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Posts Tagged ‘Millisor’

Greetings and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread–on time this week, as I’ve generally defined it, at least–for the next, and penultimate, installment of Ethan of Athos.  While this novel doesn’t directly involve the Vorkosigan Saga’s main protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, he is indirectly involved through his agent Elli Quinn, so it totally counts, according to me, anyway.  This week I cover Chapters Twelve and Thirteen, wherein we discover that last week’s a-little-too-easy climactic confrontation was not the real climax after all, so at least there’s that.

Chapter Twelve

In Quarantine, Rau accompanies his unconscious superior while Ethan is escorted into a meeting with Security personnel, soon joined by Captain Arata.  Though Ethan intends to tell the truth, he finds himself omitting Terrence Cee, the death of Okita and the details of the Cetagandan gene pattern that had “contaminated” the ovarian cultures.  One of the officers points out that Helda did him a favour in saving Athos from that contamination, and Ethan suddenly realizes that they’re afraid he’ll make a stink, which will damage Kline Station’s reputation for the security of their warehouses.  This gives him some leverage, which he begins to make use of.  The charges against him are dropped because of his diplomatic status, and he is assured that Helda will be taking early retirement, and that the two Cetagandans are being deported.

They ask him where the other two Cetagandans are, and Ethan is distressed to realize that Setti is still at large.  He tells them ask Elli Quinn about what happened to Okita, though she’s probably already headed back to the Dendarii, with Cee in tow.  Ethan is free to go, but he asks if he can speak to Millisor before he leaves.  Millisor’s examination is just finished, with no sign of any form of the disease that Quinn had imputed to him, which severely annoys the ecotechs; Arata promises to deal with it.

Ethan enters Millisor’s room, Arata in tow, to find the ghem-lord restrained.  He asks Millisor if he’s convinced now that Athos never had the shipment from Jackson’s Whole; Millisor says he doubts everything, but it does seem unlikely that it was on Athos.  He asks Ethan what he thinks of Terrence Cee, and speculates on whether Cee’s admitted attractiveness was part of his gift.  Ethan says he hasn’t discussed Cee with anyone; Millisor says that Cee must still be on Kline Station.  Ethan says he doesn’t know where Cee is, or Quinn either, for that matter, and wants nothing more to do with them.

Millisor says he admires Quinn, and wonders what her price would be.  Ethan says he doubts any price would be high enough, and explains that she’s obviously in love with her commander.  Millisor wonders, if Ethan is not working with Cee, how he feels about having been Cee’s dupe.  Ethan says all Cee tried to do was immigrate to Athos, and maybe commemorate his wife in the ovarian cultures.  Millisor says it was more than that–the gene-complex was recessive, and had been added to every one of the ovarian cultures, so it would have manifested on Athos two generations later.  Ethan is not slow to see the implications, how the obsolescence of the old cultures would eventually lead to the whole population being bred from the ones Cee had modified until the whole planet carried the telepathy gene.  Only on Athos, so reliant on the cultures and uterine replicators, could this plan have worked, and it explained where Cee’s money had gone on Jackson’s Whole–into splicing the gene-complex into Athos’s cultures.

Millisor tells Ethan that Cee is charming, but only because of his talent, and that he is dangerous, not human, and a virus that must be wiped out.  He asks for Ethan’s help, but Ethan said that Cee didn’t strike him as any worse than Okita, a bored killer, nothing more than a tool for Millisor to use.  Ethan reiterates that he doesn’t know where Cee is, except that he’s not going to Athos, and Millisor regrets that with the shipment he lost a useful tool for locating him.  Ethan leaves, his parting shot being that Millisor’s pitch might have worked on him if he’d tried it when they first met.

Ethan returns to his original hostel room, which he’d hardly had a chance to use, but which still contained all his personal effects.  He thought over his experiences and wondered whether it was day or night, missing Athos.  Restless, he went back out, and began checking into other sources for ovarian cultures; he soon concluded that Quinn had probably been right in recommending Beta Colony.  He planned out a route that went through Escobar, where he could stop over and check them out for economy’s sake.  He is woken from a nap by a call on his comconsole from Terrence Cee.

“Well. I didn’t expect to hear from you again.” Ethan rubbed sleep from his face. “I thought you’d have no further use for the asylum of Athos. You and Quinn both being the practical sort.”

Cee winced, looking distinctly unhappy. “In fact, I’m about to leave,” he said in a dull voice. “I wanted to see you one more time, to—to apologize. Can you meet me in Docking Bay C-8 right away?”

“I suppose,” said Ethan. “Are you off to the Dendarii Mercenaries with Quinn, then?”

“I can’t talk any more now. I’m sorry.” Cee’s image turned to sparkling snow, then emptiness.

Ethan suspects that Quinn was nearby, inhibiting his conversation, and toys with the idea of telling Arata where to find her, but decides that he and Quinn are even and thus quits.  Outside the hostel a dark-skinned man approaches him; Ethan decides he’s the wrong race to be a Cetagandan, thus not Setti, but is still standoffish when the man addresses him by name.  The man offers a message-capsule to him to give to Millisor; Ethan tells him to give it to Kline Station Security instead, but the man tells him to take it anyway, since who knows what fate has in store?  Ethan backs away from him, so the man shrugs and leaves it on a bench instead.  Ethan threatens to turn it in to Security, but the man leaves, unconcerned, and Ethan eventually picks it up, promising to hand it off to Arata at his next opportunity.

The docking bay where he’s to meet Cee is around the other side of the station, so Ethan takes a tube-train.  The docking bay is quiet; Ethan notes one ship docked there, some kind of fast courier, and wonders at Quinn’s expense account.

Terrence Cee, dressed in his green Stationer coveralls, sat wanly on a packing case, alone in the middle of the bay. He looked up as Ethan stepped out of a ramp corridor. “You came quickly, Dr. Urquhart.”

Ethan glanced at the flex tube. “I figured you were catching a scheduled run of some sort. I didn’t realize you’d be traveling in this much style.”

“I thought perhaps you wouldn’t come at all.”

“Because—why? Because I’d found out the whole truth about that shipment?” Ethan shrugged. “I can’t say I approve of what you tried to do. But given the obvious problems your—your race, I guess—would suffer as a minority anywhere else, I think I can understand why.”

A melancholy smile lit Cee’s face, then was gone. “You do? But of course. You would.” He shook his head. “I should have said, I hoped you would not come.”

Cee gestures to where Quinn is moving forward, prodded by a man dressed in a Kline Station Security outfit.  Quinn is minus her jacket, boots, and stunner.  Ethan is initially amused that she’s finally been caught by Security, before he notices that the Security man holds a non-regulation nerve disrupter.  Then he sees Millisor and Rau coming up behind.

Comments

Okay, I guess everything wasn’t evenly wrapped up after all.  And apparently Millisor and Rau didn’t have that much trouble getting out of Quarantine after all; I guess it did turn out that they didn’t have Venusian Crotch Rot or whatever, and if Setti had managed to infiltrate Station Security, then he could probably whisk them out.  That might explain why we’ve seen so little of Setti, if he’s been busy lying low as an ace in the hole for Millisor.

Did anyone else think that Ethan should possibly be a little more suspicious about Cee’s call?  I guess he hasn’t seen as many vid-thrillers as he could have (they must have those, even on Athos–if nothing else, a fair sampling of twentieth-century movies wouldn’t violate their censorship laws to any great degree), or he would have spotted the warning signs–a summons to meet far away (the other side of the station), looking uncomfortable and frequently glancing at someone you can’t see, and not being able to talk for very long.  Ethan does rationalize these for different reasons, but I can’t help but think that Miles, or Quinn, would have spotted the difficulty right away.  (Like that guy on the mining station in The Warrior’s Apprentice whose messages were made of 100% recycled other messages, without a continuity editor…)  Oh, well, Ethan’s relative lack of competency is part of his charm, I suppose.  One hopes that Quinn fell for something a little more sophisticated, like Setti in disguise.

Ethan’s conclusion that the dark-skinned man can’t be Cetagandan is suspect on multiple levels.  First of all, there’s no particular reason to think that entire planets have to all be homogeneous, racially, unless each one is supposed to have been founded by a homogeneous culture and then maintained strict immigration guidelines.  Admittedly, Ethan did read up on Cetaganda earlier, so maybe he’s well-informed here, but then it’s troubling in a different way.  Cetagandan ghem-lords are supposed to be genetically superior (though admittedly I’m not sure if Bujold had arrived at that yet when she was writing Ethan of Athos), so if they’re all white…that’s not a good thing for an author to be asserting.  I don’t remember a lot of dark-skinned Barrayarans either, perhaps barring that Greek minority (and I’m never sure if “dark-skinned” is supposed to mean “swarthy in a Mediterranean way” or “dark as a pure-blooded Central African”), but sometimes people go out of their way to never mention skin colour, even when it’s unrealistic.  If somebody has dark skin, I’m going to notice it, and I’ll use it to describe them (to myself, if nothing else), the same way I would if they had red hair or a big nose, without meaning it to be in any way discriminatory except in the most literal sense of “being able to tell different things apart”, but some people seem to write as if people will stop actually noticing these things except on the most superficial level.  It may stop being something used to prejudge people, but I don’t think it will become something nobody even notices.

