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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?

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

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

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


 

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

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

Chapter Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This’ll do the job!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Comments

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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The last post was sent by “past me”, but this post feels like it was actually written in the past.  Like I was sent back in a time machine and had to prepare it with stone knives and bearskins.  Which is to say, rather than having a convenient PDF copy of the book that I put side-by-side on my current ludicrously-wide monitor next to my editing window, I have to settle for a physical, paper copy of the book, a hardcover one, no less, which I have to put to one side and wrench my neck while writing.  Plus I can’t just copy and paste any quotes I do, I have to manually retype them.  So don’t be surprised if there’s more typos in them.  Also, this is the first time I’m rereading this particular book, so it will be a different experience, and with all that, I’m only expecting to be able to handle a chapter a week, at least for now.

What I’m talking about, of course, is the latest book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  As one might surmise from the title, it’s one of the few books in the series which does not focus on Miles Vorkosigan.  Of course, he does share POV in some of the books he does appear in, like Komarr, A Civil Campaign, and Mirror Dance, but in this one, he appears only as a guest star, leaving his cousin, and fan favourite, Captain Ivan Vorpatril, to carry the bulk of it.  So let’s see how he does with his first chapter…

Chapter One

It’s close to midnight on Komarr, but Ivan Vorpatril is still awake, suffering from jump-lag; when his door buzzer sounds, he’s reluctant to answer it, and his reluctance is justified when he finds Byerly Vorrutyer on his doorstep.  Before Ivan can muster the impetus to keep him out, Byerly is inside Ivan’s rented luxury flat in downtown Solstice; he polarizes the windows and pulls the curtains.

Ivan asks Byerly what he’s doing on Komarr, and he says he’s working.  Ivan is one of the few who’s aware that Byerly Vorrutyer is not just a dissolute town clown, but also an informer for ImpSec.  He reluctantly offers his guest something to drink, but By says he just wants some water, and then some sleep.  By asks Ivan what he’s doing on Komarr, and Ivan says he’s here at a conference with his boss, Admiral Desplains, with some fleet inspections thrown in as a bonus, but then he realizes that Byerly must know this already.  Byerly asks if Ivan is still ducking promotion, and Ivan says he’s happy enough to be a Captain.

Ivan only wished it were true.  It seemed barely months ago, though it was over a year, that the latest flare-up of tentsions with Barrayar’s most traditional enemy, the Cetagandan Empire, had pinned Ivan to military headquarters 26.7 hours a Barrayaran day for weeks on end, sweating out all the most horrific possibilities.  Designing death in detail.  War had been averted through nontraditional diplomacy, mostly on the part of Barrayaran emperor Gregor’s weaseliest Imperial Auditor and, to give credit where it was due, his wife.

Ivan contemplates his distant relation Byerly, less brawny than himself (Admiral Desplains is constantly at Ivan to keep up his recruiting-poster physique), though with the startling Vorrutyer eyes.  He asks Byerly what he wants, apart from going to bed (Byerly twits him about where that’s supposed to be an invitation…), and Byerly admits he has a little task for Ivan.  It’s right up his alley, though–he wants Ivan to go pick up a girl, someone that people he’s currently investigating seem to have a certain interest in, and he gives Ivan a picture of her.

The background was too fuzzed to make out, but the picture showed a striking young woman striding down a sidewalk.  Apparent age could be anything between twenty and thirty standard years, though that was no certain clue as to real age.  Tumbling black hair, bright eyes, skin glowing an interesting cinnamon brown against a cream tank top.  Decided nose, determined chin; either the natural face she was born with, or the work of a real artist, because it certainly didn’t bear the stamped-from-the-same-mold blandness of the usual body sculpture, a biological ideal that lost its appeal with repetition.  Long legs in tan trousers that hugged in all the right places.  A nicely full figure.  Nicely full.  If the face was natural, might the other prominent features be, too?  With weakening reluctance, Ivan said, “Who is she?”

Byerly says she’s supposedly a Komarran named Nanja Brindis, just moved to Solstice from another dome, but he suspects that’s just a cover identity, and he’d love for Ivan find out.  He says he doubts she’s a professional, so Ivan might be able to weasel it out of her.  Ivan insists that Byerly give him more information, and Byerly gives in and tells him that he’s looking into a smuggling operation.  Ivan points out that the Komarrans police themselves, and nobody cares what the non-Barrayaran transients do, which only leaves the Imperial Fleet–which is something that Service Security should be all over.  Byerly agrees, saying that he’s more or less scouting the situation out for them, minimizing the chance of influential Vor scions getting accused mistakenly.  Ivan notes that military personnel who get into regular crime then become blackmail targets for more serious offenses, too.

Byerly enjoins Ivan from telling Desplains any of this, unless he should turn up dead sometime in the near future.  Ivan asks about the girl, and Byerly says she’s not with the Barrayarans he’s investigating, she’s not with the offworlders they’re dealing with, but she’s also not a simple Komarran citizen.  Ivan asks if someone’s trying to kill her, which might explain why Byerly, who does possess the vestiges of Vor chivalry deep down inside, wants someone to look after her; Byerly warns Ivan to be careful, for Lady Alys’s sake.

“So where am I to find this so-called girl?”

“I am fairly certain she’s a real girl, Ivan.”

“You think?  With you, one never knows.”  He eyed By dryly, and By had the grace to squirm just a bit, in acknowledgement of his cousin Dono née Donna of lamented memory.

By tells Ivan that she works as a packing clerk at Swift Shipping, and gives him her work address as well as her unlisted home address, though of course using that will likely tip her off.  He asks Ivan to make acquaintance before tomorrow night, without fail.  By bids him farewell and leaves him to study the picture and wonder how many of Byerly’s suspicions are going to be proved out.

At Swift Shipping, Tej notices the tall, good-looking customer as soon as he comes in, only ten minutes before closing.  She’s been hyperalert of most people who come into the shop, and wishes she could have mustered a job which wasn’t so much of a public position, but with her fake references it was all she could come up with.  There have been hints of a promotion to the back room, but it’s been slow in coming.  He browses around until she becomes available, then steps up to her counter.

“Hi, there”–with difficulty, he dragged his gaze from her chest to her face–“Nanja.”

It didn’t take that long to scan her nametag.  Slow reader, are you?  Why, yes, I get a lot of those.  Tej returned the smile with the minimum professional courtesy due a customer who hadn’t, actually, done anything really obnoxious yet.

He hoisted his bag to the counter and withdrew a large, asymmetrical, and astonishing ugly ceramic vase.  She guessed the design was supposed to be abstract, but it was more as if a party of eye-searing polka dots had all got falling-down drunk.

He gives her the address he’d like it shipped to–Vorkosigan House, Vorbarr Sultana–and she realizes he must be a Barrayaran, a group they don’t see much of in this low-rent area of town.  She wonders that he’s willing to pay the exorbitant shipping to send this to another planet, but he decides not to spring for the premium shipping when she assures him it won’t make it any less likely to get broken; she does talk him into the insurance, though.  He insists on staying to watch her wrap it up, though all she needs to do is put it into a machine which packs it in flexifoam.

She read his name from his credit chit, “Ivan Vorpatril”, and realizes he’s one of the Vor.  He says he won’t need a note–it’s intended for Lady Vorkosigan, a gardener who specializes in poisonous plants.  The packaging done, Tej and Dotte close up the shop, Dotte remaining behind to help her usher Ivan out.  Some areas of Solstice are more like space station corridors and some more like city streets; Swift Shipping is on a more streetish area, luckily.

