave home.  That’s why she’s taking part in the butter bug scheme, which she thinks will be huge, once it gets off the ground, and even Tsipis agrees that the idea is sound.  Her parents think she was just fooling around with Mark over at Vorkosigan House, but she was working, and her shares are there, and she doesn’t even know what’s going on!

Martya asks Ekaterin if she’s heard from Dr. Borgos, because she feels sorry for him; Ekaterin says she hasn’t.  Kareen is still mad at Enrique, though, for spilling the beans about her and Mark.  Martya says she missed a bet there–she could have been dropping awful hints about what she could have been doing on Beta Colony, and when their parents found out what she had been doing, they’d have been grateful it was only her and Mark.  Kareen, who had done more than that, holds her tongue.  Martya says that any normal person would be hard put to cope with Miles and Mark on a daily basis.

“You think Enrique is normal?” said Kareen to her sister, wrinkling her nose.

“Well . . . at least he’s a change from the sort of Lieutenant Lord Vor-I’m-God’s-Gift-to-Women we usually meet in Vorbarr Sultana. He doesn’t back you into a corner and gab on endlessly about military history and ordnance. He backs you into a corner and gabs on endlessly about biology, instead. Who knows? He might be good husband material.”

“Yeah, if his wife didn’t mind dressing up as a butter bug to lure him to bed,” said Kareen tartly. She made antennae of her fingers, and wriggled them at Martya.

Martya snickered, but said, “I think he’s the sort who needs a managing wife, so he can work fourteen hours a day in his lab.”

Kareen snorted. “She’d better seize control immediately. Yeah, Enrique has biotech ideas the way Zap the Cat has kittens, but it’s a near-certainty that whatever profit he gets from them, he’ll lose.”

Ekaterin wishes she had that kind of time to work, and Martya says that she’s like Enrique too–better suited for R&D than being a housewife.  Ekaterin asks if that means she needs a wife, rather than a husband, and Kareen suggests she try Beta Colony.

The conversation peters out for a time, until Martya brings up the ugliness of the butter bugs–except for the Vorkosigan ones, which actually looked nice.  Kareen said she hadn’t known Enrique could do that to the bugs; Ekaterin says she should have seen it, since it’s really just the microbes in the bugs’ gut that do the work, the rest of the bug just being vehicles for them.  Enrique just slapped together a bunch of bug genes to be functional, without caring what they look like.

Kareen says, slowly, that Ekaterin knows about aesthetics, always looking well put together despite her doubtless limited budget, having what Lady Alys calls “unerring taste”.  She says that Mark is good at deals, Miles is good at strategy and persuasion, and she’s not sure what she’s good at, but Ekaterin is good at beauty.  She asks Ekaterin to come up with a way to make butter bugs pretty–to redesign them, not worrying about the actual genetics, to look more appealing.  Ekaterin is dubious, but she says she could come up with a few ideas, trying to use colours found in nature, trying not to mess with the functional parts of the bug.  Kareen says they could hire her to produce a glorious butter bug; Ekaterin says they don’t need to pay her, and Kareen tells her never to say that, because people don’t value what they don’t pay for.  Though she’ll still have to accept pay in shares, like Ma Kosti did.

Ekaterin says she can produce some preliminary designs in a day or two, but she’ll need to meet with Mark and Enrique as well.  Obviously they can’t meet at Vorkosigan House, so Kareen asks if they can meet at the Vorthyses’ instead.  Ekaterin says that she won’t want to go behind the Koudelkas’ back, but if they allow it, for business purposes, she’ll go along with it.  Kareen says that Ekaterin could meet with Mark and Enrique without her, but she’d prefer to be there, and Ekaterin agrees.  Martya protests that she’ll be forced to duenna again, and Kareen says she’d be happy enough if Martya could convince their parents she wasn’t necessary.

They are interrupted by the arrival of Armsman Pym, who is discussing having Nikki come over to his own flat to play with his son.  Ekaterin sinks back into reserve at Pym’s arrival, and she sends Nikki back inside and greets Pym neutrally.  Pym greets Ekaterin politely, and is surprised to find the Koudelka sisters there.  Kareen wonders if she’s allowed to talk to Pym, or not…  Pym produces an envelope addressed to Madame Vorkosigan and sealed with the Vorkosigan arms.  He says that Miles has sent her this letter, and apologizes it took so long, which Pym adds is because of the drains.  Ekaterin takes the envelope cautiously, and Pym turns and excuses himself.

Kareen shrieks at Pym to tell her anything about what’s going on over at Vorkosigan House.  Martya objects, and Kareen asks her to ask him.  Martya agrees, reluctantly, and then asks Pym about the drains.  Kareen says she doesn’t care about the drains, and Martya says that she gets to talk to him, so she gets to decide on the topic.

Pym’s brows rose as he took this in, and his eyes glinted briefly. A sort of pious innocence informed his voice. “I’m most sorry to hear that, Miss Kareen. I trust the Commodore will see his way clear to lift our quarantine very soon. Now, m’lord told me I was not to hang about and distress Madame Vorsoisson with any ham-handed attempts at making things up to her, nor pester her by offering to wait for a reply, nor annoy her by watching her read his note. Very nearly his exact words, those. He never ordered me not to talk with you young ladies, however, not anticipating that you would be here.”

“Ah,” said Martya, in a voice dripping with, in Kareen’s view, unsavory delight. “So you can talk to me and Kareen, but not to Ekaterin. And Kareen can talk to Ekaterin and me—”

“Not that I’d want to talk to you,” Kareen muttered.

“—but not to you. That makes me the only person here who can talk to everybody. How . . . nice. Do tell me about the drains, dear Pym. Don’t tell me they backed up again.”

Pym obliges, telling her that Dr. Borgos, with an excess of bug butter accumulating in Kareen’s absence, ended up dumping two days’ worth of bug butter down the drain…  In the pipes it underwent a chemical reaction which caused it to solidify, and block the main drain, which caused an immediate crisis.  Miles, informing them all of his “rich military experience with drains”, led Pym and Armsman Roic down into the sub-basement to address the issue.  They could hardly refuse to follow him, especially given how much higher the effluent was on Miles than on them.  Miles dealt with the problem quickly, and the household rejoiced, but everyone got a slow start, including Pym, hence the delay in delivery of the letter.

Martya asks what happened to Enrique (as Kareen bounces in impatience), and Pym said that he himself had proposed hanging him upside down in the drains, but Cordelia settled for giving him an education talk about what should, and shouldn’t, go into the drains.

The story now over, Kareen pester Martya more to ask about Mark, and Pym waits patiently until Martya finally capitulates.  Pym starts to talk about Lord Mark’s dangerous overeating, then changes to a more general appraisal of “depression”, but Kareen can tell that Gorge and Howl have probably gotten loose.  Mark has been keeping busy helping Enrique with the bug recovery, and unsure how to proceed otherwise, not knowing how things were in the Koudelka household, but Pym will make sure he knows how things stand.  Kareen is reminded that Pym is former ImpSec and no stranger to deducing facts on scant evidence, so she is confident that Mark will in fact learn what’s going on.

Martya glanced sideways at Ekaterin, and added somewhat daringly, “And so how’s the skinny one?”

Pym hesitated, followed her glance, and finally replied, “I’m afraid the drain crisis brightened his life only temporarily.”

He sketched a bow at all three ladies, leaving them to construe the stygian blackness of a soul that could find fifty kilos of bug butter in the main drain an improvement in his gloomy world.

Pym bids them farewell, seeks assurances that Nikki will be allowed to visit Arthur, and takes his leave.  Martya shakes her head in amazement at how the Vorkosigans can get such people; Kareen says that Pym came courtesy of Simon Illyan himself, which Martya calls cheating.  Ekaterin’s hand keeps straying to where she has stored the envelope, and Kareen decides she probably won’t read it with them there, so she says goodbye as well, reminding her about the butter bug redesign.  Ekaterin promises to have something for them tomorrow.

After they leave, they bump into Pym waiting by his car, who asks if she read it yet.  Martya says no, not in front of them, and Pym is disappointed.  Martya asks how Miles really is, and Pym says he seems starved for action, lacking something to do, which is a frightening state for him to be in.  Kareen expects that most of the household is really hoping to get Miles laid, so that he’ll settle down and stop driving them crazy.  Pym offers them a ride, which they decline, and they part ways.

Ekaterin sits back down at the table in the garden and takes out the envelope to examine.  Sturdy, expensive paper, with the Vorkosigan seal indented by hand and smeared with reddish pigment.  She opens it and begins to read.

Dear Madame Vorsoisson, it began. I am sorry.

This is the eleventh draft of this letter. They’ve all started with those three words, even the horrible version in rhyme, so I guess they stay.

Her mind hiccuped to a stop. For a moment, all she could wonder was who emptied his wastebasket, and if they could be bribed. Pym, probably, and likely not. She shook the vision from her head, and read on.

I tried to be the thief of you, to ambush and take prisoner what I thought I could never earn or be given. You were not a ship to be hijacked, but I couldn’t think of any other plan but subterfuge and surprise. Though not as much of a surprise as what happened at dinner. The revolution started prematurely because the idiot conspirator blew up his secret ammo dump and lit the sky with his intentions. Sometimes those accidents end in new nations, but more often they end badly, in hangings and beheadings. And people running into the night. I can’t be sorry I asked you to marry me, because that was the one true part in all the smoke and rubble, but I’m sick as hell I asked you so badly.

Even though I’d kept my counsel from you, I should at least have done you the courtesy to keep it from others as well, till you’d had the year of grace and rest you’d asked for. But I became terrified you’d choose another first.

Ekaterin wonders who he thought she’d choose–Vormoncrief was impossible, Byerly Vorrutyer wasn’t serious, Zamori was kind but dull, and she quails at the thought of Enrique.

Miles goes on to admit he used the garden as a ploy to be near her, which he is now ashamed of.  He says it drove him crazy to see her constrained to tiny steps, when she could be running, so he also wanted to give her the chance to grow, even though he know it would be a conflict of interest.

I love you. But I lust after and covet so much more than your body. I wanted to possess the power of your eyes, the way they see form and beauty that isn’t even there yet and draw it up out of nothing into the solid world. I wanted to own the honor of your heart, unbowed in the vilest horrors of those bleak hours on Komarr. I wanted your courage and your will, your caution and serenity. I wanted, I suppose, your soul, and that was too much to want.

She put the letter down, shaken. After a few deep breaths, she took it up again.

I wanted to give you a victory. But by their essential nature triumphs can’t be given. They must be taken, and the worse the odds and the fiercer the resistance, the greater the honor. Victories can’t be gifts.

But gifts can be victories, can’t they. It’s what you said. The garden could have been your gift, a dowry of talent, skill, and vision.

I know it’s too late now, but I just wanted to say, it would have been a victory most worthy of our House.

Ekaterin takes a few moments to regain control of herself, and then rereads the letter again, and again.  She’s glad that it doesn’t seem to expect a reply, because she doesn’t feel up to one.  It’s more than honest, it’s soul-baring.  She wipes her eyes, then examines the seal again.  Traditionally, the red pigment used for the seal was blood, but generally one uses a special pigment stick instead, which these days come in a variety of colours for various purposes.  Miles’s pigment smear was traditional red-brown–because, she realizes, it is blood.  She doesn’t even think he was trying to be melodramatic about it, just methodical and proper, and he probably even owns a dagger with the seal in the hilt–a collector’s piece these days for most people, but he probably uses it just as a tool.

She wonders about his reference to ship hijacking, and makes a mental note to twit him sometime about excessive honesty being a bad idea for a former covert agent.  She reads over his declaration of love a few more times, until the letters start to blur.  Reading the letter again, she notices something missing from it–any kind of plea for forgiveness, or reconciliation, or even seeing her again.  Is he too arrogant to beg for forgiveness, or does he think he has no chance of receiving it?  Or both at once?  She remembers how the cycle went with Tien after an argument, and how she often short-circuited it, leaping right to forgiveness, because she couldn’t bear the coldness of in-between.  Had she missed something important?

What does she do now?  How does she go forward?  She can’t go back, she knows, and she doesn’t want to, to try to shrink and fit back into her old self.  Does she have to answer Miles’s question?  She wants a middle ground between yes and no.

Comments

I tried to summarize Miles’s letter, but in the end I couldn’t do much, and hopefully the copyright police won’t get after me.  It is a magnificent piece of abject, quite well done, not holding back.  The ball does seem, in many ways, back in Ekaterin’s court. She has to decide how to respond to it–where ignoring Miles for the rest of their lives is certainly one of the potential choices, but I get the feeling that she’s not leaning that way.  She has plenty of feelings to work through, many of which have been lurking in the back of her head, but which she’s been firmly suppressing, like the ones that arose when she thought Miles had sent the baba…  She can no longer convince herself he’s not serious, in any event.

It’s interesting how she dismisses the ones that Miles consider his most serious competitors–Zamori and Enrique–out of hand.  Zamori is dull, Enrique she doesn’t even really give a reason for, but considers him absurd.  Most tellingly, Lord Dono doesn’t even show up on her list, but then I guess he never really actually wooed her, even as much as Enrique.

And speaking of Enrique, this is where Martya first seems to start seriously considering him.  Not really a romantic interest, as far as I can tell, but a “potential wife” interest, if that makes sense.  Martya isn’t a particularly romantic sort, it seems, so she’s willing to consider marriage as more a practical matter.  The scene with Martya being the only one allowed to talk to everyone was somewhat amusing, given her contrariness, though Pym’s deadpan delivery of Miles’s drain-cleaning story is also noteworthy.  Kareen’s realization that Ekaterin should be the one to redesign the butter bugs is also a great moment.  (So what is her talent, then?  Does she have one?  Sounds like a question I should asking about a Xanth character or something.)

Chapter Twelve

Ivan is getting ready for work in the morning when his apartment door-chime rings, to his surprise.  He opens the door to reveal By Vorrutyer, and then is unable to close it fast enough before By gets his foot in.  By is apparently up late, rather than early, and tells Ivan he needs to talk to him about Miles.  Ivan considers various techniques for dislodging By’s foot, saying that he doesn’t want to hear about Miles any more than he wants to hear about Dono.  Ivan says to go tell Miles himself, and By says he’d rather not, but he’s very interested in what Miles does with his vote.  Ivan says that the vote is technically Count Aral’s, who is now back in Vorbarr Sultana; By says that it’s well known that 90% of the time the Count leaves his son in charge of the proxy.

By asks if Ivan has some coffee, and when he says no, asks him to make some; Ivan is unmoved, but so is By.  He asks Ivan again about Miles, and Ivan says that after the debacle at the dinner party, he’s avoiding Miles; Aunt Cordelia can take care of him.  By says that what Miles did was a horrible faux pas, but, in Dono’s judgement, still fixable…but soon it won’t be any more.  Ivan, curiosity finally whetted, and against his better judgement, finally relents and lets By in.

By says that last night he was at a private dinner at the Vormoncriefs’, hosted by Count Boriz and his nephew Alexi.  Richars Vorrutyer, alarmed at Dono’s return, came into town to court Boriz’s vote.  Also present were Count Vormuir, and Boriz’s son-in-law, Sigur Vorbretten.  Richars quickly won Boriz over with promises to vote Conservative once he won his Countship.  Ivan asks what By was doing there, and By says that he’s convinced Richars that he’s spying on Dono for him, oblivious of the fact that By is actually working against him.

Vormuir brought up Miles’s judgement against him, and then they groused about the cost of the Komarran solar mirror repairs, which of course also came back to Miles.  Alexi mentioned the refusal of his proposal to Ekaterin, and then Sigur Vorbretten told them a garbled version of the dinner party story, including Ekaterin’s fleeing from Miles’s proposal; Ivan wonders how that story has even started making the rounds, but By points out that there were nineteen people there, not including servants and Armsmen, so somebody was bound to have mentioned it.  The Conservative crew chewed over these facts, and finally came up with a Theory to explain them…which evolved into a full-blown Slander.

“Oh, shit,” whispered Ivan.

By gave him a sharp look. “You anticipate me? Goodness, Ivan. What unexpected depths. You can imagine the conversation; I had to sit through it. Alexi piping about the damned mutant daring to court the Vor lady. Vormuir opining it was bloody convenient, say what, the husband killed in some supposed-accident in the middle of Vorkosigan’s case. Sigur saying, But there weren’t any charges, Count Boriz eyeing him like the pitiful waif he is and rumbling, There wouldn’t be—the Vorkosigans have had ImpSec under their thumb for thirty years, the only question is whether was it collusion between the wife and Vorkosigan? Alexi leaping to the defense of his lady-love—the man just does not take a hint—and declaring her innocent, unsuspecting till Vorkosigan’s crude proposal finally tipped his hand. Her storming out was Proof! Proof!—actually, he said it three times, but he was pretty drunk by then—that she, at least, now realized Miles had cleverly made away with her beloved spouse to clear his way to her, and she ought to know, she was there. And he bet she would be willing to reconsider his own proposal now! Since Alexi is a known twit, his seniors were not altogether convinced by his arguments, but willing to give the widow the benefit of the doubt for the sake of family solidarity. And so on.”

Ivan asks why By didn’t stop them, and By says he didn’t want to blow his cover, and in any case he had little hope of diverting their momentum.  Ivan says Miles will deal handily with them if they try to bring charges, and By agrees, but says that he won’t be able to do much about rumour and whisper.  By says that the five rumourmongers are still sleeping it off, so Miles may be able to get on top of damage control if he’s alerted early enough.  Ivan says that it sounds more like a matter for ImpSec, recalling Miles’s earlier statements on the Komarr matter, and By isn’t sure that ImpSec will be able to do much about it.

Ivan checks the time and says he has to leave for work now.  By accedes, asking if Ivan can get him a wedding invitation; Ivan tells him to ask Dono, if he manages to win his Countship.  Ivan tries to figure out how to tell Miles about it, and, picturing the reception if he delivers the news in person, decides to call him on the comconsole instead.  He gets the answering program, and leaves a message for Miles to call him back, promising himself to try to follow up later.

Mark and Enrique arrive at the Vorthys house for the meeting, and Ekaterin lets them inside, telling them that Kareen and Martya are already there.  Mark greets her fervently, and Kareen says she’s now allowed to talk to Mark, but only about business.  Martya is there as a duenna again, which she says is a little bit late–she would have been more use on Beta Colony.

Enrique asks them if they knew that Mark’s mother was a Betan Survey captain, and he’s amazed that they’re not more impressed about it; Mark has been hearing about this for two days now.  Enrique says he gave her his dissertation to read.

Kareen, her eyes widening, asked, “Did she understand it?”

“Of course she did. She was a Betan Survey commander, for God’s sake! Do you have any idea how those people are chosen, what they do? If I’d completed my postgraduate work with honors, instead of all that stupid misunderstanding with the arrest, I could have hoped, only hoped, to put in an application, and even then I wouldn’t have had a prayer of beating out all the Betan candidates, if it weren’t for their off-worlder quotas holding open some places specifically for non-Betans.” Enrique was breathless with the passion of this speech. “She said she would recommend my work to the attention of the Viceroy. And she said my sonnet was very ingenious. I composed a sestina in her honor in my head while I was catching bugs, but I haven’t had time to get it down yet. Survey captain!”

“It’s . . . not what Tante Cordelia is most famous for, on Barrayar,” Martya offered after a moment.

“The woman is wasted here. All the women are wasted here.” Enrique subsided grumpily. Martya turned half-around, and gave him an odd raised-brows look.