Chapter Thirteen

Ethan and Quinn both end up in front of the nerve disrupter, while Rau holds a stunner on Cee.  Quinn whispers to Ethan that they tracked her down through her beeper, and wishes she’d gotten rid of it when she had the chance.

Millisor tells Ethan that he’s glad he could join them, so he can dispose of Ethan and Quinn at the same time, since they know too much.  Millisor tells them that he plans to put Quinn and Ethan in a flex-tube, as if they were having an illicit tryst, but Rau will stun them so they will end up vented into space when the next ship arrives.  Ethan is mortified at the thought that the Population Council might believe this story of his death, and Quinn is similarly concerned about Admiral Naismith.  Cee makes an abortive motion, but Rau holds him at bay; Cee apologizes to Ethan for being forced to lure him to the docking bay.

Quinn confirms Setti’s identity for Ethan, and asks if he thinks he could make it across the docking bay if she jumped him; Ethan regretfully tells her no.  He could make it to the flex tube, but that would be pointless since it doesn’t go anywhere except space.  Ethan thinks of the message capsule and takes it out, telling Quinn about the odd man who gave it to him.  Quinn asks what the man looked like, and then excitedly takes the capsule and enters Millisor’s service number, though she’s not sure about the last few digits.  She tosses it to a suspicious Setti, who automatically catches it, then throws herself and Ethan to the floor.  The capsule starts showing a holomessage, and Quinn goes limp with disappointment just before she and Ethan are flung across the room when the capsule explodes.

Ethan is nearly deafened, and he thinks blinded as well until emergency lights come back on.  He can hear faint sirens and the sound of airseals slamming closed, as air is leaking out of a flex-tube seal and the gravity is a little wobbly.  He glances across the bay to see Cee being tackled by Rau and kicked by Millisor; the Cetagandans begin dragging Cee toward their ship.  Ethan runs after them, somewhat unsteadily, and manages to get ahead of them stand in front of the flex-tube.  Millisor gets out a needler and begins to aim it at Ethan, but Cee breaks free and stands in front of Ethan to shield him.  Millisor is about to shoot anyway when he begins to float upward; Quinn is at the gravity controls.

Millisor’s training comes into play rapidly, though, and he twists to counter his spin, aiming his needler back at Ethan and Cee.  Quinn throws the cover of the control panel at him, but Ethan can see it’s not going to make it in time.  Just before Millisor can fire, though, he is hit by a bright plasma bolt and killed instantly.  Rau lunges for the needler, trying to find the new attacker, but misses and ends up tumbling slowly in midair.  Cee spots the shooter up on a catwalk, and shouts that Rau is his to kill, launching himself after the remaining Cetagandan.  Cee’s impetus pushes Ethan against the wall, where he grabs hold and notices that the air leak seems to be getting stronger.

Quinn turns the gravity back higher; Cee and Rau, grappling, sink back to the floor, while Ethan, realizing how high up on the bulkhead he’s hanging, swiftly climbs down, in case Quinn plans on turning it up any higher.  Rau throws Cee aside and lunges for his flex-tube, but is caught by two plasma bolts from up above.  As Ethan goes to Cee, two figures, one of them the man who gave Ethan the message capsule, swing down from the girders and converge on Quinn, who does not seem happy to see them, trying to flee up the wall.  They yank her back down and subdue her, taking her towards the emergency exit as Stationers begin to emerge to seal the damage.  Cee tells Ethan that they’re Bharaputrans from Jackson’s Whole, and says they have to go rescue her.  They have to wait at the emergency airlock until the Jacksonians have cycled through, and then equalize the pressure before they can reenter the station.  While they wait, Cee tells Ethan how Setti sprung Millisor and Rau, pretending to be escorting them to deportation.

They run through now-deserted corridors, trying to find Quinn and her abductors, and finally manage to follow the sound of her voice to a foyer outside a freight lift-tube.

The man in chocolate-brown silk had Quinn shoved up facing a wall, her arms twisted behind her. Her toes stretched and sought the floor, without success.

“Come on, Commander,” the man in pink was saying, “We haven’t got time for this. Where is it?”

“Wouldn’t dream of keeping you,” she replied in a rather smeary voice, as her face was being squashed sideways into the wall. “Ow! Hadn’t you better run off to your embassy before Security gets here? They’ll be all over the place after that bomb blast.”

Ethan and Cee dash into the room and the man in pink aims his plasma gun at them; Quinn shouts out frantically that they’re all friends.  The Bharaputrans are not happy with Quinn, though, for not coming through on her contract.  Quinn protests that she’s had to take things more slowly and subtly, not having diplomatic immunity and not wanting to be exiled from the station.  They tell her that Baron Bharaputra has given her six months, and now wants his money back.  Quinn says she can give it back, but the credit chit is in her jacket…which is back in the docking bay.  The Jacksonians debate on whether she’s telling the truth, since the docking bay is swarming with Security by now.  Quinn points out that she got paid half in advance, and that she did kill Okita and Setti.  They say they have no evidence of Okita’s body, and she killed Setti with their bomb, but when they hear approaching footsteps decide that she can keep her half.  As “interest”, though, they dislocate her left elbow, and then disappear down the lift tube.

Quinn is relieved when they’ve gone, since she didn’t want them to share too much of their information with Station Security.  She confesses that this was actually her first Intelligence assignment, and she didn’t enjoy it as much as Admiral Naismith told her she would.  She and Ethan agree that they both need doctors, Ethan still being somewhat stunned from the explosion, and she advises Cee to flee before Security arrives.  Cee, unable to express his gratitude, flees up the lift tube.  When Security arrives, they arrest Quinn.

Comments

Now that’s a nice fight for you, with explosive decompression, plasma arcs, low-gravity gymnastics, and hidden spy bombs.  All they’d need would be a bunch more guns and this would be perfect for the Wachowki Brothers.  The only problem, I guess, is that the bad guys all get to have sort of Disney Villain deaths–the Jacksonians kill Millisor and Rau outright, and Setti by proxy, and Okita’s death was admittedly an accident at the time.  Of course, Ethan isn’t a killer, Quinn can do it but can’t afford to leave too many bodies lying around, and…I guess I’m not sure about Cee.  He didn’t mean to kill the Cetagandan scientist, but he seemed to be willing enough to kill Rau with his bare hands.  The Jacksonians were, at least, foreshadowed chapters earlier, though their timing is fortuitous.  Had they just arrived, or were they just lying low until they could find Quinn and the Cetagandans?

I can’t quite work out if Millisor should have floating up off the ground just because of the lighter gravity.  After all, it’s not like negative gravity was pulling him toward the ceiling, he should have stayed in place unless another force acted on him.  There were the air currents from the leak, I suppose, but Millisor was only decreasing in weight, not mass, so it wasn’t like he should waft away in a breeze.  I guess that his leg muscles, which had presumably been bracing him in place, might have overcompensated and inadvertently pushed him off or tipped him to one side, but I don’t know if that would have been enough to throw off his aim like that.  Or it could have been the arm motion as he was raising his gun, but I don’t know if that would do it either.  Someone who was trained enough to hold a bead on someone while spinning through the air should probably have been able to deal with a sudden unexpected gravity decrease, in my opinion.  So maybe we can pretend that Rau was caught off guard and bumped into Millisor and disrupted his aim instead.  (We really need better antigravity, so we can test these things out in practice without sending people into space or into parabolic arcs.)

A couple of times in the chapter I kept thinking that Cee found something out telepathically.  The first was when he identified the Bharaputrans, but then I realized that he’d been on Jackson’s Whole himself and should be able to recognize them.  Especially since they all seem to be of the same race.  (See last chapter’s comments.)  Then he picked out a direction to go when they were chasing after Quinn and her captors, but he admitted to Ethan shortly thereafter that he had no real idea and had just been guessing.  So I suppose he hadn’t been dosed with more tyramine anywhere in there.

I guess I don’t have a good handle on whether Cee actually liked using his powers, whether he would have actively sought out tyramine if he thought the Cetagandans were out of the way.  His distaste for seeing into the brains of his Cetagandan captors might mean that he didn’t like using his ability in general, but I’m not sure if that was conclusive.  He gets so little opportunity on Kline Station, and he only does it the once when he wants to be sure of his allies before putting his trust in them.  Does he yearn for a normal life, or does he yearn to stretch his abilities to their fullest?


Whoo, finished two chapters by Tuesday, so that’s good.  Only two more and the book’s over, and then I have to decide whether to take a full week off before and/or after doing the novella “Labyrinth”.  Right now I’m guessing that since after “Labyrinth” is another novella, “Borders of Infinity”, I’ll do the two of them together as if they were a book (like, say, two-thirds of Borders of Infinity), with a gap before and after, but not between.  (I did a break before “The Mountains of Mourning” but not after, apparently, so there’s that.)  Then I have to figure out how many segments to do “Labyrinth” in, since it doesn’t have chapter breaks.  Guess I’ll do some word counting and see how it breaks up into scenes.  Anyway, until next week, when Dr. Ethan Urquhart receives a couple of pleasant surprises…

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Welcome back, every so slightly belatedly, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I go through the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga a chapter or two at a time, summarize them, share some of the best quotes, and come up with a few insights to share with you.

