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

Chapter Twenty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just what I always wanted. More clutter.”

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Something is owed,” she said gravely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the Internet phenomenon which devotes itself, through me, to a stunningly entertaining, well, reread, I guess, of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  You’ve known it was coming, and here it is: the single-chapter installment of the Komarr reread.  Three chapters left, and on Monday I decided I felt like saddling Next Week’s Me with more work and taking it easy this week.  Next Week’s Me may have something to say about that, but This Week’s Me will be days away by then.  A few other times I’ve been tempted, of course, but the two chapters seemed to go together well enough that I decided it would be worth it to do them back to back.  This time, I thought I could pull this one off solo, so I guess we’ll see how well that works.

Chapter Nineteen

Ekaterin tries sabotaging the sonic toilet by flushing her shoes down it, but to no avail; she complains to Professora Vorthys that it’s too well designed, and says that Nikki had managed to do it on the jumpship out from Barrayar.  She’s glad that Nikki isn’t there, but she can’t help but think that somebody, perhaps Miles, must know how to sabotage a sonic toilet effectively, or even turn it into a weapon, and grumpily wishes he were there.  She checks the room over for the tenth time; she’s considered trying to start a fire, but their hair is the only thing in the room that would burn, and in any case a fire in a locked room is a last resort.

The Professora says she did have her Vorfemme knife, but it was sheathed in the boot she threw earlier.  Ekaterin admits she’d stopped wearing hers on Komarr, and she’d always wondered why Vor men let their wives have such tiny weapons.  The Professora says that given some of their female ancestors, they were probably right to be cautious.

Ekaterin’s aunt asks if she can sit down on again–on the toilet, their only seat–and Ekaterin lets her, since she’s not looking that well.  Madame Vorthys tells Ekaterin that if she sees a chance for escape, she should take it, and not worry about her; it’s more important that they let people know what the Komarran conspirators are trying to do.  Ekaterin confirms that, the last she knew, the Auditors hadn’t figured out what the device was.

“I hope they won’t think we ought to sacrifice ourselves, like in the Tragedy of the Maiden of the Lake.”

“She was actually sacrificed by her brother, as the tradition would have it,” said the Professora. “I do wonder if it was quite so voluntary as he later claimed.”

Ekaterin reflected dryly on the old Barrayaran legend. As the tale went, the town of Vorkosigan Surleau, on the Long Lake, had been besieged by the forces of Hazelbright. Loyal vassals of the absent Count, a Vor officer and his sister, had held out till the last. On the verge of the final assault, the Maiden of the Lake had offered up her pale throat to her brother’s sword rather than fall to the ravages of the enemy troops. The very next morning, the siege was unexpectedly lifted by the subterfuge of her betrothed—one of their Auditor Vorkosigan’s distant ancestors, come to think of it, the latterly famous General Count Selig of that name—who sent the enemy hurriedly marching away to meet the false rumor of another attack. But it was, of course, too late for the Maiden of the Lake. Much Barrayaran historical sympathy, in the form of plays and poems and songs, had been expended upon the subsequent grief of the two men; Ekaterin had memorized one of the shorter poems for a school recitation, in her childhood. “I’ve always wondered,” said Ekaterin, “if the attack really had taken place the next day, and all the pillage and rape had proceeded on schedule, would they have said, `Oh, that’s all right, then’?”

“Probably,” said Aunt Vorthys, her lips twitching.

Ekaterin says she wants to go home, but to modern Barrayar, not the ancient version that some girls she knows romanticize.  Madame Vorthys says she tries to disabuse her history students of any such notions.  After some silence, Ekaterin asks her aunt if she could feign illness, and her aunt says that it wouldn’t really be pretending; Ekaterin wonders if it’s still jump-sickness, or there’s some aftereffect of the stunner.  She asks about her aunt’s heart, and Madame Vorthys says that she’s on the waiting list for an operation to implant a new one.  She agrees to act dangerously sick, so that maybe the Komarrans will let them out of the room and give them another opportunity.

Ekaterin pounds on the door and calls out until Madame Radovas and a stunner-wielding Arozzi open it.  Ekaterin asks for a doctor for her aunt, or at least a place to lie down for a while.  They agree cautiously to the latter; Arozzi says it’ll be nice to have the bathroom back, and suggests putting them in the middle of the room where they can be easily watched, and anyway Ekaterin will be busy looking after her aunt.

