Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Nicol’

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…

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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

Chapter Twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Venn took it and gazed over at Adjudicator Leutwyn.

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Thirteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

Read Full Post »

A minute passed.  After a minute, another minute passed.  In fact, before you know it, a week had passed, and a minute later, there was a new Vorkosigan Reread post!  It’ll only take a minute, or a few minutes, to read, as I examine, in minute detail, the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week, I spent a few minutes digging into Chapters Six and Seven of Diplomatic Immunity, wherein quaddies dance and drum, and blood turns out to be not what it seems.

Chapter Six

Bel meets them at the Kestrel‘s hatch, dressed in a bright orange and dark blue outfit, based on what seems to be a common quaddie style.  It takes them to a restaurant, on the grav side but dedicated to the use of all three dimensions by the use of tables on top of pillars.  Roic even has a seat above theirs, so he can watch the whole room.  Nicol is waiting for them, and soon gets into easy conversation with Ekaterin.  Dinner conversation in general flows easily, though they steer clear of old war stories.

In a private moment, Nicol congratulates “Admiral Naismith” on his good fortune, and Miles accepts it on Lord Vorkosigan’s behalf.  She says she’s happy to stay at home from now on, but she’s worried about whether Bel will be staying with her, given that it hasn’t yet applied for citizenship.  Miles keeps mum about Bel’s private quandary about divided loyalties.

“I do note, Bel could have found a portmaster’s berth in quite a few places. It traveled a very long way to get one here, instead.”

Nicol’s smile softened. “That’s so.” She added, “Do you know, when Bel arrived at Graf Station, it still had that Betan dollar I’d paid you on Jackson’s Whole tucked in its wallet?”

Miles managed to stop the logical query, Are you sure it was the same one? on his lips before it fell out of his mouth leaving room for his downsider foot. One Betan dollar looked like any other. If Bel had claimed it for the same one, when making Nicol’s reacquaintance, who was Miles to suggest otherwise? Not that much of a spoilsport, for damn sure.

After dinner they take a bubble-car through to the zero-gee side to the Madame Minchenko Memorial Auditorium, where Nicol parts with them to ready for her performance.  The entrance to the auditorium is a regular-sized doorway, not yet crowded because of their early arrival, so Miles is surprised to find out just how large the space on the other side is.  It’s an enormous sphere, with most of one end transparent; the box seats on the surface of the sphere are arranged in hexagons, like honeycomb.

They are ushered to their assigned hex, where Garnet Five is already waiting for them, dressed elegantly except for the inflatable cast on a lower arm; Bel introduces them.  Miles thanks her for getting her admittance to the show, and apologizes right off for the behaviour of his fellow Barrayarans.  Garnet turns the discussion to the fate of Dmitri–Ensign Corbeau–and Miles mentions his several options, stressing the possibility of desertion charges if he persists in requesting asylum.  Garnet points out that his request could very well be accepted, and Miles says that even so, that would effectively result in permanent exile from his homeworld.  If he’s more cautious, he could serve out his time in the military and return to Quaddiespace a free man later.

Garnet stubbornly insists that they want to spend the rest of their lives together; Miles wants to ask how sure they are, though he’s reminded of how quickly he fell for Ekaterin, after all, but he’s not quite sure what kind of attraction is at work between Garnet and Corbeau.  Ekaterin asks about children, and Garnet says that it can all be handled via replicator, and they could decide on quaddie or legged offspring just as they could decide on the sex of the babies; quaddie-downsider relationships are far from unknown, apparently.  At Garnet’s prodding, Bel shows them a holocube of various potential offspring that he and Nicol could have, legged and quaddie, as well as both sexes and herm.  Bel says that they’d want to have a quaddie girl first, assuming of course that he gets around to his citizenship application.

The auditorium has filled up during their conversation, including a few downsiders (some of whom, stranded in midair, have to be towed to their seats by the ushers), but no other Barrayarans visible, and the show is now about to start.

Lights flared, an exuberant fountain of red and orange and gold, and from all sides, the performers flowed in. Thundered in. Quaddie males, athletic and vastly enthusiastic, in skin-fitting ship knits made splendid with glitter. Drumming.

I wasn’t expecting hand drums. Other free fall performances Miles had seen, whether dance or gymnastic, had been eerily silent except for the music and sound effects. Quaddies made their own noise, and still had hands left to play hands-across; the drummers met in the middle, clasped, gripped, exchanged momentum, turned, and doubled back in a shifting pattern. Two dozen men in free fall took up perfect station in the center of the spherical auditorium, their motion so controlled as to permit no sideways drift as the energy of their spins and duckings, twistings and turnings, flowed through their bodies one to another and on around again. The air pulsed with the rhythm of their drumming: drums of all sizes, round, oblong, two-headed; not only played by each holder, but some batted back and forth among them in an eye-and-ear-stunning cross between music and juggling, never missing a beat or a blow. The lights danced. Reflections spattered on the walls, picking out flashes from the boxes of upraised hands, arms, bright cloth, jewelry, entranced faces.

They are shortly joined by a dozen quaddie females with castanets, who add their own notes to the music.  Miles mentally compares the performance to that of a Barrayaran marching band, demonstrating skill and excellence for its own sake.  The piece goes on for twenty minutes before coming to an end in a burst of noise, the two groups leaving again to thunderous applause.  They are replaced by the orchestra, all with acoustic instruments, Ekaterin notes, Nicol with her harp and dulcimer.  The orchestral suite includes a solo dulcimer section for her, and Miles takes note of Bel’s entranced expression, though he’s doubtless heard her play many times.

After the orchestra comes the ballet piece, which Garnet Five tells them comes from a longer work, The Crossing, an epic which tells the story of their travel to Quaddiespace.  This piece is the love duet between Leo Graf and Silver, her usual part, and she hopes that her understudy doesn’t screw it up.  Leo is played by a male quaddie with fake legs, and dances clumsily enough that Miles feels a bit uncomfortable, until Bel assures him that Leo is supposed to “dance like an engineer”; Silver seems to dance well enough to Miles’s eyes, though Garnet is more critical.  Miles realizes that this love story, part of quaddie culture from its beginning, explains why romances with downsiders are so accepted in their society.

During intermission, they discuss quaddie names; Garnet Five explains that quaddies often just have single names, but the more popular ones are distinguished by numbers.  Bel says that Leo Ninety-Nine is the highest number he’s seen, and Garnet says there are eight of her name altogether; Bel says gallantly that she will surely inspire more.

The second half of the show was as impressive as the first. During one of the musical interludes, Nicol had an exquisite harp part. There were two more large group dances, one abstract and mathematical, the other narrative, apparently based on a tragic pressurization disaster of a prior generation. The finale put everyone out in the middle, for a last vigorous, dizzying whirl, with drummers, castanet players, and orchestra combining in musical support that could only be described as massive.