Kareen asks about the bug roundup, and Enrique says they’ve found most of them, but the queen is still missing.
Ekaterin thanks Enrique for sending her the butter bug model, which was a big help, and then proceeds to her presentation.  She starts with a enlarged projection of the standard butter bug, and says that she’s just run off four quick variations.  The first that she shows them is just pure, shiny black, elongated to hide the abdomen, which impresses them all; the second is mostly black, but with rounded wing carapaces covered in rainbow stripes, which Martya declares to be pretty.  The next one, Ekaterin says, she was trying to play with the possibilities.  It looks almost like a rose bud, leaf-green and red, carapaces like petals, even little thorns on the bug’s legs.  Kareen loves it, and Enrique is a little startled, but admits it could be done.  Ekaterin admits that it would be more practical for bugs that weren’t roaming freely, since the petals would be awkward, and get damaged or catch on things.  She says she had thought they might decorate the bugs differently for different sets of microbes, which Enrique thinks is a good idea.  Then she shows the last image.

This bug’s legs and body parts were a deep, glimmering blue. The carapace halves flared and then swept back in a teardrop shape. Their center was a brilliant yellow, shading immediately to a deep red-orange, then to light flame blue, then dark flame blue edged with flickering iridescence. The abdomen, barely visible, was a rich dark red. The creature looked like a flame, like a torch in the dusk, like a jewel cast from a crown. Four people leaned forward so far they nearly fell off their chairs. Martya’s hand reached out. Ekaterin smiled demurely.

“Wow, wow, wow,” husked Kareen. “Now that is a glorious bug!”

“I believe that was what you ordered, yes,” murmured Ekaterin.

Ekaterin shows the bug in motion, too, and suggests that Enrique find a way to make them glow in the dark.  Enrique says that it should be possible, and it would make them easier to find, but it would reduce their butter production due to the energy costs; Mark suggests thinking of it as an advertising budget.  He says they should have a shareholder’s vote to decide which one they should use.  Enrique points out they should take the advice of their aesthetics consultant as well; Ekaterin says she did the aesthetics, but she has only a vague idea how easily they could be produced, and the more striking designs may take longer.  Kareen asserts that time is of the essence–they need to get the product launched and making money so the business can get off the ground.

Mark likes the black one, Kareen the flowery one, and Enrique the glorious one; when he says that it would be faster than the flowery one, Kareen switches her vote.  Mark says that he still has 51% of the shares, before realizing that giving shares to Kareen and Ma Kosti have deprived him of his majority.  Kareen insists that Ekaterin get paid in shares, too, despite her protest that it wasn’t that hard.  Mark complies reluctantly, quickly processing and printing out a share receipt for Ekaterin.

Mark says that they need to be going, to try to finish the bug-hunt and get everything back on track.  He asks Kareen if her parents are willing to relent enough to let her come back to work; Kareen grimaces, and Martya explains that they’re having a hard time with it.  Their father is having a hard enough time coping with Delia getting married, Kareen, Mark, Beta Colony and the Orb are not something he’s equipped to deal with.  On the other hand, Martya points out that she is not forbidden to go to Vorkosigan House…  She says she might be willing to consider it, for a few shares of her own, and Mark thinks this would be a great idea, even if she doesn’t like him personally.  He puts it to Enrique, still absorbed with the glorious bug, and eventually gets him to agree that Martya would be fine.  As they’re preparing to leave, Mark asks Kareen how long she think it’ll take to resolve this mess with her family.

“It’s resolved already.” Her expression was disturbingly fey. “I’m done arguing, though I’m not sure they realize it yet. I’ve had it. While I’m still living in my parents’ house, I’ll continue to hold myself honor-bound to obey their rules, however ludicrous. The moment I’ve figured out how to be somewhere else without compromising my long-range goals, I’ll walk away. Forever, if need be.” Her mouth was grim and determined. “I don’t expect to be there much longer.”

“Oh,” said Mark. He wasn’t exactly sure what she meant, or meant to do, but it sounded . . . ominous. It terrified him to think that he might be the cause of her losing her family. It had taken him a lifetime, and dire effort, to win such a place of his own. The Commodore’s clan had looked to be such a golden refuge, to him . . . “It’s . . . a lonely place to be. On the outside like that.”

She shrugged. “So be it.”

On the way out, Mark asks Ekaterin if she wants him to take a message back to Vorkosigan House.  She touches her bolero over her heart, where Mark deduces the letter is being stored, and says that she accepts his apology, but she can’t answer his question.  They leave the house, Kareen heading determinedly off in one direction as the others head back to Vorkosigan House.

Miles has been waiting for Mark’s return, and immediately asks him if he saw Ekaterin, and if she had read his letter.  Mark reminds Miles that he had been sternly admonished not to ask her about it.

Impatiently, Miles waved this off. “Directly. You know I meant not to ask directly. I just wondered if you could tell . . . anything.”

“If I could tell what a woman was thinking just by looking at her, would I look like this?” Mark made a sweeping gesture at his face, and glowered.

“How the hell would I know? I can’t tell what you’re thinking just because you look surly. You usually look surly.”

Mark says that he does have a message from Kareen, which gets Miles excited; he says that she accepts his apology, and congratulates him on having been forgiven.  Miles asks if there’s anything else–whether he’d be permitted or forbidden to visit, or anything.  Mark says that she said she couldn’t answer his question, and that’s all.  Miles withdraws to try to figure out what this says.  Not no, but not yes–maybe another last chance, maybe back to square one.

How should he approach matters this time around?  Not poetry, that’s for sure–his attempts at rhyming were execrable, and if by fluke he produced something worthwhile, he doesn’t want to get her hopes up.  No more false pretenses, he decides.  But hope has reappeared in his life.  He wonders how he might go about becoming her friend, what kind of thing she would like to do…

Pym announces the arrival of a visitor–Lord Richars Vorrutyer, who asks to be called “Lord Vorrutyer”.  Miles is not pleased with his arrival, and asks if he needs an Imperial Auditor for something.  Richars says he wanted to talk to the Count about Lady Donna’s suit, but the Count sent him to Miles.  Miles’s father has decided that his visit to Barrayar is a vacation from Viceroying, not a return to Counting, and is leaving Miles in charge of the vote.  Miles pointedly does not ask for refreshments, not wanting to encourage Richars to linger.

Richars commiserates with Miles on the presence of his “fat clone”, which doesn’t endear him to Miles, and he pushes Richars to get to the point.  Richars wants to talk about Lady Donna, and the mockery she is making of the Vorrutyer name.  Miles says that he’s pretty sure that Beta Colony would have done a good job on Lord Dono.  Richars thinks it’s absurd–nobody would want to marry a woman-turned-man, and so she wouldn’t be able to sire an heir; Miles says it’s not inconceivable, and in any case not every Count produced a true heir.  Richars begins speculating on Ivan’s relationship with her.

“He used to screw her, you know. So did half the men in Vorbarr Sultana.”

“I’d heard . . . something.” Go away, Richars. I don’t want to deal with your smarmy notion of wit right now.

“I wonder if he still . . . well! I’d never have thought Ivan Vorpatril climbed into that side of the bunk, but live and learn!”

“Um, Richars . . . you have a consistency problem, here,” Miles felt compelled to point out. “You cannot logically imply my cousin Ivan is a homosexual for screwing Dono, not that I think he is doing so, unless you simultaneously grant Dono is actually male. In which case, his suit for the Vorrutyer Countship holds.”

Richars dismisses that issue, and tries appealing to Miles’s Vor loyalty–he says that Lady Donna’s crass “prank” strikes at Vor power itself, regardless of political stripe.  Miles is noncommittal, but he admits to himself that he might need to make this decision based on something more than the fact that Dono amuses him more than Richars does.  Richars asks about a vote-trade; Miles says he is interested in the soletta repairs, but he thinks Gregor has the votes for that one well in hand.  He brings up René Vorbretten; Richars is sorry for the poor fellow, but since he’s Cetagandan, he obviously can’t be a Count.  Richars has already promised his vote on that matter to Sigur Vorbretten and Count Vormoncrief, nothing to be done there.

Richars laments the delay in his confirmation caused by Lady Donna’s sick joke.  Miles says that Lord Dono must be deathly serious about the issue to have essentially killed “Lady Donna”, and thus might do a good job to warrant the high price paid.  Richars begins to realize that Miles is actually considering voting for Dono, and asks him to think of what his grandfather would think.  Miles says that Lord Dono is sufficiently charming to win friends on his own merits, but Richars dismisses her as a lunatic.  He asks Miles his own opinion of her, and Miles said he had other concerns; Richars says he’d heard all about it.

Richars takes this as an opportunity to bring up the topic of Miles’s failed proposal to Ekaterin (who he calls “Alexi’s widow”).  He deplores Miles’s failure to spring his trap properly, and calls it “a leetle obvious”.  Miles shifts into neutral ImpSec mode and replies noncommittally.  Richars mentions Ekaterin’s husband’s “convenient” death, and how she must have figured out the truth behind it now.  Miles says it was a breath mask accident, and Richars says that those could be easy to arrange.  Miles parries with the accusations about Pierre’s fiancée’s death, but Richars points out he was cleared of those charges.  Miles hasn’t been cleared of anything yet, but of course nobody would be fool enough to try to bring him down.

Miles knows that any such charges would be quashed, rather than bring up the classified Komarr affair, but it would do little for his and Ekaterin’s reputations.  Richars says that it would be a great benefit for Miles if charges were to not get laid.

“Come on, Vorkosigan. We’re both as Old Vor as it’s possible to be. It’s stupid of us to be brangling when we should both be on the same side. Our interests march together. It’s a tradition. Don’t pretend your father and grandfather weren’t top party horse-traders.”

“My grandfather . . . learned his political science from the Cetagandans. Mad Emperor Yuri offered him postgraduate instruction after that. My grandfather schooled my father.” And both of them schooled me. This is the only warning you will receive, Richars. “By the time I knew Piotr, Vorbarr Sultana party politics were just an amusing pastime to him, to entertain him in his old age.”

Miles asks, just to be clear, if Richars is asking him to vote against Dono in return for not pressing a murder charge on him.  He points out that someone else might always make such an accusation, and he’s also not sure that the story of his dinner party has reached that wide of an audience yet.  Inside, though, he’s frantically wondering how the story got out, and how far it has spread.

Then he smiles and thanks Richars for settling his mind on how he’s going to vote on the Vorrutyer Countship.  Richars takes this to mean that he’s succeeded.  Miles considers that bribing an Imperial Auditor is treason, but he’s being a Count’s Deputy right now, so it doesn’t seem fair.  Besides, he’s beginning to want to crush Richars himself.  He smiles, shakes Richars’s hand, and bids him farewell.

Once Richars leaves, Miles snarls and hurls his grandfather’s dagger into the doorframe.  Once he’s calmed down, he goes to his comconsole, disregards another message from Ivan asking him to call, and calls Guy Allegre at ImpSec.  He tells Allegre about the gossip about his role in Tien’s death, adding that he was, actually, attempting to woo his widow.  Allegre says that he’s heard about that last bit already.  Miles adds that Richars is trying to blackmail him into voting against Dono–and failing, though he doesn’t know it yet–but he needs to know if this is entirely fabrication, or if there’s an actual leak.  Allegre says they don’t think it’s a leak, but he encourages Miles to do nothing to call attention to what really happened on Komarr.  Miles says he plans to call Ekaterin and give her a heads-up on the matter, but Allegre asks him to hold off until they’ve run a check on her, in case she’s been careless enough to give something away.

ImpSec had never been happy to have Ekaterin, an oath-free civilian not under their control in any way, standing in the heart of the hottest secret of the year, or maybe the century. Despite the fact that she’d personally hand-delivered it to them, the ingrates. “She is not careless. She is in fact extremely careful.”

“In your observation.”

“In my professional observation.”

Allegre gave him a placating nod. “Yes, m’lord. We would be pleased to prove that. You don’t, after all, want ImpSec to be . . . confused.”

Miles blew out his breath in dry appreciation of this last dead-pan remark. “Yeah, yeah,” he conceded.

Miles reluctantly agrees to wait to hear from ImpSec before telling Ekaterin about it, hoping that, reclusive as she is, she won’t encounter it as common gossip.  Then he reconsiders his conversation with Richars, and realizes that he may have mishandled it–Richars was more of a bully, and he might have backed down if Miles had stood up to him.  Now he may end up with a permanent enemy on the Council, and he may force Richars to follow through and press the charges.  He doesn’t want to do that to Ekaterin, drag her through the ending of her marriage all over again, however truncated.  Best result, then would be for him to push for Dono to win the Countship.

He calls Vorrutyer House, and to his surprise finds the call answered by Olivia Koudelka, who fetches Dono directly.  Miles assures Dono that he has the support of the Vorkosigans, explaining that a visit from Richars helped sway him.  He invites Dono to join him and René Vorbretten at Vorkosigan House to strategize, and it is organized for two days hence.

After that, he considers calling Ekaterin, but can’t make himself do it.  If he calls her and doesn’t mention this tangle, he’ll be lying by omission, but he promised Allegre he wouldn’t talk about it.  He wishes now that he’d let her have her year of mourning without interference, until Tien’s death could be forgotten, and he could have courted her openly.  But he’d pushed it too far, not to mention telling everyone in the capital about it.

I want a time machine, so’s I can go back and shoot myself.

He had to admit, the whole extended scenario lent itself beautifully to political disinformation. In his covert ops days, he’d fallen with chortles of joy on lesser slips by his enemies. If he were ambushing himself, he’d regard it as a godsend.

You did ambush yourself, you idiot.

The one good thing about Richars’s scenario is that it paints Ekaterin as entirely innocent, so if he stays away from her, then perhaps he can keep it that way.  But how long can he make himself do that?  Will it takes years before the rumour fades entirely?  How could love have produced such a tangle?

Ivan appears then, and asks Miles why he never called him back.  Miles apologizes, saying he’d been busy, and tells Ivan he’s been blindsided by Richars Vorrutyer.  Ivan says that if Miles had called him, he wouldn’t have been blindsided, because By Vorrutyer had told him that morning.  He’s not sure why, if By was just trying to stir up trouble, or playing some sneaky game, or what.

Miles asks Ivan to quash the rumour if he encounters it, but Ivan said that as Miles’s cousin, he has no credibility on the matter, and he doesn’t know anything anyway.  Ivan says that he doesn’t have to help Miles, it’s not his job, and he’s busy working for his mother anyway.

Miles sat back, and regarded Ivan for a long moment. “You’re right,” he said at last. “I have abused your loyalty too many times. I’m sorry. Never mind.”

Ivan, caught with a mouthful of wine, stared at him in shock, his brows drawing down. He finally managed to swallow. “What do you mean, never mind?”

“I mean, never mind. There’s no reason to draw you into this ugly mess, and every reason not to.” Miles doubted there’d be much honor for Ivan to win in his vicinity this time, not even the sort that sparked so briefly before being buried forever in ImpSec files. Besides, he couldn’t think offhand of anything Ivan could do for him.

“No need? Never mind? What are you up to?”

Miles tells Ivan sincerely that there’s nothing he can do to help Miles, but Ivan seems suspicious that Miles is trying to pull something on him.  He leaves, indignantly muttering about Miles claiming he can’t help.

Comments

Long chapter…  The best part is the scene with Ekaterin’s butter bugs, where she demonstrates the knack for aesthetics that Kareen had seen in her.  More of the budding Martya and Enrique relationship.  Kareen definitely seems to be on the edge–she’s almost had it with her family, or at least her parents, getting into the “waiting until I can leave home” phase.  I seem to recall how her plotline resolves, but I can’t remember the exact path it takes to get there.  And Olivia is over at Dono Vorrutyer’s house!  What the heck is up with that?

Then we have the beginning of the vicious rumour plotline.  Various Conservative scumbags (alas, we are given little chance to paint them otherwise, though we only really get to see Richars condemn himself with what comes out of his mouth) concoct a story of half-truths that Miles can’t just come out and deny.  Richars attempts to use it to blackmail Miles.  It will likely backfire on both of them, but Miles prepares to live with that to spare Ekaterin.  Definitely seems like a lose-lose situation, no way to get out of it…but it does put Miles firmly on Dono’s side, at least.

The last scene there is from Miles’s POV, and it does seem like he’s not deliberately trying to convince Ivan to help him using reverse psychology…but I’m afraid that is just what he’s done.  Because obviously trying to keep Ivan uninvolved is just part of Miles’s plan, isn’t it?  Well, that’ll teach him to try to keep Ivan from helping him…


Definitely longer chapters in this book, hoo boy.  Not sure if I can keep two chapters for long, without seriously denting my other pastimes, but we’ll see.  Does Diplomatic Immunity have shorter chapters, perhaps?  It’s more actiony and less talky, as I recall, so I guess I can hope…

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Happy New Year (for those of you following the Gregorian calendar, anyway), and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  This is the start of the fourth calendar year of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s exquisite Vorkosigan Saga, following Miles Vorkosigan and his friends, family and confederates through their adventures.  As the Christmas holidays draw to a close (for me, at least), I manage to persevere and to pull off two whole chapters this time–one of them a fairly unpleasant one, at that, as Miles’s dinner party turns into an unmitigated disaster.  Please join me for Chapters Nine and Ten of A Civil Campaign, if you dare…

Chapter Nine

Miles considers a number of potential outfits for the dinner party, rejecting his House and Imperial uniforms–briefly considering his Dendarii uniform, but afraid what Ivan and Illyan will say about it–before going back to his first choice, one of his normal gray Imperial Auditor suits.  Pym approves his choice, and Miles gets dressed, inspecting himself in the mirror and resisting the urge to pluck out gray hairs.

He goes the recheck the arrangements in the dining room, where he has carefully planned the seating so that Ekaterin is next to Miles, Kareen next to Mark, and Ivan in the middle far from either of them.  Lady Donna should be able to occupy all of Ivan’s attention anyway.  Miles recalls Ivan’s affair with Lady Donna, which he’d watched enviously, and Lady Alys had been quite disapproving of.  Of course, these days Lady Donna would still be able to have a child, no matter her age; he wonders if Lady Alys and Illyan are planning to have one, and makes a note to suggest it to Ivan at some appropriate moment–like when his mouth is full.  And on some other night.

Mark wanders in, dressed in black, and considers the place cards; Miles sternly warns him to leave them alone, and Mark asks if he can at least move Duv and Delia  farther away from him.  Miles says he needs to keep René Vorbretten next to Lady Alys, as a favour, and tells Mark he needs to be prepared to deal with Duv as part of the family, if he’s serious about Kareen.  Mark says that Duv must have mixed feelings about him.  Miles wonders how serious Mark really is about Kareen, and decides he should ask the Countess.

Pym announces the arrival of Alys and Illyan; Alys inspects the place settings, pronouncing a qualified approval but noting that the sexes aren’t matched–nine men and ten women–before going to talk with Ma Kosti.  Miles greets Illyan and asks if Alys has explained about Ekaterin to him.

“Yes, and Ivan had a few comments as well. Something on the theme of fellows who fall into the muck-hole and return with the gold ring.”

“I haven’t got to the gold ring part yet,” said Miles ruefully. “But that’s certainly my plan. I’m looking forward to you all meeting her.”

“She’s the one, is she?”

“I hope so.”

Illyan’s smile sharpened at Miles’s fervent tone. “Good luck, son.”

“Thanks. Oh, one word of warning. She’s still in her mourning year, you see. Did Alys or Ivan explain—”

He is interrupted by the announcement of the Koudelkas’ arrival, and goes to greet them in the library, Mark following him closely.  Armsman Roic brings out hors d’oeuvres and drinks, Mark talks to Kareen’s parents, and Illyan and Alys join them shortly thereafter.  Miles listens for the door, disappointed by the arrival of the Vorbrettens.  The next arrivals prove to be the Vorthyses and Ekaterin at last, and Miles eagerly goes to welcome them himself.

Ekaterin is wearing the Barrayar pendant he’d given her, and taking off garden gloves; she announces she’s just planted the first Barrayaran plan in his garden.  Miles says he’ll have to go see it later, and offers her his arm.  He escorts her to the library, where she is somewhat anxious, but he introduces her to the Vorbrettens, then to Alys and Illyan; she seems somewhat nervous at meeting the legendary former ImpSec head, but Illyan puts her at her ease, and seems to approve of her.