A few minutes later, Madame Radovas escorts them to where a cot has been set up on one side of the room, far from the alarms.  Arozzi and Madame Radovas take turns holding the stunner on them while they get the Professora settled and get her a hot drink; Ekaterin acts as solicitous as she can while covertly taking in her surroundings.  The device is hooked up to more power, and Soudha, Cappell, and another man she doesn’t know are absorbed with preparing that.  Cappell makes markings on the floor, and Soudha uses a remote control to move the device’s float cradle to line up with them.  Ekaterin takes out her map cube and tries to figure out if it’s being aimed at the wormhole, and her best guess is that it might be.  She looks for exits; in addition to the bathroom and the entrance, there’s an external airlock, a door that might lead back to offices, and the glass-walled control booth.

She turns to questioning Madame Radovas about their plans; Madame Radovas says that they had planned to collapse the wormhole and sacrifice themselves, and it’s almost annoying that their hostages might give them a way out.  Though she did leave three children behind on the planet, and hopefully her death would keep them from becoming ImpSec hostages in their turn.  She says they voted on it, Komarran-style–she was considered to have inherited her husband’s voting shares–and only Soudha, who has no children, voted to wait and try again later.  Ekaterin asks about all the Barrayarans that could be cut off from their families, and Madame Radovas merely tells her to be glad she’s on the right side of the wormhole; she also claims that Barrayar’s industrial base is better than it was at the first Time of Isolation, so the planet should do better.

“How . . . do you expect to die?” asked Ekaterin. “Take poison together? Walk out an airlock?” And will you kill us first?

“I expect you Barrayarans will take care of those details, when you figure out what happened,” said Madame Radovas. “Foscol and Cappell think we will escape, afterwards, or that we might be permitted to surrender. I think it will be the Solstice Massacre all over again. We even have our very own Vorkosigan for it. I’m not afraid.” She hesitated, as if contemplating her own brave words. “Or at any rate, I’m too tired to care anymore.”

Ekaterin realizes that she’s less afraid of the Komarrans than she was of Tien at his worst–once he’d admitted to getting rid of a nerve disrupter she hadn’t known he had.  Maybe it’s because Nikki is safe, like the fairy tale of the mutant who kept his heart hidden in a box.  Soudha adjusts the device’s position again; he, Cappell, and the other engineer get into a discussion which results in Soudha leaving the remote control on the float-cradle while they all discuss a power connection over by the wall.

If I think about this, the chance will be gone. If I think about this, even my mutant’s heart will fail me.

Had she the right to take this much risk upon herself? That was the real fear, yes, and it shook her to her core. This wasn’t a task for her. This was a task for ImpSec, the police, the army, a Vor hero, anyone but her. Who are not here. But oh, if she tried and failed, she failed for all Barrayar, for all time. And who would take care of Nikki, if he lost both parents in the space of barely a week? The safe thing to do was to wait for competent grownup male people to rescue her.

Like Tien, yeah?

She turns back to her aunt, and pretends to be tucking in the blanket, while actually loosening it; she turns smoothly and wraps the blanket around Madame Radovas, pinning her arms to her side so the stunner fire goes harmlessly to the deck, then shaking her so she drops it.  She kicks the stunner to her aunt, shoves Madame Radovas away, then sprints for the float-cradle.  She grabs the remote and runs for the glass control booth, the men beginning to chase after her.  She reaches the control booth in time, just barely, to shut and lock the door before Cappell and the others reach it.

Not sparing a thought for her aunt, she points the remote control at the float cradle, trying to figure out how the controls work.  Finally she figures out how to raise it up, though it takes a few more tries before she can make it rotate.  It careens around, scraping off the catwalks and tearing loose power cables.  Soudha tries to break through the glass wall, designed to stand up to vacuum, and resistant even to stunner fire.  She manages to override the cradle’s preset function, which was keeping it level; she flips it over, then cancels the antigravity, and it drops to the deck.  She’s prepared to try again, but on the first try it bursts like a clay flowerpot, sending shrapnel throughout the loading bay.  The glass wall even stops that, and in vicious glee she smashes the cradle up and down a few more times anyway.