Miles is almost surprised that four hours have passed by the time they leave the auditorium.  They bid farewell to Garnet Five and Bel and Nicol accompany them back to the Kestrel via bubble car.  Miles reflects on how well the quaddie dance shows them to be far from handicapped by their physical differences.  This reminds him to check his brain chemicals before he goes to bed, to see if any seizures are looming.

Comments

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, goes a variously-attributed quote (which, according to http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/11/08/writing-about-music/, goes back to Martin Mull, best known to me as Colonel Mustard in the “Clue” movie), but I think that Bujold does a decent job of writing about dance in this chapter.  It probably helps if you’ve seen a vigorous dance routine that you can liken it to, but the transient nature of dance, that it can only be experienced in the moment, means that I’m willing to cut a lot of slack to an author in trying to describe it.  Giving a general impression, all that most people will retain after the experience, is good enough for me.  Somewhere out there is probably a video of Jeanne Robinson doing her impression of zero-gravity dancing, but you’ll have to find that link yourself.

The meeting and discussion with Garnet Five is the main plot significance in the chapter, brief as it is.  I’m more sympathetic with Miles, in his doubt that Corbeau and Garnet Five’s love is truly strong enough to conquer all.  I guess it’s not like they’re teenagers, but Corbeau sounds a bit young and sheltered for his age.

Chapter Seven

Miles is awakened–in what proves to be early morning, rather than the middle of the night–by Roic, notifying him of a call from Admiral Vorpatril.  Miles throws on his gray jacket and goes to take the admiral’s call; Vorpatril says that his surgeon has just confirmed that Solian’s blood sample was manufactured, and asks Miles how he knew.  He wonders if this makes it more likely that Solian was a deserter, and Miles points out that it doesn’t conclusively prove Solian still alive; Roic brings Miles a cup of coffee, as Vorpatril asks if they should share this information with Chief Venn.  Miles hesitates, but he says the next task is to find the precise piece of equipment that manufactured the fake blood in the first place, and, unfortunately, the quaddie police are better equipped to do that.  Vorpatril protests, but Miles points out that he has no authority on Graf Station except what Greenlaw and Venn allow him.  Miles will have to talk to them, especially now that they know whatever happened with the blood was planned in advance.

Miles grumbles about why nobody picked this up the first time through; Roic asks if it’s a rhetorical question.  He says that what people look for will depend on how often they have to deal with crimes.  Hassadar, which is close to Graf Station’s population, averaged one or two a month, so they had no full-time homicide or forensics people, and for really complicated cases they had to call in people from Vorbarr Sultana, where murders are closer to one a day.  So Chief Venn’s forensics expert is probably just a doctor who they call in once in a while, so it’s no surprise they’d be short of ImpSec standards.

Miles wishes he knew more about Solian, but he can’t find friends or enemies, or any evidence he’d ever been to Quaddiespace before.  He might have gotten to know someone on the Idris, but after ten days he might well have found trouble on the station as well.

He calls Chief Venn, who answers floating in zero-gee, sideways to Miles, and rudely doesn’t align his orientation.  When asked, Chief Venn admits that their last murder was seven years ago, and then three years before that; both murders were committed by downsider transients, and confirmed by fast-penta.  He doesn’t take kindly to Miles’s suggestion that his staff might be less than skilled in murder investigations, until Miles tells him about the manufactured blood.  Miles requests Venn get his staff to find out where the blood was synthesized, and if possible by whom, and Venn agrees, obviously thrown off by this new information.

Venn tells him that Sealer Greenlaw wanted to speak to him, and transfers him to her.  She tells Miles that she’s scheduled him to speak to the stranded passengers from the Komarran fleet that morning; Miles is a little nettled at her making the appointment without running it by him first, but he’s also eager to see a nice batch of potential suspects.

He split the difference between irritation and eagerness by remarking blandly, “Nice of you to let me know. Just what is it that you imagine I will be able to tell them?”

“That, I must leave to you. These people came in with you Barrayarans; they are your responsibility.”

“Madam, if that were so, they would all be on their way already. There can be no responsibility without power. It is the Union authorities who have placed them under this house arrest, and therefore the Union authorities who must free them.”

“When you finish settling the fines, costs, and charges your people have incurred here, we will be only too happy to do so.”

He passes on to her the news about Solian’s blood sample, and she says it looks more like desertion than murder.  Miles challenges her to find a living Solian, then, and she says that Quaddiespace is not totalitarian, privacy and freedom of movement being guaranteed.  Miles says that he still thinks Solian is dead, and if so it’s his responsibility and duty to find justice for him.  He signs off hoping he’s ruined her morning, at least.

He asks Roic if he’s ever done a murder investigation, and Roic says he has done a number of investigations, but not strictly murders.  He charges Roic with tracking Solian’s movements as closely as he can, finding any gaps in time, and finding out anything he can about Solian from the crew of the Idris.  Roic protests that Miles will still need security, and Miles says that he will be with Captain Thorne, at least, which doesn’t completely mollify his armsman.  Miles then heads back to his cabin to get dressed, passing Ekaterin on the way.  He asks if she wants to join him in talking to the passengers.

“A Countess is by law and tradition something of an assistant Count. An Auditor’s wife, however, is not an assistant Auditor,” she said in a firm tone, reminiscent to Miles’s ear of her aunt—Professora Vorthys was herself an Auditor’s spouse of some experience. “Nicol and Garnet Five made arrangements to take me out this morning and show me quaddie horticulture. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll stick to my original plan.”

Miles apologizes for this unplanned diversion on their honeymoon, and Ekaterin assures him she’s having a good time, but then she doesn’t have to deal with the difficult people.  She allows that maybe they can have lunch together so he can vent, but only if he also manages to eat at the same time.  He reflects that everyone in Quaddiespace is likely quite lucky that Ekaterin is along to keep him on an even keel.

The crews from the Komarran ships have been kept under house arrest on the station; the passengers were just forced to leave the ships, and are being put up in luxurious hostels, allowed to roam the station, even to leave if they want…but not with their cargoes.  The lobby of the hostel where Miles is to speak to them has a large open space, circled by a second-floor balcony, with a staircase down to the conference level.  Bel guides Miles from there to a meeting room with about eighty galactics.

Galactic traders with a keenly honed sense of the value of their time, and no Barrayaran cultural inhibitions about Imperial Auditors, they unleashed several days of accumulated frustrations upon Miles the moment he stepped to the front and turned to face them. Fourteen languages were handled by nineteen different brands of auto-translators, several of which, Miles decided, must have been purchased at close-out prices from makers going deservedly belly-up. Not that his answers to their barrage of questions were any special tax on the translators—what seemed ninety percent of them came up either, “I don’t know yet,” or “Ask Sealer Greenlaw.” The fourth iteration of this latter litany was finally met with a heartrending wail, in chorus, from the back of the room of, “But Greenlaw said to ask you!”, except for the translation device that came up a beat later with, “Lawn rule sea-hunter inquiring altitude unit!”