Ivan offers to buy her a drink–then, when she turns that down, he offers dinner, ice cream, a walk in the park, a boat ride on the lake…  Tej pointedly spurns his offers and heads off with Dotte to the bubble-car station, even though her apartment is actually in walking distance.  Ivan persists, offering a puppy, a kitten, or a pony, which amuses Dotte, but not Tej, who tries to ignore him.  Dotte tells Tej she’d have accepted any of those offers readily enough, except maybe the pony, even though Tej is pretty sure she’s married; Tej says too many guys try to pick her up, though Dotte says most of them aren’t that cute, or that tall.

At the station, she takes a random bubble-car for ten minutes, then gets off and takes another car to a stop on the other side of her neighbourhood, in case Ivan is still hanging around the first station.  He isn’t, but when she gets to her apartment building she spots him loitering on the steps outside.  She slows her pace and places a call to Rish on her wristcom, telling her that she’s being followed, and that somehow he seems to have found her address.  Rish tells her to lure him into a foyer in a minute and she’ll take of him there.

He greets “Nanja” when she walks up; when she asks how he found where she lived, he offers to take her out somewhere so they can talk about it.  Waiting to answer until she judges Rish will have made it downstairs, she invites him inside.  In the lift-tube foyer, a shawl-draped female figure sits on the bench; when she pulls out a stunner, Ivan pushes Tej out of the way, which just makes it easier for Rish (for it is she) to take Ivan out.

The stun beam kneecapped him neatly, and he fell, Tej supposed, the way a tree was said to, not that she’d ever witnessed a tree do such a thing.  Most of the trees she’d seen before she’d fetched up on Komarr had lived in tubs, and did not engage in such vigorous behaviour.  In any case, he crashed to the tiles with a vague thrashing of upper branches and a loud plonk as his head hit.  “Owww…” he moaned piteously.

The attack doesn’t seem to have attracted anyone’s attention, but Rish covers Tej while she searches Ivan, not quite unconscious but definitely woozy; he seems muzzily reassured that the attacker is actually Tej’s friend.  She’s alarmed to find the picture of her in his pocket; she asks him if he’s a hired killer, and after some thought he admits he probably is.  Further search turns up nothing more lethal than a stunner, though; they inspect his wallet and find out who he is–Captain Ivan Xav Vorpatril, Barrayaran Imperial Service, and the military identity fits with his stunner and his shoes.

Rish says he looks authentic, but Tej points out that the best cappers would; Ivan recognizes the slang term as Jacksonian, and mumbles that if there’s hired killers after her, that explains a lot.  Tej asks what they should do with him, and Rish says they’ll have to take him upstairs to the apartment.

As they dragged him inside, he remarked to the air, “Hey, made it inside her door on t’ first date?  Are things lookin’ up for Ma Vorpatril’s boy, or what?”

“This is not a date, you idiot,” Tej snapped at him.

To her annoyance, his smile inexplicably broadened.

He says that some people would consider a date, and while he’s not one of them, he can be flexible.  Tej asks if he ever gives up, and he says that he won’t until she laughs–first rule of picking up girls.  He apologizes for making her suspicious of him, and insists he’s not there to attack her.  Rish takes off her outer coverings and Ivan is taken aback at her skin, which is blue with gold veins, like lapis lazuli.  Ivan asks if that was body-mod or genetic engineering, since the former would be fine, but not the latter; Tej is reminded of weird Barrayaran anti-mutant prejudices, and Rish says that she’s happy with it no matter what he may think of it.  Ivan apologizes, pleading surprise, and Tej thinks that a real assassin would surely have known all about Rish.

Tej asks if they have any fast-penta left, but Rish says they used the last of it on Pol Station, and it’s too dangerous for them to try to get more right now.  She suggests torture, and Ivan suggests they ask politely; Tej says that torture would be too noisy.  It occurs to her that Ivan doesn’t seem to be trying to scream for help, and wonders if that makes it more or less likely that he’s on the level; at the very least, he doesn’t seem to be afraid of them.

They tie him up with scarves, which Ivan approves of, as long as they don’t bring out the ice cubes, but he informs them that his disappearance, on Komarr, is likely to cause a certain amount of panic, and bring out the security folk looking for him, which he gathers they might not want.  Rish points out that whoever gave him her picture and address undoubtedly knows where he is; when Tej asks him, he says that one of his friends sent him to look after her, thinking she might be in danger.  Rish points out that they took him out pretty easily, for a protector, and Ivan says he has a thing about hitting girls, except that one time with Delia Koudelka when they were kids…

Rish complains that nothing about him makes sense, even if he’s telling the truth, so they decide to have supper and then figure out what to do with him.

Comments

After A Civil Campaign, one would have high hopes for an Ivan-focused book, and the appearance of Byerly right off the bat can’t help but raise those hopes even higher, since they did play off each other quite well.  The title, of course, as well as early buzz about the book, promised that Ivan would finally find that elusive girlfriend, romantic liaison, possibly even bride.

The second viewpoint in the chapter, then, is the mysterious Tej (a.k.a. Nanja), not a native Komarran, on the run, or at least hiding from somebody.  With her busty good looks (don’t look at me, the author makes her buxomness quite clear several times in the first chapter, and I’m quite certain it’s something Ivan would notice right away), she’s used to being hit on, but Ivan finding her apartment obviously makes her suspicious, so she calls in her backup.

Rish isn’t explained, because this is Tej’s point of view, though we do get a paragraph of description anyway, since even Tej has to admit to herself that Rish’s appearance is unusual and striking.  There is one reference to her being “one of the Baronne’s own Jewels”, and Ivan recognizing Jacksonian slang makes it seem likely that that is their point of origin.  Jackson’s Whole has Barons (though presumably it’s not the only place in the entire universe that does), and probably Baronnes as well, and it’s also known for producing both odd genetic constructs and body modifications, so it does fit.  From our previous experience, we’re primed to think of either House Bharaputra or House Ryoval, but there are other Houses as well, so we’ll just have to wait and see.


 

So far so good, and we’ll see how hard it really is for me to do these chapters, and maybe you’ll get two chapters a week one of these days.  Twenty-five chapters in the book, plus an epilogue, in 422 pages, so less than 20 pages in a chapter…  Well, who knows.  In any event, at least one more chapter of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance next week.

 

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Hello, future readers!  I am sending you this message from the past–a time capsule of sorts, if you will–because prior commitments, also made in the past, will make it impossible, or at least inconvenient, to publish this manually at my usual time, which is to say “as close to my personal deadline as I can possibly manage”.  Soon enough I will catch up with this future, but right now this “past me” writing this.  So let “past me” welcome you back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in which the writings of Lois McMaster Bujold, and specifically those comprising the saga involving Vorkosigans, are dealt with in a certain amount of detail.  This week I deal with the final chapter and epilogue of Diplomatic Immunity, in which certain people continue to survive, receive recognition for their efforts, and execute an alarming transition in their perceived place in the universe.