Enrique arrives, done up quite respectably, and shyly asks Ekaterin if she read his dissertation.  Ekaterin says most of it went over her head, and comments on the abstract being done in verse; Enrique says he’s sure she got most of it.  Miles notices that they’re using first names with each other, and that Ekaterin reacted to a compliment on her intelligence the way she never would on her appearance; he suddenly realizes that Enrique may be another rival for her affections.

Miles almost misses the announcement of Ivan and his guest, before realizing the Pym had said “Lord Dono” Vorrutyer…  He wonders why Ivan has pulled this last-minute substitution on him, and who this fellow is; mid-handshake the penny drops, and he smoothly asks if Lord Dono has been to Beta Colony.  As he introduces Dono to Ekaterin his mind begins to work through the implications of Dono’s change–obviously he hadn’t cloned Pierre after all.  Dono asks to discuss it with Miles at more length; Miles says that as an Imperial Auditor he has to remain neutral, but he recommends Dono talk to René Vorbretten, who also has a pending suit, as well as Professora Vorthys, who specializes in Barryaran political history, and Lady Alys and Simon Illyan.  Dono thanks him appreciatively and moves on.

Miles snags Ivan and asks if Gregor knows about Dono yet.  Ivan says he made sure of that right away, and Miles correctly guesses Gregor’s intent to “see what happens”.  Ekaterin asks what that was all about, and why Miles seems amused; Miles takes her aside and brings her up to speed on the Lady Donna/Lord Dono situation.  Miles admits he was caught off-guard, but in retrospect it makes an absurd sort of sense; Ekaterin objects mildly to the term ‘absurd’, and drifts towards where Dono is now surrounded with the Koudelka women.

Ivan returns to Miles, who twits him about his taste in dates; Ivan tells him how By Vorrutyer set him up.  Duv, Koudelka and Professor Vorthys join them; the women begin laughing, glancing at the men in amusement.  Miles decides that now is the time to serve dinner, to break this up before it gets too out of hand.  As they are leaving the library, though, Miles sees Mark and Ivan emerging from the dining room, where it emerges they have been reshuffling the carefully-ordered place settings.

All his carefully rehearsed conversational gambits were for people now on the other end of the table. Seating was utterly randomized—no, not randomized, he realized. Reprioritized. Ivan’s goal had clearly been to get Lord Dono as far away from himself as possible; Ivan now was taking his chair at the far end of the table by Mark, while Lord Dono seated himself in the place Miles had intended for René Vorbretten. Duv, Drou, and Kou had somehow all migrated Miles-ward, farther from Mark. Mark still kept Kareen at his right hand, but Ekaterin had been bumped down the other side of the table, beyond Illyan, who was still on Miles’s immediate left. It seemed no one had quite dared touch Illyan’s card. Miles would now have to speak across Illyan to converse with her, no sotto voce remarks possible.

Aunt Alys, looking a little confused, seated herself at Miles’s honored right, directly across from Illyan. She’d clearly noticed the switches, but failed Miles’s last hope of help by saying nothing, merely letting her eyebrows flick up. Duv Galeni found his future mother-in-law Drou between himself and Delia. Illyan glanced at the cards and seated Ekaterin between himself and Duv, and the accompli was fait.

Miles kept smiling; Mark, ten places distant, was too far away to catch the I-will-get-you-for-this-later edge to it.

After that, the dinner itself proceeds well enough; Ekaterin seems unconcerned with her ImpSec neighbours.  The menu seems a bit odd, though–a creamy soup, a creamy salad dressing, an aromatic herb spread for the bread…  Miles realizes that the meal is full of bug butter, and so does Ekaterin, though she determinedly pretends nothing is wrong.  Miles decides not to warn off his guests, though he avoids it himself.

Enrique gets up and taps on his glass to make an announcement.  He thanks Vorkosigan House for its hospitality, and says that he has a gift to give them in return, which fills Miles with dread.  Enrique takes out a box and sets it down next to Miles; the ImpSec men tense up, prepared for the worst.  He opens it, and it proves to contain three butter bugs, but changed; their carapaces are now adorned with a perfect replica of the Vorkosigan crest in brown and silver.  At Lord Dono’s puzzlement, Enrique explains the butter bugs, and how the bug butter they produce has been the basis for the food they’ve been eating.  He also says that the design was added genetically, and should breed true.  Pym seems quite distressed that the insignia he wears so proudly is now decorating repulsive insects; Miles tells him quietly that it wasn’t intended as an insult.

Miles tries his hardest to control his response; Ekaterin’s opinion is paramount, and from what he recalls of Tien, the man was probably given to displays of vicious temper.  He takes a deep breath and compliments Enrique’s talent, asking him to put the “girls” away for now; Ekaterin breaths a sigh of relief.  Enrique returns to his seat and happily tells his neighbours, the Vorbrettens, all about the bugs, but the rest of the conversation has ground to a halt.  Miles sends Pym to the kitchen for the next course, but asking him to check it for bug butter first.  What emerges is poached salmon garnished with lemon slices, instead of the buttery sauce that was doubtless meant to accompany it.

Ekaterin, trying to break the ice, asks Duv, as a Komarran in ImpSec, about his family’s opinion of his career; Duv, initially taken aback, merely replies that his new family approves of it.  Ekaterin picks up that she’s committed a faux pas, but doesn’t know what it is.  Koudelka changes the subject to the Komarran soletta repairs, which seems like a safer subject.  Before the conversation can get going again, though, everyone hears Enrique talking loudly to Kareen about how, with butter bug profits, she’ll surely be able to go back to the Orb of Unearthly Delights back on Beta Colony–again–with Mark.  Commodore Koudelka, obviously aware of the Orb’s reputation as a pleasure dome where almost everything was available for the asking, spews his mouthful of wine across the table and begins to choke.

Kou got just enough breath back to gasp at Mark, “You took my daughter to the Orb?”

Kareen, utterly panicked, blurted, “It was part of his therapy!”

Mark, panicked worse, added in desperate exculpation, “We got a Clinic discount . . .”

Galeni freezes at the news that Mark may be a prospective brother-in-law, and Koudelka begins to hyperventilate; Drou, who had gotten up to help her husband, deliberately sits back down, with a glare that conveys that they will discuss this later.  Lady Alys tries gamely to resume the soletta conversation, only to be interrupted by the arrival of a pair of kittens in the dining room, one of them carrying a Vorkosigan-liveried bug in its mouth.  Enrique tries to rescue it–too late–and Miles begins to wonder how the kitten managed to get hold of a butter bug, if they were all secured…  He asks Enrique and Mark, and Enrique, caught by a sudden thought, suddenly excuses himself and dashes away; Mark follows, and so does Miles, hastily instructing Lady Alys to take over as host.

In the laboratory, he finds Enrique kneeling by a butter bug house, its lid knocked askew, and only one brown-and-silver bug therein.  Enrique says the cats must have knocked it over–most of the bugs have escaped, close to two hundred.  Miles contemplates all the places a butter bug can hide, and says that at least they should all be neuter workers, since the queens can’t move.

“Um,” said Enrique.

Miles chose his words carefully. “You assured me the queens couldn’t move.”

Mature queens can’t move, that’s true,” Enrique explained, climbing to his feet again, and shaking his head. “Immature queens, however, can scuttle like lightning.”

Miles thought it through; it took only a split-second. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs all over Vorbarr Sultana.

There was an ImpSec trick, which involved grabbing a man by the collar and giving it a little half-twist, and doing a thing with the knuckles; applied correctly, it cut off both blood circulation and breath. Miles was absently pleased to see that he hadn’t lost his touch, despite his new civilian vocation. He drew Enrique’s darkening face down toward his own.

He gives Enrique an ultimatum–to get all the bugs back, including their queen, by six hours before his parents are due to return home, because after that he’s going to call in professional exterminators.  At Ekaterin’s shocked exclamation, he involuntarily releases Enrique’s collar, but Kareen steps forward to berate the Escobaran for mentioning the Orb.  Ekaterin assures Enrique that Miles can be reasonable, and offers to stay and help him hunt.  Miles, arrested by this unwelcome image, grudgingly agrees that, after dinner, they should all help look for the bugs, including the armsmen.

Mark offers to stay and help Enrique, but Kareen says that she refuses to deal with her parents and sisters all by herself.  Miles asks what Mark was doing, taking a young Barrayaran lady to the Orb in the first place.  Kareen calls Miles a hypocrite, since his grandmother said he’d been there several times; Miles insists that it was all for intelligence-gathering purposes.  He cuts off further argument by saying they should return to dinner, before Ma Kosti gets annoyed with them, and this shuts them up.

They return to the table, Pym serves more wine, and conversation is more-or-less successfully directed to the topic of the Emperor’s wedding, though Mark and Koudelka mostly just eye each other warily.  Ekaterin seems subdued, except for laughing at a few of Dono’s jokes.  After the main course, also bug-butter-free, the dessert proves to be a frozen creamy concoction; Pym tells Miles that Ma Kosti was already upset about her sauces, and refused to budge on the dessert.  Miles resolutely takes a spoonful, and is somewhat annoyed to find that it’s incredibly delicious; Ekaterin and Kareen seem especially delighted about this.

Miles has just finished a rousing anecdote about acquiring his District’s wedding gift–a life-size maple-sugar sculpture of a guerrilla–and is preparing to ask her a leading question about her garden, when Illyan innocently asks Ekaterin about how long Miles has been courting her.  Half the people at the table wince; Olivia says, confused, that she’d thought they weren’t supposed to talk about that yet.  Miles sees that Ekaterin’s face is freezing into stone; in a last-ditch effort, he asks her to marry him.

Ekaterin made no response at all, at first. For a moment, it seemed as though she had not even heard his words, and Miles almost yielded to a suicidal impulse to repeat himself more loudly. Aunt Alys buried her face in her hands. Miles could feel his breathless grin grow sickly, and slide down his face. No, no. What I should have said—what I meant to say was . . . please pass the bug butter? Too late . . .

She visibly unlocked her throat, and spoke. Her words fell from her lips like ice chips, singly and shattering. “How strange. And here I thought you were interested in gardens. Or so you told me.”

You lied to me hung in the air between them, unspoken, thunderously loud.

So yell. Scream. Throw something. Stomp on me all up and down, it’ll be all right, it’ll hurt good—I can deal with that—

Instead, she gets up from the table, bids farewell to her aunt, and walks quickly out of the room.  Miles follows her, catching her up in the entry hall, saying they need to talk.  Ekaterin agrees, then tells him she resigns as his landscape designer, though she will pass on her designs for whoever he picks to finish her garden–if a garden was what he wanted in the first place.  Miles says that he wanted the garden and to spend time with her, but he couldn’t tell her all of that, because she wasn’t close to being healed from Tien’s treatment of her.  Ekaterin flinches at the truth of that, but excoriates him for playing on her vanity.

“Not vanity,” he protested. “Skill, pride, drive—anyone could see you just needed scope, opportunity—”

“You are used to getting your own way, aren’t you, Lord Vorkosigan. Any way you can.” Now her voice was horribly dispassionate. “Trapping me in front of everyone like that.”

“That was an accident. Illyan didn’t get the word, see, and—”

“Unlike everyone else? You’re worse than Vormoncrief! I might just as well have accepted his offer!”

“Huh? What did Alexi—I mean, no, but, but—whatever you want, I want to give it to you, Ekaterin. Whatever you need. Whatever it is.”

“You can’t give me my own soul.” She stared, not at him, but inward, on what vista he could not imagine. “The garden could have been my gift. You took that away too.”

Miles wants to follow up this last statement, but a large groundcar is pulling up outside, and Ekaterin takes advantage of this distraction to insist that Pym let her out.  As Ekaterin turns to flee, she bumps directly into the early-returned Count Aral Vorkosigan.  He and Cordelia express concern at the young lady’s distress, assure her that they will call a cab for her directly, and ask Miles what is going on.  Miles says his dinner party is just breaking up; he tries to introduce Ekaterin to her, but is interrupted by Ekaterin’s abrupt retreat from the house.  The Koudelkas soon follow suit, insisting that Kareen come home with them, and stay out of Vorkosigan House, despite Kareen’s insistence that she works there; Mark tries to insist it’s his fault.

Commodore Koudelka’s eye fell on the returnees as the rolling altercation piled up in the hallway. “Ha—Aral!” he snarled. “Do you realize what your son has been up to?”

The Count blinked. “Which one?” he asked mildly.

The chance of the light caught Mark’s face, as he heard this off-hand affirmation of his identity. Even in the chaos of his hopes pinwheeling to destruction, Miles was glad to have seen the brief awed look that passed over those fat-distorted features. Oh, Brother. Yeah. This is why men follow this man—

Olivia is allowed to leave with the Vorbrettens instead, who try to sneak out quietly; Lord Dono makes a point of complimenting Miles on his interesting dinner party.  Enrique wanders into the entry hall, with some kind of unpleasantly-scented lure on a stick, searching for his bugs.

“Pym!” The Countess spotted a new victim, and her voice went a little dangerous. “I seconded you to look after Miles. Would you care to explain this scene?”

There was a thoughtful pause. In a voice of simple honesty, Pym replied, “No, Milady.”

“Ask Mark,” Miles said callously. “He’ll explain everything.” Head down, he started for the stairs.

Comments

Hoo boy, that was an ordeal.  It’s painful to read.  As I said before, when I first read the book, I was looking forward to this scene, getting all these characters together in one room–it would be a lot of fun.  Like one of those Emperor’s Birthday or Winterfair scenes from other books–which often had their share of unpleasantness, but nothing like the meltdown that happens here.  I guess that didn’t fit in with the plot, though.  Enrique and Illyan between them manage to say just the wrong things, bringing Miles and Kareen’s secrets to light–Kareen about the exact nature of her relationship with Mark, and Miles’s singularly unsecret campaign for Ekaterin’s heart.  In hindsight, of course, it’s inevitable, because in both cases the secrets have been shared so widely that almost everyone but the person/people that they were supposed to be secret from knew about them.

It’s almost a little off, that even Miles is judgemental about Mark and Kareen having a sexual relationship, or maybe it’s just that the Orb is taking it too far.  He should know that Mark hasn’t internalized a true Barrayaran value system–his upbringing by Ser Galen probably included a fair chunk of it, but I’m sure it didn’t thoroughly take.  The Koudelkas, of course, aren’t true Vor, but they probably wish they were, on some level, and prefer to emulate the true Vor value system as much as possible–like Bothari, everything has to be right for their girls.  It’s more than a little hypocritical for both of them, but as I recall we get to that a little later.

At some point in this chapter Miles thinks to himself that he was no good at poetry (apart from limericks), being much better at planning combat drop missions.  This obviously shows, because his campaign for Ekaterin is like one of those combat drop missions, where he tries to plan every detail, getting potential rivals out of the way (and sharing too much vital intelligence on the way), and then suddenly everything goes pear-shaped, just like Mark’s clone-rescue on Jackson’s Whole back in Mirror Dance.  Or, if I may venture into an entirely different mythos, like Phil Connors’s calculated attempts to woo Rita, over and over, in “Groundhog Day”.

At least this is the low point.  Miles and Mark’s love lives are as screwed up as they can get–but now Countess Cordelia is there, and she can help them untangle themselves.  Yes, I know, sometimes it seems a little pat, having her as the fix-it person, but right now it’s a positive relief…

Chapter Ten

Countess Cordelia wakes Mark up the next afternoon, bringing him tea, but not food.  Mark had sought refuge in Gorge and Howl last night after fleeing the party, eating his way through several tubs of bug butter.  Cordelia says that Miles sought his refuge, more traditionally, in wine, and they shouldn’t expect to see him again before evening.  Mark’s last memory of the party were Koudelka calling Mark’s grandmother a “Betan pimp” and Kareen refusing to ride home with “uncultured Barrayaran savages”.

Cordelia says she had a most enlightening conversation with the Vorthyses, particularly the Professora, who she wished she’d known earlier.  Simon Illyan was quite distraught at spilling the beans; he’d apparently thought that he’d forgotten something important that Miles had told him.  The Countess is annoyed at Miles for setting Illyan up like that, and also for not passing on more information about Ekaterin in his brief missives.  She had also had a talk with Enrique; she says his work seems sound, and she promised to keep Miles from killing his bugs.  They found a couple in their bedroom that morning, one of which got squished by accident, but neither of them was the queen.

She tells Mark she feels some responsibility for Kareen, being perfectly aware of what choices she would have available to her on Beta Colony.  She adds that she would be perfectly happy to have Kareen as a daughter-in-law, and that she trusts Mark’s intentions to be honorable.  Mark says he doesn’t think that the Koudelkas would be that keen to see him in the family.

“You are a Vorkosigan.”

“A clone. An imitation. A cheap Jacksonian knock-off.” And crazy to boot.

“A bloody expensive Jacksonian knock-off.”

Cordelia says she’s more than happy to help him and Kareen, if they can only tell her what it is they want.  Mark, cautious about what problems he aims his mother at, says that he wants what Kareen wants, but that seems to have gotten confused since their return to Barrayar.  He tells her that Kareen wants time to be herself, and Barrayar seems to be trying to push her into a box–even “wife” would be a box, here.  She asks what his own goals are, and if they’ve changed with his time on Beta.  Mark says his therapy has made progress, and it’s encouraged him; economics school was helpful, and he’s gotten some good ideas about what to do to make the Jackson’s Whole clone-body replacements less desirable, including some potential life-extension treatments the Duronas have come up with.

He’s pumping money into the Durona Group, but he wants enough to maintain financial independence as well, and so he’s looking into his “agribusiness” venture on Barrayar.  Cordelia notes that they could come in handy on Sergyar too, though she admits that they should remove the Vorkosigan crest before pitching them seriously to Aral.  Mark says that it’ll all come to nothing if he and Kareen can’t get back to Beta Colony.  He’d probably be able to pay her way back, but he doesn’t think that would be a good idea, putting her in his debt like that.  Cordelia finds that interesting, but points out that if they both give each other everything, then it evens out.

The Countess finished her tea and put down her cup, “Well. I don’t wish to invade your privacy. But do remember, you’re allowed to ask for help. It’s part of what families are all about.”

“I owe you too much already, milady.”

Her smile tilted. “Mark, you don’t pay back your parents. You can’t. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It’s a sort of entailment. Or if you don’t have children of the body, it’s left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.”

“I’m not sure that seems fair.”

“The family economy evades calculation in the gross planetary product. It’s the only deal I know where, when you give more than you get, you aren’t bankrupted—but rather, vastly enriched.”

Mark asks if she can help Miles; she says that’s more difficult, because she doesn’t know about the Ekaterin side of the equation.  She’s of the opinion that he dug his own hole, he’ll have to dig his way out.

After she leaves, Mark tries calling the Koudelka household on the comconsole, preparing various conversational gambits for whoever may answer, but it turns out they’ve blocked him entirely.

Ekaterin has somewhat of a hangover the day after the dinner party as well–with Pym topping up her wineglass, she was sure she’d drunk several times her usual two-glass limit.  At least it had given her the courage to run out.
She’s prepared all the notes on the Barrayaran garden, but she hesitates on the final act of sending it to Miles and closing off that chapter of her life entirely.  She ponders the model of Barrayar that Miles had given her, remembering the shopping trip on Komarr with its watery climax, and the way he’d awarded it to her in the transfer station.  She convinces herself that it was really an award, not a gift, because if it was a gift she should never have accepted it, and therefore she earned it, and doesn’t have to get rid of it.

She’d almost gone back to the garden and taken her skellytum rootling back out, but she’d been afraid of running afoul of Vorkosigan House security, who would likely have been quite embarrassed.  Miles didn’t care about it, in any case–after all, he hadn’t gone out to look at it, had he?  She’d carried it around long enough, it had survived enough mishaps and moves, and now she was done with it–she would leave it to its fate in the garden.  Though she does add an appendix about its requirements to the garden instructions.