Bel points out to Miles the ones who’d tried to bribe him to leave, and then he asks anyone who’d met Lieutenant Solian to stay and talk to him.  One man–or herm–stays to talk to Bel about his cargo.  Miles guesses it to be close to a century in age, for a Betan, with elegant features that remind Miles of something he can’t quite recall.  The herm, who introduces itself as Ker Dubauer, says it is transporting several hundred replicators full of engineered animal fetuses, whose next service is due.  It asks to be allowed to service the replicators, and adds that they will be reaching term soon, and if he doesn’t reach his destination by then, they’ll likely need to be destroyed.  When Miles asks, Dubauer says the animals are mostly sheep and goats, with a few specialties.

Bel leaves to go pass the request to Boss Watts; Miles asks Dubauer, who still seems naggingly familiar, if they’ve ever met, but Dubauer says they have not.  Miles asks him about Solian, but Dubauer says he’d only seen him at a distance, never talked to him; Miles decides not to bother telling him about the fake blood.  Several other passengers have by now lined up with tales of Solian to tell, but none of them prove to be particularly useful; Miles wishes for some fast-penta to use, but the only people the quaddies would let him use it on–the Barrayaran crew–are far from likely suspects.

Miles is effectively done by the time Bel returns to say that it can escort Dubauer aboard the Idris to service his cargo.  Miles is running a little late for lunch, but with luck he might be able to catch up with Ekaterin anyway.  They climb up the stairs to the lobby, and he and Bel, both automatically scanning for any threats.  Thus, they both spot a figure on the balcony lifting an oblong box up to the railing.

Miles had a flashing impression of dark eyes in a milky face beneath a mop of brass-blond curls, staring down intently at him. He and Bel, on either side of Dubauer, reached spontaneously and together for the startled Betan’s arms and flung themselves forward. Bright bursts from the box chattered with a loud, echoing, tapping noise. Blood spattered from Dubauer’s cheek as the herm was yanked along; something like a swarm of angry bees seemed to pass directly over Miles’s head. Then they were, all three, sliding on their stomachs to cover behind the wide marble drums holding the flowers. The bees seemed to follow them; pellets of safety glass exploded in all directions, and chips of marble fountained in a wide spray. A vast vibrato filled the room, shook the air, the thunderous thrumming noise sliced with screams and cries.

Miles, trying to raise his head for a quick glance, was crushed down again by Bel diving over the intervening Betan and landing on him in a smothering clutch. He could only hear the aftermath: more yells, the sudden cessation of the hammering, a heavy clunk. A woman’s voice sobbed and hiccoughed in the startling silence, then was choked down to a spasmodic gulping. His hand jerked at a soft, cool kiss, but it was only a few last shredded leaves and flower petals sifting gently down out of the air to settle all around them.

Comments

I thought that, in Komarr, Miles had learned his lesson about not fast-pentaing everybody in sight.  There, he admits to himself that if he’d gotten out the fast-penta for everyone in the terraforming station, and the Waste Heat Experiment Station, the case would have been closed much sooner.  (And Tien would still be alive, and maybe Ekaterin would have still been married to him…or not, I suppose, because his bribe-taking would have been exposed with all the rest.)  And now he balks at interrogating all of the crew on the Barrayaran ships, just because they’re not high on his suspect list?  I suppose that such a high-handed move would win him few friends among his own military, and while the significant penalties for mistreatment of an Imperial Auditor would probably discourage any outright mutiny, I’m sure it would set off a lot of recalcitrance and foot-dragging whenever he actually asked them for help.  But still…

Dubauer, Dubauer…oh, I remember, he was the guy from Shards of Honour whose brain Bothari fried with the nerve disrupter, that Cordelia and Aral had to shepherd across the Sergyaran landscape.  Since the name turns out to be a pseudonym, one is almost tempted to conjecture that it’s somehow related, but I doubt that “Dubauer” had any way of expecting that Miles Vorkosigan would end up on Graf Station because of its actions.  So it’s just a coincidence…though one with a little clue hidden in the letters, no doubt inadvertently.

Roic’s contribution, in pointing out how inexperienced the quaddies would be with murder investigations, was an interesting one.  Venn was a little smug, perhaps, in pointing out that the two murders that Graf Station had seen in ten years both involved downsiders.  What is Bujold trying to say about quaddie society?  That it’s more peaceful than human?  That legs make you more violent and murderous, or lack of privacy and restricted movement?  Or is it just that Graf Station is too “small-town” and homey?  I remain a little skeptical that this is anything more than a statistical blip.  After all, we just got to see, in the book’s first real action scene (that isn’t hearsay from someone else), that there is violence on Graf Station.  Even if it also seems to involve offworlders…


More short, snappy chapters, that’s what I like.   Plus we’re getting into the real plot for sure, now.  I also note that, since there are nineteen chapters in the book overall, we’re over a third of the way through.  So it’s about time for things to start happening…  Next week, doubtless, even more things will happen!  So, until then…

Read Full Post »

Sing hey, my fine fellow, let’s go deeper into the labyrinth!  That’s “Labyrinth”, to be precise, the latest story in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread: one of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novellas that form part of the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, originally collected as part of Borders of Infinity, but more recently part of the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus.  This week I’ll cover the third and final segment of the novella, where I arbitrarily divided it since Bujold didn’t provide any convenient internal chapters or anything.

Labyrinth (concl.)

Miles and Taura climb back down the inside of the pillar; not finding any other exits, they perforce return to the basement.  Taura drinks from the water pipe, while Miles tries to determine if the flood is doing any good.  It’s accumulating slowly at the lower edge, but it would take days to do them any good strategically.

Taura boosted him back into the duct. “Wish me luck,” he murmured over his shoulder, muffled by the close confines.

“Goodbye,” she said. He could not see the expression on her face; there was none in her voice.

“See you later,” he corrected firmly.

He returns to the grille, this time armed with cutters, and snips his way through, wincing at the noise but nonetheless apparently unheard by anything other than another large rat.  He emerges into a storage room, then into a corridor, with an access hatch at one end.  Miles opens it and calls quietly for Taura.  Hearing no response, he descends to search for her, and finds her sitting despondently at the base of a pillar.  She is genuinely surprised at his return, but glad.  Miles is just telling her his plan to climb out and steal a vehicle when the outside entrance begins to slide open, revealing daylight.

Six Ryoval troopers, two of them armed with nerve disruptors, soon enter, led by Security Chief Moglia, leaving Miles and Taura no chance to climb up and away.  Moglia comments that “Nine” must have decided to start cooperating; Miles squeezed Taura’s hand to try to keep her from reacting.  Moglia tells Miles his friends have made his ransom, which surprises him.  Outside, they finds Bel Thorne and another Dendarii, another half-dozen men from House Fell, a float-truck, and Nicol the quaddie, who is being held at stunnerpoint.