Chapter Eighteen

Miles wakes up to find himself in an unfamiliar place.  There’s no tubes in his nose, and only vague memories of the desperate flight of his convoy, and the messages they heard about the escalating tensions between the two empires.  Ekaterin is bending over his bed, oddly enough, and with no medical mask or anything.  He sits up on one elbow and sees a room filled with obviously Cetagandan decor, including plants and a seascape out the window–almost certainly a simulated one, because he’s pretty sure he’s still on a spaceship.  Miles remembers the horrifying story they’d heard, of a batch of a thousand empty Star Crèche replicators found near Vorbarr Sultana, and asks urgently if they managed to head off the war yet.

Ekaterin pushes him back down on the bed and assures him that the urgent matters have been taken care of–mostly by her, even though strictly speaking Admiral Vorpatril shouldn’t have listened to her.  She kept insisting that Pel and Benin be given Miles’s messages, and once Benin was on the case matters got cleared up quickly.  Benin discovered that the ba had been quietly smuggling those replicators out a few at a time as part of its backup plan.  The Cetagandans have declared the affair an internal matter, and tensions are easing.  She says that without Pel’s name–and “Vorkosigan”–she probably wouldn’t have gotten through.

Miles says that last thing he remembers was four days out from Quaddiespace, and being very cold; Ekaterin says that the blood filter was barely keeping up with the infection, and his metabolism was losing energy.  In desperation, they put Bel and Miles into cold stasis, which put the parasites into hibernation, so they weren’t forced to resort to actual cryofreeze, to Miles’s relief.  She says they’ve been in orbit around Rho Ceta for about a day; Miles can tell she hasn’t been sleeping well.

Ekaterin says that Pel brought in a woman who seems to have cleared all of the parasites out of his system, and Bel’s; right now they’re on Pel’s own Star Crèche ship.  There was some unpleasantness about the Cetagandans refusal to let Roic, Clogston, or any of the Barrayaran men on board the ship, but they eventually settled for allowing Ekaterin and Nicol on.  Miles asks if Gupta was also cleared of any remnants of parasites–he hadn’t been that keen on getting back into Cetagandan hands, but Miles had convinced him of it–and Ekaterin says he’s been treated as well.  In fact, the Cetagandans are intensely interested in how he survived the bioweapon in the first place, but the Barrayarans still have him in their possession for the nonce.

He hesitated, and cleared his throat. “Um . . . I also seem to remember recording some messages. To my parents. And Mark and Ivan. And to little Aral and Helen. I hope you didn’t . . . you didn’t send them off already, did you?”

“I set them aside.”

“Oh, good. I’m afraid I wasn’t very coherent by then.”

“Perhaps not,” she admitted. “But they were very moving, I thought.”

“I put it off too long, I guess. You can erase them now.”

“Never,” she said, quite firmly.

“But I was babbling.”

“Nevertheless, I’m going to save them.” She stroked his hair, and her smile twisted. “Perhaps they can be recycled someday. After all . . . next time, you might not have time.”

Pel enters with another haut woman, undoubtedly her friend who had cured them of the parasites–no force bubbles, so obviously they consider themselves effectively in the heart of the Star Crèche itself.  She greets him and says she was surprised to meet him again, though it was not unwelcome; she assures him that the fetuses in the replicators have been checked and seem to be in good health.

Ekaterin asks Pel’s physician companion about the possible long-term effects of the infection, and she says she there will be some micro-scarring, which may lead to circulatory problems later in life; Miles wonders how this will interact with his existing seizure disorder.  Bel apparently suffered even more severe damage, and its muscles may be permanently damaged, so she recommends it stay in a low-gravity environment as much as possible, which it turns out won’t be that hard.  Miles vows to himself to get Bel a medical discharge from ImpSec and pension.

The physician leaves, and Pel says that Benin would like to talk to Miles; Miles agrees wholeheartedly, and asks about what happened to the ba.  Pel says that the ba has been returned to the Star Crèche, and they’re grateful for Benin’s assistance in dealing with any of its collaborators; Miles senses she doesn’t want to say much more about the ba, but he’s not ready to drop the subject yet.  He asks about the ba’s kidnapping of the child-ship, and Pel admits that the ba seemed to have been planning this for a long time, and poisoned the rest of the ship’s inhabitants before sending it into the sun–which she at least concedes as a fitting funeral pyre.

Miles asks about the bioweapons the ba was carrying; Pel tells him in no uncertain terms that this is not a suitable topic, but Miles persists, saying that they will need assurances that there will be no further contagions on the Idris or Graf Station, and Pel finally grudgingly admits that the rest of the consort’s “supplies” were destroyed by their keeper before the ba could get its hands on them.  Miles suspects that that “keeper” might have been Pel’s physician’s counterpart on the Rho Cetan ship, and files this information away for later.

Pel also refuses to answer Miles’s questions on the ba’s motives, so he happily supplies her with his own theory–that this ba, a genetic sibling of Emperor Fletchir Giaja, was probably involved in the Dowager Empress’s earlier scheme, and saw this as some sort of continuation of the project.  Pel calls this close enough, and informs them that, the Emperor being pleased with them, they will be given the unprecedented honour of being present at the upcoming ceremony when the child-ship delivers the fetuses to the planet.  Miles says he’d rather just understand what was really going on in the ba’s head.

“Bear with me. I don’t think I’ve quite got it, yet. I suspect the haut—and the ba—are not so post-human yet as to be beyond self-deception, all the more subtle for their subtlety. I saw the ba’s face, when I destroyed that freezer case of genetic samples in front of it. Something shattered. Some last, desperate . . . something.” He had slain men’s bodies, and bore the mark, and knew it. He did not think he’d ever before slain a soul, yet left the body breathing, bereft and accusing. I have to understand this.

Pel was clearly not pleased to go on, but she understood the depth of a debt that could not be paid off with such trivialities as medals and ceremonies. “The ba, it seems,” she said slowly, “desired more than Lisbet’s vision. It planned a new empire—with itself as both emperor and empress. It stole the haut children of Rho Ceta not just as a core population for its planned new society, but as . . . mates. Consorts. Aspiring to even more than Fletchir Giaja’s genetic place, which, while part of the goal of haut, does not imagine itself the whole. Hubris,” she sighed. “Madness.”

“In other words,” breathed Miles, “the ba wanted children. In the only way it could . . . conceive.”

Pel admits that the Dowager Empress made a pet of the ba, treated it almost as a child, perhaps unwisely.  Miles can imagine the ba’s thinking, then, wondering why it doesn’t get everything that its half-sibling the Emperor does, coveting it…  Miles asks about the ba’s name, and Pel says that as punishment for its crime, its name will be forgotten and stricken from records.

The next morning, before local dawn, they are brought down to the surface of Rho Ceta in a lift van, to a grassy amphitheatre on a slope across from the planet’s capital city, filled with mourning-white haut-lady bubbles, and less-visible haut men.  Miles contemplates ghem-General Benin, in the van with them, and thinks that Benin’s recent experiences must have been immeasurably more stressful than Miles’s own, with the child-ship’s inexplicable disppearance, and the tantalizing clues leading to Komarr and Barrayar…  He had gladly answered Benin’s questions, but held firm on refusing to give up Gupta to the Cetagandans, and apparently his current esteem on Rho Ceta is enough to earn that much for him.