Nikki thumps into the room, making her wince; she’s glad she hadn’t brought him along to the dinner party, where she might have been trapped, unable to retreat with him complaining about not having finished his dessert.  He asks if she’d settled on when she could go out to Vorkosigan Surleau and ride Miles’s horse, a topic which had come up during one of his visits to Vorkosigan House.  Miles had generously allowed Nikki to visit the house sometimes when Ekaterin had to bring him to work, playing with Armsman Pym’s son, and sometimes Armsman Roic, eating Ma Kosti’s food, even helping Kareen in the lab, and had made this offhand invitation at the end of one such day.  Now she wonders how calculated this invitation had been.

She tries to put Nikki off by telling him they can’t impose on him, and suggests they try somewhere closer if he wants to ride horses.  Nikki says that Miles offered to let him try flying his lightflyer on the way down, too; Ekaterin says he’s too young, but Nikki says that Miles first flew when he was younger than that.  He presses her to ask Lord Vorkosigan next time she goes to work, and finally she has to tell him that she quit her position.  When Nikki asks her why, she says it was an ethical issue.

“What? What issue?” His voice was laced with confusion and disbelief. He twisted himself around the other way.

“I found he’d . . . lied to me about something.” He promised he’d never lie to me. He’d feigned that he was very interested in gardens. He’d arranged her life by subterfuge—and then told everyone else in Vorbarr Sultana. He’d pretended he didn’t love her. He’d as much as promised he’d never ask her to marry him. He’d lied. Try explaining that to a nine-year-old boy. Or to any other rational human being of any age or gender, her honesty added bitterly. Am I insane yet? Anyway, Miles hadn’t actually said he wasn’t in love with her, he’d just . . . implied it. Avoided saying much on the subject at all, in fact. Prevarication by misdirection.

“Oh,” said Nikki, eyes wide, daunted at last.

Aunt Vorthys ushers Nikki out of the room, telling him his mother has a hangover, which is a concept he has some trouble getting his mind around.  She returns a while later with water and painkillers, which Ekaterin takes dutifully.  She says, mournfully, that it must have been the Count and Countess Vorkosigan last night, that she had bumped into and fled past.  Her aunt agrees, and says she had quite a nice conversation with them.  Ekaterin says they must think she’s a lunatic, the way she ran out like that.  But she can’t believe what Miles did to her, either.

Her aunt says that she didn’t have much choice but to run out–otherwise, she’d have had to answer Miles’s question.  Ekaterin is confused–wasn’t her departure answer enough?

“He knew it was a mistake the moment the words were out of his mouth, I daresay, at least judging from that ghastly expression on his face. You could see everything just drain right out of it. Extraordinary. But I can’t help wondering, dear—if you’d wanted to say no, why didn’t you? It was the perfect opportunity to do so.”

“I . . . I . . .” Ekaterin tried to collect her wits, which seemed to be scattering like sheep. “It wouldn’t have been . . . polite.”

After a thoughtful pause, her aunt murmured, “You might have said, `No, thank you.’ ”

Ekaterin rubbed her numb face. “Aunt Vorthys,” she sighed, “I love you dearly. But please go away now.”

She does realize, after her aunt leaves, that she was right–she hadn’t actually answered the question, and she hadn’t realized it.  She recognizes her feeling, heartsickness, all too familiar from her rows with Tien, the cold feeling after the argument broke down.  She doesn’t want to return to that state again.  She’s not sure who she is anymore, where her home could be.  She has felt moments of deep calm in Miles’s presence, and also extreme exasperation.  But she doesn’t trust her own judgement anymore.

She considers adding a note to the garden plans, but decides that just sending them will be message enough, and sends them without further ado, then goes to lie down.

After a day of sulking in his bed, Miles emerges in the evening, and enters the library to find his parents there.  He mumbles a greeting to them, and after a moment asks them about their trip home; his mother says it was quite uneventful, at least until their arrival.  She says they missed him at mealtimes that day; Miles says he spent a lot of time throwing up, which wouldn’t have been much fun.

The Countess added astringently, “Are you done with that now?”

“Yeh. It didn’t help.” Miles slumped a little further, and stretched his legs out before him. “A life in ruins with vomiting is still a life in ruins.”

“Mm,” said the Count in a judicious tone, “though it does make it easy to be a recluse. If you’re repulsive enough, people spontaneously avoid you.”

The Count asks Miles if he has any Auditing to do; Miles says no, fortunately for them.  Aral says that Alys gave them a heavily editorialized account of the dinner party, and says she hopes he wouldn’t have retreated from a losing battle the way he did last night.  Cordelia says that a woman running screaming from Miles’s marriage proposal isn’t a good sign, but from what she heard Miles didn’t leave her much choice.  She asks Miles how bad Ekaterin’s prior marriage was; Miles says that from what he could tell, Tien Vorsoisson played so many head games with his wife that she must have been half-convinced she was crazy, a type that Cordelia says she recognizes well.

He admits he panicked when Illyan spilled the beans, never wanting to ambush her like that.  He starts to explain his brilliant plan, to use her interest in gardens to keep her in proximity to him by hiring her to put one in the lot next door.

“Is that what that crater is,” said his father. “In the dark, from the groundcar, it looked as though someone tried to shell Vorkosigan House and missed, and I’d wondered why no one had reported it to us.”

“It is not a crater. It’s a sunken garden. There’s just . . . just no plants in it yet.”

“It has a very nice shape, Miles,” his mother said soothingly. “I went out and walked through it this afternoon. The little stream is very pretty indeed. It reminds me of the mountains.”

“That was the idea,” said Miles, primly ignoring his father’s mutter of . . . after a Cetagandan bombing raid on a guerilla position . . .

Miles suddenly remembers the skellytum Ekaterin said she’d planted, and panic briefly over what might have happened to it, before deciding it was just another reason she was mad at him.  Cordelia paraphrases his plan as trying to keep a destitute widow from other romantic opportunities by manipulating her purse strings, which Miles considers an uncharitable description.  He can’t believe she’d just quit working on the garden after all the time she’d devoted to it.

Cordelia reminds him of an incident from his youth, where he’d won a game of cross-ball against Armsman Esterhazy, his first win ever, only to find out later that Esterhazy had lost on purpose.  He’d been furious, and never forgiven the insult; Cordelia says that Esterhazy had done it to cheer him up, but Miles said it stole his victory from him, and poisoned any later victory he happened to achieve.  His mother lets this sink in for a few seconds.

The light dawned. Even with his eyes squeezed shut, the intensity of the glare hurt his head.

“Oh. Noooo,” groaned Miles, muffled into the cushion he jammed over his face. “I did that to her?”

His remorseless parent let him stew in it, a silence sharper-edged than words.

I did that to her . . .” he moaned, pitifully.

He realizes what she’d meant about the garden being her gift…he’d just been hoping they were finally getting into the real matter, so they could have a real argument…so that, as his father supplies, he could win.  Aral says you can’t win that war except by surrendering.  Miles said he tried to surrender; his mother points out that she wasn’t lowering herself to Miles’s level, and hopes that sometime they can actually properly meet this woman.  Miles says she sent the garden plans to him, no message or anything, and asks what he should do now.  Cordelia asks if she’s going to actually listen to his advice, because otherwise she won’t give it; Miles swallows his anger and humbly says that he’s listening.

Cordelia says he owes Ekaterin an apology.  He says Ekaterin won’t even talk to him, and she admits that he can’t go over to the Vorthys house in person, or even make a live comconsole call, without being too invasive.  She suggests he write a short note of apology, as abject as he can manage.  Handwritten, if he can make it legible, without having a secretary do it.

Miles says he doesn’t even have a secretary, since his workload hasn’t required it yet; Aral says that he can’t wish Miles had more problems to solve, and after all, solving the Komarr soletta problem should have earned him some time off.  Cordelia wonders what Ekaterin earned for her own contribution, and Miles grumbles that she should have earned the gratitude of the Empire, except that the whole thing has been classified.  She was heroic, she didn’t fold under the pressure, she did what she had to–and she doesn’t get the recognition for it.  Cordelia points out that everyone has some pressure they’ll fold under, it’s just not the same kind of pressure for everyone.

Miles heads out to water the skellytum, which takes him some time to find, and wonders if it’s hardy enough to survive out here.  He ponders what his life will be like when the skellytum is full-grown again–reclusive bachelor, or proud paterfamilias?  He heads back inside, determined to nail this damned “abject” if it kills him.

Comments

Professora Vorthys seems to be a wise woman too, someone who Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan gets along with instantly, with perhaps not quite the same uncanny insight, but good enough for a second-stringer, anyway.  (Do we ever find out her first name?  I can’t recall.)  I do think that Ekaterin has a point–fleeing indecorously from a marriage proposal should, probably, be considered a “no”, but I suppose that her aunt also has a point, in that Ekaterin has avoided actually saying anything one way or the other.

Cordelia’s shrewd comparison of Miles’s hiring of Ekaterin being like an adult intentionally losing a game to a child hits right to the heart of the problem with Miles’s plan.  The garden was never, really, Miles’s primary goal–that was, always, the conquest of Ekaterin’s heart.  He wasn’t planning to _lie_ to her, exactly, about anything, except perhaps his reasons for spending time with her.  Though he was also trying to present his best features to her, but that might be considered normal to someone one is dating, or courting.  Is it acceptable for an employer-employee relationship?  Perhaps–everyone wants to come off well, don’t they?  Admittedly, back on Komarr they had already gotten past that stage, to some extent–Ekaterin saw him in the throes of a seizure, she saw him chained up outside the Waste Heat Station, she saw him soaking wet in the pond.  So Miles was getting off track, trying to backpedal in his treatment of her, because he was beginning to see her a precious treasure to be won, rather than just a person that he was beginning to rely on.  Not someone it was important to tell only the truth, but someone whose inconvenient emotional baggage was an obstacle that needed to be worked around.  So, between Cordelia explicitly pointing out his mistake, and Ekaterin implicitly letting him know that he was way off base, Miles has been thrown off of that track.  Maybe he can start thinking of her as a person again…

As for Mark…he did, indeed, have some reservations about just offering to spring for Kareen’s schooling.  In some ways it would be the right thing to do, but it would only convey the proper message if they were both on the same page, relationship-wise.  And it can’t really be used to put them on the same page.  I’ve seen some real-world relationships where two people date, then live together, well enough, but then one of them has to move to another city for work…  If they both make the move together, then it seems that either they get engaged shortly thereafter, or they break up.  It’s a bit of a crucible for a relationship, it seems, and, with Kareen’s uncertainty about things since their return to Barrayar, Mark doesn’t know if it’ll work out for them any more.  Maybe Kareen is overreacting to the idea of being put in the “wife” box, which is doubtless one that means different things on Barrayar than it does on Beta Colony, and probably a little, or large, bit different for every culture everywhere; after all, she hasn’t even had Ekaterin’s bad experience to make her gun-shy, and I don’t see any evidence that she’s even heard Ekaterin’s horror stories about Tien.  But being back on Barrayar seems to be making her think of things in Barrayaran ways, even if on some level she may know that Mark doesn’t have that same level of indoctrination.  I confess, Kareen is the POV character I have the most trouble sympathizing with here, but maybe that’s because I can see inside Mark’s head and know how he feels about her.  Maybe Kareen knows that too, or maybe she doesn’t, and maybe I’m just being an ignorant straight white male here, but I keep feeling like she’s blowing everything out of proportion.  Except that she seems to have been bang-on about her parents’ reactions, of course…


Two chapters, hurrah!  Maybe things will pick up after this, and I can speed things up a little.  You can hope, anyway.  I’m not going to go so far as to make it a Resolution or anything, to do two chapters a week, but it could happen.  As long as they’re not too long…

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Sisyphus finally pushes his boulder to the top of the mountain, only to have gravity yank it from his grasp and send it rolling down the other side.  In unrelated news, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where due to Christmas concerts and other such vagaries, this is going to be another single-chapter week, despite my best intentions.  So prepare yourself for another chapter from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in this case Chapter Seven of A Civil Campaign, where we get to see Mark Vorkosigan lead a field trip, and Ivan meet a friend at the spaceport and reluctantly make a call on their behalf.

Chapter Seven

Mark flies over Vorkosigan’s District in Miles’s lightflyer, enjoying the fine weather and the fact that the controls are at the right height, even if the seat’s a bit narrow.  He banks to show off the landscape better to Kareen and Ekaterin in the back seat, and Ekaterin does indeed admire the countryside aloud.  Enrique admits that he’d expected something more drab, concrete and marching soldiers in uniform.

“Economically unlikely for an entire planetary surface. Though uniforms, we do have,” Mark admitted.

“But once it gets up to several hundred different kinds, the effect isn’t so uniform anymore. And some of the colors are a little . . . unexpected.”

“Yes, I feel sorry for those Counts who ended up having to pick their House colors last,” Mark agreed. “I think the Vorkosigans must have fallen somewhere in the middle. I mean, brown and silver isn’t bad, but I can’t help feeling that the fellows with the blue and gold—or the black and silver—do have a sartorial edge.” He could fancy himself in black and silver, with Kareen all blond and tall on his arm.

“It could be worse,” Kareen put in cheerfully. “How do you think you’d look in a House cadet’s uniform of chartreuse and scarlet, like poor Vorharopulos, Mark?”

“Like a traffic signal in boots.”

Ekaterin tells Enrique that the South Continent area where she grew up was very flat, despite mountains just over the horizon, but she says it was very spacious, and had tremendous sunrises and sunsets.

Mark flies them over Hassadar, where they set down on top of the Count’s Residence, just off the city’s central square.  Tsipis is waiting there to greet them; he flies them in turn over to check out three possible sites for the facility–one of them a city warehouse, and the other two farms belonging to families who had emigrated to Sergyar.  All are owned by the Vorkosigans outright, and Tsipis says that Mark may be able to get Miles to forgo the rent; Mark isn’t sure about asking Miles for the favour, but he reminds himself that he is also a Vorkosigan.  He and Kareen discuss the possible choices, while Ekaterin shows Enrique some of the native plants.  At last they decide on the farm with the newer and more spacious outbuildings, and Tsipis takes them back to Hassadar for lunch.

The lunch spread is luxurious, and Mark suspects Miles had left instructions to that effect for Ekaterin’s benefit.  Later, while the others are inspecting the gardens, Tsipis asks Mark about Madame Vorsoisson; Miles has been holding forth about her, at length.  Mark says it’s hilarious, and yet also scary.  Tsipis agrees, saying that Miles was never afraid of physical pain, but emotional rejection can drive him crazy.  He relates an incident where, after one such rejection, Miles had a riding accident, riding a horse he’d been forbidden to ride, and they wondered how much of an accident it really was.

Tsipis says he’s surprised Miles is interested in a Barrayaran, rather than a galactic, and wonders if he’s setting himself up for a fall.  Mark says that Miles has a Plan, and asks Tsipis what he thinks of her; Tsipis declares Ekaterin honest, and a quick study, which is high praise from him, attractive enough, and well-qualified for the job of Countess.  He says it’s not before time, in any case, and hopes for the Count to have some grandchildren in his lifetime.

“You will keep an eye on things, won’t you?” Tsipis added.

“I don’t know what you think I could do. It’s not like I could make her fall in love with him. If I had that kind of power over women, I’d use it for myself!”

Tsipis smiled vaguely at the place Kareen had vacated, and back, speculatively, to Mark. “What, and here I was under the impression you had.”

He asks if Mark has seen any signs that Ekaterin returns Miles’s affection, and Mark says that she is very reserved.  He says he’ll ask Kareen, since girls often discuss these things among themselves.  Tsipis, who considers Kareen part of the family, asks assurances that Mark will treat her well, and Mark agrees fervently.  Even the Black Gang are behind him.  He’d be willing to follow Kareen around hoping for a crumb of her affection, but his therapist has admonished him from putting that kind of pressure on her.  Of course, his therapist likes Kareen, because everyone likes her, because she likes them; she has virtue to spare, and she’d do wonders in sales.  He can’t bear the idea of losing her.

Once the others return, Kareen chivvies them off to gather rocks for Ekaterin’s garden; Tsipis sends two burly young men with a van to follow them and do the actual lifting.  Mark heads them into the Dendarii mountains, to a vale still largely populated by native plantlife.  Ekaterin steps out and, looking out over the valley below them, exults in the feeling of spaciousness, which she says she normally doesn’t find in hill country.  She leads the young men to hunt for rocks, Enrique following after; Mark stays behind to cuddle with Kareen.

When Mark ventures a sexual suggestion into his cuddle, Kareen pulls away; she apologizes, and says that being back on Barrayar is making her feel less like her own person and more conscious how dependent on her family she really is.

He clutched her hand; that at least he might not let go of. “You want to be good. All right, I can understand that. But you have to be careful who you let define your good. My terrorist creators taught me that one, for damn sure.”

She clutched him back, at that feared memory, and managed a sympathetic grimace. She hesitated, and went on, “It’s the mutually exclusive definitions that are driving me crazy. I can’t be good for both places at the same time. I learned how to be a good girl on Beta Colony, and in its own way, it was just as hard as being a good girl here. And a lot scarier, sometimes. But . . . I felt like I was getting bigger inside, if you can see what I mean.”

Mark says she has to be sure to choose Kareen’s good, not Barrayar’s or Beta Colony’s; Kareen says she can’t even seem to find herself to ask what that would be.  She says she wants to stay on Beta Colony until she can become as strong a person as Countess Vorkosigan.  Mark hugs her reassuringly, hoping that when she finds herself, there’s still room for him in her life.

He changes the subject to Ekaterin, and asks Kareen if she seems to like Miles back.  She says she can’t tell; Ekaterin is working hard on his garden, but they’re still not on a first-name basis.  Mark says Tsipis wants some reassurance about Miles, and Kareen says she’d like to be friends with Ekaterin, since she doesn’t seem to have many friends, and she’s still very quiet about what happened to her on Komarr.  He asks if she’d be good for Miles, and Kareen asks if anyone’s thought about whether Miles would be good for her.

“Um . . . um . . . why not? Count’s heir. Well-to-do. An Imperial Auditor, for God’s sake. What more could a Vor desire?”

“I don’t know, Mark. It likely depends on the Vor. I do know I’d take you and every one of the Black Gang at their most obstreperous for a hundred years before I’d let myself get locked up for a week with Miles. He . . . takes you over.”

“Only if you let him.” But he warmed inside with the thought that she could really, truly prefer him to the glorious Miles, and suddenly felt less hungry.

“Do you have any idea what it takes to stop him? I still remember being kids, me and my sisters, visiting Lady Cordelia with Mama, and Miles told off to keep us occupied. Which was a really cruel thing to do to a fourteen-year-old boy, but what did I know? He decided the four of us should be an all-girl precision drill team, and made us march around in the back garden of Vorkosigan House, or in the ballroom when it was raining. I think I was four.” She frowned into the past. “What Miles needs is a woman who will tell him to go soak his head, or it’ll be a disaster. For her, not him.” After a moment, she added sapiently, “Though if for her, for him too, sooner or later.”

The young men return for their van and load up the rocks that Ekaterin had picked out.  Enrique returns, looking cheerful, if wet from falling in the creek, and carrying a huge bundle of Barrayaran plant samples.  They load back up in the lightflyer and Mark flies them back to Vorbarr Sultana.  They drop off Ekaterin and Kareen, and Mark and Enrique return to Vorkosigan House, where Ekaterin has promise to return the next day to help Enrique classify his samples.  Mark discovers that Ekaterin has also expressed interest in Enrique’s doctoral thesis, Toward Bacterial and Fungal Suite-Synthesis of Extra-cellular Energy Storage Compounds.  He decides it could use some spicing up, and keeps asking Mark for rhymes so he can rewrite the abstract as a sonnet.  Mark wonders if Enrique is now thinking that he has a chance to woo Ekaterin.  He resolves to move the business out of Vorkosigan House as soon as possible.