“Is that the man you want?” the green-uniformed guard captain asked Bel Thorne.

“That’s him.” Thorne’s face was white with an odd mixture of relief and distress. “Admiral, are you all right?” Thorne called urgently. Its eyes widened, taking in Miles’s tall companion. “What the hell’s that?”

“She is Recruit-trainee Taura,” Miles said firmly, hoping 1) Bel would unravel the several meanings packed in that sentence and 2) Ryoval’s guards wouldn’t. Bel looked stunned, so evidently Miles had got at least partly through; Security Chief Moglia looked suspicious, but baffled.

Miles gets as close to Bel as the Ryoval guards allow him, asking him what’s going on, while Fell’s and Ryoval’s guards complete the paperwork.  Bel says he’d gone to Baron Fell for help, and the upshot was that Fell agreed to exchange Nicol for Miles, which Bel only found out an hour earlier.  Miles asks if they’re going to refund her dollar, and Bel says he had no idea what kind of torture Miles was undergoing.  He quotes Ky Tung quoting Sun Tzu: “On hemmed-in ground, use subterfuge.”  Miles recalls another Sun Tzu quote: “On desperate ground, fight”; judging the odds (thirteen to five, if they can count Nicol), and wondering if it could get any more desperate.  Miles asks what Baron Fell stands to get out of it, and Bel says he promised Miles would tell him the real truth about the Betan rejuvenation treatment.  Miles asks if “Medtech Vaughn” is on the Ariel yet, and Bel tells him he will be within the hour.  Miles tells him that they’re bringing the whole package, indicating Taura and promising to explain later.

“Meantime, you made a slight miscalculation. This isn’t hemmed-in ground. This is desperate ground. Nicol, I want you to know, the Dendarii don’t give refunds.”

Nicol frowned in bewilderment. Bel’s eyes widened, as it checked out the odds—calculating them thirteen to three, Miles could tell.

“Truly?” Bel choked. A subtle hand signal, down by its trouser seam, brought the trooper to full alert.

“Truly desperate,” Miles reiterated. He inhaled deeply. “Now! Taura, attack!”

Miles heads for Moglia, hoping to use him as shelter from the nerve disruptors.  The Dendarii trooper stuns one of the disruptor-armed guards and Bel drops the other.  Two more Ryoval guards head for him, but Taura picks them up and smashes their heads together.  The Fell guards hesitate, but Nicol launches herself upward in her float chair and knocks one out from above.  Taura throws a Ryoval guard at a Fell guard.  The Dendarii trooper closes with a Fell guard, but the Fell captain stuns both of them.  Moglia presses his truncheon against Miles’s windpipe, calling for reinforcements.  Taura takes out another couple of guards while Bel stuns any of the enemy smart enough to try focusing on her.  Nicol takes out the last green guard, and Bel heads for the truck.  Moglia pulls a knife out of his boot and presses it to Miles’s neck.  He is just instructing everyone to hold still when Taura grabs his throat in her claws.

“I can kill him, before you do,” croaked Moglia.

“The little man is mine,” Taura crooned. “You gave him to me yourself. He came back for me. Hurt him one little bit, and I’ll tear your head off and then I’ll drink your blood.”

Taura lifts Moglia off his feet, and he drops the knife.  She says she still wants to rip his head off, but Miles says that Ryoval will do worse than that to him soon enough.  They stun Moglia, grab their stunned trooper, and pile into the truck.  Miles grabs the trooper’s wrist-com and asks about the drop shuttle.  Bel says it’s parked at a shuttleport about forty km away, with Anderson and Nout manning it.  Miles calls them and orders an emergency pickup; Bel gives them directions and their speed, and Miles encourages them to flout Ryoval’s traffic control.  They patch him through to the Ariel, where Murka expresses relief that Miles is okay, and tells him that Medtech Vaughn is aboard.  Miles says not to let him leave, and says he’s got the tissue sample with him.  He tells Murka to get everyone aboard, pick up the shuttle and break for the wormhole to Escobar as soon as possible, abandoning cargo if necessary.

Bel asks if they weren’t supposed to keep a low profile, and Miles says they struck a blow for justice against Baron Ryoval that he might end up regretting, so they’ve already burned their bridges.  He doesn’t particularly want to tell Baron Fell the truth about the rejuvenation treatment either.  All the pieces were in place there, so he had to seize the opportunity.

Miles goes back to check on Nicol and Taura.  He compliments the quaddie on her fighting ability, and she says she was concerned they might break her dulcimer, or Bel.  Taura’s colour isn’t good, and she tells Miles she’s hungry, so he rounds up a ration bar and gives it to her, promising himself to give her steak and chocolate cake when they’re back on the Ariel.

Two aircars come up behind them, and Bel is forced to dodge back and forth as they begin shooting plasma bolts at the truck.  The truck proves to be unarmored and practically unarmed, and one of the blasts takes off a top rear corner and leaves one of the doors swinging; Taura and Nicol cling together to keep from flying out the back.  Miles calls Anderson back and urges her to push her engine to the limits, which she accepts gleefully.  He then searches the truck for weapons, their stunners being useless, but is unable to find anything.  A blast takes off part of the roof, and Bel is forced down to the ground in a forested valley.  They abandon the truck, and as the Ryoval aircars close in, the drop shuttle arrives and smashes one of them with a tractor beam.  The shuttle lands and the fugitives pile in.

They dock with the Ariel and Miles immediately notices the noises of stressed engines and consequent irregularities in the artificial gravity.  Bel Thorne heads to Nav/Com, Nicole and the stunned trooper are taken to sickbay, and Miles confronts Dr. Canaba.  He accused Canaba of having sent him to kill a 16-year-old girl; Canaba protests, just as Taura emerges from the shuttle, surprised to see the doctor there.  Miles tells Canaba to stay still and tells Laureen Anderson to take Taura for a meal, all she can eat, then a bath, proper uniform, and orientation.  Anderson takes an uncertain Taura in tow, and Miles turns back to Canaba.

Canaba says that he couldn’t leave Taura in Ryoval’s hands, and apparently it didn’t occur to him that the mercenaries would rescue her without it being in their contract.  He adds that he couldn’t take her with him to Barrayar, where it’s well known that they kill mutants.  Miles says Canaba’s not a fit guardian for her anyway, and says she’ll be better off in the Dendarii.  Canaba says that she’s going to die soon, though, because of issues with her metabolism.  He doesn’t know if she’ll live another ten years, or fifteen, or only one, especially since the final deterioration was rapid and painful, judging by what happened to the other prototypes.  Miles says he’s not sure any of them will live longer than fifteen minutes, so she has a right to her destiny as a free woman.