She looks around the room, and sees her aunt sitting bent over against a wall, and the Komarrans beginning to get organized.  Madame Radovas has her stunner back, and Arozzi and Soudha are working on the door with a box of electronic tools.  In the booth are controls to evacuate the bay, but she can’t do that with her aunt in there; there’s also a comconsole, though.

“Hello, Emergency?” Ekaterin panted as the vid-plate activated. “My name is Ekaterin Vorsoisson—” She had to stop, as the automated system tried to route her to her choice of traveler’s aids. She rejected Lost & Found, selected Security, and started over, not certain she’d reached a human yet, and praying it would all be recorded. “My name is Ekaterin Vorsoisson. Lord Auditor Vorthys is my uncle. I’m being held prisoner, along with my aunt, by Komarran terrorists at the Southport Transport docks and locks. I’m in a loading bay control booth right now, but they’re getting the door open.” She glanced over her shoulder. Soudha had defeated the lock; the airseal door, bent from Cappell’s efforts with the wrench, whined and refused to retreat into its slot. Soudha and Arozzi put their shoulders to it, grunting, and it inched open. “Tell Lord Auditor Vorkosigan—tell ImpSec—”

Then the swearing Soudha slipped sideways through the door, followed by Cappell still clutching his wrench. Laughing hysterically, tears running down her cheeks, Ekaterin turned to face her fate.

Comments

If Ekaterin had been nothing more than a potential love interest for Miles, then maybe that might have excused giving her viewpoint chapters when she was introduced, so we could get to know her and approve.  Of course, she also gets to fight her way out of a disintegrating marriage and impress us all with her strength and dignity, which is also good.  But what is she to the “main” plot, the mystery, conspiracy, and conflict that Miles has been trying to deal with, the “public stakes” as my wife would call it?  For most of the book she’s mostly an observer, someone affected by it but not really able to help too much in solving it.  But at the end, apparently, she becomes the person who manages to be in the right place at the right time, and with enough guts and resourcefulness to save the day.

I get a little tired of referring to Ekaterin’s aunt, Vorthys’s wife, as “the Professora”, even though that’s what tends to be used.  Doesn’t she have a first name?  Probably, but nobody ever uses it.  And somehow I can’t just call her “Vorthys”, because that’s what I’ve been using for her husband, a more major character in this book.  I can get away with “Madame Vorthys”, I suppose, though that’s still two words, and I get tired of “Madame Radovas” over and over, too.  I try to switch it out a little bit, but of course then I run the risk of the “burly detective syndrome”, resorting to outlandish descriptors to avoid repetition–or the opposite, pronoun confusion, like “She told her not to worry about her if she had any problems.”

Bujold has been quoted as saying “The challenge for a writer is to have everyone, including the villains, acting with the maximum intelligence, and still find some way to make it dramatic.”  I guess that include the proviso that the villains should be just as intelligent and competent as you’d expect them to be, and in particular they can goof up when they’re out of the depth.  Soudha and the others were ahead of ImpSec and the Auditors from the beginning, but Ekaterin is able to overmaster them because of their inexperience with dealing directly with their adversaries.  We can’t all be expert kidnappers, I guess.


See, there’s kind of a cliff-hanger on this chapter; Ekaterin is in jeopardy, her aunt’s health is in doubt, and the Komarrans have just lost their last hope; will their rage drive them to extremity, with nothing left to lose?  Will Miles be able to save Ekaterin and her aunt, and maybe wrest some happiness for himself out of the affair?  Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of–Komarr!

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Typhoons! Earthquakes! Hurricanes! Tornados! Smog!  Amid the myriad disasters wracking the modern world, there is one shining bright spot (well, more than one, really, but no fewer than one): the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  Holding back the zombie apocalypse and looming earth-striking asteroids, I post here my synopsis and comments for two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s book Komarr, from her award-winning and just generally awesome Vorkosigan Saga.  In Chapters Nine and Ten, Ekaterin Vorsoisson takes a stand, and Miles Vorkosigan takes a chance, which, unfortunately, does not turn out as well as could be hoped…

Chapter Nine

Ekaterin packs Miles’s possessions up for him, not sure what the odd medical device might be.