Ivan and By Vorrutyer wait in the Vorbarr Sultana shuttleport for the returning Lady Donna; Ivan has a bouquet, hoping to strike the right tone with her right off the bat, though By seems amused by it.  He’ll offer to carry her luggage, he decides, except perhaps for any uterine replicators she happens to have brought back from Beta with her.  At least, if she is trying the clone ploy, he won’t have to get involved in the political end of it.

By points out an approaching group of three men.  One of them Ivan recognizes as Szabo, one of the late Count Pierre’s armsmen, and there’s another Vorrutyer guardsman on the other side.

The man in the center Ivan had never seen before. He was an athletic-looking fellow of middle height, more lithe than muscular, though his shoulders filled his civilian tunic quite well. He was soberly dressed in black, with the barest pale gray piping making salute to the Barrayaran style of pseudo-military ornamentation in men’s wear. The subtle clothes set off his lean good looks: pale skin, thick dark brows, close-cropped black hair, and trim, glossy black beard and mustache. His step was energetic. His eyes were an electric brown, and seemed to dart all around as if seeing the place for the first time, and liking what they saw.

Ivan wonders who this is–a Betan paramour?  Count Pierre’s secret love child?  He does look like a Vorrutyer…  By says that they need no introduction, but Ivan says they do; the man introduces himself as Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  Ivan finally recognizes the eyes–as Lady Donna’s.  After all, on Beta Colony, if you can can afford it and convince them you’re an adult, you can get them to do anything you want…such as, in this case, a sex change.  Donna/Dono insists that he/she will be Count Vorrutyer, once he can get the Council of Counts on board.  He/she teases Ivan with the bouquet until Szabo asks him/her not to do that in public.  Dono promises to be good.  By suggests they continue the conversation in private, and directs them to the waiting groundcar; Ivan tries to excuse himself, but By and Dono insist that Ivan come with them.

Dono says he got rid of Lady Donna’s luggage on Beta Colony, living out of one suitcase like his armsmen do.  Ivan asked if the Armsmen are all in on it; Dono says that he and Szabo swore them all in after Pierre died, when they presented the plan.  Lady Donna had been running the District quite well, and none of them has the slightest affection for Richards.  Dono says that Richars had tried to rape her when she was twelve, and then drowned her new puppy, blaming it on her; only By had believed her then.  Szabo said that Richars has counted the District as his since Pierre started getting ill, and had been deliberately trying to erode his health since then.  He’d also sabotaged Pierre’s attempts at courtship, though they haven’t proven he actually caused the flyer wreck that killed one of them.  So the Armsmen all concluded that they wouldn’t last in Richars’s service.

Pierre had refused to make a will, not wanting to officially declare Richars, or any of Richars’s brothers or sons, as his heir.  He’d been holding out hope still for a son of his own up to the time of his death.  Ivan wonders if Dono can expect to be heir, since she wasn’t his brother at the time of his death; Dono says that without a sworn heir, his sex won’t matter until they appear before the Council of Counts itself, when he will demonstrably be Pierre’s brother.

Ivan asks what happened to Donna’s female parts; Dono says he dumped them back on Beta, not particularly feeling a need to go back, though he says he could always clone new organs if he ever wanted to.  Ivan asks where Dono’s male parts came from; Dono says the Y chromosome came from Pierre, and they used tissue samples from him to grow his male genitalia.  He admits most of his chromosomes are still XX; the full gene therapy would have taken too long, and risked ending up as some kind of odd chimera or mosaic, but his genitalia is all XY.  For the Council of Counts, though, he needs Ivan.

They pull into Vorrutyer House, an old, fortress-like house built with gun-slits at ground level by Count Pierre “Le Sanguinaire” Vorrutyer, trusted aide and enforcer to Emperor Dorca Vorbarra near the end of the Time of Isolation.  That Pierre was killed in the Cetagandan invasion, though one of his daughters married into the Vorkosigans, which is why Mark’s middle name was “Pierre”.  Dono leads them into the house, which seems to have been entirely abandoned since Count Pierre left for his District months ago.  Dono claims the Count’s old bedroom, though with fresh sheets, and tells Szabo to get the place cleaned up as soon as possible; Ivan recommends the cleaning firm the Vorkosigans use.

By tells them that Richars tried to take possession of the house twice; the first time, Dono’s Armsmen kept him out, and the second time, they had a legal order, which By was luckily able to trump.  Szabo critiques Dono’s sitting position, saying that rather than emulate By, he should go for a more dominating model, like Aral Vorkosigan.  Dono goes rooting in Pierre’s closet, saying that he shouldn’t be too far off fitting Pierre’s clothing, asking Szabo to get a tailor.  Dono begins undressing, and Ivan tries to excuse himself again, but Szabo insists he stay.

“Sit down, Ivan,” Lord Dono growled. His burning eyes suddenly crinkled, and he murmured, “For old time’s sake, if nothing else. You used to run into my bedroom to watch me undress, not out of it. Must I lock the door and make you play hunt the key again?”

Ivan opened his mouth, raised a furious admonishing finger in protest, thought better of it, and sank to a seat on the edge of the bed. You wouldn’t dare seemed suddenly a really unwise thing to say to the former Lady Donna Vorrutyer. He crossed his ankles, then hastily uncrossed them again and set his feet apart, then crossed them again, and twined his hands together in vast discomfort. “I don’t see what you need me for,” he said plaintively.

“So you can witness,” said Szabo.

“So you can testify,” said Dono.

Dono strips completely naked, and asks Ivan’s opinion.  Ivan reluctantly inspects Dono’s equipment, and admits that it looks normal; By agrees, but points out it’s a bit undersized as yet.  Dono says that he was in a rush, but the Betans insist it will finish growing in situ.  It hasn’t reached full sexual maturity yet, but he’s looking forward to it.  Ivan wonders how Dono’s going to learn sex from the other side, and Dono says that that’s one thing he’s not worried about; he taught Ivan, after all.

Ivan asks Dono if he’s let Gregor in on this yet; Dono says they hadn’t, figuring it was easier to get forgiveness than permission.

Ivan clutched his hair. “All right. You two—you three—dragged me up here because you claimed you wanted my help. I’m going to hand you a hint. Free.” He took a deep breath. “You can blindside me, and laugh your heads off if you want to. It won’t be the first time I’ve been the butt. You can blindside Richars with my good will. You can blindside the whole Council of Counts. Blindside my cousin Miles—please. I want to watch. But do not, if you value your chances, if you mean this to be anything other than a big, short joke, do not blindside Gregor.”

Byerly grimaced uncertainly; Dono, turning before the mirror, shot Ivan a penetrating look. “Go to him, you mean?”

“Yes. I can’t make you,” Ivan went on sternly, “but if you don’t, I categorically refuse to have anything more to do with you.”

“Gregor can kill it all with a word,” said Dono warily. “Before it even launches.”

“He can,” said Ivan, “but he won’t, without strong motivation. Don’t give him that motivation. Gregor does not like political surprises.”

“I thought Gregor was fairly easy-going,” said By, “for an emperor.”

“No,” said Ivan firmly. “He is not. He is merely rather quiet. It’s not the same thing at all. You don’t want to see what he’s like pissed.”

“What does he look like, pissed?” asked By curiously.

“Identical to what he looks like the rest of the time. That’s the scary part.”

Dono says that By was the one who’d brought Ivan in on this, because of his connections, so they should listen to Ivan’s advice on the matter.  He asks Ivan what they should do, and Ivan says they should arrange a meeting with Gregor before doing anything else, talking to anyone else.  He asks Dono if he ever slept with Gregor, and he confesses he did not.  Ivan says that if Gregor won’t approve it, then it’ll be over quickly, but if he does, then they’ll have a matchless silent backer.  Dono asks if Ivan can get them an appointment, as soon as possible, the next morning; Ivan mumbles that he’ll see what he can do.  With that, at last they let him go; Dono even send him home by groundcar, unfortunately depriving Ivan of the opportunity to get murdered on the way and get out of this affair for good.

Back in his apartment, Ivan mourns the loss of Lady Donna–the last thing Barrayar needs is another man, after all–though he supposes that maybe they can send the excess Vor males off to Beta to get reshaped the other way.  Reluctantly, he digs out his private contact-card and inserts it into his comconsole.  Gregor’s “gatekeeper” identifies Ivan immediately, and asks if he really meant to call this channel.

He is shortly put through to Gregor, with a blurry Laisa in the background straightening her clothing.  Gregor is initially annoyed to see that it’s Ivan, and not Miles, contacting him, and then asks why Ivan is contacting him.  Ivan tells him that “Lady Donna” is back onplanet, and Gregor needs to meet with “her” as soon as possible.  Gregor warns Ivan that he better not be just calling in some sexual favour; Ivan insists he wanted nothing to do with it, which intrigues the Emperor, and he fits them in at 11:00 the next morning, frowning in puzzlement.

Comments

Another talky chapter, and not from our two romantic principals.  Most of the plotlines get advanced a little–Mark and Kareen, Mark and Enrique, Ekaterin and the garden (if not, directly, Ekaterin and Miles), and then the Ivan and By and, apparently, Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  The little field trip to the Vorkosigan District doesn’t advance anything too far, but it does introduce Enrique to the list of potential Ekaterin suitors.  You know, Mark goes on about how everybody likes Kareen, and she likes everybody, and it seems like everyone likes Ekaterin, too.  They’re just a likable pair of women, I guess.

You know, if the only possible way to keep your scumbag rapist cousin from becoming a Count is to go off to another planet to get a sex change…then maybe there’s something wrong with your system.  And Barrayar is progressing in a lot of ways, but I don’t get a sense that sexual equality, in particular in the Countships, is that close to the offing.  Maybe they just need to take a few tips from the Cetagandans and seize power in their own sphere…  Yeah, I don’t know what that would mean either…though I recall Cordelia having some observations on women’s power back in Barrayar.  So maybe the Countships are, or should be, less relevant.

I love the whole bit with Ivan calling Gregor, though.  Nobody is taking him seriously–questioning whether he meant to make the call, questioning his motives for doing this…  Ivan’s got almost as much of a “town clown” reputation as By Vorrutyer, though I guess it’s more that his goals have been negative–to not get involved in politics, to not get stuck under his mother’s thumb–so it’s odd to see him actually trying to do something.  But this plotline here is why we were all cheering for Ivan to get his own book…

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I do almost wish I’d had time to do the next chapter too, since it follows on directly with the interview with Gregor, but alas, lack of time and gumption.  Next week, I promise, you will…get at least that chapter, if nothing else.  And after that is Christmas, which I may give myself off…though I should try to get another post or two in over the holidays regardless.  For this week, though, I am signing off.

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Scintillate, scintillate, globule aurific; fain would I fathom thy nature specific.  Sesquipedalian version of a child’s nursery rhyme?  Or a contrived introduction to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  You decide.  In the meantime…um, well, here’s another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This week I managed to cover two full chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, her SF/romance hybrid where her regular protagonist Miles Vorkosigan is joined by a capable supporting cast, including Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the woman he’s secretly (from her, at least) in love with…

Chapter Five

Ekaterin arrives at Vorkosigan House with a question for Miles, which she tells Pym isn’t urgent; Pym goes off to fetch him, though Ekaterin realizes that he may still be asleep.  She heads up to the library to wait for him, and is startled to find it occupied, by a man who she immediately realizes must be Miles’s clone-brother Mark; she notices the resemblances immediately, despite his barrier of flesh.  He doesn’t seem annoyed at her presence, and she introduces herself, calling herself Miles’s “landscape consultant”.

She says that they’re taking down an old maple tree, and wants to know what Miles wants with done with the remains.  Mark immediately says that if it’s “Earth-descended organic matter”, he’ll take anything of it that Miles doesn’t want, though he doesn’t say why, telling her that he doesn’t garden.

The decidedly disjointed conversation was interrupted by a booted tread, and Armsman Pym leaning around the doorframe to announce, “M’lord will be down in a few minutes, Madame Vorsoisson. He says, please don’t go away.” He added in a more confiding tone, “He had one of his seizures last night, so he’s a little slow this morning.”

“Oh, dear. And they give him such a headache. I shouldn’t trouble him till he’s had his painkillers and black coffee.” She turned for the door.

“No, no! Sit down, madame, sit, please. M’lord would be right upset with me if I botched his orders.” Pym, smiling anxiously, motioned her urgently toward a chair; reluctantly, she sat. “There now. Good. Don’t move.” He watched her a moment as if to make sure she wasn’t going to bolt, then hurried off again. Lord Mark stared after him.

Mark says that he’d thought that Miles’s seizures were practically cured; Ekaterin says that they’re more “controlled”, and she’s seen one of them herself.  At Mark’s prodding, she says that it was on Komarr, during his recent Auditorial case.  She mentions the device he uses to trigger them, though she wonders if the one he’d just suffered had been manually triggered or if he’d waited too long, and says she heard it was from cryo-revival damage.  Mark tells her that Miles got killed trying to save Mark, and Ekaterin says she Miles hasn’t told her much of his prior career in impSec.

Miles emerges shortly thereafter, freshly washed and smartly dressed, but otherwise looking like death warmed over; Ekaterin tells him that he shouldn’t have gotten up.  Pym arrives with coffee and breakfast, and after taking a few sips, Miles regains language ability and greets Ekaterin properly.  He notes that she’s up early, and she forebears to contradict him; she says that she was eager to get started.  Her hired crew is out gathering up the sod and topsoil, and preparing to transplant the oak, and she asks him what to do with the maple.  Miles says they want it for firewood, and they have a pile to store it for household use and Winterfair bonfires.  Mark says he’ll take the leaves and clippings for Enrique’s project, and Miles says that’s up to their “eight thousand little friends”.

Ekaterin, deciding to stay a little longer so as not to have gotten Miles out of bed for nothing, says they should be able to start excavating tomorrow; she has secured all the necessary permits, and learned more than she wanted to about Vorbarr Sultana infrastructure in the process.  Miles agrees that it’s old and strange, and says she should ask Drou about the time she and Cordelia escaped through the sewers with Vordarian’s head.  He says the dinner party is scheduled for a week tomorrow, which works for her as well.

Miles says he just got back from a bizarre Auditorial errand Gregor sent him on, mostly because of his Betan background.  He tells Mark that their father had put in place legislation making it easier for ordinary Barrayarans to move from one district to another, changing their fealty to another Count; the result has been that people have been voting with their feet, and some Districts have been hemorrhaging population as a result.  The Vorkosigan District is holding steady, losing people to Vorbarr Sultana and Sergyar but gaining people with the up-to-date educational and medical facilities in Hassadar.  A certain Count Vormuir, however, has been losing steadily.

Ekaterin listens, entranced, as Miles outlines Vormuir’s novel solution to the problem.  He bought thirty uterine replicators and began to populate them.  With daughters, the oldest of which is two years old.  Count Vormuir himself is the father, but his wife will have none of the affair, and has moved out, refusing him conjugal visits under the threat of plasma arc.  The eggs have been surplus backups, which would otherwise have been discarded, from the District’s own replicator crèche, which Vormuir claims doesn’t violate any Barrayaran law.  By now he has 92 daughters, plus another batch of thirty in the replicators; Miles has ordered him not to start any more, which he wouldn’t be able to do for seven months anyway.

Mark says there should be a law against this, and Miles agrees, but they have to take some time and figure out what kind of law first, studying how other planets are dealing with it.  Even so, Vormuir won’t be affected by the new law.  There’s no rape involved, the children are well taken care of, they’re all his own daughters and so not legally slaves, and the eggs haven’t technically been stolen.  Ekaterin says that the girls should technically belong to their mothers, but Miles says that he’s not sure that applies if Vormuir never married any of them; in any event, he expects few of the mothers would want them, and if they did, they’d still be new population for Vormuir’s District.

Ekaterin’s brows drew down in thought. “By your account, Vormuir is much taken with economies, of scale and otherwise.” Only long after Nikki’s birth had she wondered if Tien had pushed for the old-fashioned way because it had seemed much cheaper. We won’t have to wait until we can afford it had been a potent argument, in her eager ears. Vormuir’s motivation seemed as much economic as genetic: ultimately, wealth for his District and therefore for him. This techno-harem was intended to become future taxpayers, along with the husbands he no doubt assumed they would draw in, to support him in his old age. “In effect, the girls are the Count’s acknowledged bastards. I’m sure I read somewhere . . . in the Time of Isolation, weren’t Imperial and count-palatine female bastards entitled to a dowry, from their high-born father? And it required some sort of Imperial permission . . . the dowry almost was the sign of legal acknowledgment. I’ll bet the Professora would know all the historical details, including the cases where the dowries had to be dragged out by force. Isn’t an Imperial permission effectively an Imperial order? Couldn’t Emperor Gregor set Count Vormuir’s dowries for the girls . . . high?”

“Oh.” Lord Vorkosigan sat back, his eyes widening with delight. “Ah.” An evil grin leaked between his lips. “Arbitrarily high, in fact. Oh . . . my.” He looked across at her. “Madame Vorsoisson, I believe you have hit on a possible solution. I will certainly pass the idea along as soon as I may.”

Ekaterin is gratified at his approval of her suggestion, and hopes she’s helped him feel better about his morning.  She checks the time, and exclaims that she needs to be outside to meet the tree-removal crew.  Pym and Miles escort her to the front door, and Miles encourages her to stop in again, telling Pym to show her where to put the maple wood.

Ekaterin glanced back over her shoulder. “He didn’t look very well this morning, Pym. You really shouldn’t have let him get out of bed.”

“Oh, I know it, ma’am,” Pym agreed morosely. “But what’s a mere Armsman to do? I haven’t the authority to countermand his orders. What he really needs, is looking after by someone who won’t stand his nonsense. A proper Lady Vorkosigan would do the trick. Not one of those shy, simpering ingenues all the young lords seem to be looking to these days, he’d just ride right over her. He needs a woman of experience, to stand up to him.” He smiled apologetically down at her.

“I suppose so,” sighed Ekaterin. She hadn’t really thought about the Vor mating scene from the Armsmen’s point of view. Was Pym hinting that his lord had such an ingenue in his eye, and his staff was worried it was some sort of mismatch?

Ekaterin gets to thinking about this possible ingenue, supposing that Miles will probably need to look to the younger generation for potential brides these days.  He’ll probably have to settle for an intellectual light-weight, and hope for one who won’t snub him for his physical defects.  She’s surprised to find herself indignant at the image of this idiot girl turning up her nose at Miles, and firmly turns herself back to the prospect of tree demolition.

Inside, Miles returns to the library, sitting down with care and resuming his breakfast.  He tells Mark he thought the conversation went well, and asks what they talked about before he arrived.  Mark says they discussed his seizures, and scolds Miles for not giving him all the information on them.  Miles says Mark couldn’t do anything about them anyway, and while Mark still blames himself, Miles says it was the Jacksonian sniper who did the damage, after all.
Miles asks what Mark thinks of Ekaterin, as a possible Lady Vorkosigan.

Mark blinked. “What?”

“What do you mean, what? She’s beautiful, she’s smart—dowries, ye gods, how perfect, Vormuir will split—she’s incredibly level-headed in emergencies. Calm, y’know? A lovely calm. I adore her calm. I could swim in it. Guts and wit, in one package.”

“I wasn’t questioning her fitness. That was a merely a random noise of surprise.”

“She’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece. She has a son, Nikki, almost ten. Cute kid. Wants to be a jump-pilot, and I think he has the determination to make it. Ekaterin wants to be a garden designer, but I think she could go on to be a terraformer. She’s a little too quiet, sometimes—she needs to build up her self-confidence.”

“Perhaps she was just waiting to get a word in edgewise,” Mark suggested.