“How free can she ever be, in that body, driven by that metabolism, that face—a freak’s life—better to die painlessly, than to have all that suffering inflicted on her—”

Miles spoke through his teeth. With emphasis. “No. It’s. Not.”

Canaba stared at him, shaken out of the rutted circle of his unhappy reasoning at last.

That’s right, doctor, Miles’s thought glittered. Get your head out of your ass and look at me. Finally.

Miles tells Canaba he likes Taura rather better than he likes Canaba himself.  He regrets that he will still have to retrieve the tissue samples, and debates various subterfuges before resolving that he will have to be honest with Taura about it.  He wonders if he’d have gone in to retrieve her if it hadn’t been for the tissue samples, and is glad he’ll never know.  Canaba reluctantly grants Taura’s freedom.

Miles heads to Nav/Com, where Thorne tells him that Baron Ryoval wants to talk to him.  Miles decides to let him wait a few minutes; he’s surprised when Murka tells him that there’s no pursuit launched yet.  Miles wishes he’d had a chance to clean up, but does the best he can and braces himself for the call.

Miles folded his hands and smiled innocently. “Good morning, Baron. What can I do for you?”

“Die, you little mutant!” Ryoval spat. “You! There isn’t going to be a bunker deep enough for you to burrow in. I’ll put a price on your head that will have every bounty hunter in the galaxy all over you like a second skin—you’ll not eat or sleep—I’ll have you—”

Yes, the baron had seen his freezers all right.

Miles is a little puzzled that Ryoval seems to take it as a given that they’ll escape.  He asks Ryoval how he’ll be able to afford bounty hunters with his reduced assets.  Ryoval asks if his little brother’s involved, which puzzles Miles further; Ryoval’s brother turns out to be Baron Fell, and Ryoval refuses to believe that Fell is not involved, unless it’s House Bharaputra instead, reneging on letting him in on their genetics monopoly…  Miles realizes that Bharaputra may well have been involved in the death of Baron Fell’s clone, but at least they won’t be getting together to compare notes about Miles’s real mission.  Miles playes along with Ryoval’s idée-fixe and tells him Taura was a Bharaputran plant in the first place, to help him steal samples from Ryoval’s collection before they destroyed the rest.  Ryoval cuts the connection and Miles heads off to shower.

He is much cleaner and somewhat more caffeinated when Baron Fell calls in.  He is less upset than his brother, though he does point out that Miles seems to be absconding with stolen property, which Miles takes to mean Nicol.  Miles says they were in somewhat of a hurry; Fell says he doesn’t care as long as he gets his agreed price, the truth about the rejuvenation treatment.  Miles says he can’t tell him that, and Fell immediately turns to command the launch of pursuit ships.  Miles asks him to wait, claiming that the truth would do him no good whatsoever, but having another piece of information to exchange.  He tells Fell that it wasn’t Ryoval who killed Fell’s clone, but that he paid the Bharaputrans to do it.  They were probably planning to take over House Fell while they combined their operations.  He also points out that they gave the Baron their credit chit but only loaded half their cargo.

Fell considers and eventually calls off the pursuit, though he warns Miles not to return to Jackson’s Whole.  Miles agrees, and just before Fell breaks the link, he tells him the truth about the Betan rejuvenation treatment–that it doesn’t exist.

After that, he stays in Nav/Com until they make it to the jump point, and awakens later back in his cabin.  They are crossing an empty system on the route to Escobar.  Miles has some food, then goes to check on Thorne and Nicol.  In Engineering, a tech is repairing Nicol’s float chair while she lies on the floor watching.  Miles assures Nicol that she should be safe from Baron Fell.  Nicol says it’s time she begins to head home; from Escobar she can get home via Earth and Orient IV.  Bel tries to persuade her to sign on with the Dendarii, but she’s determined.  Nicol notes that there are some areas in quaddiespace with gravity for a growing colony of downsiders.

Miles was faintly alarmed—to lose a ship commander of proven loyalty—

“Ah,” said Thorne in a pensive tone to match Nicol’s. “A long way from my home, your asteroid belt.”

“Will you return to Beta Colony, then, someday?” she asked. “Or are the Dendarii Mercenaries your home and family?”

“Not quite that passionate, for me,” said Thorne. “I mainly stick around due to an overwhelming curiosity to see what happens next.” Thorne favored Miles with a peculiar smile.

Thorne takes Nicol on a tour of the ship, both of them seeming determined to make the most of the three days remaining before they reach Escobar.

Anderson brings Taura to see Miles in sickbay, and Miles is highly impressed to see her in a well-fitting uniform, cleaned up and hair done up in an exotic braid.  She is looking somewhat better nourished, and her claws have been sharpened and polished.  Miles sends Anderson away and asks her how her first day among the Dendarii has been.  He tells her that she does have a choice, to leave them at Escobar if she wants, but Taura is alarmed by this, wondering if they’re trying to get rid of her because she eats so much.  Miles says she eats like her weight in fighting men, that’s not a problem, but there is one further issue.

He asks her if she remembers Canaba injecting her back when she was with the Bharaputrans, which she does.  He tells her it was a repository for dormant genetic material; he says that his original mission had been to pick up Dr. Canaba, and only later did Canaba insist that his gene complexes be brought as well.  Taura is pleased that Canaba wanted to take her with him, but Miles says that wasn’t exactly what he meant.

“It was your good luck,” Miles plunged on, “that I’d lost my men and was disarmed when we finally met. Canaba lied to me, too. In his defense, he seems to have had some dim idea of saving you from a brutal life as Ryoval’s slave. He sent me to kill you, Taura. He sent me to slay a monster, when he should have been begging me to rescue a princess in disguise. I’m not too pleased with Dr. Canaba. Nor with myself. I lied through my teeth to you down in Ryoval’s basement, because I thought I had to, to survive and win.”

Her face was confused, congealing, the light in her eyes fading. “Then you didn’t . . . really think I was human—”

“On the contrary. Your choice of test was an excellent one. It’s much harder to lie with your body than with your mouth. When I, er, demonstrated my belief, it had to be real.”

He offers to demonstrate again, then swiftly adds it would be a bad idea, as her superior officer, against Dendarii regulations.  He says that Canaba still wants to retrieve his sample, and has asked Miles to sedate Taura while he does.  Miles says he’s not going to do that, that a simple medical stunner will be good enough, and Canaba can damn well do his work with his patient awake and watching.  Then she’ll be done with Canaba and Jackson’s Whole.  She agrees, wanting to get it over with.  Canaba is not pleased, but, seeing the look on Miles’s face, he doesn’t protest.

After he leaves, Taura tells Miles that his arrival seemed like a miracle, everything she’d wanted.  She says she wishes she were normal, and Miles says he can’t give her that since he doesn’t have it himself.  He tells her instead to wish to be herself, to the greatest degree possible, giving her Nicol and Bel Thorne for examples.  Taura asks him how long she has, telling him she saw what happened to her crechemates.  Miles tells her that just makes it more important that she learn what she is, and what she’s good at, and become the best she can.