Vorkosigan’s war story of his Sergeant Beatrice burned in Ekaterin’s mind, as the marks on her wrists seemed to burn. O fortunate man, that his missed grasp had passed in a fraction of a second. What if he had had years to think about it first? Hours to calculate the masses and forces and the true arc of descent? Would it have been cowardice or courage to let go of a comrade he could not possibly have saved, to save himself at least? He’d had a command, he’d had responsibilities to others, too. How much would it have cost you, Captain Vorkosigan, to have opened your hands and deliberately let go?

She’s sent Nikolai’s to a friend’s for the night, which took longer than she’d planned, and returned the rented grav-bed.  She hoped that Miles would take the hint and decamp immediately when he returned.  She’s barely had time to start on packing her own things, though.  Looking over the remnants of her plants, she decides she’s going to have abandon most of it, just like her marriage.  She packs her library, but leaves her furniture, thinking that it’s like rescuing possessions from a fire, except in slow motion.  She can’t bear to leave behind her great-aunt’s skellytum plant, though.

As she’s trying to figure out how to transport it, Tien returns, asking about dinner; he says that Miles stayed behind at the office.  She tells Tien to sit down, then says she’s leaving him, saying she’s “come to the end of herself”.  Tien reacts with astonishment, then accusations of infidelity, which she denies levelly.  Tien presses her for a reason, grabbing her, and she finally says she found out about the trade fleet shares.  She asks if he got the money from Soudha, and he begins to accuse her of nagging him into getting more money.

As he paced, sputtering, his eye fell on the bright red skellytum, sitting in its basin on the kitchen table. “You don’t love me. You only love yourself. Selfish, Kat! You love your damned potted plants more than you love me. Here, I’ll prove it to you.”

He snatched up the pot and pressed the control for the door to the balcony. It opened a little too slowly for his dramatic timing, but he strode through nonetheless, and whirled to face her. “Which shall it be to go over the railing, Kat? Your precious plant, or me? Choose!”

She neither spoke nor moved. Now he will attempt to terrify me with suicide gestures. This made, what, the fourth time around for that ploy? His trump card, which had always before ended the game in his favor.

She says nothing, and eventually he drops the pot over the edge, and she listens for the crash.  She berates him for not checking if there was anybody to be injured by it.  Eventually his anger winds down and he asks how he can get through to her; she says she wants her honour back, but he can’t give it to her.  He says he did it all for her, and she says that apparently he never managed to find out who she was or what she wanted.  He says he can’t afford to confess, and she says all she wants is to not have to lie any more.

He says that custody of Nikki is his, by Barrayaran law, which is a tactic he’s never tried before; he belatedly realizes that Nikki is nowhere around, and says she can’t keep his son away from him.  She thinks that he can’t have custody if he’s in prison, but she also wonders whether he’d really challenge her to get Nikki.

Tien then says that he’ll fix everything, that he has a plan, and she should wait until he comes back.  She makes no promises, merely resumes her packing, but he dashes off.  Then she heads down to see what can be salvaged from the wreck of the skellytum.

Comments

A fairly short, but intense chapter, as Ekaterin finally ends it with Tien.  Would this all have happened without the events of the other plotline as a catalyst?  If Soudha was just siphoning off money from, well, government funding, I guess, and was still paying Tien off…  He wouldn’t have had any impetus to fix his behaviour, but it might never have gotten bad enough to cross Ekaterin’s threshold.  Though we can hope.

The skellytum–which was the symbol for what, again?  Well, if it was their marriage, then Tien just threw it over the ledge, and Ekaterin is going to see if she can salvage anything from its wreckage.

Chapter Ten

Miles reads through files of Waste Heat plentiful roster of employees, few of which were at the office; he assumes they must be out at the experimental station, which he now wishes he’d started the day’s investigation at.  Not that he’s sure he knows what he’d be looking for.  He hopes that ImpSec can manage to find Marie Trogir.

He hears footsteps, and looks up to see Tien Vorsoisson, out of breath, and carrying two coats and a visitor’s breath mask.  He tells Miles has to show him something that he’s just discovered…out at the Waste Heat station.  Tien says he wants to take Miles out there right now, while everyone’s gone.  Miles agrees, accepts the breath mask and checks it before putting it and the jacket on.  Tien grabs his own breath mask, and takes him down to the garage, where they get in a lightflyer.