Nevertheless, Miles wondered where to drop Guppy when this was all over. Housing him in a Barrayaran jail was a useless expense to the Imperium. Turning him loose back on Jackson’s Whole was an invitation for him to return to his old haunts, and employment—no benefit to the neighbors, and a temptation to Cetagandan vengeance. He could think of one other nicely distant place to deposit a person of such speckled background and erratic talents, but was it fair to do that to Admiral Quinn . . . ? Bel had laughed, evilly, at the suggestion, till it had to stop to breathe.

Miles is helped into a floater, his strength not quite up to standing for very long yet, and he wants to husband it for the ceremony proper; Bel, not in any better shape, is in his own floater, accompanied by Nicol.  Benin leads them all up to meet the current Rho Cetan governor–a Degtiar, not one of the ones Miles had met at the Dowager Empress’s funeral–who greets them with a startlingly deep bow and offer of his household’s service.  After a brief conversation with Benin, the shuttle from the child-ship drops down to the amphitheatre, landing not too far from Miles and the others; the waiting Cetagandan haut quiet in anticipation.

Ekaterin and Roic help Miles out of his floater and he stands on his own for the ceremony.  The shuttle opens to disgorge a translucent, empty haut-bubble, in honour of the murdered Consort, followed by more bubbles, lead by Pel.  She stops in front of Benin and enjoins him to convey the Emperor’s thanks to the outlander guests.  Benin gives a thankfully subdued Bel Thorne a prized honour, Warrant of the Celestial House, and the same to Ekaterin.

“My Lord Vorkosigan,” Benin spoke.

Miles stepped forward a trifle apprehensively.

“My Imperial Master, the Emperor the haut Fletchir Giaja, reminds me that true delicacy in the giving of gifts considers the tastes of the recipient. He therefore charges me only to convey to you his personal thanks, in his own Breath and Voice.”

First prize, the Cetagandan Order of Merit, and what an embarrassment that medal had been, a decade ago. Second prize, two Cetagandan Orders of Merit? Evidently not. Miles breathed a sigh of relief, only slightly tinged with regret. “Tell your Imperial Master from me that he is entirely welcome.”

“My Imperial Mistress, the Empress the haut Rian Degtiar, Handmaiden of the Star Crèche, also charged me to convey to you her own thanks, in her own Breath and Voice.”

Miles bowed perceptibly lower. “I am at her service in this.”

Pel moves forward and announces to Miles that the Star Crèche is “calling him up”–requesting a sample to be added to the haut gene-banks.  He’s sure that they probably already have a sample of his material from his previous visit–and his current one–but the formal addition is a great honour.  Pel takes a blood sample with skilled fingers, and ritually adds it to a freezer case.  Miles tells Pel that his talents are probably not genetic, but she shushes him gently.

Next the replicators themselves are offloaded by ghem-women and ba servitors, and haut men come forward to accept their new offspring, which Miles knows may will have been engendered without their participation, or probably even their consent; the Governor himself is among them.  The men take the replicators to their haut-mothers, whose bubbles change from white to any of a riotous assortment of colours.  The children will be delivered to their caretakers, and may never meet their parents again.  Miles wonders about these children’s eventual fates, and wonders if, in the future, one of them will turn into Barrayar’s greatest enemy, and the thought unsettles him.  The ceremony over, Miles says that it’s time to go home.

Comments

And so it proves that the ba’s plot was, in some ways, an offshoot of the plot of Cetaganda, the Dowager Empress’s plan to disperse the haut gene bank, although twisted by a somewhat deranged mind.  The ba was apparently pampered and indulged by the Empress, which they seem to regard as the only excuse for its behaviour, which implies they normally keep a much tighter rein on them.  And yet, they use them as prototypes for the haut genome–what do they expect, as the genetic sibling of someone thought suitable of being the Emperor himself?

Good to see Benin and Pel again; Benin must be in essentially the same position as Simon Illyan was, head of security for the Star Crèche vs. head of ImpSec…  And yet, he seems to get along well with Miles, or at least they understand each other well.  And Pel is certainly one of the more daring of the haut-ladies, and understands Miles well enough to accede to his wishes to fill in the gaps in his understanding of the case.  Even though she doubtless realizes that ImpSec will get their hands on all of this information.  Or maybe not; Rian seemed a little unworldly when she talked to Miles in Cetaganda, but then I suppose Pel is older and wiser.

Miles gets yet another layer of health problems here, because that was totally something he needed.  After all, all he had up to now was all that bone fragility from before he was born, and then the aftereffects of his death and cryorevival, including the seizures.  Oh, and I suppose there were those bleeding stomach ulcers, and his weird fast-penta reaction, but those are hardly worth mentioning.  And now he’s got “micro-scarring” in his muscles and blood vessels.  I can’t remember if that ever comes up as a concern in CryoBurn, but I guess I’ll find out in a few months…

Epilogue

They return to Komarr with Bel and Nicol, where Bel is given its final ImpSec debrief.  Miles comes along to try to make sure the herm doesn’t tire itself out unduly, but ends up being dragged off by Ekaterin when his stamina fails first.  Afterwards, Miles invites them, not for the first time, down to see Vorkosigan House, and experience Ma Kosti’s cooking.  Roic is patrolling in a hyperalert state, and Miles makes a mental note that Roic deserves a vacation when they get home.  Nicol says she’d prefer to go somewhere where she’s not going to need armsmen to protect her from the locals, and Ekaterin points out that they’re tired, homesick, and Bel needs to get home and relax.

Bel tells Miles to stick to less dangerous work from now on, since it doubts he’s going to get a third chance.  Miles says that he’s likely to have lots of tedious work at home to keep him busy, like his last job, coming up with new bio-law for Barrayar.  He asks Bel to keep an eye on Corbeau, and Nicol says that she’d heard from Garnet Five that he’s not doing too bad so far; Bel says that they can come visit Quaddiespace again sometime.  They bid Bel and Nicol farewell, and then are drawn to the Kestrel, to take them home, with birth-clocks ticking madly in their heads.  Gregor has invited them to a reception upon their return, but they’ve also heard that the doctors can’t keep their children in the replicators much longer, so first things first.

Miles gets in some practice with a cane instead of a floater during the trip back from Komarr, and his strength is returning slightly, but he’s still not at full strength when they arrive back at Vorkosigan House; he contemplates getting a sword-cane like Koudelka’s.  They enter to be greeted by Cordelia, Aral and Nikki; Miles is disconcerted to find himself looking up into Nikki’s face.  Cordelia relays messages from Beta Colony–Mark’s, awkward but heartfelt, as well as her mother’s.  Ekaterin’s brother Will Vorvayne is recording everything on video.  Aral congratulates Ekaterin on her diplomatic work, and says they can likely find a job for her if she wants, but she says she’s going to have enough work on her hands soon enough.  They wash up quickly and then head to the nursery.

With the addition of the birth team—an obstetrician, two medtechs, and a bio-mechanic—the small chamber overlooking the back garden was as full as it could hold. It seemed as public a birth as those poor monarchs’ wives in the old histories had ever endured, except that Ekaterin had the advantage of being upright, dressed, and dignified. All of the cheerful excitement, none of the blood or pain or fear. Miles decided that he approved.