On some planet, somewhere in the galaxy, this is probably Tuesday, but on this planet it looks like I just got a day behind due to personal reasons that I’m not really going to go into because this isn’t a personal blog.  How will this affect the future of the Reread?  More on that below, but for now, here’s the next two chapters of Ethan of Athos, as we see what hijinks Elli Quinn, Terrence Cee, and Dr. Ethan Urquhart get up to when they’re all working together against Ghem-Colonel Millisor.

Chapter Ten

Ethan shares some of the wine with Terrence, but stops before getting more than a little buzzed.  Cee asks if he’s sure that none of the shipment that arrived on Athos could have been part of the original contents, and Ethan confirms that it was nothing more than trash, and there’s no way that Janine’s cultures could have been in there.  Cee says he saw the original shipment onto the shuttle on Jackson’s Whole; Quinn says that means the switch must have happened on Kline Station, during the two months they were waiting for Ethan’s ship, and hundreds of ships could have left with the crates in that time.  Quinn admits that if she was going to track it down, she’d rather let Millisor do the work and just follow him.  She’d also rather just take a genetic sample directly from Terrence.  Cee says that eventually Millisor’s team will discover his arrival on Kline Station, so he can’t wait that long.  Quinn reminds him that they’ll be wasting time following Teki around.

Cee asks Ethan if they want to recover the shipment, and Ethan says they’ve pretty much written it off as a dead loss.  He’d rather buy a new one than recover the old one but attract a Cetagandan attack on their planet, and would almost feel safer if Millisor just recovered it.  Cee says that he cannot accept the results of the Cetagandans regain the telepath gene, with the possibility to breed new telepaths without so much inconvenient free will.  Quinn points out that Millisor’s mostly interested in keeping the gene out of everyone else’s hands, since the Cetagandans will eventually be able to reconstruct it now that they know it’s possible.  She adds that it might be better if, by that time, there were a race of free telepaths available to oppose them.

Cee asks if Admiral Naismith would be any better, and Ethan suddenly realizes that Cee’s questioning indicates that his telepathic abilities have been activated.  Quinn suggests just giving the gene to all of the governments, giving Millisor apoplexy and keeping Athos from being singled out, but Cee says he doesn’t want to risk creating that many persecuted slave telepath minorities.  Ethan realizes that he’s present at the cusp of a major historical change, and finds the sensation dizzying.

Cee says that he’d rather just kill himself and be done with it, except for his promise to Janine.  He tells Quinn that if she can find Janine’s samples for him, he’ll go along with her.  Quinn points out that her mission is essentially over, and she could satisfy her commander simply by stunning Cee and taking a tissue sample, just for their information.

“What do you want of me?” Cee demanded. Anger edged his voice. “To trust you?”

Her lips thinned. “You don’t trust anybody. You never had to. Yet you demand that others trust you.”

“Oh,” said Cee, looking suddenly enlightened. “That.”

“You breathe one word of that,” she smiled through clenched teeth, “and I’ll arrange an accident for you like Okita never dreamed of.”

“Your Admiral’s personal secrets are of no interest to me,” said Cee stiffly. “They’re hardly relevant to this situation anyway.”

Cee then turns his attention to Ethan, which involuntarily causes Ethan to immediately think of all the sins and secrets that he’d want to keep hidden, including his physical attraction to Terrence.  He wishes he had the chance to really try to sell Cee on the beauty of his world of Athos, to take him sailing on their oceans.  Cee comments that he never saw any oceans during his life on Cetaganda, and Ethan realizes how transparent he’s being.  Cee asks if Ethan can shelter Janine’s genes as well as Cee himself, and Ethan admits that he doesn’t know he’s even going to save himself yet.

Quinn points out that they haven’t found the ovarian samples yet, and none of the parties involved seem to know where they are.  Cee says that anyone who knew what it was would probably covet it, including governments and criminals.  Ethan suggests House Bharaputra, but Quinn points out that any Bharaputrans who knew about them were killed by Millisor’s group, or else Quinn would have been tasked with recovering Millisor and the samples rather than just killing the Cetagandans.  Ethan suggests some random entrepreneur, but Quinn says that’s all they need, to widen the circle of suspects.  She asks Cee if he’s done with his scanning, and Cee says he is, obviously suffering from a major headache.  Quinn goes out to gather more information; Ethan gives Cee some painkillers, and they both try to get some sleep.

Quinn returns a while later, waking Ethan and Cee.  Nothing new from Millisor and Rau, and no information from attempting to pump the warehouse supervisor.  Cee notes the time and says he has to get to work, to maintain his cover identity and continue working toward a ticket off the station.  Quinn says she can take care of the ticket, but Cee says she’ll only offer it in the direction she chooses.  Cee goes off to get ready, and Quinn asks Ethan if he said anything more.  Ethan says they just slept, but he’s been trying to think of a new angle for the shipment, like pursuing where the trash that arrived on Athos might have come from.

They are interrupted by a signal on Quinn’s beeper, on Teki’s emergency code.  Quinn calls back and discovers that it’s Teki’s girlfriend Sara.  She says that Teki never met her for their date last night, and starts to leave an annoyed message with Quinn, but Quinn, alarmed, says she hasn’t heard from Teki either.  She tells Sara that she saw Teki just before his work shift; Sara said she’d been calling around to Teki’s friends, and got Quinn’s number from her father.  Quinn becomes very serious and tells Sara to file a missing persons report for Teki, to use Quinn’s name and talk to Captain Arata directly.

Quinn hangs up and says that Millisor has probably decided to pick up Teki for questioning, which would be bad because he doesn’t know about much except for Elli’s involvement, and this will blow her cover.  Cee says that Millisor must be getting desperate.

“I meant to push Millisor off-balance.” Quinn bit through a fingernail with an audible snap. “But not that far off. I gave them no reason to take Teki. Or I wouldn’t have, if he’d done what I told him and turned around immediately—I knew better than to involve a non-professional. Why didn’t I listen to myself? Poor Teki won’t know what hit him.”

“You didn’t have any such scruples about involving me,” remarked Ethan, miffed.

“You were involved already. And besides, I didn’t use to baby-sit you when you were a toddler. And besides . . .” she paused, shooting him a look strangely akin to the one Cee had just given him, “you underestimate yourself,” she finished.

Quinn starts to leave the room, then stays behind and paces instead.  She wonders why they’ve had him so long; Teki didn’t have a tracer on him, like Ethan did, and his past is well-documented on the station, unlike Ethan’s.  Cee points out that they couldn’t find anything out about Ethan, but if they think he’s involved anyway, then they’ll be less likely to give up on Teki.  Quinn says they’re likely in Millisor’s room, the one she hasn’t been able to bug, and she tries to puzzle out a way to get into it.  She says that Millisor is likely trying to provoke her into acting hastily, and tries to think of what Admiral Naismith would do.

“Never do yourself,” muttered Quinn, “what you can con an expert into doing for you. That’s what he’d say. Tactical judo from the space magician himself.” Her straight back held the dynamism of zen meditation. When she turned her face was radiant with jubilation. “Yes, that’s exactly what he’d do! Sneaky little dwarf, I love you!” She saluted an invisible presence and dove for the comconsole.

Cee and Ethan stand by in puzzlement as Quinn places a call to the Ecobranch Epidemiology Hotline.  She reports a potential disease vector for a particularly nasty new strain of “Varusan Crotch-rot”, which she blushingly confesses to have caught from him herself.  She gives Millisor’s cover identity and provides her real name before signing off, telling Cee and Ethan that she’s just committed a major crime by her false report.  She says that Ecobranch may need some backup against the Cetagandans, so they head off to help.

Comments

See, I told you Teki was the Ivan!  He’s even been taken hostage to fulfill the “dude in distress” role.  Tough luck for him, of course, especially if he’s getting the interrogation that Ethan got, except with less reason…  Except being related to that dangerous provocateuse Elli Quinn, that is.

More of Elli’s crush on Admiral Naismith, with one of those “I love you” outbursts that would have been incredibly awkward if Miles had actually been in the room.  To be offset by “sneaky little dwarf”, to be sure.  Her willingness to implement her plan by not only perjuring herself (sort of) but admitting to sex with a disease-carrier is heroic, to be sure.

I’m going to assume that the secret about Admiral Naismith that Elli is so concerned about Terrence spilling is Naismith’s dual identity as Lord Miles Vorkosigan.  I actually wasn’t sure that Elli was in the loop on that one, but I guess she might have figured it out during the trip back to Beta Colony in The Warrior’s Apprentice, if nothing else.

Both Terrence and Elli seem to be convinced that Ethan is totally underestimating his competence here, and I have to admit, I’m not sure why.  The list of Ethan’s actual achievements so far amount to keeping his head above water, and that with a lot of help from other people.  Maybe he should be getting a medal just for being brave enough to leave his planet when he thought the rest of the galaxy was like Land of the Succubi, but somehow I don’t think Elli, at least, would give him any credit for that one.  Sure, he is a skilled doctor, and he shows a certain amount of determination, but I’m sure he’s convinced that he’s the last hope for his planet’s future; does that make him heroic?  I’m not sure I buy it.

