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A motion is upon the floor, to publish another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Said reread will contain a synopsis and brief critical discussion of one (1) chapter from the novel CryoBurn, by Lois McMaster Bujold, featuring her recurring protagonist, one (1) Miles Vorkosigan, as well as sundry other secondary characters.  Motion seconded…all in favour?  Sold!  To the lady with the battle-axe.

Chapter Eight

After buying some milk, Jin and Mina find a garden shed behind an empty house to hide during school hours; it’s taken longer than he thought to cross the city, and he’s afraid that they got turned around during the last day and a half.  They did find water to drink, and bathrooms in public parks, at least.   While Mina sleeps, Jin finds a wolf spider, and he ends up waking her up digging out her coin box to use for a spider house.  They discuss what to name her, and eventually settle on Lady Murasaki; after sharing a lunch bar, they refill their milk bottles with water.

Mina asks how long it’ll take to get back to his place, and Jin admits he doesn’t know, and hopes that Miles-san is taking care of his animals; he also hopes that Miles-san can forgive him for losing his money.  Mina asks if he has any children, and Jin isn’t sure, especially since Miles-san is so strange-looking he might have trouble finding a wife.  Mina says that maybe he’ll adopt them, like in a book they read for school about a man from Earth who adopted some children; Jin says he’s from Barrayar, but that might be just as good, he supposes.

A sudden picture bloomed in Jin’s mind of the odd little fellow living all alone in a cottage in the country-no, better, a big rambling old house with a vast overgrown garden. Like the book with that old professor who had taken in two children from the city during wartime-Jin didn’t know what war, except it was from a period before anybody got frozen. There’d been a horse that drew a cart, and wonderful adventures involving a cave with blind white fish. Jin had seen a horse in the Northbridge Zoo, once, on a class field trip. The braver children had all been allowed to pat its glossy neck, while one of the keepers held its lead; Jin remembered the huge beast blowing air out its soft, bellowslike nostrils in a warm whoosh across his cheek. Jin understood there were littler versions bred just for children, called ponies. Mina wouldn’t be scared of one that size. The looming beast at the zoo had alarmed even Jin, but he’d been younger then, too. A great rambling house, and animals, and . . . ​

It was all rubbish. Miles-san wasn’t a professor, or their uncle of any kind, great or regular, and for all Jin knew he lived in a cramped city apartment and wasn’t lonely at all. Jin decided he didn’t like that country daydream. It hurt too much when it stopped. He frowned at Mina. “Nobody’s going to adopt us and take us away from here. That’s a stupid idea.”

Mina isn’t happy about that, and they put on their shoes and socks, Jin feeling a little guilty of his sister’s blistered feet, then start walking again.  They pass a tube station, and Mina offers to pay their fare, but Jin reminds her of how he got caught the last time.  He does find a map, though, so he can figure out where they are, and is shocked to find they’ve gone much more east than south, and haven’t gotten any closer to his building than they’d started.  He does notice, though, that they’re close to the Barrayaran consulate; if he goes there first, and explains about how he lost the money, they may be able to give him more to give to Miles-san.

The Barrayaran party returns to the consulate, dialogue subdued on the limo ride by Aida’s presence and Vorlynkin’s quiet anger; Miles takes some headache medication and then they head downstairs to debrief in the tight-room.  Vorlynkin has already locked himself inside, though, and when he finally lets them in, he tells Miles he’s too late.

A muscle jumped by Vorlynkin’s scowling mouth. “I just sent a full report of what I witnessed by tight-beam to General Allegre at ImpSec HQ, Barrayar. I never thought I’d live to see a Vorkosigan sell himself for money. My career may be slagged, but so will yours, my Lord Auditor.”

“Ah, excellent. That’s done.” M’lord kicked the door shut; it sealed with a sigh that seemed insufficiently dramatic for Vorlynkin’s mood.