Miles asks how they do this, and Cordelia says they can just each lift one latch, like they did with him.  They do so on both replicators, Ekaterin luminous with joy, and the obstetrician goes to work.  He takes Aral Alexander out first, and Miles holds his breath until he hears Aral’s first cry, tearing up; Cordelia has to fight to keep her hands to her sides, and Will Vorvayne jockeys around trying take his videos until his sister firmly tells him to stay back.  Ekaterin takes baby Aral while the obstetrician extracts baby Helen; Miles tries to absorb the existence and reality of this tiny baby, the little person which is now his.  Ekaterin hands the baby to Miles, who decides he should sit down first.  Helen Natalia cries much louder than her brother when she comes out.

With two babies to go around, all the people lined up to hold them would have their chances soon enough, Miles decided, accepting Helen Natalia, still making noise, from her grinning mother. They could wait a few more moments. He stared at the two bundles more than filling his lap in a kind of cosmic amazement.

“We did it,” he muttered to Ekaterin, now perching on the chair arm. “Why didn’t anybody stop us? Why aren’t there more regulations about this sort of thing? What fool in their right mind would put me in charge of a baby? Two babies?”

Her brows drew together in quizzical sympathy. “Don’t feel bad. I’m sitting here thinking that eleven years suddenly seems longer that I realized. I don’t remember anything about babies.”

“I’m sure it’ll all come back to you. Like, um, like flying a lightflyer.”

He had been the end point of human evolution. At this moment he abruptly felt more like a missing link. I thought I knew everything. Surely I knew nothing. How had his own life become such a surprise to him, so utterly rearranged? His brain had whirled with a thousand plans for these tiny lives, visions of the future both hopeful and dire, funny and fearful. For a moment, it seemed to come to a full stop. I have no idea who these two people are going to be.

Comments

Tradition holds that a TV series jumps the shark when they add new babies to the plot.  I’m not convinced that’s always true, though I can see some of the logic behind it.  Still, it’s a logical development in many people’s lives–committed relationship to marriage to parenthood is still a dominant sequence of events in Western culture, even if it’s not nearly as universal as it used to be.  It does often signal a transition in life from adventure, having fun, staying out till all hours, going out to movies whenever you want, and feeling the freedom to take stupid risks, in favour of being responsible.  Or maybe that’s just me.

I certainly empathize with Miles’s realization of his change of viewpoint in the last paragraph that I quoted there.  Sometimes parenthood is also a signal that a character is going to move back into the wings, to let their offspring take center stage.  As far as jumping the shark goes…well, I haven’t liked the last three Vorkosigan books as much as I did the four or five before that, but I don’t think I’d blame the babies for that.  Would it help to revitalize the series if we moved further forward, to let Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia, and their siblings, become main characters?  Maybe there’s too much soft-heartedness there.

So much of Miles’s storyline was driven by the awful things that happened before his birth, and with Bujold’s stated maxim of doing the worst possible thing to her characters, it may be that the only way to make his children interesting characters would be to do awful things to Miles himself, or Ekaterin, or Barrayar.  Would I want to read a book where half of the character we’d met on Barrayar get killed off by Cetagandans, or Jacksonians, or Cavilo?  Probably not.  Or one of the children could get kidnapped, and then they have to find him or her…  I don’t know.  I don’t have a good idea where the series should go next, and maybe there aren’t a lot of good stories left to tell about the Vorkosigans that aren’t either insanely dull or horribly painful.  So I’ll trust the author to keep trying, or not, as she wants, and try to judge each book on its own merits.


And on that note, let’s wrap up Diplomatic Immunity.  Not my favourite, though definitely exciting at points, and tying together all sorts of interesting threads from Cetaganda, “Labyrinth”, Mirror Dance, Falling Free, and most of the books in the series, really.  My usual week off, and then I’ll start on Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, the first book in the reread that I’ve only read once, so far.  I think I’m going to take it a chapter at a time, at least to start, for a number of reasons, not least of which being that this is another one I only have a print copy of, so I’ll have to hand-type quotes or something, and hold the book open with one hand or weight down the pages…it just seems like it’ll be more work.  I’ll have to see how that turns out…

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Even in the darkest moments, there is always a light.  Perhaps the light of a web browser window on a computer screen, beckoning you with bright white vertical strip surrounded by stars, emblazoned with the words of an entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Maybe, just maybe, kind of like this one.  This week, we cover the last two chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Komarr, wherein rescues are effected and denouements are unknotted…and the groundwork laid for the next book’s plot.

Chapter Twenty

Miles is on the courier ship up to the station when he finds out from ImpSec Captain Vorgier that the Komarrans have Ekaterin and Madame Vorthys hostage, which makes the rest of the trip an agony for him.  When he finally arrives, Vorgier tells him that they’re ready to storm the Southport bay, and they believe they’ll be able to get an emergency seal in place to keep the women from asphyxiating.  Miles says that the engineers are likely smart enough to rig an explosive in the airlock as a backup, and the hostages are not expendable.

Vorgier stiffened. “My Lord Auditor. I appreciate your concern, but I believe this will be most quickly and effectively concluded as a military operation. Civilian authority can help best by staying out of the way and letting the professionals do their job.”

The ImpSec deck had dealt him two men in a row of exceptional competence, Tuomonen and Gibbs; why, oh why, couldn’t good things come in threes? They were supposed to, dammit. “This is my operation, Captain, and I will answer personally to the Emperor for every detail of it. I spent the last ten years as an ImpSec galactic agent and I’ve dealt with more damned _situations_ than anyone else on Simon Illyan’s roster and I know just exactly how fucked-up a professional operation can get.” He tapped his chest. “So climb down off your Vor horse and brief me properly.”

Vorgier backs down and takes Miles to the local ImpSec HQ.  At Miles’s request, they’ve cut most of the power lines into the bay, and Vorgier reports no unusual power draws, though he notes they do have a freighter docked there.  Miles isn’t sure why they haven’t used their wormhole device yet, whether Soudha has figured out its flaw, or if they’re just not finished yet.  Vorthys and Riva have said that, likely as not, turning the wormhole device off after it’s activated will destroy the station with gravitational backlash, but news of the hostage situation cut short their calculations as Vorthys headed up to the station as well.

Station Security officer Husavi is evacuating the station, citing a bomb scare, and notes that not only is there less than 100% cooperation, there’s also a shotage of ships to evacuate people.  Miles says that if necessary they’ll take people to the military station, though the commander is less than enthused at the prospect of an influx of random civilians.

In Vorgier’s “operations centre”, he proceeds to pitch his assault plan to Miles; Miles has to admit it’s no worse than some of the ones he tried in his youth, and realizes this is like he’s been cursed (by Illyan, likely) with subordinates just like him.  He keeps getting distracted by memories of Ekaterin’s interrupted comm message, and the image of the two women being bundled into the airlock before they cut the camera feed.  Miles finally says that he’ll leave Vorgier’s plan as a backup, but first he wants to try negotiation.

“These are Komarran terrorists. Madmen—you can’t negotiate with them!”

The late Baron Ryoval had been a madman. The late Ser Galen had been a madman, without question. And the late General Metzov hadn’t exactly been rowing with both oars in the water, either, come to think of it. Miles had to admit, there had been a definite negative trend to all those negotiations. “I’m not without experience in the problem, Vorgier. But I don’t think Dr. Soudha is a madman. He’s not even a mad scientist. He’s merely a very upset engineer. These Komarrans may in fact be the most sensible revolutionaries I’ve ever met.”