Chapter Eleven

Ethan, Quinn and Cee go down to the corridor outside Millisor’s room; Cee stays by the lift tubes with one stunner, while Ethan and Quinn position themselves where they can keep a watch on Millisor’s door.  Quinn has the other stunner, leaving Ethan armed with nothing more than a medkit.  She tells Ethan that Teki will doubtless be needing a fast-penta antagonist as soon as they can get to him.

They duck into a door niche when two Ecobranch personnel and a Security guard come down the hallway with a sealed passenger pallet.  Ethan is dismayed to see that one of them is Helda; Quinn encourages him to act inconspicuous, drawing him close to cuddle, which of course makes him intensely uncomfortable, but he tries to play along.  Quinn’s beeper goes off, and she checks it to see that it’s Millisor calling, probably having squeezed her number out of Teki to try to pressure her.

Helda buzzes the room and calls “Harman Dal”‘s name, but nobody responds.  She points out to the Security guard that it’s definitely occupied, and with company.  After the third buzz with no response, she tries an override, but it still doesn’t open, which the Security guard notes happily is a fire-safety violation.  Helda, incensed, accesses the fire-control panel and taps in a code which is followed by a muffled roar and cries from within the room.  Quinn explains to Ethan that this is the station version of a sprinkler system–a system to pump all the air out of a room.  They hear pounding on the door from inside, but Quinn whispers that they can’t open it from the inside because of the pressure differential.

Helda reverses the controls and pumps the air back; the door pops open and Millisor and Rau stumble out.  Millisor begins protesting about his diplomatic immunity protecting him against anything short of a major felony, but Helda says that a biocontrol emergency overrides any of the laws that might protect transients.  Rau spots Ethan and Quinn, and points them out to Millisor, who subsides.

The Security man spots the Cetagandans’ hostage inside, tied to a chair, and bleeding.  Quinn steps forward to offer Ethan’s medical assistance, and they enter the room, followed by Helda.  Teki is tied up with wires that have cut into his wrists and ankles, and has a bloody nose and a couple of minor head wounds, but his eyes are bright with fast-penta intoxication.  Helda recognizes Teki and begins to berate him, but Teki says muzzily that he’s off-shift and doesn’t have to put up with her.  The security guard asks if this was a “private act” or not, and Ethan tells him curtly that he was kidnapped, drugged and tortured as he cuts Teki loose.

Helda, closing in, turned her head at the sound of Ethan’s voice and stared at him. “You’re no doctor,” she gasped. “You’re that moron from Docks and Locks again. My department wants a word with you!”

Teki yelped with laughter, causing Ethan to drop the sterile sponge he’d been applying to his ankle. “Joke’s on you, Helda! He really is a doctor.” He leaned toward Ethan, nearly tipping the chair, and confided conspiratorially, “Don’t let on you’re an Athosian, or she’ll pop an artery. She hates Athos.” He nodded happily, then, exhausted, let his head loll sideways again.

Ethan tells her that he is, indeed, a doctor from Athos, and an Ambassador, on a special mission.  Teki warns Ethan not to tell her that, because she’s been irrational about Athos ever since her son snuck off there–at age 32.  Helda asks him if he has an antidote for the truth serum, so they can sort this all out down in quarantine.  Ethan begins to think about how Helda has near-dictatorial powers down there, and shouts for Quinn, who enters, hearing Millisor and Rau with her stunner.

He tells her that the one thing they hadn’t figured out was where whoever-it-was had gotten the material to replace the ovarian cultures destined for Athos.  Very few people would have had access to human, or bovine, ovaries on Kline Station, except maybe someone like Helda who had access to a lot of cadavers, and even they must have run out of time before the shipment was due to leave, hence the frantic cow-part substitutions to try to cover it up.  Helda tells him he’s crazy and repeats that they need to get to Quarantine; Ethan asks about the shrink-wrap that they found as well, and Teki chimes in that they use the shrink-wrapper all the time.

Ethan asks Helda why, and she tells him that she wants to cut those “motherless unnatural bastards” off, until her son came home and found a real woman, and gave her some grandchildren that she’d be allowed to visit…  The Security man is agog at the prospect of arresting an eco-cop.  Millisor is more interested in what she did with the ovarian cultures that had been in the shipment.  Helda says she threw them out, and Millisor becomes livid with rage, lunging at her to be felled by two stunner beams.  Quinn points out Rau as the escaped fugitive from the other day, and suggests they search the room for contraband military equipment.

The Security man and Helda’s fellow eco-cop insist they all go down to Quarantine, which Rau will find much harder to break out of than mere detention cells, and more Security guards show up to back him up.

“Yes, sir?” said one of the new officers.

“Took you long enough,” said the Security man. “Search that one,” he pointed to Rau, “and then you can help us run ’em all to Quarantine. These three are accused of vectoring communicable disease. That one’s been fingered as the jailbreak from C-9. This one’s accused of theft by that one, who appears to be wearing a Station code-uniform to which he is not entitled, and who also claims that one over there was kidnapped. I’ll have a printout as long as I am tall of charges for the one out cold on the floor when he wakes up. Those three are all gonna need first aid—”

Ethan, reminded, slipped up to Teki and pressed the hypospray of fast-penta antagonist into his arm. He felt almost sorry for the young man as his foolish grin was rapidly replaced by the expression of a man with a terminal hangover. The Security team in the meanwhile were shaking all sorts of glittering mysterious objects out of the unresisting Rau.

“—and the pretty lady in the gray outfit who seems to know so much about everybody else’s business I’m holding as a material witness,” the Security man concluded. “Ah—where is she?”

Comments

Final confrontation!  The good guys have defeated the bad guys, and the puzzle of the missing ovarian cultures has finally been solves, so we must be close to the end!  Or so it seems…but there’s still four chapters left, and surely there can’t be that much denouement left, can there?  There must be a few loose plot threads around…like House Bharaputra, or the other Cetagandan guy, Setti.  And I’m not convinced that the ovarian cultures are actually lost forever, but I can’t remember if I have grounds for that optimism or not.  I know that Ethan doesn’t go home empty-handed…  Oh, and Terrence Cee was standing around down by the lift tubes being conveniently absent for this chapter.  I guess if Millisor had come out to find him in the hallway, he’d really have been unable to restrain himself, so it’s probably for the best.

Anyway, it’s a great scene, showing that the station authorities are not entirely powerless after all, if you can get them mobilized in the right direction.  Only Ecobranch seems to have the authority to go in without warrants, though, whereas Security can’t do much unless they find actual evidence, hence the necessity for Elli’s prevarication.  And the reason why making those false claims is a serious crime, of course, because of the monster they unleash.  Looks like she skipped out before she could get charged, but good luck to her getting off the station, since she used her real name and everything.

I barely remembered about Helda from before, but the author took care to have her show up several times, so she became a believable antagonist.  Her motivations have nothing to do with the whole Cetaganda-Terrence Cee plotline at all, except for the coincidental involvement of Athos and the effect her actions had on the various factions.  We don’t really like her, and unlike Ethan I don’t even have that much sympathy for her after we discover the reason she hates Athos.  I mean, her son left, and reading between the lines it was probably because nothing he did, and no woman he dated, was ever good enough for her, and he’s been sufficiently traumatized by it to go to a planet that will keep him from ever having to see her again.  So in return she tries to wreck the future of an entire planet?  I’m not sure she even fully understand the damage she was doing, but on the other hand, she admitted she was willing to keep doing it as long as she had to…to get her son to come back.  I can’t even accuse her of having good intentions, and I can’t even believe that she’d forgive her son if he came back, or stop picking on his girlfriends, or be nicer to him.  She’s not a borderline psychopath like Millisor (or, you know, Bothari), but…well, maybe she is.  She’s definitely lacking in a lot of human empathy, which is probably why she likes being able to lord it over people down in Ecobranch and punish people for whatever minor infractions she could find.  With luck she won’t get to do that anymore…


Also with any luck I’ll be back next week for the next two chapters, and I wouldn’t even rule out getting back to my Tuesday schedule, but I’ll have to see.  This week was a clear sign that I shouldn’t always do it on the last two days, because things happen, and my life is in a bit of flux right now, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get myself to work too far ahead.  If I can’t handle it, I may drop back to one chapter a week for a while.  I’ve been trying to emulate Leigh Butler’s tremendous Wheel of Time rereads, and while she’s kept up a fairly good schedule, even she had to take a week off every once in a while, so be prepared for the occasional gap.  If I’m planning to skip an entire week, I’ll try to post a note to that effect; otherwise I’ll just try to come out with it a day or two late.  I’ll have to play it by ear, but all in all, I’m still enjoying this enough that I’m not likely to just up and quit without a more major personal upheaval than I’ve encountered thus far.

So–hopefully you’ll see two more chapters next week, so we’ll see which, if any, of those loose plot threads, show up to plague our heroes.  As always, if you can’t wait that long, you can always read ahead on your own.