Miles says that he’d been more afraid that Wing wouldn’t come through, and he’d have to go through it all again; Roic, wary of Vorlynkin’s growing fury, encourages m’lord to stop baiting him and let him in on what’s going on.  Miles says that he’d been going to great lengths to seem bribable, and Vorlynkin, suddenly enlightened, asks if this is a sting operation; Miles says that it is now, though he hadn’t been sure what he’d find when he got to the planet.  Vorlynkin apologizes in chagrin for the report he just sent, and Miles says that he hadn’t been sure that Vorlynkin wasn’t on the take either, and this proved a good test.  Miles asks Raven for his report, which mostly just supports the infrequency of cryorevivals, and Vorlynkin then realizes that Dr. Durona is also working for Miles.

Miles tells Vorlynkin that WhiteChrys had been vetted by ImpSec and they found nothing suspicious, but they may have been looking for the wrong things.  But when they were setting up on Komarr, and collecting cryocontracts, Empress Laisa Toscane’s business-savvy great-aunt became suspicious of receiving both a sales brochure for a cryocontract and an offer to buy stocks.  Something about it sounded off, and she brought it to Laisa and Gregor, who agreed, but none of them could say what the problem was; thus it got dumped on Miles’s lap.

Komarr’s voting system had, from the beginning, awarded more voting power to those who enhanced the habitability of the planet, which has accumulated in the wealthier families; it now seems that WhiteChrys is trying to acquire those votes for itself through cryocontracts.  Komarrans are no stranger to vote chicanery, and there are certain rules, like corporations being unable to hold voting shares themselves, so the WhiteChrys attempts seemed harmless, but Miles now suspects that they’ve worked out some way around it, through legal loopholes or outright bribery.  He couldn’t figure out how they could make any short-term gains, though, until Wing mentioned being cryofrozen on Komarr; having the WhiteChrys representatives cryofrozen, likely taking turns, will give them the timeframe necessary for the takeover of Komarr to progress during their extended lifetimes.

They still need more information, though; in particular, Miles suspects that it may be a subgroup of WhiteChrys employees who are handling the Komarr scheme, gutting the home company in the process.  Vorlynkin asks how they can do anything about it on Kibou-daini, and Miles says he rather prefers trapping them on Komarr instead, closing their loopholes and leaving them stuck running a mere low-profit service company.  Miles asks Vorlynkin about the probity of the other consulate staff; Vorlynkin says he has no reason to doubt Johannes or Yuuichi Matson, but he admits they haven’t really been tested before.

“Yet routine travel visas for WhiteChrys personnel have been handled through the consulate all this time.”

“Yes, but all we ask is business or tourism? Plus a quick background check for criminal records.”

M’lord’s eyes crinkled in speculation. “I wonder if we should add a box to tick off–Reason for travel: creepy planetary conquest . . . ​no, I suppose not.”

Vorlynkin asks what would have happened if he hadn’t tried to turn Miles in, and Miles said he’d have been excluded from the briefing and added to his list of targets.  Just then, Johannes informs them over the intercom that his child courier has turned up again, with company, and they head for the door.

Comments

I don’t know particularly what books Jin and Mina are thinking about.  The one with the old professor sounds like it should be a real one, at least–makes me think of The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, actually, though of course that had more children and more fantasy kingdoms, and less cave fish.  The other one, with the man from Earth, could be something made up out of whole cloth.

Here, finally, we get to the real plot; WhiteChrys planning to use the vote-proxy cryocontracts to take over Komarr.  It’s not clear to me how much power the forces of democracy (even oligarchically-weighted democracy) have on Komarr under Imperial control, but perhaps part of their takeover scheme is throwing off Barrayaran shackles…?  Yeah, probably not, that sounds a little too risky for these Kibou.  But yeah, I could see WhiteChrys attempting to present them with a fait accompli and the Emperor just sending in his troops.  Barrayaran law is, as mentioned previously, more concerned with the spirit than the letter of the law, which must make it a bit of an oddity on the galactic scene.  If the Komarran populace was also not happy with their votes being accumulated by corporations (or their representatives, which might get around the no-corporate-votes law), then they’d probably be fine with the Emperor overruling them, and backing it with Imperial forces.