Miles asks Tien what’s going on; Tien asks about how he might become an Imperial Witness.  Miles, not sure of the procedure, says he thinks it’s usually negotiated on a case-by-case basis, and privately thinks that it happens much more rarely in these days of fast-penta, though he admits that as an Imperial Auditor he can make it happen if he wants to.  As they lift off, Miles asks why, and Tien eventually says he’s managed to accumulate evidence of a crime, and finally has enough to come forward.  He tells Miles that Soudha is running Waste Heat as an empty shell, with ghost employees and fictitious equipment purchases, and Soudha has “tried” to bribe him to keep quiet.  Nobody knows enough to check the science, and Tien suspects they’ve manufactured most of their reports.

Miles asks if Radovas’s death is related, and Tien says he doesn’t think so, since Radovas quit before he did; Miles points out they only have Soudha’s word for that.  Soudha could have faked more than his reports; Miles realizes that much of the data he’s siphoned from the Waste Heat computers is likely worthless.  But technical staffers like Radovas must have known what was going on, and likely been in on the scam.

“I want you to remember, I found this. I turned them in. Just as soon as I was sure.”

His repeated insistence on that last point hinted broadly to Miles’s ear that his knowledge of this fascinating piece of peculation predated his assurance by a noticeable margin. Had Soudha’s bribe been not just offered, but accepted? Till the bubble burst. Was Miles witnessing an outbreak of patriotic duty on Vorsoisson’s part, or an unseemly rush to get Soudha and Company before they got him?

Belatedly, Miles wonders if going off with Tien like this, with no bodyguard and no notice to Tuomonen, was a smart thing to do.  But he suspects that ImpSec presence might put a damper on Tien’s eagerness to spill the beans.  Still, he won’t disillusion Tien about his chances for getting off scott free until he has some backup, as soon as he can get a quiet moment to call for some.  Tien also asks him to tell Ekaterin what he’s done; Miles reminds him that he still needs to see proof.

They draw near to the experimental station, which seems to be quite well-lit, not darkened as vacant as Tien seems to be expecting.  Floodlights are on, and vans are loading.  Miles almost asks Tien to land the lightflyer out of sight of the building, but Tien puts it down in the parking lot instead.  Tien says that they know him, but Miles should stay out of sight.  They get out of the lightflyer, breath masks on, Miles keeping Tien in sight.  Miles tells Tien to go into the Engineering building, though he half expects to find out that Tien is completely wrong about what’s going on.

Inside the building, they spot Soudha and Madame Radovas, who also spot them.  Miles tries to get out his stunner, but Soudha gets the drop on him and stuns him first, Miles wondering belatedly what it’ll do to his seizure stimulator.
He reawakens with a stunner migraine, bright lights shining on him, but still wearing his breath mask, so he restrains his incipient nausea.  His arms are shackled to posts of a railing outside the building.  His commlink is still on his wrist, where he can’t reach it to activate it, and it’s designed to be resistant to bumps.  He can’t tell if he had a seizure already, or if he’s still due.  Tien is chained to the railing to his right, and stil unconscious.

He smiled grimly under his mask. All things considered, he’d rather Vorsoisson were free and able to try for help. Better still, leave Vorsoisson fastened there, free himself to try for help. But twisting his hands in their tight chains merely scraped his wrists raw.

Tien still hasn’t recovered consciousness by the time Miles hears footsteps, which prove to belong to the accountant Lena Foscol, who Miles remembers from the briefing.  She greets Miles and takes out a key to their shackles, which she leaves out of reach between Miles and Tien.  Obviously they expect someone to come for Miles, and also expect to be gone themselves by that time.  She takes out a data disk which she claims contains a complete record of the bribes Tien has taken, and tapes it to the back of Miles’s jacket, saying that’s much better than just mailing it to Tuomonen.  Miles begins to ask her questions, but she says she has no plans to stay around and chat with him.  Tien begins to wake up, and Foscol lingers just long enough to be sure he isn’t going to be sick, then leaves, admonishing them not to hurt themselves before they get collected.  A lift-van leaves shortly after, leaving them in silence.  Miles half expects Soudha to have left the reactor to self-destruct, but since Foscol seems to expect the evidence to be retrieved, perhaps not.