Mark contemplates Ekaterin; he supposes that she might appeal to Miles, with his taste for “brainy brunettes”, though he himself preferred curvy blondes, like Kareen.  He’s glad he has Kareen, who’s making him more human just by being around him.  He tells himself that he can’t take her recent attack of nerves personally.  Killer whispers in his head that she’s probably found someone else, and he knows how to deal with problems like that; Mark shushes him.  Even if she had, her honesty would have led her to tell him about it already.  All Mark knows is that, if he had to choose, he’d rather have Kareen than oxygen.  He briefly considers talking to Miles on the issue, but he holds off, not sure that Miles wouldn’t lead the posse after Mark’s head.

Mark asks Miles if Ekaterin knows about Miles’s intentions; Miles says that it’s a tricky situation.  She’s recently widowed, and her husband died recently on Komarr, under circumstances that Miles can’t talk about, but was far too close to.  So she’s not ready to be courted, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the onslaught of Vor bachelors, or the non-Vor either.  Miles’s plan is to get in under her radar as a friend, and then make his move when the time is ripe.

“And, ah, when are you planning to spring this stunning surprise on her?” Mark asked, fascinated.

Miles stared at his boots. “I don’t know. I’ll recognize the tactical moment when I see it, I suppose. If my sense of timing hasn’t totally deserted me. Penetrate the perimeter, set the trip lines, plant the suggestion—strike. Total victory! Maybe.”

He asks Mark not to spill the beans, and Mark says he won’t interfere; as a parting shot, he asks if Miles should really be planning his romantic life in terms of war, and leaves while he’s still sputtering.

Comments

Mark is, of course, perfectly right, as I’ve been saying and will continue to say.  It does make perfect sense in Miles terms, but unfortunately Ekaterin is less likely to think of it that way.  Plus, for someone trying to keep a secret, he keeps telling people about it.  Trying to ask their opinions, shore up his insecurity, but increase the probability that someone’s going to spill the beans.  And then he’s planning this dinner party, which keeps looming up throughout the book, which is going to be bringing basically everyone who knows about Miles’s intentions–and Ekaterin–into the same room.

Admittedly, Miles does seem to have some support.  Pym seems to be entirely in favour of the prospect, even if his broad hints seem to sail right over Ekaterin’s head.  Her Aunt Vorthys has also seemed fairly approving.  Ekaterin must be wilfully keeping herself from contemplating the possibility at all.  After all, if she had to regard Miles as someone trying to lure her back into the prison of marriage, she’d have to stop associating with him.  Not that there aren’t worse things he could do, of course…

I’d forgotten how quickly Ekaterin disposed of the Lord Vormuir problem.  It is a cunning plan–now I’m picturing Vormuir played by Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder (although, in my head, he looks more like Stephen Fry’s Melchett)–sailing through loopholes in Barrayaran law, but Ekaterin manages to point out a way that that law can be bent back upon him.  She obviously has some familiarity with Vor law and custom, perhaps through her aunt if nothing else, and puts her finger on the correct spot.  The situation does, though, sound like some awful movie, though since most of those don’t have uterine replicators, they tend to involve someone sneaking their sperm into the actual fertilized eggs that the husbands think are theirs.

Mark and Miles do seem to be settling into a standard sibling-type relationship, which is not, as Miles is finding out, as much about always being there for each other as it is about friendly rivalry and one-upmanship.  Mark twits Miles about his campaign for Ekaterin, Miles complains about the butter bugs, etc.  You’d think he’d have figured from Ivan what family is about, and now, like it or not, he and Mark are developing the same way.  After all, more than most, Mark has a lot of sibling-rivalry issues, as his Betan therapist has doubtless spotted, since his “older brother” was literally held up to him as an example of the way to act.  It’s probably good if all he’s trying to do about it these days is score “last words” and conversational coups against him.

Chapter Six

Kareen is working in the lab when a woman comes in looking for Mark, introducing herself as “Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the garden designer”; she’s come to offer Mark more compost, having removed an entire row of bushes.  Kareen asks Enrique, who says that if it’s Earth-descended organic matter, and free, they would like to try some.  Ekaterin looks around at the lab, which Kareen congratulates herself is looking more scientific and appealing, and more organized.  Kareen has also been building housing units for the bugs, and cleaning out the guano, which luckily hasn’t been as bad as she’d feared.

Ekaterin asks what they need the plant matter for, and Kareen invites her to come in and see for herself.  She says she’s the Head Bug Wrangler–and also the only one, so far.

Kareen unlatched the steel-screen top of one of the bug hutches, reached in, and retrieved a single worker-bug. She was getting quite good at handling the little beasties without wanting to puke by now, as long as she didn’t look too closely at their pale pulsing abdomens. Kareen held out the bug to the gardener, and began a tolerably close copy of Mark’s Better Butter Bugs for a Brighter Barrayar sales talk.

Though Madame Vorsoisson’s eyebrows went up, she didn’t shriek, faint, or run away at her first sight of a butter bug. She followed Kareen’s explanation with interest, and was even willing to hold the bug and feed it a maple leaf. There was something very bonding about feeding live things, Kareen had to admit; she would have to keep that ploy in mind for future presentations.

Ekaterin is intrigued at the prospect of butter bugs that eat native foliage, and allows that she does have some practical experience with it.  She asks to see the bug manure, and is impressed with the quality of it as fertilizer, reinforced by Enrique’s contributions on its exact chemical composition.  She asks to borrow some, and encourages them to try to sell it.  Enrique said nobody had been interested in it on Escobar, and Ekaterin tells him that on Barrayar it’s harder to come by good quality fertilizer when trying to terraform the soil.  She tells Enrique about a time when the Counts and the Emperors would quarrel over the distribution of horse manure.

Enrique asks Ekaterin if she can show them around some of the native vegetation; Ekaterin says they really need a District agronomy officer, and Enrique points out that he didn’t even know there was such a thing.  Ekaterin says that Tsipis could help them out, and Kareen agrees.  Ekaterin says she’s been planning to go to the Dendarii Mountains to gather rocks to line the stream bed, and Kareen agrees that Miles is very fond of the mountains.

Mark arrives with a load of lab supplies, greeting Ekaterin and thanking her for the maple clippings.  Mark persuades her to try the bug butter, and she agrees to a small taste.  Kareen opens a container for her, telling Mark that they’re going to need more containers, the rate the bugs are producing it–and the rate that nobody else in the house is eating it.  Ekaterin tries a spoonful, pronounces it “interesting”. then offers some helpful suggestions, like flavouring and freezing it.

“Hm. D’you think that would work, Enrique?”

“Don’t see why not,” responded the scientist. “The colloidal viscosity doesn’t break down when exposed to subzero temperatures. It’s thermal acceleration which alters the protein microstructure and hence texture.”

“Gets kind of rubbery when you cook it,” Mark translated this. “We’re working on it, though.”

Mark asks Kareen if she wants to come to the District with him and scout out sites for the future facility–though they can’t settle on the name (between Borgos Research Park, Mark Vorkosigan Enterprises, and Kareen’s Butter Bug Ranch).  Kareen mentions Ekaterin’s rocks, and showing Enrique the native flora, and suggests they all go down together; secretly she’s reluctant to spend time alone with Mark, even though that’s obviously what he’s angling for.  She arranges the trip for the day after tomorrow.

Miles dashes in then, saying that Armsman Jankowski only just told him that Ekaterin was here.  He says he hopes they haven’t fed her the “bug vomit” yet, but Ekaterin says stoutly that it’s not half bad, they just need to do some product development.  She picks up the fertilizer Kareen has packaged for her and says her farewells, until day after tomorrow; Miles escorts her out.  He returns a few minutes later complaining about their feeding “that stuff” to Ekaterin.  Mark says that Ekaterin, at least, has an open mind, and Enrique says that she seemed to understand him better than most people.

Miles asks what’s happening day after tomorrow, and Kareen tells him about the proposed trip to Vorkosigan District.  Miles protests that he had Ekaterin’s first tour of the District already planned out, and Mark, unsympathetic, says that they won’t be going too far afield, there’ll be plenty to show her later.  Miles tries to insist on going along, but Mark says he’s only got four seats, and he’d rather take Kareen than Miles.  Miles leaves, grumbling about Armsman Jankowski.

Kareen asks what his problem is, and Mark explains that Miles is in love with Ekaterin, which is why he hired her as a gardener after meeting her on Komarr, but he hasn’t told her yet.  Mark isn’t quite sure why, unless it’s sexual shyness; Kareen reminds him about Elli Quinn, and Mark postulates that most of Miles’s girlfriends have been more the forceful types, throwing themselves at him, and he doesn’t know how to actually court a woman who’s not.  Mark is filled with glee at the prospect of watching Miles fumble around, and Kareen tells him to be nice.

Enrique asks if Miles was really upset about Ekaterin feeding the bug butter, and Mark says not to worry about it.  Enrique says he’s got an idea to change Miles’s mind about the bugs, but will only say that it’s a secret.  Mark asks Kareen about it, but she has no idea either.  She suggests talking to Ma Kosti about the ice cream freezer, which Miles has probably gotten her one of.  Then she thinks of how Ma Kosti seems a little frustrated with how little cooking she really has to do, and how she likes Mark for his obvious enjoyment of food, and she grabs some bug butter tubs and runs to the kitchen.

Miles arrives at Vorbretten House–more modern than Vorkosigan House, because it had to be rebuilt after the Pretender’s War.  An armsman leads him inside, to where René Vorbretten is sitting in a darkened room.  He is nervous at the arrival of Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, but Miles assures him he’s not there on business.  René was worried that Miles had been sent with the news, but Miles assures him that the Council of Counts still can’t vote without him.  René says the “Ghembrettens'” social life has dwindled away to nothing.  Miles apologizes for not having come sooner, having been on Komarr.

Miles says the Progressive Counts will doubtless want to keep René around–a vote is a vote–but René says some seem to thinking that they don’t want to vote against his opponent, Sigur, and make an enemy of him, in case he wins.  The definite votes one way or the other balance out, leaving the undecideds to settle the matter, and most of them have been avoiding him.  Miles assures René that he has the Vorkosigan vote, no matter what damage Cetagandans might have done to his District.

They discuss the precedents–the horse heir, Lord Midnight (and other, less colourful cases), establishes that a Count’s successor doesn’t have to be a blood relative, but Sigur is claiming that René’s grandfather won his father’s approval fraudulently.  It would make a difference if they could prove that the father had known his heir wasn’t his true son, but they can’t find any evidence in the archives one way or the other.  Miles said that not everyone objected to the Cetagandan bastards, despite widespread customs of killing them and leaving the bodies around to shake up the invaders; Prince Xav himself objected to that practice.  René says they still have no proof, but then, neither does Sigur.

Counthoods generally come up only rarely, as old Counts die, so it’s odd to have two disputed seats at the same time.  Miles asks René if he knows what’s up with Donna Vorrutyer, but René hasn’t heard anything either.  He says he’s grateful that Miles has come to visit, at least; Miles points out that he’s five-eighths Betan, so he can’t think that a little offworlder blood makes anyone unfit.  René does speculate that Lady Donna’s trip to Beta Colony must have something to do with her objection, but he’s not sure what.  Miles guesses that she’s looking for some obscure evidence against her cousin Richars, but René doesn’t think it’s anything that simple.  Ivan might know, having dated her for a while, though René and Miles themselves missed out on that honour.

René says that Miles’s family has been fighting to integrate Miles’s clone Mark into the family; he speculates that Donna might be doing something similar with a clone of the late Pierre Vorrutyer, growing it on Beta Colony and planning to offer it as an alternative heir.  Miles says it might be possible, but he’s not sure if the Counts would accept it.  She was practically running the District anyway, though, so she might make a good guardian.  René mentions one Countess, back in a time of civil war, who had herself legally declared a male so she could inherit.  Miles wonders if there is a clone, whether Donna would want to gestate it in her own womb, which would make it harder to steal, or use a replicator, in which case Richars could end up in custody of it.  In any case, her three months–a generous amount of time, probably dating back to days of travel on horseback–are almost up.

Feminine laughter heralds the arrival of Olivia and Martya Koudelka, who had been out shopping with René’s wife Tatya, Olivia being an old schoolmate of Tatya’s.  They thank Miles for coming to cheer René up, then tell René that he can take them to a concert tomorrow night.  Tatya shows René an envelope from Countess Vorgarin, which she opens eagerly, only to be crushed when it turns to be an “un-invitation” to a baby naming-day party.  Martya and Olivia rip Countess Vorgarin’s character to shreds in absentia, but it doesn’t cheer Tatya up that much.

René notes that they haven’t received a wedding invitation from Gregor and Laisa yet; Miles points out that local invitations haven’t been sent out yet, not mentioning that which Vorbretten to invite is still a matter under discussion.  Wanting to lighten the mood, he invites the Vorbrettens to his upcoming dinner party.  René isn’t sure, but Olivia encourages him to come, saying that Miles is going to show off the lady he’s courting in secret–from her.

René’s brows went up. “You, Miles? I thought you were as confirmed a bachelor as your cousin Ivan. Married to your career.”

Miles grimaced furiously at Olivia, and twitched at René’s last words. “I had this little medical divorce from my career. Olivia, where did you ever get the idea that Madame Vorsoisson—she’s my landscape designer, you see, René, but she’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, I met her on Komarr, she’s just recently widowed and certainly not—not ready to be anybody’s lady-love. Lord Auditor Vorthys and the Professora will be there too, you see, a family party, nothing inappropriate for her.”

“For who?” asked Martya.

“Ekaterin,” escaped his mouth before he could stop it. All four lovely syllables.

Martya grinned unrepentantly at him. René and his wife looked at each other—Tatya’s dimple flashed, and René pursed his lips thoughtfully.

“Kareen said Lord Mark said you said,” Olivia said innocently. “Who was lying, then?”

Miles explains again that she’s in mourning, her husband just died, and he will declare himself in time, but he can’t yet, he has to wait…and he hates waiting.  When Tatya asks, Miles has to admit he doesn’t know anything about her feelings for him.  He grumbles about Mark spreading his secrets, but Martya says that she, Kareen, and her parents all heard it from different people–Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and Pym–so he’s not doing a good job of keeping it secret.  Trying to defuse the conversation, Tatya accepts Miles’s invitation.  René asks if Miles’s parents will be back from Sergyar yet, and Miles says probably not, but soon; this will be his own party, before the house fills up again.  He’s also concerned about orchestrating Ekaterin meeting his parents just right.

His social duty satisfied, Miles bids them farewell; Martya takes him up an the offer of a ride home.  Miles gives Pym a disgruntled look as they leave, not sure he likes that Pym is acquiring the valuable information he can get through gossip by trading Miles’s information to other people.  He restrains himself from more than glaring, or from berating Martya for twitting him about Ekaterin like that.

He asks how she thinks the Vorbrettens are holding up, and she says René thinks they’re going to lose, and they’re pretty shaken.  Since his father died in the Hegen Hub, he’s hated Cetagandans, so this revelation really unnerves him.  Their marriage is also a little unsteady–they haven’t followed through with their plan to start a family, and Tatya enjoys being a Countess…  Now her friends, apart from Olivia, are avoiding her, too.

“If you go back far enough, we’re all descended from off-worlders, dammit,” Miles growled in frustration. “What’s one-eighth? A tinge. Why should it disqualify one of the best people we have? Competence should count for something.”

Martya’s grin twisted. “If you want sympathy, you’ve come to the wrong store, Miles. If my da were a Count, it wouldn’t matter how competent I was, I still wouldn’t inherit. All the brilliance in the world wouldn’t matter a bit. If you’re just now finding out that this world is unjust, well, you’re behind the times.”

Miles grimaced. “It’s not news to me, Martya.” The car pulled up outside Commodore Koudelka’s townhouse. “But justice wasn’t my job, before.” And power isn’t nearly as all-powerful as it looks from the outside. He added, “But that’s probably the one issue I can’t help you on. I have the strongest personal reasons for not wanting to reintroduce inheritance through the female line into Barrayaran law. Like, my survival. I like my job very well. I don’t want Gregor’s.”

Comments

Ekaterin has now met Kareen and Enrique, and won them over too.  She likes the butter bug guano, she offers helpful suggestions for the bug butter itself, and she has useful information about the Barrayaran vegetation…she’s just an all-around useful person.  It’s so nice to see her blossoming in her new environment, sending out new shoots like that skellytum, no longer bonsai’d, one hopes.  Which is why it’s going to be so devastating for her to find out why Miles really hired her to do his garden…  I am reminded, too, that Enrique seems to fall for her a little bit, too, after this scene.  Plus he’s got his “secret plan” to make Miles like the butter bugs, which I recall turns out really, really, well.  Just like Miles’s dinner party.

I had almost forgotten this scene with Miles and the Vorbrettens, and two more of the Koudelkas–Martya and Olivia, who we barely see, if at all, before this book.  Even in this book I don’t remember much with Olivia, though of course Martya gets a role later on in the book.  Martya’s line near the end of the chapter is quite telling, though, especially given the speculation about Lady Donna’s visit to Beta Colony earlier in the scene.  It is true that, no matter in what other ways it’s improving, Barrayar is not much yet for feminism and women’s rights.

It makes me think of that article that went around the Net a while ago, about how life as a white male was like playing on the easiest setting, compared to life as a woman or a minority.  Does Miles, even with his physical issues, qualify for that?  If I was building him for a role-playing game, one of those where you can give your character disadvantages to get more “character points” to buy things, his social class and mental skills would more than offset his physical limitations.  Even he would have an easier time getting into the military than Elena, and an easier time becoming Count than Martya.  Even _Mark_ would have an easier time becoming Count, and he was a clone born offworld and raised by Komarran radicals.  He’s male, though, and that’s the important thing.  Anyway, this book, taking place so much on Barrayar, and featuring so many female characters, gets the most heavily into gender issues.  At the very least, I can look around at our world and say that at least we’re a little bit more progressive than Barrayar…right?  Aren’t we?


No promises of a two-chapter post next week, but it could happen.  May depend on chapter length as well as random circumstantial factors–weather, sleep, and other potential gumption traps.  Lady Donna should be showing up soon, and the visit to the Vorkosigan District…and the fateful dinner party is looming…  Oh, yeah, and Vormoncrief’s Baba may have arrived by now.  Should be fun, in any case, except for the winceworthy painful embarrassing bits…

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Good evening, denizens of the Internet (where it’s always evening somewhere), and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  It is my continuing delight to lead you at a leisurely pace through the works of Lois McMaster Bujold in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends and family.  This week, the more-than-normally-leisurely pace continues, as I cover Chapter Four of A Civil Campaign, and…that’s it.  Shall we let’s?

Chapter Four

Ivan is just leaving the Ops building (after dropping off some wedding invitations for offworld delivery) when he is hailed by Alexi Vormoncrief.  He prepares another wedding-related mission as an excuse in case he needs to escape from Vormoncrief, a notorious bore, but he is curious to know how his plan is going.  Vormoncrief offers to buy Ivan a round, since he has something to celebrate, and Ivan decides to accept.  They go across the street to the usual Ops tavern, where Ivan spots By Vorrutyer; Vormoncrief invites By over as well.  To Ivan’s surprise, By accepts, and he wonders why By is cultivating Vormoncrief.  He greets By cautiously, since Miles isn’t there to draw By’s attention.

Vormoncrief offers condolence to By on the death of his cousin Pierre, Count Vorrutyer; By says it was definitely just plain heart failure.  Pierre died without issue, unfortunately, and the next in line is Richars Vorrutyer, another cousin, and one that By doesn’t approve of, though Vormoncrief, a staunch conservative, calls him “politically sound”.  By mention possible obstacles, which puzzles Ivan; apparently Pierre’s sister, Lady Donna Vorrutyer, has lodged a motion to block Richars’s accession, though she’s been on Beta Colony since before Pierre’s funeral.  Ivan has fond memories of Lady Donna, with whom he’d had a fling years ago, and thinks that he should get back in touch with her when she gets back to Barrayar…  By won’t tell them what her planned impediment is, though, but he wishes her luck with it.