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Good evening, or morning, or midday, or twilight, or whatever day-segment designation it may be when you read this, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  What is the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, you say?  Or do you just click on the “About” link in the right column?  If that’s not your thing, then let’s just say that it’s a “reread” wherein I “reread” the various “books” in the “Vorkosigan” “Saga” by Lois “McMaster” Bujold and then “summarize” and “comment” on “them”.

After the single-chapter installment last week, I’m now going to cover chapters Six and Seven of Ethan of Athos, which does not actually feature any Vorkosigans directly, but some of the characters know of them, so that’ll have to do.

Chapter Six

After returning the float pallet, Quinn brings Ethan by a roundabout route back to the Transients’ Lounge, to a different hostel.  Quinn relaxes once they’re in their room, and offers him some beer, spiced with vitamins.  Ethan worries about what people will think of them sharing the room, but he risks the bathroom to shave, not wanting to seem to be pretending to be a parent.  He cleans up himself and his clothes and emerges looking and feeling less scruffy.  Quinn is relaxing in a float chair, leaving the bed to Ethan.

She asks him about the biological shipment to Athos, but Ethan insists that she share her information as well.  She tells him that Bharaputra Laboratories spent a lot of time on the shipment, under strict security, before shipping it off in nine freezer containers to Kline Station.  Millisor and his compatriots arrived on Jackson’s Whole about the time the shipment was leaving for Athos and raided the Bharaputra laboratory, vaporizing it behind them, and then killing the wife of one of the geneticists and burning down his house.  They then disappeared until turning up on Kline Station three weeks too late.

Quinn herself then arrived on Jackson’s Whole, asking about Athos, and eventually managed to persuade the Bharaputrans she wasn’t in league with Millisor.  They even ended up hiring her to kill Millisor, which she accepted to keep from having to outrace another assassin.  She asks Ethan about the containers, and he explains about the ovarian cultures.  Quinn says someone obviously intercepted the shipment at some point and replaced it with garbage.  Ethan tells her that Millisor suspects Terrence Cee of being responsible, and Quinn says that whoever it was, they had plenty of opportunity, and the shipment could be almost anywhere by now.

Ethan used the pause to ask, “What is a wife?”

She choked on her beer. For all that she waved it about, Ethan noticed that its level was dropping very slowly. “I keep forgetting about you. . . . Ah, wife. A marriage partner—a man’s female mate. The male partner is called a husband. Marriage takes many forms, but is most commonly a legal, economic, and genetic alliance to produce and raise children. Do you copy?”

“I think so,” he said slowly. “It sounds a little like a designated alternate parent.” He tasted the words. “Husband. On Athos, to husband is a verb meaning to conserve resources. Like stewardship.” Did this imply the male maintained the female during gestation? So, this supposedly organic method had hidden costs that might make a real Rep Center seem cheap, Ethan thought with satisfaction.

Ethan asks if the wife who was killed had any children, and Quinn says she was pregnant, but the geneticist’s other child was left alone.  Quinn turns the conversation to the question of why Athos, and what makes the planet special.  Ethan says all they have is “nothing”, and Quinn wonders if the planet’s isolation is its allure.  Ethan explains to her about the Reproduction Centres and Quinn wonders if there’s some kind of “cuckoo’s egg” scheme, trying to seed some kind of genetic experiments onto the planet.  But they can’t figure out why the Jacksonians would do it, or why the Cetagandans are so interested if it’s not their shipment originally.  Quinn tells him that the Jacksonians will do whatever they’re paid for, so if someone had paid them to slip something into the shipment to Athos, they’d have done it cheerfully.

Quinn admits to Ethan that she’s gotten more involved than she was supposed to, in rescuing him and killing Okita when her orders to merely to observe.

“Will he, ah, be annoyed with you?” Ethan inquired nervously, with a skewed paranoid flash of her admiral sternly ordering her to restore the original balance by sending him to join Okita.

“Naw. He has unprofessional moments himself. Terribly impractical, it’s going to kill him one of these days. Though so far he seems able to make things come out all right by sheer force of will.”

She says she should go back to watching Millisor, and tells him to stay out of sight in the room.  Ethan protests that he needs to be about his mission, and needs his supplies from his original room.  Quinn tells him it’s not safe, and promises to help him with his mission once hers is done.

“Always assuming,” said Ethan, chapped, “that ghem-Colonel Millisor doesn’t outbid House Bharaputra or Admiral Naismith for your services.”

She shrugged on her jacket, a lumpy thing with lots of pockets that seemed to have a deal more swing than accounted for by the weight of the fabric. “You can get one thing straight right now, Athosian. There are some things money can’t buy.”

“What, mercenary?”

She paused at the door, her lips curving up despite her sparking eyes. “Unprofessional moments.”

Ethan spends most of the next day sleeping; on the second day he experiments with leaving the room but doesn’t get further than the hallway, deciding he could use Quinn’s protection for a little longer.  By the next day he’s bored enough to experiment with the comconsole library.

By the end of the next day he was becoming painfully aware of the inadequacy of a cultural education that consisted of two very general galactic histories, a history of Cetaganda, and a fiction holovid titled “Love’s Savage Star” that he had stumbled onto and been too stunned to switch off. Life with women did not just induce strange behavior, it appeared; it induced very strange behavior. How long before the emanations or whatever it was from Commander Quinn would make him start acting like that? Would ripping open her jacket to expose her mammary hypertrophy really cause her to fixate upon him like a newly hatched chick on its mother hen? Or would she carve him to ribbons with her vibra-knife before the hormones or whatever they were cut in?

By the sixth day his patience is running out, and he quizzes Quinn on what Millisor is doing.  Quinn says he’s not doing much–he hasn’t contacted the authorities, and he seems to be settling in to his cover identity.  She’s not sure what he’s waiting for.  The Cetagandans do keep coming back to one corridor near where they disposed of Okita’s remains, as if he had some sort of inorganic tracer.  Millisor is still eating meat, though, unlike Quinn and Ethan, so he probably hasn’t figure out Okita’s fate yet.

Ethan begins to lose his temper, questioning Quinn’s assertion that the station authorities won’t help him.  He suggests just telling Millisor that the shipment he’s chasing didn’t arrive on Athos.  He asks when she’ll let him go, and she tells him he’s free to go at any point; he’s skeptical, because of all she’s told him.  She reminds him that their biggest crime on Kline Station wasn’t killing Okita, but secretly disposing of his body, which he’s as guilty of as she is.  He tells her that the worst they can do is deport him, which would almost qualify as a reward at this point.  She tells him not to come crying back to him for help, and Ethan grabs his few meagre possessions and storms out.

He decides to try to find Millisor and settle things.  He can’t find anyone of that name registered in the Transients’ Lounge, or Rau, or Setti, and realizes that they’re probably using false identities.  He considers buying a ticket off the station, perhaps to Beta Colony, and hoping that the spies will take care of each other in his absence.  Or he could go back to his original room, but Millisor might not give him the chance to talk before killing him.

Wandering in the mall, he spots a couple of men with colourfully-painted faces, deep in conversation.  He’s nearly upon them he recognizes them, and remembers reading about the ghem-lords’ face paint.  Rau recognizes him then, and fires a nerve disruptor bolt at Ethan as he runs away.  He glances back to see that Millisor spoiled the shot, and the two Cetagandans are now arguing.  Ethan heads down a lift tube and tries hard to lose his pursuers.  He succeeds, in an equipment closet back on the stationer side, and soon realizes he is now horribly lost himself.

Comments

The death of the geneticist’s pregnant wife is not a random accident, as you might suspect by this point.  Whatever the Cetagandans are afraid of/worried about, it probably has something to do with those ovaries, and casts the shadow of a fetus…if fetuses cast shadows, that is.  Doesn’t make it any less heinous, but they can justify it to themselves, at least, as a way to keep the horrific genetic monsters from escaping out into the world…

Not sure if Elli actually tried to goad Ethan into goint out as a stalking horse or not.  Could be that she was just actually tired of him and had convinced herself he wasn’t her responsibility any more.  I guess later chapters will probably tell us.

I guess that Ethan had noticed Elli’s “mammary hypertrophy”, or at least realized in theory that it probably existed.  Maybe he was just expecting hers to be like that in “Love’s Savage Star”, which I’m sure would have been a real experience for sheltered Dr. Ethan.  From which he draws most of the wrong conclusions, according to the indoctrination of his Athosian religion or whatever it is.  (I’d also like to say here that “Mammary Hypertrophy” would be a great name for a band.)

Chapter Seven

Ethan huddles in the closet until he’s calmed down, and already regrets walking out on Quinn, ruefully reflecting on his earlier convictions that led him to leave the safety of her hostel room.  But he knows he can’t go crawling back to her, so he has to go to the Kline Station authorities.  Suddenly wondering if Quinn had planted another bug in his clothes, he strips them off and puts on a set of red coveralls and slightly-large boots from the closet.  He promises he’ll return them as soon as he’s cleared everything up with Station Security.