Taura says she wishes she could be beautiful like Sgt. Anderson, and Miles says instead she should try to be beautiful like herself, which Sgt. Anderson can doubtless help with.  She asks how long it will take before she really becomes a full Dendarii, and Miles says it won’t really happen until they rendezvous with the rest of the fleet.  Taura says that means he isn’t her commander yet, so technically there’s no fraternizing…  Miles is a little daunted, but she persuades him, and they retreat to his cabin for the remainder of the journey.

Comments

So after all that they don’t actually get to escape on their own, but I guess it’s okay to bring Bel and Nicol in on it.  The upshot of their explorations is simply the destruction of Ryoval’s frozen samples after all, which of course was highly satisfying, but it will have repercussions.  That is one nice thing about the series–thing do come back to bite you if you’re not careful.  (Which is why, as I said, I would love to see the telepaths come up again…)

I think that Taura might have given up on Miles’s return a little too quickly, but I guess she hadn’t had that much experience with people who actually told her the truth.  Her existence up to that point has doubtless been quite stunted, between the hired fosterers, the lab technicians, the deaths of her siblings, and then the sale to House Ryoval and the abuse she received there.  Ironically, the best treatment she probably got in her life was probably from Dr. Canaba, who felt responsible for her, but didn’t have a clue about her real feelings.  Canaba isn’t really a villain–I’m sure we can agree that Baron Ryoval fulfills that description the best–but he’s rather short-sighted.

Overall, this isn’t one of my favourite stories.  Taura isn’t my favourite character, either, though she’s all right; maybe it’s her insecurities that get to me.  Though I guess with all those extra battle skills she needed some psychological limitations to balance things out.  It does inject plot elements for later books like Mirror Dance, Memory, and Diplomatic Immunity, so there’s that, but somehow the story doesn’t stand out for me.


Next week we move on to the next work chronologically, the novella “Borders of Infinity”, which will probably also take three installments, though I’ll take a look at the word count and figure out how precisely to subdivide it.  And no week off for me until I’m finished that novella, and the series really starts to pick up…

Read Full Post »

Welcome back, somewhat belatedly, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  I had, of course, planned a week off after finishing Ethan of Athos, but the extra day was due to a deadline that I didn’t plan ahead for quite well enough.  That’s out of the way now, so without further ado, let’s return to the reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga with the novella “Labyrinth”.

Written, with two other novellas (“The Mountains of Mourning”, already covered, and “Borders of Infinity”, still to come), between the novels Brothers In Arms and The Vor Game, “Labyrinth” was first collected with those two stories into Borders of Infinity, but the more recent omnibuses have split them up; this one comes after Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos in Miles, Mystery and Mayhem.  (Apparently it’s also collected in Miles, Mutants and Microbes for some benighted reason.)  It does come chronologically after Ethan of Athos, and before “Borders of Infinity”, as part of what I think of as the Dendarii Adventures era of Miles’s life.  Since it doesn’t have chapters, I divided it, somewhat arbitrarily, into three parts, approximately the same length as two chapters, so let’s get started with the first bit.

Labyrinth

Miles looks at a globe of Jackson’s Whole, the planet they are approaching–a cold planet, only temperate at the equator–and wishes he didn’t have to go there.  He admits to himself that if it wasn’t Jackson’s Whole, it would be somewhere else; they wouldn’t have been so successful if there hadn’t been a demand for what they sold.  The crime families are getting sufficiently established, though, that Miles thinks that it can’t be long until they start becoming actively staid.

House Dyne, detergent banking—launder your money on Jackson’s Whole. House Fell, weapons deals with no questions asked. House Bharaputra, illegal genetics. Worse, House Ryoval, whose motto was “Dreams Made Flesh,” surely the damndest—Miles used the adjective precisely—procurer in history. House Hargraves, the galactic fence, prim-faced middlemen for ransom deals—you had to give them credit, hostages exchanged through their good offices came back alive, mostly. And a dozen smaller syndicates, variously and shiftingly allied.

Even he, unfortunately, has to deal with them; he has a list of weaponry to buy.  Bel Thorne comes into the cabin to tell him that Ariel is close to docking at Fell Station.  Miles has been noticing that the hermaphrodite has been emphasizing its female side in his presence on this trip, which disturbs him slightly.  He asks Bel if it had ever been to Jackson’s Whole; Bel says it was there once, with Oser to buy from a different Baron Fell.  Bel asks Miles if he’s giving planet leave for the crew, and offers to book a room for two near the docks…  Miles says day passes only, and tries to reject Bel’s offer politely.  They’ve been around this subject more than once already, and Miles wishes he could bring himself to be firm enough to settle it once and for all.  He isn’t even sure what Bel sees in him, for that matter.  Miles asks Bel why it doesn’t go back to Beta Colony and settle down with another hermaphrodite.  Bel says Beta Colony is too boring, that’s why it left.

“Mind you, a great place to raise kids.” One corner of Miles’s mouth twisted up.

Thorne grinned. “You got it. You’re an almost perfect Betan, y’know? Almost. You have the accent, the in-jokes . . .”

Miles went a little still. “Where do I fail?”

Thorne touched Miles’s cheek; Miles flinched.

“Reflexes,” said Thorne.

Bel says it won’t give him away, and offers to help him.  Miles says they have a mission, and tells Bel that buying weapons is only the cover for it.  Bel isn’t surprised; the Ariel is the fastest ship in the fleet, not the biggest cargo carrier, and Miles is overseeing it himself rather than leaving it to the quartermaster.  Miles says he does want to make contact with the new Baron Fell, but adds that at some point a certain middle-aged man is going to appear and sign up as a Dendarii medtech, at which point they’ll be leaving the planet at all speed.  The man is a defector from Bharaputra Laboratories, their top geneticist, and their secret employer (Barrayar, of course) will grant him asylum after that; all the Dendarii need to do is play dumb about his identity and feign outrage when he disappears on Escobar.  Should be pretty straightforward…

After they dock at Fell Station, they go to purchase their arms, but soon receive an invitation from the Baron himself.  After going back to change into more formal uniforms, they arrive at Baron Fell’s private quarters.  Miles notes that the private sector of the station seems to run completely independently from the rest of the station, able to separate if necessary, and probably has its own engine and weapons too.  The reception chamber inside is large, open and yet with numerous private nooks.  The exits are all guarded, and one wall is a large viewport overlooking the docks and the planet below.  The various groups of people inside are dressed in a variety of fashions, but Baron Fell’s customers don’t mingle with each other.  When a serving woman offers them drinks, Miles allows Bel to take some, though Miles, with poor alcohol tolerance, doesn’t drink much of his.