Their drinks arrive, and Vormoncrief proposes a toast to matrimony, and announces he has sent the Baba.  He thanks Ivan for having introduced him to Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, and says that he managed to get her father’s name and address and sent a high-class go-between to send his formal proposal of marriage.  He admits that Ekaterin hasn’t actually accepted him yet, but he’s confident that the romance of the old-fashioned proposal will win her over, something that Zamori can’t match.  Ivan hadn’t invited Zamori, though, trying to limit Miles’s romantic rivals to clods like Vormoncrief, but apparently Vormoncrief spilled the beans, and Zamori is a more serious threat.

While Vormoncrief is away from the table, Ivan confesses his problem to By, that he was really just trying to twit Miles.  By says that he was there too, also because of Vormoncrief’s lack of discretion; he assures Ivan that he wasn’t wife-hunting, but he fancies that he intrigued Ekaterin a little bit…  Then he changes the subject and asks Ivan to help Lady Donna out with her case, since he has the ear of influential people.  Ivan thinks that By is overestimating his capabilities, but agrees to meet with her on her return, even if he isn’t sure what she hopes to accomplish by blocking Richars from the Countship.  Ivan makes his escape after Vormoncrief’s return.

How to avoid Miles? He couldn’t put in for transfer to some distant embassy till this damned wedding was over. That would be too late. Desertion was a possibility, he thought morosely—maybe he could go off and join the Kshatryan Foreign Legion. No, with all Miles’s galactic connections, there wasn’t a cranny of the wormhole nexus, no matter how obscure, sure to be safe from his wrath. And ingenuity. Ivan would have to trust to luck, Vormoncrief’s stultifying personality, and for Zamori—kidnapping? Assassination? Maybe introduce him to more women? Ah, yes! Not to Lady Donna, though. That one, Ivan proposed to keep for himself.

Lady Donna. She was no pubescent prole. Any husband who dared to trumpet in her presence risked being sliced off at the knees. Elegant, sophisticated, assured . . . a woman who knew what she wanted, and how to ask for it. A woman of his own class, who understood the game. A little older, yes, but with lifespans extending so much these days, what of that? Look at the Betans; Miles’s Betan grandmother, who must be ninety if she was a day, was reported to have a gentleman-friend of eighty. Why hadn’t he thought of Donna earlier?

Donna. Donna, Donna, Donna. Mmm. This was one meeting he wouldn’t miss for worlds.

Kareen swears that she hears Mark skipping before he enters the antechamber where Pym has had her waiting; she doesn’t think he looks healthy, with all that too-fast weight loss.  He grabs a footstool, climbs up, and they kiss vigorously.  She tells him that she walked over from their hours, and he invites her up to cool off in his room, with Grunt…  Kareen isn’t willing to consider it in Vorkosigan House, though, and the Koudelka house would be even worse.  Mark suggests a lightflyer, or a groundcar, or a rented room…Kareen still shakes her head.

Mark is alarmed, wondering if he’s done something wrong, if she wants him to gain the weight back…she says it’s just Barrayar, and her.  On Beta Colony everything seemed to clear, but on Barrayar, she hasn’t even been able to tell her family that she and Mark are together.  She can feel herself shrinking back into her old place, folding herself to fit into Barrayar’s expectations.  She wishes that Cordelia was there–as a Betan, it was easy to talk to her–because she can’t even talk to her own mother about it.

Mark decides that he can survive celibacy for a couple of months, but Kareen tells him that she probably won’t be able to afford to go back to Beta Colony.  She says she can’t get the scholarship again, and without that she won’t be able to afford it.  Mark says he still needs another year of schooling–and therapy–on Beta Colony, but he doesn’t know if he can handle it without her, even if he does come back to Barrayar afterwards.  They huddle for a moment, then Mark pulls back and says there’s still three months to see what will happen.

He invites her to see the butter bugs, while she’s there.  He tells her that Lilly Durona told him about Enrique, who was a genius, but in a bit of trouble.

“…Great biochemist, no financial sense. I bailed him out of jail, and helped him rescue his experimental stocks from the idiot creditors who’d confiscated ’em. You’d have laughed, to watch us blundering around in that raid on his lab. Come on, come see.”

As he towed her by the hand through the great house, Kareen asked dubiously, “Raid? On Escobar?”

“Maybe raid is the wrong word. It was entirely peaceful, miraculously enough. Burglary, perhaps. I actually got to dust off some of my old training, believe it or not.”

“It doesn’t sound very . . . legal.”

“No, but it was moral. They were Enrique’s bugs—he’d made ’em, after all. And he loves them like pets. He cried when one of his favorite queens died. It was very affecting, in a bizarre sort of way. If I hadn’t been wanting to strangle him at just that moment, I’d have been very moved.”

Mark leads her down to the laundry room where the lab is set up.  As soon as they arrive, Enrique protests that they need more light and heat, and furniture, and Kareen suggests they check the attic.  Mark introduces them, then fetches a butter bug to show her.  It does look repulsive, but she holds out her hand, and Mark puts the bug in it.  It is ugly, but not worse than some things she’d seen in xenozoology, and it doesn’t smell bad.  Mark and Enrique explain how they produce the bug butter.

Enrique says they need more food for the bugs, and pulls out a rose from a florist’s box; apparently he’d asked Miles how to get some Earth-style organic matter, and Miles had recomended them.  Mark says that it’s far too expensive to buy flowers just for the bugs, and says they should be able to get some much more cheaply from outside.  Enrique says he also needs a lab assistant, and information on Barrayaran biology; Mark says that Miles will know people at the university, and then he suggests that Kareen come work for them.  He tells Enrique she’s Betan-trained, which Enrique approves of, though he points out that they don’t have much money right now.  Mark elaborates that it’s not gone, just a little short and not very liquid right now.  Enrique suggests selling shares again, but Mark says not after last time–on Escobar Enrique had sold shares for several hundred percent of his company.

Mark takes Kareen aside and says that Enrique really needs a keeper, or a mother, to keep him from doing stupid things and wasting their money, and he knows he could trust Kareen.  But he says he would need to pay her in shares; Kareen isn’t sure that this is really going to make them any money, but Mark is confident, and says that he has a majority of the shares, and is working with Tsipis to make things all official.  He assures her that it’s the Lord Mark persona behind this plan, not one of the Black Gang.  He adds that the job will let her come to Vorkosigan House all the time, so they could see each other…  The bug in Kareen’s hand then vomits some bug butter into her palm, but she decides to accept anyway.

Comments

No Miles at all in this chapter, or Ekaterin either, just ivan and Kareen.  The other major plotline, with Donna Vorrutyer, is introduced–like I said, I tend to recall the Ivan and By scenes, mostly because of this plot.  It’s amusing to find that Lady Donna taught Ivan everything he needed to know about pleasing a woman, to survive the Lord Yenaro’s extreme-impotence drug treatment in Cetaganda.  Ivan’s reunion with her, of course, is not going to go quite as he might hope.  By, of course, knows exactly what Lady Donna is doing on Beta Colony, and I’m sure that, however serious he is about wanting Ivan’s help, he’s also enjoying the thought of what’ll happen when Ivan meets “Lady Donna” next…

When Kareen thinks about her money troubles, it doesn’t occur to her to ask Mark for money.  She must know that Mark’s net worth is substantial, and he could easily (under normal circumstances, at least) bankroll her, but I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t want to accept charity from him like that.  Her Barrayaran heritage would probably think of it as some kind of lien on her, like he’s trying to buy her favours, and her self-reliant nature wouldn’t take kindly to it either.  Of course, we find that Mark’s money’s a little tied up right now anyway, so he couldn’t even really offer.  So he’s really dependent on the success of the butter-bug scheme, which is resting on somewhat shaky foundations right now–Enrique’s unworldliness, Miles’s revulsion, and the somewhat questionable legal status of their departure from Escobar…


Another chapter next week…or two, perhaps?  Well, perhaps.  Traffic woes and weather have eased up, so my commute is no longer quite as mind-crushing, so we’ll see how I do on Chapter Five.  If I manage to get it done before Wednesday, for instance…

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The train crested the hill some time ago, and has been coasting downhill for a while; now it’s finally pulling into the station and coasting to a stop.  That’s how it feels to do these last two chapters of Mirror Dance, my current novel in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, at any rate.  Chapters Thirty-Two and Thirty-Three are our denouement, our heroes, Miles and Mark Vorkosigan, back on Barrayar and ready for the healing to begin.

Chapter Thirty-Two

In the library of Vorkosigan House, Miles surreptitiously studies his reflection, dressed in parade red-and-blues.  The scars on his necks from his cryo-chamber prep are not quite concealed, but he hopes they’ll look innocuously medical.  The uniform is still a little loose on him, though his mother and Mark have had some success in getting him more fleshed out.  Mark joins him, dressed in new civilian clothes from Gregor’s tailor.

The colors honored Winterfair, sort of; a green so dark as to be almost black was trimmed with a red so dark as to be almost black. The effect was somewhere between festive and sinister, like a small, cheerful bomb.

Mark says he looks better, and Miles says the same of him; Mark says he’s settled on his final weight, which is why he’s invested in the wardrobe.  He takes comfort in the idea that not even the most myopic of assassins could mistake him for Miles.

Cordelia joins them, visibly exulting in her two sons; she tells them the Count is still getting ready.  She’s sworn to get him out of the party by midnight, though he will have to prove he hasn’t lost his strength, and will drive Prime Ministery Racozy crazy watching over his shoulder.  She hopes to get them down to Hassadar soon.  Miles predicts that he’ll dance twice, to prove he can, and after that he’ll want to sit down.  Cordelia notes that Barrayar doesn’t know yet what to do with its men when they retire rather than dying in harness.

She mentions that Gregor has had the horrible idea of offering them the viceroyalty of Sergyar, since the current viceroy is pleading to come home.  She calls it a thankless job, but Miles points out that she did discover the planet herself, and Cordelia begins to talk about the ecological problems, like the worm plague, and how they need a little Betan know-how…

Miles and Mark looked at each other. It wasn’t telepathy. But the thought that perhaps Aral Vorkosigan wasn’t the only over-energetic aging expert Gregor might be glad to export from his capital was surely being shared between them, right this second.

Mark’s brows drew down. “How soon might this be, ma’am?”

“Oh, not for at least a year.”

The Count appears, looking trim with his medical weight loss, good colour apart from his completely white hair, but Miles knows his stamina won’t last.  In retrospect, his father’s near-death experience has scared Miles, demonstrating that he might not even be there when his father dies.  Throwing dignity to the wind, he gives his father a hug, which embarrasses him slightly, but Count is also clearly revelling in his biological wealth.

The Countess attached herself to her husband’s arm. “Lead on, love. Vorkosigans Victorious.”

Vorkosigans Convalescent, was more like it, Miles reflected, following. But you should see what the other guys look like.

Simon Illyan is there to greet them at the Residence, which reassures Aral, who notes that there must be no major crises in progress.  Illyan comes over to brief Aral, out of habit, and is embarrassed when Aral points out he should be talking to Racozy instead.  Cordelia pulls Aral away, and Illyan turns his attention to Miles and Mark; Miles takes pains to appear healthy, so his return to duty in two months won’t be delayed further.  After all, those convulsions have probably stopped by now.

Mark asks Illyan if his Winterfair gifts to the clones have arrived–just money, since he doesn’t know them well enough for more, but he decides it also gives them the gift of choice.  The million marks he gave ImpSec were earmarked for the clones’ education and other needs, but the gifts are separate.  He confides to Miles that it is better to give than to receive, to be “Father Frost”.  He asks what they give Gregor, who has everything, and Miles says that traditionally they give him a large shipment of maple syrup; Aral is even worse, and Miles says sometimes you can’t pay back, you have to pay forward.

Miles feels the eyes on them as they enter the reception hall, and he thinks that Barrayar doesn’t know what’s going to hit it.  He hopes he can teach Mark to care for Barrayar as he does, dangerous as that sometimes is, and looks forward to having Mark as a friend and ally.  He reminds himself that now, on some level, he’s expendable, but he feels that Mark has done well, learning from his example.

Mark asks Miles about Lord Vorsmythe, an industrialist that Mark has been wanting to talk to, and asks Miles to introduce him.  Mark intends to invest two-thirds of his money domestically on Barrayar, and rest galactic–Lilly Durona’s medical firm on Escobar, to be precise, to work on a medical solution for the longevity problem, though he’s willing to bet she’ll turn a profit as well.  Miles performs the introduction, and Vorsmythe is surprised and delighted to have an actual interested audience in Mark.  Miles leaves them to it and heads in the direction of Delia Koudelka.

Comments

So here is where we get the first mention of the viceroyalty of Sergyar, and the worm plague, for that matter.  This may have been where I clued in, first time through, that Sergyar was the same planet from the beginning of Shards of Honour.  It did have some interesting fauna, as I recall, though luckily we didn’t get to see the worm plague back then.  It is an ideal position for Aral and Cordelia, as Gregor shrewdly noticed–Aral as viceroy of Komarr would probably be just a teensy tiny bit more fraught.

Miles is, indeed, falling into the thought patterns that Cordelia had predicted, in having some perhaps unrealistic expectations about his future relationship with Mark, “potential ally” and all that.  Mark, of course, is looking forward more to keeping his brother down to earth and teasing him mercilessly.  Also, he’s thinking very wishfully about the prognosis of his little seizure problem…and setting up a large chunk of the next book’s plot in the process.  I’m sure that Bujold was, even now, thinking to herself “What’s the worst thing I can do to Miles next?”

Mark is also exercising his new identity–distinguishing himself physically from Miles in an unambiguous fashion.  I’m not sure if the ability to pick a weight and maintain it effortlessly, presumably with pharmaceutical aid, is widespread on Barrayar or more of a galactic thing; I suspect more of the latter, or perhaps it’s one of those things that is only gradually making inroads.  I suspect that Barrayar would make more out of keeping oneself naturally fit.  Being fat then becomes a lifestyle choice, and presumably not a particularly popular one, but Mark has his reasons, of course.

Chapter Thirty-Three

Lady Vorsmythe eventually retrieves her husband from his fascinating discussion with Mark.  Mark looks around to see if Miles is also overexerting himself.  Miles has been surreptitiously using Mark to check for gaps in his memory, and Mark realizes how desperately frightened Miles is of having permanently lost some piece of his past.  It bothers him to see Miles so unsure, and Mark hopes he’ll recover his obnoxious self-confidence soon.  Mark has enough things he’d gladly forget.  He’ll have to get Miles to show him around, get him to play the expert for a while; he’d rather let Miles’s ego recover a bit before doing his brotherly duty of cutting it down to size.

He finally spots Miles in the company of Delia Koudelka, and realizes that Kareen’s probably there too.  He finds the Countess, and asks her if she talked to Kareen, and, if so, what she said.  Cordelia says it was a long conversation, but it boiled down to Mark being an intelligent man who’d had some bad experiences, but she thought he’d be suitable for Kareen if he turned his mind to solving his problems.  Mark wonders if she’s talking about Betan-style therapy, but he’s afraid any therapist’s notes would end up in ImpSec hands.  Cordelia says she could make sure that didn’t happen, even if she couldn’t see the reports herself, and gives him her word on it.

She says she didn’t tell Kareen any sordid details, since she’s still a little young for that–still in school, and thus not ready for a long-term commitment.  Mark says that he’s managed to acquire a whole new set of problems since then anyway, worse ones.  Cordelia says that he seems much more relaxed to her since getting back from Jackson’s Whole.

“I don’t regret knowing myself, ma’am. I don’t even regret . . .  being myself.” Me and the black gang. “But I do regret . . . being so far from Kareen. I believe I am a monster, of some sort. And in the play, Caliban does not marry Prospero’s daughter. In fact, he gets stomped for trying, as I recall.” Yes, how could he possibly explain Gorge and Grunt and Howl and Killer to someone like Kareen, without frightening or disgusting her? How could he ask her to feed his abnormal appetites, even in some dream or fantasy play? It was hopeless. Better not to try.

The Countess smiled wryly. “There are several things wrong with your analogy, Mark. In the first place, I can guarantee you are not subhuman, whatever you think you are. And Kareen is not superhuman, either. Though if you insist on treating her as a prize and not as a person, I can also guarantee you will run yourself into another kind of trouble.” Her raised brows punctuated the point. “I added, as condition to my blessing on your suit, the suggestion that she take the opportunity during her schooling on Beta Colony next year for some extra tutoring. A little Betan education in certain personal matters could go a long way, I think, to widening her perceptions enough to admit, um, complexities without choking. A certain liberality of view an eighteen-year-old simply cannot acquire on Barrayar.”

Mark says he’d thought of going to school on Beta Colony himself, for the benefit of future qualifications, and Cordelia approves of his plan.  He still has to deal with the evening ahead, though.  Cordelia says he should go ahead and dance with Kareen; this is not the play, and Prospero has more than one daughter.  Kareen seems to find him interesting, at least, and young people are gifted with romance rather than prudence.

Walking across the hall to meet Kareen requires all his fortitude, but he is rewarded with enthusiasm on her part.  She has saved a number of dances for him, and Mark has purposely learned the steps to a minuet for the purpose.  They move onto the dance floor, Mark marvelling at the color coordination of her dress with his outfit until he realizes their mothers must have compared notes.  Mark suppresses Grunt’s more lustful assessments of Kareen, and channels it into his dancing.

All true wealth is biological, the Count had said. Mark finally saw exactly what he meant. For all his million Betan dollars, he could not buy this, the light in Kareen’s eyes. Though it couldn’t hurt . . . what was that damned Earth bird or other, that built wildly elaborate nests to attract a mate?

Mark asks her, feigning nonchalance, what she thinks is most important in a man; she answers “Wit”.  She turns the question back on him, and he answers “Trust”.  He has a wonderful evening after that, making her laugh several times, eating enough to sate Gorge, dancing even with some of Kareen’s friends, but eventually his feet get tired and he retrieves a wilted Miles and Armsman Pym drives them home, the Count and Countess having already left.

Mark and his brother were alone in the compartment. Mark counted the number of people present. One, two. Three, four, five, six, seven. Lord Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith. Lord Mark Vorkosigan and Gorge, Grunt, Howl, and Killer.

Admiral Naismith was a much classier creation, Mark thought with a silent sigh of envy. Miles could take the Admiral out to parties, introduce him to women, parade him in public almost anywhere but Barrayar itself. I suppose what my black gang lacks in savoir faire, we make up in numbers. . . .

Mark apologizes for getting Miles killed, and Miles said the drop mission was a mistake in the first place.  Vasa Luigi hadn’t wanted to ransom Mark, though, probably already planning to sell him to Ryoval.  Miles said it didn’t make much difference in the end, but Mark disagrees.  They discuss future plans; Miles says that their parents will be going down to Hassadar, where it’s somewhat warmer, and Miles plans to divide his time between there and Vorbarr Sultana until ImpSec lets him back to work, and he invites Mark along.  Mark accepts, and says that he’s thinking of taking a few courses in the college in Hassadar, as much to learn about how to deal with less than enlightened fellow students as for the actual education, though he yearns to know as much as he can.

The groundcar turned in at the gates of Vorkosigan House, and slowed. “Maybe I’ll get up early,” said Mark. “There’s a lot to do.”

Miles grinned sleepily, puddled down in his uniform. “Welcome to the beginning.”

Comments

And here we are at the end.  Shorter chapters, mostly, but more of them, not to mention that gap in the middle, so it took longer than some of the other books.  But it was worth it.  Mark has had a great journey, from a bad counterfeit Admiral Naismith afraid of Barrayar to facing the planet on his own terms.  Miles is really a secondary character in the book, his own challenges mostly against his own infirmity, attempting to overcome adversity to get back to where he was, rather than to conquer new ground.  Don’t worry, he’ll have time for that soon enough.

You can’t help but cheer for Mark and Kareen–you want Mark to get the girl, though of course there’s more of it for Kareen than just being the prize.  Which is probably a lot of the reason for their plotline in A Civil Campaign, which we’ll get to…well, not soon enough, but eventually, at least.  At least Mark is not indoctrinated with the usual Vor dose of Barrayaran sexism, so he has less to get over in that respect than some of the people Kareen could have ended up with.