If I were those guys, gambling on sleeping away the years, or decades, or centuries, until their plans come to fruition, I’d actually have been expressing a little more interest in cryorevival.  After all, they’re going to want to reduce the risk of botched revival as much as possible.  I suppose that if they get frozen under controlled conditions, they’ll already be in better shape than someone being hastily frozen under combat conditions and suffering severe bodily trauma, but there’ll still be risks.  Not to mention that there will be plenty of opportunity for backstabbing when your partners in crime are helpless in suspended animation.  So, all in all, sounds like a stupid plan to me.


Eleven chapters (plus the all-important aftermaths) left in the book.  Meanwhile, I’m five chapters (plus an epilogue) away from finishing reading Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance to my son.  That’ll probably take me a couple of weeks…and then I’ll be reading him the same book I’m summarizing here.  Yeah, I’m going to overtake myself, aren’t I?

 

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

Rish nodded understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the game?”

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

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

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

“For what, exactly?”

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


 

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

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

Chapter Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This’ll do the job!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

Chapter Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By opened his hands as if to surrender the point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


 

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

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

Chapter Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


 

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

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

Chapter Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


 

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

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This week again, I had a brief burst of confidence when I thought that perhaps I might be able to do two chapters.  But I didn’t manage to finish Chapter Two on Monday, and by Tuesday night I was sick, so I’m glad I only had four more pages to do tonight.  So once again there is but a single chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance being synopsized and discussed, which luckily is no less than I’d been leading you to expect, so good for me.  CVA is, of course, the latest, publication-wise, though not chronologically, in Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, herein taking a slight detour to focus mostly on Miles Vorkosigan’s cousin Ivan Vorpatril, who could certainly use the time in the spotlight after he’s been damsel-in-distress so many times.  In Chapter One he tried to be more of a knight-in-shining-armor, and got tied up by his own damsel for his pains…

Chapter Two

Ivan is not cheered by his progress so far, tied up in the dark.  He’s used to being successful with women, but mostly because of his tried and true techniques.  First, go where the women are; second, try likely prospects until you get one to smile, and then be humorous until she laughs.  It may take ten tries before he succeeds, which is something he could never convince Miles was worth it.  Those odds hadn’t been in his favour in Nanja’s shop, though, and he’s not sure things have turned out that well.  If they didn’t, it’s By’s fault, not his.

He’s not sure what to make of the overprotective friend Rish.  She’s beautiful, but he’s not attracted to her; she’s stronger than Nanja, more athletic, and probably all-around souped up.  Where are they from?  Rish is doubtless not native to the Barrayaran Empire, and Nanja would have reacted more strongly to the name “Vorkosigan” if she was.  Cetagandans don’t do that kind of work on the human genome, and Ivan is more than happy to rule them out.

He keeps trying to wriggle his feet, trying to loosen and stretch the plastic ropes tying his legs to the chair, and he fancies it might be having some effect.  He supposes he could have tried harder to get away, but they were taking him where he wanted to go anyway, and he did get the chance to talk to Nanja, even if it was strictly more of an interrogation.

Rish’s next most likely point of origin is Jackson’s Whole, which is supported by other circumstantial evidence; Ivan’s not too happy about that either, unfortunately.  Jackson’s Whole is spread among over a hundred Great Houses, and even more minor ones, but things can get dangerous for someone who falls between the cracks, and he can easily envision scenarios which would have put these two women on the run.  Though it’s far from clear why somebody would be chasing them, since Jacksonians wouldn’t normally be that interested in a pricy assassination.