He passes two women in blue coveralls pushing a loaded pallet, afraid to blow his cover by asking them for directions.  Up ahead, two pallets crashes at a cross-corridor, and some birds have escaped from one of the crates.  A woman he recognizes as Helda yells at him to do something with the gravity, before she gives up, runs over to him, and turns a dial behind a wall panel.  The gravity increases as she does so, pulling the birds down to the deck, as well as Ethan, Helda, and the others.  Helda tells Ethan to help her collect the birds before they spread their disease all over the station, and he obliges; only then does she turn the gravity back down and show any concern for the others.

One man, identified by Helda as Teki, has a superficial head wound, bleeding just enough to scare the two teenagers on the other pallet.  Ethan tells the boy to put pressure on the wound and stop the bleeding, since his own hands are contaminated and he shouldn’t do it himself.  Helda calls for decontamination, Station Security, and a medic in that order, and Ethan is relieved that he won’t have to try to find Security for himself.  The decon team arrives, and Helda pulls Ethan off to go through quarantine, though he’s assured that he’ll just need a thorough scrub down and a shot; she takes him away on one of the pallets, with a sealed clear plastic canopy.

“Don’t touch your face,” Helda reminded him absently, glancing back for one last look at the disaster scene. It seemed to be under control now, the decon team having taken charge of her float pallet of birds and reopened the airseal doors.

Ethan displayed his closed fists in token of his understanding.

“You do seem to have grasped sterile technique,” Helda admitted grudgingly, settling back and glowering at him. “For a while there I thought Docks and Locks was now hiring the mentally handicapped.”

Ethan asks what was happening (in monosyllables), and Helda tells him the teenagers were likely joyriding on the pallet, and she’ll have a stern word with their parents.  The birds are impounded cargo from a freighter, but better than cows; she tells the story of a shipment of cattle that all had to be cut up and disposed.  Sometimes they try to sue the station, she says, but they lose.
She becomes suspicious at Ethan’s taciturnity, wondering if he’s sick, but he claims to just have strained his voice.  She then turns the conversation to discussing the disgusting obesity (barely perceptible to Ethan) of some passing stationers, and Ethan is relieved when they finally reach quarantine.

Ethan’s coveralls are taken away, with his ID and credit chit, but returned to him, eventually, after his decontamination shower, with instructions to report to Records on his way out.  He eventually finds it, at the same time as a now-bandaged Teki; Helda and another man are inside.  Helda reprimands Teki for his delay on the phone; Teki protests that he was talking to a relative about a business matter.  The man at the console asks Ethan for his ID card, and Ethan claims he left it at home, in his duty coveralls.  Helda is having none of it, but Teki, grateful for his help with the birds, tells him to just go get it and come back, and spirits him out the door.  He leaves Ethan in another corridor, disappearing back inside before Ethan can ask him for help.

Two hours later he’s still wandering through the stationer areas, wondering why there are so few Security stations to be found on that side as opposed to the Transients’ Lounge.  Finally he manages to find a public area with actual maps and signs, and locates himself, not too far away from his own hostel room or Quinn’s.  Watching cautiously for Cetagandans or Dendarii, he soon finds a security booth with a stationer woman inside.  He asks if she’s on duty, and if she knows about the nerve disrupter attack earlier, but she seems to misinterpret his questions as flirting, though she does tell him they are looking for more witnesses to the shooting.

“It’s the charge. Of course the fellow claims he fired by accident, showing off the weapon to his friend. But the tipster who called in the incident claimed he shot at a man, who ran away. Well, the tipster vanished, and the rest of the so-called witnesses were the usual lot—full of contagious drama, but when you pin ’em down they always turn out to have been facing the other way or zipping their boot or something at the actual moment the disruptor went off.” She sighed. “Now, if it’s proved the fellow with the disruptor was firing at someone, he gets deported, but if it was an accident all we can do is confiscate the illegal weapon, fine him, and let him go. Which we’ll have to do in another twelve hours if this intent-to-harm business can’t be substantiated.”

While Ethan is cheered by the thought of Rau in jail, that would still leave Millisor and Setti on the loose, so he doesn’t feel much safer.

Ethan took a breath. “My name is Urquhart.”

“Mine’s Lara,” said the Security woman.

“That’s nice,” said Ethan automatically. “But—”

“It was my grandmother’s name,” the Security woman confided. “I think family names give such a nice sense of continuity, don’t you? Unless you happen to get stuck with something like Sterilla, which happened to an unfortunate friend of mine. She shortens it to Illa.”

“Uh—that wasn’t exactly what I meant.”

Before he can untangle the thread of conversation, an older woman comes in and tells Lara to stop socializing on duty, they have a call.  Ethan overhears that Rau has escaped–or, rather, “vanished”–from detention.  Lara tells Ethan to look her up when she’s off duty, and the older woman shoos him out of the office so they can lock it up.

Ethan tries then to return to Quinn’s room, but finds it vacant except for a cleaning robot, which says the previous occupant left no forwarding address.  Back to the security booth, which is still locked; he sits down to wait, resolving to turn himself in as soon as possible.  He jumps when a hand falls on his shoulder, belonging to a young blond man, not one of the Cetagandans; the man addresses him by name and says he’s very interested in Athos, introducing himself as Terrence Cee.

Comments

I had to read over the pallet crash scene a few times before I was sure that the two women with the pallet were not involved in the collision ahead of him.  First of all, of course, Ethan passed them, which implied they were going the other way, whereas the collision happened ahead of him.  Not sure why they had to have a pallet too, because that just made their presence confusing.  But then, apparently, I’m easily confused by such things–like when I thought that Aral shot Cordelia back in the first chapter of Shards of Honour

I kept expecting Ethan to clue in about Teki, mentioned by Elli twice back in Chapter Five, where she tells Helda that she’s Teki’s cousin.  So Ethan misses the reference to Teki’s business phone call with family.  Was there anything about Ethan in that call?  Was Elli trying to get Teki to keep track of him, for instance?  After all, Ethan had ditched his clothes, so if she had placed another tracker in them, she’d have lost his trail…  Of course, Ethan was dressed as a stationer, so Teki might not have thought to look for him, but then again, if he and Elli knew where he’d changed his clothes, they might have been able to figure out what he was wearing.  Another thing to see if it comes up later in the book.

Ethan is so hapless most of the time that it’s almost a shock when he’s in a situation where he gets a chance to demonstrate that he’s an actual trained doctor.  So I guess he’s got one skill, at least…

The scene with Lara is hilarious, as Ethan’s attempts to confess or turn himself in or even get some help are derailed by her chatty flirtations and blithe cluelessness.  He does at least get information on what happened with Rau, but it’s not particularly cheering.  Poor guy.

But hey, at the end at least we get to meet the mysterious Terrence Cee!  For some reason I had him in my mind as a tall black guy.  And I’m pretty sure I know why–for reasons that may become clear later I’m mixing him up in my head with the rogue telepath from a first-season Babylon 5 episode (Jason Ironheart in “Mind War”).  I probably just missed the “blond” description last time through, and so my mind had to find some other way to picture him…


So Elli’s explained her side of what happened, and hopefully we’ll get some more information from Terrence Cee in the next chapter, unless the Cetagandans start chasing them again or something…  Not quite halfway through the book, and I don’t remember yet how everything turns out, but the plot has definitely thickened.

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Fasten your seat belts, set your phasers on stun, and lock up your hermaphrodites, because it’s time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I revisit various books from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, a couple of chapters at a time.  This week we continue through the novel Ethan of Athos, slightly off the main line of the series, lacking the main character, but still related enough for me to include.

Chapter Three

Kline Station is in a system with a dark star and no planets, but half a dozen jump routes are available, so the station accreted over three hundred years.  It was also the point from where Athos’s Founding Fathers had launched their “noble experiment”.  It is currently politically independent, though it has changed hands several times over the years, and has about 100,000 inhabitants.
The crew of the ship that brought Ethan there from Athos had been all male, mostly because it’s a four-month round trip and women aren’t allowed shore leave there.  Ethan was mostly left to himself to acclimate to galactic culture gradually.  He started by reading all of the _Betan Journal_ entries written by women, not wanting to risk the unapproved-by-censors contents of the ship’s library, but even then he could rarely tell the difference from the male authors, or even the occasional hermaphrodite.  He can’t figure out exactly how it is the women, as “uterine replicators with legs”, are supposed to cause sin among men.

Once at Kline Station, he spends a long time in Customs, mostly being checked for microbes, before being admitted into the station proper.  It is unprepossessing at first, a dingy cargo bay with a dozen exits.  The ship’s crew and the custom’s inspectors have vanished, but there is one person in a gray-and-white uniform whom Ethan approaches for help.

“Pardon me, sir,” Ethan began, and halted uncertainly. Hips too wide for the wiry figure, eyes too large and far apart above a small chiseled nose, jaw thin-boned and small, beardless skin fine as an infant’s—it might have been a particularly elegant boy, but . . .

Her laughter pealed like a bell, entirely too loud for the reddening Ethan. “You must be the Athosian,” she chuckled.

Ethan asks for directions, and the woman expresses surprise that nobody’s given him a map, an absolute necessity for a visitor to Kline Station.  She hails a crewman who has appeared from the courier ship as “Dom”, and he comes over, not recognizing her but eager to make her acquaintance.  She (re)introduces herself as Elli Quinn, an old classmate, and explains how she had a facial regeneration done on Beta Colony, purchased for her by Admiral Naismith after she got hit in the head with a plasma beam.  She tells Dom how the Oserans were absorbed by the Dendarii, but says she’s on home leave now.