He tries to clear his mind of images of Ekaterin suffering from claustrophobia in the airlock, and orders a call put through to Soudha.  He takes the call in a featureless room, trying to obscure his location; Soudha, when he answers, is clearly in the control booth Ekaterin had made her call from.  The other conspirators–Foscol, Cappell, and Madame Radovas–are visible as well, making a Komarran voting quorum.  Soudha spots from the lack of lag that he’s not on-planet; Miles says that he managed to survive, unlike Tien Vorsoisson, which disquiets Lena Foscol.

Soudha says that all he wants to hear is that their demands for a jumpship to neutral territory have been met.  Instead, Miles says that they found their device’s plans at Bollen Design, and between Vorthys, Dr. Riva, and Dr. Yuell, they’ve managed to work out its function.  He tells them how it won’t collapse the wormhole as much as it will turn it into an gravity-pulse generator, which is what killed Radovas and Marie Trogir (whose body has latterly been found, and which news seems to distress Cappell).  So if they try to use the pulse, they’ll destroy the station, and themselves, but Barrayar will still be there, so it will have been for nothing.  Foscol accuses him of lying, but Soudha thinks it would explain what happened before.

Miles adds that their families, and the other Waste Heat personnel, have been picked up by ImpSec, and warns them not to try playing the hostage game.  Foscol is still defiant, but Miles asks her what she thinks they still have to gain, apart from killing innocent people.  Cappell says they don’t want to put their weapon into Barrayaran hands; Miles says that it’s already there, and mentions the tantalizing hints that they could also use it to draw power from the wormhole.  However, Miles does not intend to let them get away, in case there is something to the wormhole collapsing theory after all.  And the Vor women are, as Vor, prepared to sacrifice their lives if necessary.  He’s not sure he believes it himself, unwilling to let Ekaterin slip out of his grasp, but he tries to keep this from showing on his face.

He says they will be headed for Barrayaran prison, but he adds, in an effort to sound encouraging, that prison is not death, and that pardons and amnesties happen.  Foscol says it doesn’t sound like much of an offer, but Miles says that this would mean not charges pressed for the deaths of the soletta and oreship crew, or Tien.

Good. Go on. The more time he burned, the better, and they were tracking his arguments; as long as he could keep Soudha from cutting the com, he was making some twisty sort of progress. “You bitch endlessly about Barrayaran tyranny, but somehow I don’t think you folks took a vote of all Komarran planetary shareholders, before you attempted to seal—or steal—their future. And if you could have, I don’t think you would have dared. Twenty years ago, even fifteen years ago, maybe you could have counted on majority support. By ten years ago, it was already too late. Would your fellows really want to close off their nearest market now, and lose all that trade? Lose all their relatives who’ve moved to Barrayar, and their half-Barrayaran grandchildren? Your trade fleets have found their Barrayaran military escorts bloody useful often enough. Who are the true tyrants here—the blundering Barrayarans who seek, however awkwardly, to include Komarr in their future, or the Komarran intellectual elitists who seek to exclude all but themselves from it?” He took a deep breath to control the unexpected anger which had boiled up with his words, aware he was teetering on the edge with these people. Watch it, watch it. “So all that remains for us is to try and salvage as many lives as possible from the wreckage.”

Madame Radovas asks how he’l guarantee their lives, and Miles says it’ll be on his order as an Imperial Auditor, which can only be overruled by the Emperor himself, and Miles will risk his career on it, which doesn’t reassure Foscol that much.  He offers his word on it; Cappell says he doesn’t think much of a Vorkosigan’s word.

Miles leaned forward into the vid pickup. “My word is all that stands between you and ImpSec’s aspiring heroes coming through your walls. They don’t need the corridors, you know. My word went down on my Auditor’s oath, which holds me at this moment unblinking to a duty I find more horrific than you can know. I only have one name’s oath. It cannot be true to Gregor if it is false to you. But if there’s one thing my father’s heartbreaking experience at Solstice taught, it’s that I’d better not put my word down on events I do not control. If you surrender quietly, I can control what happens. If ImpSec has to detain you by force, it will be up to chance, chaos, and the reflexes of some overexcited young men with guns and gallant visions of thwarting mad Komarran terrorists.”

Miles says that if he has to unleash ImpSec, the results won’t be his doing, but they’ll be his responsibility–he’ll be in charge, but not in control.  Foscol asks after the jumpship, and Miles admits that there won’t be a jumpship.  Foscol asks which of the hostages they should space, and Miles asks which one of them they want to watch the other one being killed, and if they really want to cross the line to murderer, no better than the Barrayaran murderers they claim to oppose.

Soudha and Foscol argue over whether to space Ekaterin or not, hinting that she may have done something to hurt them, and Soudha ends up calling a vote–surrender, or calling Miles’s bluff.  Miles wishes he could keep them talking for longer, pushing them for surrender instead of suicide, and isn’t sure he’s done enough.  Lena Foscol votes against surrender, as does Cappell, who doesn’t want Marie Trogir to have died for nothing.  Soudha votes to give up, leaving only Madame Radovas, whose vote will be tie-breaking.  She says that even if they escape somehow, they’ll always be looking over their shoulder for ImpSec, and she’s tired of being afraid.  She asks Soudha if he believes the device wouldn’t work, and he says he does.  Miles, encouraged, asks why her vote is the tie-breaker; she says that her husband had come up with the idea, and had the largest share, which she inherited.  She tells him she remembers how Miles had stood up for her widows’ rights, and votes to surrender.  Foscol and Cappell are unhappy, but they appear willing go along with the decision.

Soudha asks what’s next, and Miles outlines plans for gradually standing down, starting with him defusing Vorgier’s pending assault, and Soudha disarming any booby-traps, unlocking the doors, and preparing to be arrested.  Soudha signs off, and Miles organizes a squad armed with medical gear and stunners only.

He restrains himself from marching in at the head of the squad, coming up behind; the Komarrans are sitting quietly waiting for them, as the techs spread out to check for any remaining booby-traps.  Miles instantly spots the wreckage of the wormhole device, which cheers him considerably; Soudha tell him it was Ekaterin who wrecked it.

“Remarkable.” The source of several oddly tilted responses on the Komarrans’ part to his recent negotiations began at last to come clear to Miles. “Um . . . how?”

All three Komarrans tried to answer him at once, with a medley of blame-casting which included a lot of phrases like, If Madame Radovas hadn’t let her out, If you hadn’t let Radovas let her out, How was I supposed to know? The old lady looked sick to me. Still does, If you hadn’t put the remote down right in front of her, If you hadn’t left the damned control booth, If you had just moved faster, If you had run for the float cradle and cut the power, So why didn’t you think of that, huh? by which Miles slowly pieced together the most glorious mental picture he’d had all day. All year. For quite a long time, actually.

I’m in love. I’m in love. I just thought I was in love, before. Now I really am. I must, I must, I must have this woman! Mine, mine, mine. Lady Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson Vorkosigan, yes! She’d left nothing here for ImpSec and all the Emperor’s Auditors to do but sweep up the bits. He wanted to roll on the floor and howl with joy, which would be most undiplomatic of him, under the circumstances. He kept his face neutral, and very straight. Somehow, he didn’t think the Komarrans appreciated the exquisite delight of it all.