As Ivan squirms in the increasingly uncomfortable chair, he wonders what the relationship between the two women is; Rish doesn’t seem to defer to Nanja that often, for one thing.  When, during the interrogation, he’d had to pee, Nanja had been willing to untie him and let him to go the bathroom by himself, but instead Rish had just held a bottle for him to use, which had been a singular unarousing experience.  Maybe they’re both escaped slaves, seeking asylum in the Barrayaran Empire, or maybe Nanja stole Rish…

He wonders how long it will be until dawn, in the short Komarran night.  ImpSec will know that he was at the shipping store because of his credit chit, and Nanja’s coworker will be able to identify him, so it shouldn’t take long for them to find him.  Then he hears a noise at the window–three stores up, and inside a dome with no wind to blow trees against it.  He hopes that it might be ImpSec, but he’s not optimistic about it.  A plasma beam cuts a hole in the window, and Ivan can see two dark shapes beyond it, probably riding on a float pallet or something.  Almost certainly not ImpSec, and much more likely to be Nanja’s pursuers.

Ivan is pretty sure he couldn’t get free of his chair–maybe he could free his legs, at the expense of his shoes, but he doesn’t think he could do anything very effective in that state.  Instead, he begins talking loudly, telling the startled intruders that the two women left hours ago, encouraging them to turn on the lights and untie him; one of them does turn the lights on, leaving the other somewhat dazzled before he can take off his light-sensitive goggles.  He points a stunner at Ivan and asks who he is, in a Komarran accent.

“A few minutes ago, I’d have said I was a completely innocent bystander, but now I’m starting to think that I might be someone who was mistaken for you,” said Ivan amiably. “I don’t suppose you could untie me?”

They remain suspicious of him, so Ivan spins a story of elaborate torture–psychological, of course, and possibly involving ice cubes–while they argue what to do, deciding to search the place and stun Ivan.  Before they can, though, they are stunned for the side-corridor, and Rish and Nanja emerge.  Ivan tells them he now definitely believe that somebody’s after them; Rish and Nanja inspect the men and say that they’re just local Komarran hires, but it proves that they’ve been tracked down.  Rish proposes killing them, but Ivan, disturbed, says that they’re not likely to know much, and that they’re more likely kidnappers than killers.  He asks to be untied, as a reward, in lieu of a kiss, and Nanja complies, to Rish’s disapproval.

He really shouldn’t push it, but faint heart never one, and all that.  He bent his head and presented his cheek ot her, just to see what would happen.

A hesitation.  A widening of her eyes, which, close up, were a clear sherry colour, lighter than her skin, very striking flamed with her long black lashes.  To his unconcealed delight, she stretched her neck and bestowed a neat peck on his cheekbone.

“See?” he said, in an encouraging tone. “That wasn’t so hard.”  The spot tingled pleasantly.

As Rish searches their bodies, Ivan sticks his head out the window to inspect the float pallet, which proves to contain a large plastic bin, that two stunned women might just have fit into, with some folding; he says this supports the kidnapping theory, unless they were just going to dispose of the bodies.  Despite his encouragement, though, Nanja refuses to share any theories.  Rish says they don’t have any ID or money, though they are wearing cheap gloves.

Rish says it’s time for them to go, and tells Tej (Ivan notes “Nanja”‘s real name, at last) to go pack up.  She says they have an escape route planned over the rooftops; Ivan offers them his own apartment as a temporary safe-house, since nobody will be able to connect it to them, and Tej agrees.  Ivan suggests that he just call the Dome Security and claim to be eyewitness to a break-in.  To himself, he wonders about By’s investigation, what it has to do with this, and whether By’s recruiting Ivan to help is a sign of desperation…or a sign of widespread corruption in the Imperial Service, or even ImpSec itself.

Dammit, the purpose of a briefing was to tell you everything you needed to know to do your job right.  It shouldn’t be a frigging IQ test.  Or worse, word puzzle.  Ivan hissed in growing frustration.  Next time he saw By, he was going to strangle the smarmy Vorrutyer whelp.

The smarmy Vorrutyer whelp who, Ivan had reason to know, did sometimes, if very rarely, report directly to, and receive orders directly from, Emperor Gregor…

The women are ready in record time, with everything packed into three bags, something they must have practiced multiple times.  He decides not to do anything about any fingerprints or skin cells he’s leaving behind, deciding they can be a nice challenge for the Dome Security CSI team.