You know, I almost wish we could’ve seen Miles and Ivan’s reunion.  I suppose it would have been underwhelming, since Ivan wouldn’t let on how relieved and happy he was for Miles to be back among the living without the influence of a lot of alcohol.  But some mention, at least…

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After this, my usual week off before I start on Memory.  And, as I’ve said, it will be a little different doing this one, because I don’t have an electronic copy of this one like I have for all the others I’ve done so far, courtesy of that lovely CD that came with Cryoburn.  In fact, Memory is one I still have in mass-market paperback, so it’ll be much harder to hold it open and type, so: fewer quotes, I expect.  On balance Memory may be my favourite book in the series, though Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign are close runners.  Let’s see if it holds up in the reread this time…

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Is it that time again already?  What do you mean, that was yesterday?  Anyway, it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein the Vorkosigan Saga novels of Lois McMaster Bujold are read, summarized, and discussed.  This week I manage to get through two more chapters of Mirror Dance, where we finally get to see something of the long-absent (due to a slight case of death) Miles Vorkosigan once again, while his clone-brother Mark prepares to dash off to the rescue if they will but let him.

Chapter Nineteen

A man awakens in a hospital bed, and opens his eyes to find them covered with some kind of translucent medical goo.  He’s having trouble breathing, and realizes that there’s a tube down his throat, and more in his nose, and sticking into his arms; it hurts to move.  Looking down at himself, he sees his chest sunken and covered with scars and surgical patches, as well as the goo, and more tubes everywhere.  That can’t be good, he thinks as he sinks back into unconsciousness.

Later, half-drowsing, a woman comes, tells him that they’re taking out his “pacer”, since his new heart and lungs should be working.  She opens up his chest and takes something out, closing it up again when she’s done and giving the thing to her male assistant.  She’s pretty and vaguely Asian, and dressed in a white coat, and he guesses she’s a doctor, but she can’t hear him around the tube in his throat, which she then removes, to his immense relief.  She asks him his name, and he realizes he doesn’t know.  The assistant says he’s placed bets that this one’s brain-damaged, but the woman says he needs some time to recover.  She does some simple reflex tests, saying she’ll save more complex ones for a few more days.  Convinced somehow that he has to recover soon or die, he tries doing some simple exercises in bed after they leave, but the man returns and sedates him, sinking him into nightmares.

Later, the woman returns to give him his first meal with his new stomach, nothing more than glucose water.  He proves able to suck it through a straw, but can’t drink much; the woman explains that his new organs are still a little small, but “Lilly” was in a hurry to awaken him.  He’s not sure if she expects him to understand what she says, though.  She gives him a sponge bath, and he spies the tag “DR. R. DURONA” on the pocket of her scrubs.

“You were quite a little mystery, you know. Delivered to me in a crate. Raven said you were too small to be a soldier, but I picked out enough camouflage cloth and nerve disruptor shield-netting, along with the forty-six grenade fragments, to be quite sure you weren’t just a bystander. Whatever you were, that needle-grenade had your name on it. Unfortunately, not in writing.” She sighed half to herself. “Who are you?”

She did not pause for an answer, which was just as well. The effort of swallowing the sugar water had exhausted him again. An equally pertinent question was, Where was he, and he was peeved that she, who must surely know, didn’t think to tell him. The room was an anonymous high-tech medical locale, without windows. On a planet, not a ship.

How do I know that? A vague picture of a ship, in his head, seemed to shatter at his touch. What ship? For that matter, what planet?

There ought to be a window. A big window, framing a high hazy city-scape with a rapid river cutting through it. And people. There were people missing, who ought by rights to be here, though he could not picture them. The mix of generic medical familiarity and particular strangeness tied his guts in knots.

He’s relieved, if a little raw, to have all the dead skin removed; she depilates his face as well and combs his hair, pulling out clumps of it, and then holds up a mirror.  He doesn’t recognize his face, but supposes he can get used to it, despite bloodshot eyes and patchy hair.  He tries to speak but can’t get anything coherent out.

“Lilly called your cryo-chamber Pandora’s box,” she murmured reflectively. “But I thought of it as the enchanted knight’s crystal coffin. I wish it were as easy as waking you with a kiss.”

She bent over, eyelids fluttering half-closed, and touched her lips to his. He lay very still, half-pleased, half-panicked. She straightened, watched him another moment, and sighed. “Didn’t think it would work. Maybe I’m just not the right princess.”

She leaves him in the dark, where he falls asleep on his own, feeling somewhat hopeful.  When he awakens he begins to regain some muscle control, enough to twitch his arms and legs, but when Dr. Durona returns, she’s horribly wrong–older, and colder towards him, more businesslike, with different, shorter hair.  He can’t understand, wondering if he fell asleep for longer than he’d thought.  She puts him in a hospital gown and makes him stand up, which nearly makes him pass out, then puts him back to bed.  Next time she shows up looking ten years older yet, with hair in a ponytail, and walks him across the room and back.

The short-haired version returns and gets him walking again, out into the hallway where he sees the older Dr. Durona, and this time notices they have different initials on their nametags–Dr. P. with the ponytail, Dr. C. (addressed as “Chrys”) with the shorter hair, neither of them his Dr. R.  discuss his progress, Chrys being of the opinion that he’s progressing well physically, but mentally not as well.  Lilly is pressuring them to get his memories working again, or he’ll be of no use.  They put him back to bed, and his Dr. R. Durona, appears then, to his relief, expressing mock disapproval about their treatment of her patient.  Chrys is apparently the physical therapist, which explains things, and Dr. R. sets limits on the therapy, though fairly high ones.

The other two leave him with her, and she tells him his hair is starting to grow again in his bare patches, and hopes this means his brain is working too.  She asks him again for his name, and he responds by asking, muzzily, for hers.  At first she simply thinks he’s repeating what she said, but he convinces her that he is actually asking for her own name, and tells him that it’s Rowan.  He tries to urge her to kiss him again, but she leaves.

This time he doesn’t fall asleep, but lies there with bits of thought washing around his brain, some of them possibly memories.  When he examines them too closely he gets panicky, though, and so he just lets them froth.  He decides that if he can’t remember who he is, he can try to figure out where.  He’s no longer hooked up to machines or tagged, so he slips out of bed and to his door, which opens.  The hallway outside leads past a monitor-station which seems to be temporarily unmanned, so he slips past and out through the door at the end, which also opens.  He passes surgeries, storage rooms, and labs, and concludes somehow that this place is more of a research centre than a hospital or clinic.

He finds the bottom of a deactivated lift-tube, and after briefly considering trying to climb it (which proves to be beyond his physical capabilities) he risks turning the power on and rises from level “S-3” to “S-1”.  The lift-tube exits into a tiny foyer, then a storage room, but when he turns around he discovers the door has vanished and he can’t reopen it again.  His bare feet are cold and he’s dizzy and tired, but he can’t return to his bed, so he persuades himself to go on.  He finds the bottom of another lift-tube, this one labelled as “B-2”, with nothing below it; he heads up to level “G”, which proves to be ground level.  He finds a darkened lobby, with glass doors and windows showing that it’s night outside.  There is a desk with a comconsole, where he sits gratefully, but can’t access its data, even though he’s sure he can overcome a palm-lock.

He shivered. God, I hate cold. He wobbled over to the glass door. It was snowing outside, tiny scintillant dots whipping by slantwise through the white arc of a floodlight. They would be hard, and hiss and sting on bare skin. A weird vision of a dozen naked men standing shivering in a midnight blizzard flitted across his mind’s eye, but he could attach no names to the scene, only a sensation of deep disaster. Was that how he had died, freezing in the wind and snow? Recently, nearby?

I was dead. The realization came to him for the first time, a burst of shock radiating outward from his belly. He traced the aching scars on his torso through the thin fabric of his gown. And I’m not feeling too good now, either. He giggled, an off-balance noise disturbing even to his own ears. He stifled his mouth with his fist. He must not have had time to be afraid, before, because the retroactive wash of terror knocked him to his knees. Then to his hands and knees. The shivering cold was making his hands shake uncontrollably. He began to crawl.

He gets close to the door, which opens automatically; not wanting to get trapped outside again, he tries to turn to avoid it, but gets disoriented and finds himself outside after all.  Suddenly he feels a shock and smells singed hair as he is pushed back into the doorway, where he curls up miserably.

Voices and shouts arise, and he is pulled back inside to a babble of voices wondering how he got there, and asking for Rowan to be called.  One of the men proves to be Rowan’s male assistant, whose initial is also R., who wonders how he broke out of their security.

“Na’ sec’rty.” Words! His mouth was making words! “Fire saf’ty.” He added reflectively, “Dolt.”

The young man’s face jerked back in bewildered offense. “Are you talking to me, Short Circuit?”

“He’s talking!” His Dr. Durona’s face circled overhead, her voice thrilled. He recognized her even with her fine hair loose, falling all around her face in a dark cloud. Rowan, my love. “Raven, what did he say?”

The youth’s dark brows wrinkled. “I’d swear he just said ‘fire safety.’ ” Gibberish, I guess.”

Rowan explains how he must have known that the locked doors would all open outward, for fire safety, but Raven isn’t impressed.  An older Dr. Durona with white hair shuffles out and dismisses everyone without a reason to be there; she asks how he got out, and the one who was supposed to be manning the monitor station admits to leaving their post for a minute.  Raven says he’d have frozen to death out there even if he had gotten through the force screen.  After some discussion of improved security, they decide he needs to be guarded; Raven is assigned as his night guard because he can be spared, with Rowan to watch him during the day.

Raven picks him up to carry him back down, where Rowan checks him for damage.  He’s shivering with cold, so they raise the temperature in his room.  Rowan says he’s in some minor distress, but he should fall asleep once he warms up.  Rowan invites him to speak again, but he’s thinking about the tension he sensed among the various Dr. Duronas in the lobby, tension to do with him, and wonders what they know about him.  Rowan leaves and Raven stays with him, studying some medical subject or other, still in training to be a doctor like the others.

He lay back, drained beyond measure. His excursion tonight had nearly killed him, and what had he learned for all his pains? Not much, except this: I am come to a very strange place.

And I am a prisoner here.

Comments

So first Kyril Island, and now cryo-freezing…and a cold planetary environment (Jackson’s Whole?) outside his prison.  Poor Miles, with the cold.  I sympathize.  For it is Miles, of course, even if he doesn’t know himself yet.  With new heart and lungs, and apparently stomach too–he was really blown out, wasn’t he?  The dead skin flaking off was a little disgusting, but I guess if he was frozen, a lot of his skin might have died.  Not sure how that would work, I guess.  This bringing someone back from death must be a complicated business.

Somehow, even unconscious and amnesic, he’s still winning over hearts and minds, as he and Rowan seem to be drawn together, even if none of the others are quite as impressed.  The Duronas are all clones, of course, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have differences in personality, even if it’s just because of being raised in changing family environments.

Chapter Twenty

The day before Mark, Elena and Cordelia are due to leave, they’re looking at ship specs.  Mark asks if he thinks they’ll be able to stop in on Komarr and visit his clones, who ImpSec has set up in a private boarding school there, where they can be together and yet still meet other children.  Cordelia has urged that they be put into foster families to give them examples for forming their own families later in life.  Now she says that they could stop in, certainly–Illyan will complain, but they can overrule him–but she wonders if it might not be better for Mark not to know precisely where they are, in case he falls into Bharaputran hands on Jackson’s Whole.  Mark decides that it’s probably better if he doesn’t see them, having come to terms with the fact that they won’t see him as a hero.

Illyan calls and asks to talk to Cordelia; Elena and Mark worry that he’s going to block them, but Cordelia tells them to be quiet and let her deal with Simon.  Illyan pronounces her scheme unacceptable.

“To whom, Simon? Not to me. Who else gets a vote?”

“Security,” Illyan growled.

“You are Security. I’ll thank you to take responsibility for your own emotional responses, and not try to shift them onto some vague abstraction. Or get off the line and let me talk to Captain Security, then.”

Cordelia says that he’ll need to arrest her and Mark to keep them from going; Illyan threatens to go to the Count, but Cordelia says she’s already cleared it with him, and he’s too ill to be bothered further.  Illyan protests that he doesn’t see the point of their expedition, and Cordelia says that they don’t know yet what Mark will be able to do, but ImpSec is welcome to beat him to it.  Illyan points out that they are risking the last chances of House Vorkosigan, and Cordelia says she accepts that risk.  Illyan says that people from all parties are scrambling to find someone to take over Aral’s position, and Cordelia wishes them well, and hopes that she can get her husband out of the government alive.

“Who is capable of succeeding him?” asked Illyan plaintively.

“A number of men. Racozy, Vorhalas, or Sendorf, to name three. If not, there was something terribly wrong with Aral’s leadership. One mark of a great man is the legacy of men he leaves behind him, to whom he’s passed on his skills. If you think Aral so small as to have stifled all possible others around him, spreading smallness like a plague, then perhaps Barrayar is better off without him.”

Illyan then asks if she’s considered the risk of bringing Mark too close to Miles.  Cordelia says that if he’s so worried about that, he’ll have to find Miles first.  Illyan protests that they’ll expect help from ImpSec if they get into trouble, and Cordelia says that they should have the right to expect it anyway.  Illyan signs off, and Cordelia says he’s going to try to go over her head, so she waits at the console until Gregor calls.

“Good morning, Lady Cordelia. You really ought not to stir up poor Simon that way, you know.”

“He deserved it,” she said equably. “I admit, he has far too much on his mind at the moment. Suppressed panic turns him into a prick every time; it’s what he does instead of running in circles screaming. A way of coping, I suppose.”

“While others of us cope by becoming over-analytical,” Gregor murmured. The Countess’s lip twitched, and Mark suddenly thought he knew who might shave the barber.

Gregor asks if she really thinks this expedition is wise, and Cordelia says that they can only find out by trying it.  She notes that this is really the best to put any rumours about Mark’s motives to rest, by putting him in a situation of supposed temptation and giving him enough rope to hang himself.  Gregor finds this a compelling argument, and wishes Mark good luck.

Cordelia and Mark make a final visit to Aral at ImpMil hospital; Mark finds the hospital atmosphere oppressive, and still finds Aral daunting, but Cordelia predicts that he’ll regret not having talked to the Count more than he’d ever regret doing it.  Aral is sitting in bed looking out the window, his colour far from good, and is cheered by their presence.  Cordelia tells him she’s seen his new heart, still tiny but beating away in its vat, which she thinks is cute but Aral grotesque; she comments on the possibilities for tasteless jokes with his old heart when he’s done with it.

Aral talks to Mark about the Jackson’s Whole expedition, wishing momentarily that Bothari was going with them, causing them some concern until they’re sure that he’s not forgetting that Bothari is years dead.  He laments the role of the mentor, left behind while the protégé goes and risks himself, and advises Mark that he can’t be defeated if he’s not defeated in his own mind.  He and Aral exchange a firm hand-clasp, and Aral wishes confusion to his enemies.

That night Mark makes one final call, to the Koudelka household, where Mrs. Koudelka answers.  He asks haltingly for Kareen.

A blonde brow twitched. “I believe I know which one you are, but—who may I say is calling?”

“Lord Mark Vorkosigan,” he got out.

“Just a moment, my lord.” She left the range of the vid pick-up; he could hear her voice fading in the distance, calling “Kareen!”

There was a muffled bumping in the background, garbled voices, a shriek, and Kareen’s laughing voice crying, “No, Delia, it’s for me! Mother, make her go away! Mine, all mine! Out!” The sound of a door thumping closed on, presumably, flesh, a yelp, then a firmer and more final slam.

Kareen is quite happy to see him, and Mark is breathless for a moment.  He tells her he’s called to say goodbye, and clarifies that he’s going off-planet for a while.  She asks when he’ll be back, and he says he’s not sure, but he would like to see her on his return.  He asks what was going on with her sister, and she explains that Delia would have stood off-camera and made faces at her while she talked to Mark, because that’s what Kareen’s done to her.  Mark is amazed by how normal this situation is, and leads her into a description of her life, of a well-off family with a strong work ethic–peaceful, calm and real.  Kareen slows down when she realizes how little Mark is saying.

“Good heavens, I’m babbling. I’m sorry.”

“No! I like listening to you talk.”

“That’s a first. In this family, I’m lucky to get a word in edgewise. I didn’t talk till I was three. They had me tested. It turned out it was just because my sisters were answering everything for me!”

She asks about his life, which she says sounded like sort of an adventure.  Mark tells her that it was more like a disaster, and explains that he’s kind of a mess, but he doesn’t know what he should tell her about it.  Kareen says they should ask the Countess, who’s an old friend of her mother, who used to be her bodyguard.  He thinks of the Barrayaran tradition of go-betweens, and wonders if using Cordelia as a mediator would work out well or not.  He tells Kareen that sometime, before he comes back, she should talk to the Countess about him and say that Mark told her to ask about him.  Kareen agrees, and insists that if he’s back by Winterfair, they will dance at the ball, and not in the corner this time; Mark allows that if he’s back by then, he won’t need to hide any longer.

“Good. I’ll hold you to your word.”

“My word as Vorkosigan,” he said lightly.

Her blue eyes widened. “Oh. My.” Her soft lips parted in a blinding smile.

He felt like a man who’d gone to spit, and had a diamond pop accidently from his lips instead. And he couldn’t call it back and re-swallow it. There must be a Vorish streak in the girl, to take a man’s word so seriously.

She tells him to be careful, saying that he reminds her of her father, a soldier, when he’s pretending that he isn’t heading into a difficult situation.  Mark is touched by her concern and bids her farewell.

Comments

It’s not clear how much time has passed between their resolution to depart for Jackson’s Whole “as soon as possible” and the current chapter, one day before departure, but it can’t have been that long if Simon Illyan is only calling them now.  I suppose that Aral’s condition and the search for Miles is distracting him from keeping an eye on Cordelia’s activities, but surely he had someone watching Mark, if nothing else.  Maybe he wasn’t sure how serious she was, or when precisely she was leaving…  He is essentially powerless against Cordelia, except for when he can sway her through persuasion and/or logic, which he’s not nearly as good at.  Gregor is probably more capable of it, as one of her best pupils, but he thinks more like her in the first place, so he doesn’t need as much persuading.

The other scene, the call to Kareen, is more cheerful, as Mark catches glimpses of the normalcy that he never had in his life, and probably over-romanticizes, but I’m sure would embrace happily nonetheless.  Despite anything that he may have done at the Emperor’s Birthday, she’s still willing to consider him a “fellow” and dance with him again.  I can’t remember if we get back to Kareen in this book or not, but they do have a great plotline in A Civil Campaign, at least.  Oh, and a glimpse of her mother Ludmilla “Drou” Koudelka, one of the few we get in the series after Barrayar, though she also turns up in A Civil Campaign, at least.  I keep thinking we’ll see more of Clement Koudelka himself sometime, but I can’t remember other scenes offhand.  He’s probably still working for Aral, which means he’s probably trying frantically to keep things going until the Count recovers, but I can’t help but wonder what “difficult situations” Kareen was talking about, since her father shouldn’t be going into anything front-line these days.  I guess there’s still tense situations which don’t involve outright battle…

A shortish chapter, but a talky one, so hard to summarize and sounds at all good, so lots of nice quotage.  They’ll be off Barrayar soon, alas, into more action and less interesting dialogue with interesting characters (which somehow seems to be my favourite bit of Bujold books).


There you have it, two chapters one day late rather than one chapter on time and then slacking off for most of another week.  Maybe I should even change my schedule to Wednesdays instead–I picked Tuesdays more or less at random, after all, or perhaps for reasons that no longer apply, and I’m not attached to them.  But I’m afraid that my having an excuse for potential underproductivity makes it more likely I’ll just slack off.  At least this book has some fairly short chapters.

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