Soudha also mentions her earlier attempt to summon security, and how they’d welded her into the airlock rather than risk a third accident.  Miles asks if there are booby-traps in the airlock, and Soudha says there’s a bomb on the outside, but opening from the inside will be safe.  After they cut off the bar welded over the door, Miles hesitates to open it, wondering aloud if Soudha is playing a canny game to strike a last-minute revenge, maybe trying to incite another Solstice Massacre.  In the end, though, he sends the Komarran prisoners away and then has the ImpSec techs open the door.

Miles extends his arms to Ekaterin, but she merely stalks past him muttering that it’s about time.  Instead, he asks after Madame Vorthys’s health and tells her there’s a float pallet waiting for her; she’s quickly ensconced thereon with a short of synergine.  Miles says that Professor Vorthys will be there soon, and will probably meet them at the infirmary.  They head out in that direction; Ekaterin tells Miles she knew it must be “our side”, or else it would have been the outer doors that opened.  Miles appreciates her continued steadiness, as gratifying as it would have been for her to be swooning with gratitude.  He tells her about the defective device, and, when she’s discouraged that she went to all that work to destroy it, he tries to reassure her by saying that she saved thousands of lives anyway.  He proposes that they give her a medal, except that this whole case will have to be ultra-top-secret classified; she asks what she’d do with such a useless thing.

He thought bemusedly of the contents a certain drawer at home in Vorkosigan House. “Frame it? Use it as a paperweight? Dust it?”

“Just what I always wanted. More clutter.”

He grinned at her; she smiled back at last, clearly beginning to come off her adrenaline jag, and without breaking down, either. She drew breath and started forward again, and he kept pace. She had met the enemy, mastered her moment, hung three hours on death’s doorstep, all that, and she’d emerged still on her feet and snarling. Oversocialized, hah. Oh, yeah, Da, I want this one.

As they arrive at the infirmary, she asks how he managed to get rid of the Komarrans.  He said he used persuasion, mostly hinging on convincing them that he was willing to sacrifice the hostages.  Ekaterin says that of course he would have sacrificed them, rather than let them throw Barrayar back into the Time of Isolation; he pronounces her true Vor.

Comments

So both Miles and Soudha were bluffing there, sort of.  Soudha was bluffing about the device, though I suppose he didn’t actually threaten to try using it at any point; I’m not sure if he was bluffing about the airlock, though Foscol probably wasn’t.  Though if they had welded a bar over the airlock, how would they space just one of the women, and not both?  Surely they’d need to open the inner door to bring one of them out, or something, which sounds a little risky, given their wariness of Ekaterin.  And Miles wasn’t really bluffing about sacrificing the women, except that he might have chickened out rather than risk Ekaterin.  That would have given him another few books’ worth of emotional issues, if he’d had to kill her to stop the terrorists.  But Bujold was finally softening on him, I guess.  Or maybe just giving him enough rope to screw up his love life himself.

By the way, a quick text search shows that this is only the second time that Miles has used the word “fuck” in the books so far…and the first time was merely repeating someone else, back in “Borders of Infinity”.  So he’s not quite as oversocialized as Ekaterin–“shit” turns up quite a few more times–but it still takes him a while to get to that level of profanity.  Probably appropriate, for someone who thrives on the power of language, to use its strongest words judiciously.

According to the oft-quoted maxim–Aral’s, I think?–“a weapon is a device for making your enemy change his mind”.  In that sense, Miles’s tongue–or, I suppose, tongue-brain-lungs-mouth combination–is his most effective weapon.  This has been clear as far back as Warrior’s Apprentice, if not earlier; Oser, having fallen victim to it once, was the only one to become wary of it, in The Vor Game, and for good reason.  In this chapter, he wields it mercilessly, and does, indeed, succeed in making his enemies change their minds.  And that’s why he always should have been in charge.

Chapter Twenty-One

Ekaterin is escorted to her hostel room to pick up her luggage, and view with bemusement the urgent message Miles had left her to flee the station.  She contrasts that Miles with the genial Miles who had bowed her out of the airlock and wonders which one is real, or both.  Back in the infirmary, she waits up with her aunt until Uncle Vorthys arrives, and gruffly admonishes his wife not to spoil his plans to die first.  Madame Vorthys is beginning to look better, and Ekaterin lets her tell the story of their captivity.  She thinks of her aunt and uncle, married forty years and still terrified of losing each other, and wishes she could ever have known such a thing, but she doubts she ever will.

After her uncle leaves to talk to Miles, she lies down herself; a medtech gives her a sedative, and against her expectations it puts her right to sleep.  She sleeps late, and lolls around quietly chatting with her aunt until Miles arrives with a huge bouquet of flowers.

“Wherever did you find such gorgeous flowers on a space station?” Ekaterin asked, astonished.

“In a shop. It’s a Komarran space station. They’ll sell you anything. Well, not anything—that would be Jackson’s Whole. But it stands to reason, with all the people meeting and greeting and parting through here, that there would be a market niche for this sort of thing. They grow them right here on the station, you know, along with all their truck garden vegetables. Why do they call them truck gardens, I wonder? I don’t think they ever grew trucks in them, even back on Old Earth.” He dragged over a chair and sat down near her, at the foot of the Professora’s bed. “I believe that dark red fuzzy thing is a Barrayaran plant, by the way. It made me break out in hives when I touched it.”

Madame Vorthys asks how they’re going to get them home, and Miles suggests offhandedly that they give the flowers to the medtechs when they leave.  When Ekaterin protests that they must be expensive, Miles says that they’re cheap–not like failed combat-drop missions or weapon-control systems.  He suggests Ekaterin visit the station’s hydroponics; she wonders if she’ll have time, then realizes that she’s not even late to pick up Nikki yet.  They missed their original return trip, but they’ll be going down with Vorthys in his fast courier, after he assesses the debris in the loading bay.  Ekaterin apologizes for the mess, but Miles insists that it was a beautiful mess.

Vorthys will be staying on Komarr for a while to study the device in secret, since the whole affair is being kept top-secret; Miles gets to go back to Barrayar to report to the Emperor in person.  Tuomonen sent up his luggage, including his seizure stimulator; Miles notes that, unfortunately, Tuomonen is going to get blamed for not spotting the conspiracy in Serifosa, while that idiot Vorgier gets a commendation.  He says that if Tuomonen does lose his job or find it at a standstill, he’ll offer him a position as an Auditor’s assistant.

He tells Ekaterin that, because the case is going beyond classified, there will be limits on what she can tell Nikki about it, for the time being.  For now Tien’s death will have to remain a breath mask accident.  She will not, though, have to testify in court, because there will be no public prosecutions.  He hopes that someday the restrictions can be eased.  She asks if she’ll need to repay Tien’s debts; Miles says that it’s Foscol who really owes it.

“Something is owed,” she said gravely.

“Tien settled his debt with his life. He’s quits with the Imperium, I assure you. In the Emperor’s Voice, if necessary.”

She took this in. Death did wipe out debt. It just didn’t erase the memory of pain; time was still required for that healing. Your time is your own, now. That felt strange. She could take all the time she wanted, or needed. Riches beyond dreams. She nodded. “All right.”

Miles asks her to contact him when they get to Vorbarr Sultana, receiving reassurances from Maame Vorthys that Ekaterin and Nikki will be staying with them.  He then proceeds to give her every possible means of contacting him, at any of his residences, through Master Tsipis, even a drop at the Imperial Residence.  Madame Vorthys asks if he hasn’t forgotten a few, and he blushes, but he adds that he’d like to show Ekaterin some of the vegetation in his District sometime.  She asks about the Komarran terraforming, and he says the money embezzled in Serifosa was just a drop in the bucket, compared to the soletta repairs.