Tej listens as Ivan, in a convincing drunken drawl, makes his police report via wristcom, about the two men going through the window, and then cuts off after saying he heard a woman scream.  This done, they turn to making their rooftop getaway.  Tej is first, jumping over to the roof of the next building, followed by Rish, who makes it look easy; Ivan is more dubious, but makes it across, with even a little extra momentum that he blames on Komarr’s lower gravity.  They jump to a third building, with a wider alley beyond, but here they go back down to street level and then to a bubble-car stop, Rish making sure to keep her unusual skin hidden.

Ivan punches in his address and their bubble-car sets out, the sun just starting to rise.  Tej has never seen the dome from this vantage before, and she asks Ivan about a newer section; he says it’s replacing an area destroyed in fighting with Barrayar, and adds that any native Komarran would have known that.  They head closer to the dome’s centre, where they debark, Ivan leading them to his building and up to his apartment.  On entering, he spots the time and says he’s running late, so he dashes into the shower, leaving Tej and Rish bemused behind him.

Despite its culinary promise, the refrigerator contained only four bottles of beer, three bottles of wine (one opened) and a half-dozen packets which the undecorative wrappings betrayed as military ration bars.  An open box of something labeled instant groats graced the cupboards in lonely isolation.  She was still reading the instructions on the back when the bedroom door slid open and Vorpatril thumped out again:  fully dressed, moist from his shower, freshly depilated, hair neatly combed.  He paused to hop around and shove his feet into his discarded shoes.

Both she and–hee, I saw that!–Rish blinked.  The forest-green Barrayaran officer’s uniform was quite flattering, wasn’t it?  Somehow, his shoulders seemed broader, his legs longer, his face…harder to read.

“Gotta run, or I’ll be late for work, under pain of sarcasm,” Vorpatril informed her, reaching past her to grab a ration bar and hold the package between his teeth as he finished fastening his tunic.

He gives them some hurried instructions, to help themselves to whatever they can find, promising to bring more when he returns, and not to answer the doors or the comconsole…unless it’s Byerly Vorrutyer, in which case they should tell him to come back later.  He emphasizes that they aren’t prisoners, but he asks them to be there when he comes back.  Then he kisses Tej’s hands and leaves in a rush.

Tej peeks out the window, where they have a good view of the soletta array, and contemplates how her old life seems to be in a shambles despite everything she’s tried; maybe it’s time to start a new one.  She glances over the edge of the balcony to see a green-clad figure emerge from the building below her.

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Tej’s POV is not giving us a lot of information about her backstory, only a few tantalizing hints, so we practically get more from Ivan’s line of reasoning, pointing to them being House-deprived refugees from Jackson’s Whole.  And somebody does indeed try to attack them, as Byerly was afraid of, and luckily Ivan is there to help them out.  Tej and Rish’s precautions were apparently insufficient to ward off an actual midnight invasion, though they were at least organized enough to be able to hightail it out of there at short notice, even with their belongings.

Ivan’s bona fides more-or-less established, they willingly accept his offer of sanctuary, though I’m not convinced of his argument that nobody would able to trace them to him.  After all, wasn’t he just thinking that ImpSec has Tej’s workplace as his last known location?  So somebody looking for Tej might be able to extrapolate the other way too, especially if it’s someone with access to ImpSec information…the earlier hints of corruption in the Imperial Service make that far from implausible.  But it’s probably good enough at short notice, if nobody had any reason to note any odd behaviour or absence on Ivan’s part.

Ivan’s bachelor food and drink supplies are pretty laughable, but all too lifelike.  One presumes he only eats his instant-groat or rat-bar meals for breakfast, dining out (or in the canteen?) for the other meals.  And this is a fairly short-term dwelling, too, so there’s not much incentive to stock it too fully.  Though he doesn’t even have blue cheese dressing to go with the groats…


 

A little bit of excitement in Chapter Two; I haven’t read ahead in Chapter Three, so I don’t know if it’s a bit of a lull, or if things pick up before the end.  I vaguely remember how the original sample chapters that I read online before the book came out ended, but I don’t remember any more how many chapters those were.  The first reread…it’s so exciting!  See you all next week!

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