She adds that he’s let his passenger loose without a map, a remark which makes Dom suspicious of double-entendre, since apparently doing the Athos run makes one the butt of many jokes.  Elli says that explains his neglect, and she offers to take Ethan in hand herself.  Dom leaves, and Ethan almost calls him back, rather than be left alone with a woman.  Elli is amused at his obvious trepidation, saying she’s not going to bite, but Ethan still refuses her offer.  She hands him a holovid project with a map on it, showing him where the Transients’ Lounge is, and wishes him luck.

He does find the Transients’ Lounge with only a few wrong turns.  He tries to ignore the women he sees all around, even the one with a baby.  He stifles his impulse to rescue it from her, and later realizes it may very well have been a female baby anyway.  At the Lounge, it takes half a dozen people and the station computer to figure out an exchange rate for his Athosian pounds to the more readily acceptable Betan dollars, at what seems like an exorbitant rate, so he chooses the cheapest room available, the tiny Economy Cabin.

His instructions from the Population Council had been to give up on trying to recoup the Jackson’s Whole shipment, but instead to look for another supplier, starting from Kline Station, and trying to keep it under budget, while recruiting more colonists, if possible, and not getting into too much trouble.  Later the Chairman had clarified–his mission was to get the cultures and get back, period.  He heads out for a walk, taking a bubble car to the high-end passenger dock and begins walking back to get a look at the brighter side of the station.

Within the soaring transparent walls of Transients’ Lounge rioted a green fecundity of vines, trees in tubs, air ferns, orchids, muted tinkling chimes, bizarre fountains running backward, upside down, spiraling around the dizzy catwalks, lively intricate trickery with the artificial gravity. Ethan paused to stare in fascination for fifteen minutes at one fountain, sheeting water suspended in air, running endlessly in the form of a moebius strip. A breath away, across the transparent barrier, a cold that could turn all to stone in an instant lurked in deathly silence. The artistic contrast was overwhelming, and Ethan was not the only downsider transient who stood transfixed in open wonder.

Ethan also passes theatres, expensive restaurants and hostels, feelie booths, religious arcades (though Athos’s is not represented), and a wedding and a funeral.  Finally he reaches an area consulates and embassies, as well as shipping agents; he quails at the female representative at the Betan embassy, and resolves to avoid Jackson’s Whole’s entirely.  He continues past the cheap rooms and crosses into the stationers’ section.

The smells coming from a cafeteria reminds him that he’s hungry, but once again he can’t face the many women inside, so he keeps walking until he finds a doorway smelling of frying grease and alcohol, and a room inhabited entirely by off-duty male workers.  Remembering his instructions to recruit, he suppresses his shyness and walks up to some of the workers.

“How do you do,” Ethan began politely. “I represent the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization of the Planet Athos. If I may, I’d like to tell you about the pioneering opportunities for settlement still available there—”

The sudden dead silence of his audience was interrupted by a large worker in green coveralls. “Athos? The Planet of the Fags? You on the level?”

Ethan insists that he is, that he’s a doctor looking for reproductive help; this amuses the workers, who make several helpful off-colour suggestions, including going to Beta Colony for a sex-change.  Ethan tells them that not all Athosians are homosexual, that many choose chastity instead, which doesn’t impress them any.  After more coarse comments, Ethan loses him temper and punches one especially crude man, and things turn ugly.  The workers begin beating him up, until a sardonic voice announces the reappearance of Elli Quinn commenting snidely on the six-to-one odds.  Some of the workers get uneasy, noticing Quinn’s uniform, but the crude one goes after her anyway, until she casually zaps him with her stunner.  The workers let Ethan go, and Elli helps him to his feet, telling him she’ll take him back where he belongs.

As Elli leads Ethan away, he keeps thinking of better ways he could have handled the situation, before being distracted by a pair of men in blue-and-green uniforms.  Elli reassures him that they aren’t constables, just Biocontrol, entrusted with the necessary powers to preserve the ecosystem of the station.  She tells him that a station is in a delicate balance, and stations are serious about their safety drills; for instance, frost on a window anywhere outside of a cargo hold should be reported at once.

They return to the Transients’ Lounge, and Ethan notes that Elli seems to be edgier than her conversation indicates.  She offers to take him to supper, but, nervous, he pleads indigestion and flees for a lift tube.  After checking that she hasn’t followed, he recovers on a bench for a few minutes before heading back to his room.

On the promenade, he is approached by a man in a nondescript grey outfit, who addresses him by name before accosting him with a hypospray to the arm.  It takes effect before Ethan can even protest, and he is swiftly bundled away into a bubble car.

Comments

Another Naismith reference, and, of course, the appearance of Elli Quinn to tie things back to the Vorkosigan world.  Elli was a minor character in The Warrior’s Apprentice, though she did gradually acquire more importance in that book, first with her plasma scarring, which necessitated her coming back to Beta Colony, and then her help against the stalking creditor.  Whether Bujold intended her to become a more major character from her introduction, or if it was just chance, it didn’t take long for her to decide, because this is her third book, published right after The Warrior’s Apprentice.  (She doesn’t appear in The Vor Game that I recall, for some reason…)  Her conversation with Dom gives just enough backstory to be relevant for now, without being too infodumpy.

Maybe it’s just the era this was written in, but the homophobia shown by the stationer workers is almost a little extreme.  Not every planet is Beta Colony, I realize, but I wouldn’t have thought that Kline Station would be as backward as, say, Barrayar.  One would think that stationers, conscious of their fragile ecosystem as Elli claims, would be respectful of those who didn’t want to upset the population balance…  But that’s probably just the liberal in me talking, with little or no comprehension of the visceral disgust and hatred that seems to overtake some people with the prospect of homosexuality in others.  Maybe the workers there just felt that live-and-let-live was good enough, but to have some “faggot” intrude on their off-hours and try to recruit them was crossing the line.  I guess I just feel that we have “progressed” socially in the last century or two into a culture of more tolerance and less violence, and that if we’re far enough in the future that a space station orbiting another sun has been around for three hundred years, things should have progressed further.  But I suppose nothing is linear, is it?  Anyway, the forces of fairness would also likely point out that a woman crashing a similar bar on Athos wouldn’t get a much better reception…

Elli’s warning about frost on the windows is almost a little too specific–is that foreshadowing?  I guess we’ll have to wait and see…  I guess I’m not sure off the top of my head why the ecosystem is so important–plants are necessary to keep oxygen cycling going, I guess, and they are in a barren system without a lot of external resources to draw on, but as a major transfer point, one would think that they could get enough supplies through eventually.  But I guess they’re independent right now, and they don’t want to give, say, Jackson’s Whole a hold on them by needing some resource that the Jacksonians could supply.  We do see a lot more of this throughout the book, so I’ll give her a chance to convince me.

Also, to be a little indelicate, let me just mention that, for Ethan to have any chance of mistaking Elli Quinn for a man or boy, I’d have to hazard that either she is not that well-endowed or her uniform is particularly loose in that respect.  Yes, I know, breast size is one of those things that can be hard to describe, at least without making your character sound like a sex maniac for even noticing it in the first place (unless it’s the woman’s most salient feature), and Ethan assuredly doesn’t even know what to look for, but I think he’d notice such a “physical deformity”, at least from some angles, and he’d try to come up with other explanations for it before arriving at the truth.  Since I don’t recall any other descriptions from Miles’s point of view, I’m going to stick with this theory until disproven…if it matters to anyone except me, that is.

Chapter Four

Ethan awakens in a luxurious hotel room, mind moving slowly and euphorically; he notes absently that he’s tied to a chair.  The man who kidnapped him is sitting nearby, and another man emerges from the bathroom, drying his face with a towel.  The man on the chair (Captain Rau) assures the other, Colonel Millisor, that Ethan has been given a full dose.  Ethan sees his clothes and possessions on the bed and realizes that he’s naked.  Rau tells Millisor that Ethan’s map module had a tiny tracer on it, which destroyed itself as soon as he scanned it.  They weren’t able to follow the signal, though, and they think it’s possible he is involved with Terrence Cee.

The leader, the one Ethan’s kidnapper had named Colonel Millisor, grunted again, and approached Ethan to stare into his eyes. “What’s your name?”

“Ethan,” said Ethan sunnily. “What’s yours?”

Millisor ignored this open invitation to sociability. “Your full name. And your rank.”

This struck an old chord, and Ethan barked smartly, “Master Sergeant Ethan CJB-8 Urquhart, Blue Regiment Medical Corps, U-221-767, sir!” He blinked at his interrogator, who had drawn back in startlement. “Retired,” he added after a moment.

Millisor mutters about hating fast-penta.  He asks about Terrence Cee, but Ethan only knows one Terrence, a tech at the Reproduction Centre on Athos, and proceeds to tell his captors about him before they realize it’s a different man and cut him off.  They ask about the cultures from Bharaputra, and Ethan fills them in on the garbage that was in the crate; this confuses them, and they wonder if he’s resisting the fast-penta.  Millisor suggests increasing the dose, in case he’s resisting.  If the samples they’re looking for are on Athos, he says, they will have to try to destroy them before they can be brought to gestation, or else they’ll have to sterilize the entire planet.  They do give him more fast-penta, and he babbles furiously under the interrogation until he becomes ill and passes out.