He brightened. “I had this great idea about that. I’m going to pitch it to Gregor that we should declare the soletta repair—and enlargement—as a wedding present, from Gregor to Laisa and from Barrayar to Komarr. I’m going to recommend its size be nearly doubled, adding the six new panels the Komarrans have been begging for since forever. I think this mischance can be turned into an absolute propaganda coup, with the right timing. We’ll shove the appropriation through the Council of Counts and Ministers quickly, before Midsummer, while everyone in Vorbarr Sultana is still sentimentally wound up for the Imperial Wedding.”

She clapped her hands in enthusiasm, then paused in doubt. “Will that work? I didn’t think the crusty old Council of Counts was susceptible to what Tien used to call romantic drivel.”

“Oh,” he said airily, “I’m sure they are. I’m a cadet member of the Counts myself—we’re only human, after all. Besides, we can point out that every time a Komarran looks up—well, half the time— they’ll see this Barrayaran gift hanging overhead, and know what it’s doing to create their future. The power of suggestion and all that. It could save us the expense of putting down the next Komarran conspiracy.”

After a guarded look at Madame Vorthys, Miles takes out another package–the tiny model of Barrayar from the jeweler’s shop, on a gold chain–and presents it to Ekaterin, in lieu of a medal, as the “Lord Auditor Vorkosigan Award For Making His Job Easier”.  If she hadn’t destroyed their device, he says, he’d never have been able to convince them to surrender, and the station would almost certainly have been destroyed.  She’s not sure whether it’s proper to accept it or not, but she thanks him, though she reminds him about the drop into the pond from that day as well.  She asks if he planned it, and he says it was just serendipity, but most people can’t tell the difference between that and careful planning.  He says that she’s the first woman he’s been able to literally give Barrayar to.

Her eyes crinkled. “Have you had a great many girlfriends?” If he hadn’t, she’d have to dismiss her whole gender as congenital idiots. The man could charm snakes from their holes, nine-year-olds from locked bathrooms, and Komarran terrorists from their bunkers. Why weren’t females following him around in herds? Could no Barrayaran woman see past his surface, or their own cocked-up noses?

Under her interrogation, he lists them off–his “hopeless first love”, Elena; “this and that”–Elli Quinn, raised from trainee to Admiral, and Taura, freed from slavery on Jackson’s Whole and now Master Sergeant with Elli’s mercenary fleet; Rowan, also freed from Jackson’s Whole and now working at a clinic on Escobar.  Ekaterin is impressed with how they all seem to have come out much the better after their relationships with Miles, most unlike hers with Tien.  He notes glumly that none of them would come to live on Barrayar with him.  She asks about an “unrequired mad crush” he mentioned, and he tells her about Rian…currently Empress of Cetaganda.

She rested her chin in her hand, and regarded him; her brows quirked in quizzical delight. “Lord Vorkosigan. Can I take a number and get in line?”

Whatever it was he’d been expecting her to say, it wasn’t that; he was so taken aback he nearly fell off his chair. Wait, she hadn’t meant it to come out sounding quite like— His smile stuck in the on position, but decidedly sideways.

“The next number up,” he breathed, “is `one.’ ”

It was her turn to be taken aback; her eyes fell, scorched by the blaze in his. He had lured her into levity. His fault, for being so . . . luring. She stared wildly around the room, groping for some suitably neutral remark with which to retrieve her reserve. It was a space station: there was no weather. My, the vacuum is hard out today . . . . Not that, either. She gazed beseechingly at Aunt Vorthys. Vorkosigan observed her involuntary recoil, and his smile acquired a sort of stuffed apologetic quality; he too looked cautiously to the Professora.

Madame Vorthys turns the conversation back to the more neutral topic of Miles’s trip home, which turns out to be on another ImpSec fast courier; he bids them a hasty farewell, after seeking assurance that he’d be seeing them again on Vorbarr Sultana.  After he leaves, Madame Vorthys notes that Miles is “nice, but short”; Ekaterin replies that he’s just “concentrated”.  Then she changes the subject and says they should ask about that hydroponics tour…

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So Miles claims that he hadn’t planned to give that last Barrayar pendant to Ekaterin.  I guess he may be telling the truth about just having gotten another one on impulse to give to somebody, whoever he wanted to “give the world” to, and he hadn’t actually fallen in love with Ekaterin yet, or at least hadn’t realized it if he had.  I could see Ekaterin, with her limited resources, being a little embarrassed, and even offended, by Miles throwing his money around, buying flowers and expensive techno-jewelry, and then giving them to her, but she seems to accept it, at least.

This is really the most romantic chapter of the book, as Ekaterin drags out the details–well, at least the overview–of Miles’s love life.  She’s mostly fascinated by how he seems to have left them better than he found them, which may be why she makes that provocative comment about getting in line; he can’t help but take that a little more seriously than she meant it, in his current smitten state of mind.  Madame Vorthys seems thoroughly bemused by the whole thing, and it’s hard to figure out what exactly she’s thinking–does she approve of Miles?  Disapprove?  Ekaterin had already expressed how it would be a positive relief to be in mourning for a year, and thus off-limits; does her aunt disagree?  In any case, Ekaterin doesn’t seem to take Miles’s invitation as seriously as he’s offering it…poor Miles.  So, since nothing is actually resolved in the romantic plot here, Bujold was hopefully setting up that plot for the next book, which, luckily she delivered on.

Overall…I still can’t warm to Komarr as much as I did for the last couple of Miles books, or for A Civil Campaign.  I’m not sure why, still.  To some extent, the plot didn’t gel for me–the whole soletta investigation from the first few chapters seems to be just ignored when the whole embezzlement/Waste Heat thing comes up, and while they turn out to be related, there doesn’t seem to be any reason that they should be–it’s just luck on Miles’s part, frankly, that he happens to come to Serifosa because Vorthys wants to visit his niece.  Ekaterin’s character growth is a powerful arc, but unfortunately it comes with a lot of Tien, who is probably a less appealing character than most of Bujold’s actual villains.  Okay, maybe not, but, as my friend Ann Marston is fond of saying, “I never liked him and I’m glad he’s dead.”  And yet, that death also seems a little pat–how convenient, that this appealing woman in a loveless marriage, on the verge of leaving, doesn’t have to actually get a divorce, because her husband dies of a combination of enemy action and his own stupidity.  And a lucky break for Miles, too.  So that’s two major plot points that don’t seem to ring true for me.  Still a decent book, up there with Cetaganda, say, or maybe The Vor Game, but I don’t reread it as eagerly as some of the others in the series.  I didn’t find myself reading ahead without meaning to, like I did with Memory, and expect to with A Civil Campaign.  But…at least the chapters tended to be fairly short.

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My traditional week off is coming up–fortunately, perhaps, as I have actual things on my calendar next week–but I suspect it won’t take me that long to read the first two (or more) chapters of A Civil Campaign.  As I’ve been hinting heavily, this is one of my favourite books of the series, not least because we’re back on Barrayar, where all the best characters seem to live, not to mention that the plot is so delightful, and in some odd ways it makes a nice bookend to Memory.  But two weeks…well, that’s enough time for you to (re)read the book yourself, if you so desire…

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