They hear music from nearby, and move towards it, but are caught off-guard by the musician, who Miles takes for one of House Ryoval’s wilder experiments.  A woman floats in a null-gee bubble, playing a double-sided stringed instrument with hammers held in all four of her hands, her lower arms emerging from where her legs would have been.  Thorne identifies her as a quaddie, from a genetic experiment dating back two hundred years, to about the time of the first hermaphrodites.  They’d been planned as ideal zero-gravity dwellers, until the advent of artificial gravity made them obsolete, but they fled and set up their own null-gee world far away from Earth.  Thorne is surprised to see one so far from home.  They listen to the piece until its end, and Miles encourages Bel to go talk to her.

Bel is momentarily tongue-tied, then asks her about her instrument, which she calls a double-sided hammer dulcimer.  Bel asks her how she got there, and she said she was working her way back home from Earth and took employment with Baron Fell on the way.  She is pleased to be recognizes as a quaddie, not a genetic freak, and Bel commiserates, as a hermaphrodite himself.  She introduces herself as Nicol, no last name, and Bel asks her what she’s doing later.

At that point they are interrupted by Georish Stauber, a.k.a. Baron Fell, a jovial-looking man, older than Miles had pictured.  Miles bows expertly, then castigates himself for not bowing awkwardly like Bel, to help preserve his Betan cover.  The Baron tells Miles he’s glad to meet Admiral Naismith at last, after his rapid rise and mysterious origins; Miles finds his gaze almost too avid, and wonders if Fell knows about his dual identity.  The Baron compliments him for his success at Vervain, and his disposal of the fleet’s previous commander.

“You interest me exceedingly,” continued the baron. “For example, there’s the puzzle of your apparent age. And your prior military career.”

If Miles had kept his drink, he’d have knocked it back in one gulp right then. He clasped his hands convulsively behind his back instead. Dammit, the pain lines just didn’t age his face enough. If the baron was indeed seeing right through the pseudo-mercenary to the twenty-three-year-old Security lieutenant—and yet, he usually carried it off—

The baron lowered his voice. “Do the rumors run equally true about your Betan rejuvenation treatment?”

Miles is relieved to know the reason for the Baron’s interest, and asks him why he doesn’t just do the usual Jacksonian thing and have himself transplanted into a clone-body.  Baron Fell says that he’s had some trouble in that area, with the body donors dying inconveniently, and he doesn’t want to risk having his own brain die in the process.  Miles “admits” that he did partake in an experimental procedure, but claims it wasn’t successful, leaving his bones overly brittle, and his expected life-span not good.  Baron Fell is disappointed, while Bel conceals his amusement at Miles’s fabrication, the rejuvenation treatment being 100% mythical.

A newcomer approaches them, with a bodyguard–heightened metabolism and callus-ridged hand marking him as a strong fighter even unarmed; the man himself appeared young, but there was likely an older brain inside the body.  Baron Fell introduces him as Baron Ryoval; Miles makes sure to bow awkwardly this time.  The quaddie, Nicol, recoiled when Ryoval approached, and is now pretending to tune her dulcimer, keeping it between her and Ryoval, who appraises her openly.  Ryoval is about to request a song when he receives a page on his wrist com.

“This is Manager Deem in Sales and Demonstrations. We have a problem. That creature House Bharaputra sold us has savaged a customer.”

Ryoval’s greek-statue lips rippled in a silent snarl. “I told you to chain it with duralloy.”

“We did, my lord. The chains held, but it tore the bolts right out of the wall.”

Ryoval tells them to stun it, which they already have, then tells them to starve it into submission.  The “client” is injured, so Ryoval assigns his personal physician to look at him, but is annoyed at their incompetence.  He returns to his song request, but doesn’t let Nicol play very long before interrupting her and saying she’s just what he’s looking for.  Nicol and Bel are both annoyed at the song’s interruption.  Fell says that she’s still not for sale, but Ryoval says Fell hasn’t heard his offer yet.  Fell and Ryoval debate whether she can be duplicated, particularly her musical skills and creativity; Miles realizes that Fell is really just lording his possession of Nicol over his rival.

Ryoval offers to buy a tissue sample instead; Fell says it will disrupt her uniqueness, but Ryoval points out that it takes ten years to grow a mature clone, as Fell well knows.  Bel interjects that Fell can’t sell any part of her, because she’s a free citizen; the barons are unimpressed with his interruption.  Ryoval tells Bel condescendingly that Fell owns her contract, and on Jackson’s Whole that’s sufficient, not like the laws from Beta Colony, which don’t apply here.  Bel asks if that means he could kill Ryoval with impunity, and Ryoval says that the practical matter of being killed by his bodyguard will make that unlikely.

Miles tells Bel it’s time to move on.  Ryoval invites Miles to visit his establishment downside, where he might find something to his taste, but Miles says Fell already has his credit chit.  Bel won’t drop the subject of Nicol, though; Ryoval responds by saying that, as a hermaphrodite, Bel could get a job with him for a substantially higher pay than a mercenary, with “group rates”.  Miles restrains Bel from taking too much offense, and Ryoval says he’d buy a tissue sample from him as well.

Bel’s breath exploded. “My clone-siblings, to be—be—some sort of sex-slaves into the next century! Over my dead body—or yours—you—”

Bel was so mad it was stuttering, a phenomenon Miles had never seen in seven years’ acquaintance including combat.

“So Betan,” smirked Ryoval.

“Stop it, Ry,” growled Fell.

Ryoval sighed. “Oh, very well. But it’s so easy.”

Miles bids them farewell.  Ryoval reiterates his invitation, as a more cosmopolitan sort than his friend.  Miles declines again, and Ryoval says it’s a shame to miss their fascinating dog-and-dwarf act…  Miles and Bel retreat, and one of Fell’s guards escorts them out.

Back on the Ariel, Bel apologizes for losing his temper; Miles says that Ryoval, who’s much older than that body, was just toying with them.  Bel goes on to castigate himself for his poor showing with Nicol.  Miles commiserates, but thinks that they don’t have the manpower to really do anything to help the quaddie, if Fell is really that committed to keeping her.  He then begins to wonder where the scientist they’re supposed to pick up has gotten to.

The intercom bleeps, and Bel answers is; Nicol is at the docking hatch asking to see it.  She is escorted inside, traveling in a float chair, which seems to have been customized just for her.  Bel greets her affably, but Nicol is all business, asking Bel to confirm that he is a mercenary, and sympathetic to her plight.  Miles points out she got herself into the situation, and Nicol says she intends to get herself out.  She says that while Baron Fell is formidable protector, he’s dying, or convinced that he is.  He had a clone-body prepared, but it was assassinated two months ago by parties unknown, though his half-brother Baron Ryoval, is a prime suspect.