When he regains consciousness, they try another drug that brings terror instead of euphoria, and continue questioning him about Terrence Cee and the samples.  After that, they move on to pain, and Ethan wishes he knew what they wanted to hear so he could tell them; they desist when he starts to convulse.  Millisor concludes that Cee managed to switch the samples somehow before being sent to Athos, but Rau insists that the clues still point to Athos.

“It may still be Athos. A plan within a plan—within a plan. . . .” Millisor rubbed his neck wearily, looking suddenly much older than Ethan’s first estimate. “The late Dr. Jahar did too good a job. Terrence Cee is everything Jahar promised—except loyal. . . . Well, we’ll get no more out of this one. You sure that wasn’t just a speck of dirt in that circuit board?”

Rau says he’s sure, but admits that Ethan probably isn’t a real agent.  They debate using him as a stalking-horse, but decide he’s useless.  It’s been seven hours, so Millisor says to get Okita to dispose of him.

Okita takes Ethan to a docking bay and up on a catwalk.  He forces Ethan to drink a bulb full of alcohol, not the first such, and says that Ethan may even survive the fall, especially in Kline Station’s light gravity, so he’ll have to break his neck first.  Ethan tries to cling to the mesh floor of the catwalk.  His belongings were all returned to him, even his Betan credit chit, but he doesn’t think bribery will work, or seduction.  He hopes that he’ll survive, to help stave off the horrible fate these men seem to have planned for Athos.

Okita decides that Ethan’s biochemistry is mixed up enough now to hide the traces of the other drugs, so he lifts Ethan up to the railing, placing his neck over it for the break.  The catwalk shakes as a figure (Quinn, of course) appears and shoots Okita with a stunner; Okita falls forward over the railing, to her dismay.  She drops her stunner and tries to grab Okita before he falls, but to no avail.  Ethan asks if he should try to help, but Elli said Okita is definitely dead, and if it’s any consolation, he killed a dozen people on Jackson’s Whole five months earlier as part of a coverup.

She tells Ethan that she’s interested in him because Millisor is interested in him, though she’s not sure why.  She admits that she’s not home on leave, but on assignment from the Dendarii.  Ethan says they thought he was a spy, and Elli apologizes, but reminds him that she did save his life just now, at least until Millisor finds out he’s still alive.  Ethan suggests going to the authorities, but Quinn says they won’t be sufficient protection, and Elli doesn’t want to reveal herself just yet.  Ethan accuses her of trying to use him as a stalking-goat too.

She helps him down to the floor of the bay, where she checks over Okita’s body.  She decides that they need to dispose of Okita’s body, which she tells Ethan is not an easy task on a space station.  The airlocks are all monitored, and anything out in space would be perfectly preserved if it were found later.  Trying to put such a large amount of “protein” down the disposal in pieces would register too much of a blip, plus it’s been tried before.  The ecology police check over the whole station too often for it to be easily hidden anywhere unless they kept moving it.

“I think I have a better idea. Yes. Why not? As long as I’m going to commit a crime, let it be a perfect one. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, as Admiral Naismith would say . . .”

She starts picking up bits of equipment around the bay, while Ethan lies on the floor feeling sorry for himself, a full day on the station, beaten up, interrogated, tortured, and implicated in a murder, without even having had a meal yet.  Elli reassures him that she is, at least, making some progress in her investigation at last, and tells him he just needs a good meal and a week in the hospital; she can, at least get him to a place to rest.  She stuffs Okita’s body into a shipping canister, cleans up the area with a sonic scrubber, gathers up the pieces of her stunner, and puts the canister onto a float pallet.  They will need to get the canister and pallet back to the docking area within eight hours, when the next ship docks there, or they’ll be missed.

Ethan asks her who these men are, anyway, and tells her of their plans for bombing Athos, which is news to Quinn.  She says she hasn’t been able to bug Millisor’s quarters, and asks Ethan about the interrogation.  He tells her consisted of a lot of him screaming, and she apologizes, having thought they’d stick to fast-penta.  She tells Ethan that Millisor works for Cetagandan counter-intelligence, and Rau, Okita, and his other goon, Setti, are his team.

“Cetagandan! Isn’t that planet pretty far from here to be interested in, um,” he glanced at the Stationer woman, “us? This nexus, I mean.”

“Not far enough, evidently.”

“But why, in God the Father’s name, should they want to destroy Athos? Is Cetaganda—controlled by women or something?”

A laugh escaped her. “Hardly. I’d call it a typical male-dominated totalitarian state, only slightly mitigated by their rather artistic cultural peculiarities. No. Millisor is not, per se, interested in either Athos or the Kline Station nexus. He’s chasing—something else. The big secret. The one I was hired to find out.”

She says Millisor was the security chief for a long-range genetic experiment, which was kept secret for twenty-five years.  Dr. Faz Jahar was the scientist in charge, until the lab exploded, killing him, and Millisor and his men had been chasing something around the galaxy for three years, leaving a trail of bodies behind them.

Elli takes them through a door marked “RENOVATION” and into a large chamber full of pillars, which she says is a half-finished reproduction of some Earth monument called “the Elhamburger or something”.  The man who started it currently has his assets tied up in litigation, so the construction is in limbo.  She tells Ethan he can stay with the canister until she gets back.  There are no blankets, but plenty of cushions, which she piles up into a nest for him.  She gives Ethan a candy bar to eat, and tells him to use the canister if he needs a bathroom, since they can’t risk using the plumbing.  She tells him she’ll back in somewhere between one and four hours.

“And now,” she rubbed her hands together briskly, “phase two of the search for the L-X-1O Terran-C.”

“The what?”

“That was the code name of Millisor’s research project. Terran-C for short. Maybe some part of whatever they were working on originated on Earth.”

“But Terrence Cee is a man,” said Ethan. “They kept asking me if I was here to meet him.”

She was utterly still for a moment. “Oh . . . ? How strange. How very strange. I never knew that.” Her eyes were bright as mirrors. Then she was gone.

Comments

Interesting…in the code name there, it’s listed in the book as “L-X-1O” where that’s one-O, not ten.  I always read that as ten.  I suppose it doesn’t make any difference, but now I wonder if that’s canonical, or just a mistake in the ebook conversion…

I’m presuming that it’s the “Alhambra”, not the “Elhamburger”.  It’s a weird thing to turn up on a space station, but I guess if you’re rich, you can waste as much space as you want.  And if this guy turns out to lose his money, then I’m sure they’ll reclaim the space fast enough.  Wonder why Bujold thought to put it in?  Had she just been on vacation in Spain?

I can’t decide if I should be referring to Elli Quinn as “Elli” or “Quinn”; I seem to be doing both, which I hope isn’t too confusing.  I’ve heard several times that authors should try to avoid having characters whose names begin with the same later, which of course “Ethan” and “Elli” do, which may explain why she is usually called “Commander Quinn” in this chapter.  (Was Ethan so attached to his name that she couldn’t change it?  Obviously she couldn’t change Elli’s, but Ethan, as a new character, should have had more freedom…  According to my wife, though, characters get attached to their names and resist having them changed.)

At least we know a little more about the samples that caused Ethan to leave Athos in the first place–they were supposed to contain something mysterious from Terrence Cee, but he must have switched them out to leave a false trail.  Except that the Cetagandans still think that Athos is important to Cee’s plan.

In a little bit of inconsistency, “Cetaganda” is definitely talked about as “a planet” rather than a group of planets united in a common empire.  Maybe that’s just Ethan’s ignorance about the galaxy, but it’s not like Quinn corrects him, so I’m going to guess that Bujold’s vision of Cetaganda wasn’t settled yet.  I don’t know if the description of Cetaganda consisting of multiple planets appeared (in publication) before The Vor Game.  Elli’s description of it being a “male-dominated totalitarian state” doesn’t sound quite accurate either, but I suppose it may look that way from a distance, with a male emperor and the usual outer face of the ghem-lords; Ethan would probably be less reassured if he knew about the haut ladies.

Ethan seems to have overcome his reservations about partnering up with a woman, but admittedly, he’s in trouble, and she seems to be the only one interested in, or capable of, helping him.  Assuming she’s being completely honest with him, and I suspect she’s still holding a few things back, but we, at least, have confidence that she’s on the side of the angels, even if Ethan doesn’t have that much trust yet.  But Millisor and the Cetagandans definitely seem the greater of two evils right now, I’d expect.


So, yay, we have left Athos, met a character we knew from before, acquired some villains and a plot, had some action scenes…  Definitely picked up a lot in this installment.  I don’t know if I can promise non-stop action from here on, but at least we have a team now, and Elli makes a good foil for Ethan, or perhaps vice versa.  Ethan is still more acted upon than acting, but perhaps he’ll become more than a dude-in-distress as the book progresses…  So tune in next week for the next couple of chapters, where we might, conceivably, find out.

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