Nicol says she wants to buy passage out with them.  She can’t leave openly, because of the contract she signed with Baron Fell back on Earth; she can’t buy it out without the Baron’s consent, and it won’t expire for five more years.  Her living expenses seem to be going up, so she’d rather try to buy her way out now than wait while her bankroll decreases.  She’d been promised help with her music career which has never materialized, and she doesn’t want to end up down on the planet.

She paused. “Are you afraid of Baron Fell?”

“No!” said Thorne, as Miles said, “Yes.” They exchanged a sardonic look.

“We are inclined to be careful of Baron Fell,” Miles suggested. Thorne shrugged agreement.

Nicol offers them a wad of money, probably a couple of thousand Betan dollars.  Miles remember all that he owes to Bel, and gives Bel permission to do the negotations.  Bel says that the price isn’t quite right, and picks only a single Betan dollar off the stack.  Miles says that he demands a veto if they can’t do this in secret.

Miles is awakened from sleep a few hours later to be notified of an urgent call from a man on the planet who says his name is Vaughn.  This is a code name which means he’s the man they’re supposed to pick up, a Dr. Canaba.  Miles finds out that he’s still on the surface, instead of on the space station, and says there’s a problem.  He’s reluctant to talk about it over an insecure channel, but he says he’s lost something which he needs to bring with him, some samples which he’s sure Miles’s employers will want.  Miles, who knows more about what his employers at ImpSec want than Canaba imagines, is skeptical, but Canaba insists, refusing to leave without them.  Miles agrees to meet him on the planet, though he objects to the extra risk.

Miles and Bel meet Canaba down on the planet in a cold, snowy little park, with two Dendarii guards; he leads them into an abandoned building which he thinks is unmonitored, which Bel confirms.  Miles asks Canaba about his motivations in leaving his comfortable job for House Bharaputra, insisting that he needs to know about what Canaba wants before he can commit to protecting Canaba with any confidence.

Canaba says that what appealed to him about Jackson’s Whole was the ability to work unfettered of inconvenient legalities, but he began to resent the work that the Bharaputrans kept requiring him to do, interrupting his own research.  No other first-rate scientists, just hacks, and many of Canaba’s discoveries languish in obscurity because House Bharaputra doesn’t think them profitable enough, and he can’t publish his work.

He stopped, lowered his head. “I doubtless sound like a megalomaniac to you.”

“Ah . . .” said Miles, “you sound quite frustrated.”

“The frustration,” said Canaba, “woke me from a long sleep. Wounded ego—it was only wounded ego. But in my pride, I rediscovered shame. And the weight of it stunned me, stunned me where I stood. Do you understand? Does it matter if you understand? Ah!” He paced away to the wall, and stood facing it, his back rigid.

“Uh,” Miles scratched the back of his head ruefully, “yeah. I’d be glad to spend many fascinating hours listening to you explain it to me—on my ship. Outbound.”

Canaba says he needs someone with Miles’s practical mind right now.  He had seven gene-complexes, for curing diseases, for improving oxygen generation in algae…and one that may be the only surviving sample, brought by a mysterious man to a Bharaputran lab which ended up destroyed by mysterious offworlders.  Miles realizes that this must be Terrence Cee’s telepathy gene complex, which of course Elli had already brought back a copy of, and so is already on Barrayar, but if the others are near the same potential, Miles’s boss Simon Illyan will not want Miles to let them slip through his fingers.

Canaba said he’d hidden the dormant samples inside a live organism where he didn’t think they’d be discovered.  Miles asks why he didn’t just put them in his own body, and Canaba realizes that would have been smarter, but too late now.  He says the organism was an attempt to create a super-soldier for a foreign government, given to House Bharaputra because House Ryoval tended to specialize in one-offs rather than armies.  They blended animal genes with humans to try to surpass human limitations, but what they ended up with were monsters.

“Tell me,” Miles choked, “were there any actual combat-experienced soldiers on the committee?”

“I assume the client had them. They supplied the parameters,” said Canaba.

Said Thorne in a suffused voice, “I see. They were trying to re-invent the enlisted man.”

They produced ten prototypes, then the clients lost their war.  Only one was still alive, which Ryoval meant to kill before he left, out of mercy, but a few days ago it was sold to House Ryoval, for its uniqueness.  He asks the mercenaries to kill it and retrieve the samples, before he’ll agree to go with them.  Miles agrees, and tells Canaba to report to his ship in 48 hours.  He asks how to recognize it, and Canaba says it’s eight feet tall with fangs (not _his_ idea).  The rest of the body should be destroyed as completely as possible.

“I . . . it might also be best if my future employer didn’t learn about this. They have intense military interests. It might excite them unduly.”

“Oh,” said Miles/Admiral Naismith/Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan of the Barrayaran Imperial Service, “I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

Miles assures Canaba that they’ll be able to handle it, and shoos him out.  He tells Bel that he’ll try to get it without a raid, if at all possible.

Comments

How many Bujold books/stories start with Miles approaching a planet and looking down on it from space?  This one, Cetaganda, possibly Brothers In Arms…not that many, but it seems a bit of a cliche nonetheless.  I guess it’s just like an establishing shot, but for some reason I recalled this one starting at Baron Fell’s reception.

The quaddies were, of course, introduced in Falling Free, which I’m not covering in this Reread for various reasons–it’s too far outside of the timeline, and I don’t like it that much compared to the rest of the series.  Between this story and Diplomatic Immunity, we learn enough about them, as far as I’m concerned.  Interesting to place them and the hermaphrodites as being part of the same uterine-replicator-spawned wave of genetic experimentation.

I’d also forgotten that Terrence Cee’s telepathy genes scored a mention here as well.  Which reminds me that Barrayar does have possession of the telepathy genes right now; does that mean that there’s some little telepaths growing up on Barrayar?  You know, Bujold could seriously start a major plotline involving the telepaths growing up on Barrayar, Athos, and possibly Cetaganda, but I suppose it may not really be her style.  She may just be inclined to quietly forget it.  Besides, she may not want to move forward in the timeline that far…

Baron Ryoval is a nasty piece of work, but then I get the impression that one does not rise to the top of a Jacksonian house by being the nicest.  Baron Fell is affable enough, but has a petty streak to him, and can doubtless be ruthless as well.  Fell, Bharaputra and Ryoval are the Houses I remember encountering the most, at least here and in Mirror Dance, which are where most of the Jackson’s Whole references occur (apart from the Bharaputrans who show up in Kline Station in Ethan of Athos, and whatever random Jacksonians we see in the Hegen Hub in The Vor Game).  Do we ever find out why it’s called Jackson’s Whole, by the way?  Who’s Jackson?  Why “Whole”?  It’d be nice to see some kind of canonical explanation for it sometime.


Approximately one-third of the way through, now, but we’re still just setting up the central plot of the story.  Nicol is just a subplot, though an important one nonetheless.  Next week I should, hopefully, be back on schedule, unless my long weekend throws me off, but I’ll try not to let  it.

Read Full Post »