Tien has regained full consciousness, and asks Miles what’s going on; Miles says they must have realized their time was up, and decided to run for it.  Miles and Tien were chained up to keep them out of the way.  Miles asks Tien when he first found out about the embezzlement scheme; Tien says it was just a week ago, though Foscol had claimed more like eight months.  Miles isn’t sure she didn’t invent the evidence, but that was a matter for ImpSec, for later.  He asks if Tien thanks that’s all that was going on; they must have had weeks of time to plan their retreat, but rather than sneaking out of the Empire with their money, they’re taking off vans full of equipment with them.

Vorsoisson is quiet for a few minute, then tells Miles that his oxygen is almost gone.  Miles realizes that Tien hadn’t checked his mask before they left, and Ekaterin’s earlier reminder may have indicated a certain amount of carelessness about it.  Miles almost wishes his hand bones were brittle enough for him to break them and pull his wrists out of the restraints, but now they’re hard and plastic.  Tien begins to struggle, to wrench out of his shackles, though Miles implores him to save his strength and oxygen in case he still has enough to last until rescue.  Miles hopes that the plan wasn’t to kill both of them, though killing an Imperial Auditor is an act of treason just barely short of killing the Emperor himself.

Vorsoisson wriggled his chin and tried to peer down over his nose into the dim recesses of his jacket to see the top of the canister strapped there. “Oh, God. I think it’s reading zero.”

“Those things always have some safety margin. Stay still, man! Try for some self-control!”

Instead Vorsoisson began to struggle ever more frantically. He threw himself forward and backward with all his considerable strength, trying to break the railing. Blood drops flew from the flayed skin of his wrists, and the railing reverberated and bent, but it did not break. He pulled up his knees and then flung himself down through the meter-wide opening between the posts, trying to propel his full body weight against the chains. They held, and then his backward-scrambling legs could not regain the walkway. His boot heels scraped and scrabbled on the wall. His dizzied choking, at the last, led to vomiting inside his breath mask. When it slipped down around his neck in his final paroxysms, it seemed almost a mercy, except for the way it revealed his distorted, purpling features. But the screams and pleas stopped, and then the gasps and gulpings. The kicking legs twitched, and hung limply.

Miles begins shivering in the silence left afterwards, trying to calm himself down to keep from going into a seizure, which would kill him as dead as Tien.

Comments

Tien attempts to redeem himself, belatedly, by trying to turn “State’s Evidence” on the Waste Heat embezzlers, glossing over the fact that he’s been taking their bribes happily for months.  Miles could have been to the experimental station at least twice already, and maybe if he had it would have turned out better than this, being ambushed and hung out to dry.  Or maybe not.  In any event, whatever they’re up to out there, they got away, at least for now.  And Miles is right, if it was just money, they wouldn’t have had to take so much stuff with them…unless they’d fashioned it into a solid gold lightflyer or something.

Tien died the way he lived–an idiot.  Jeopardized by his own carelessness, then dooming himself by panicking at the wrong moment.  I think it’s safe to say that he won’t be much lamented, except by those who may have wanted to fast-penta him for more information.  Ekaterin may have disconnected herself from him enough to even be able to miss out on the survivor’s guilt.  Poor Nikki, I suppose.  I don’t think he gets the whole story, at least not yet.

We’re only halfway through the book, and already we seem to have come to sort of climax.  So obviously there’s still a lot more to resolve–like what, if anything, does all of this have to do with the soletta disaster that’s our ostensible plot?  It always seems to me that it takes a long time to get back to the whole reason the Auditors were sent to Komarr in the first place, but maybe that’s just because events on the planet are happening faster than the slow accumulation of evidence in orbit.  But it all ties together, somehow.


Will Miles be rescued in time?  What is Ekaterin doing in the meantime–since, by established convention, the next chapter will be hers?  Another week will bring those answers, barring unfortunate delay.

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Where will your dreams take you tonight?  Will you be bowling on the starship Enterprise?  Stuck in a closet with Vanna White?  Or perhaps reading the latest installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  I can’t speak, of course, for what you may find in your dreams, but in reality this week’s installment follows two more chapters in Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Komarr, where Miles Vorkosigan continues investing the odd appearance of an engineer’s body near a disastrous orbital collision, and Ekaterin Vorsoisson continues to lose faith in her husband’s good intentions.

Chapter Seven

Ekaterin dozes on the couch waiting for the men to return.  Considering the bruises on her wrists left by Miles’s grip, she ponders the fact that she was more aware of his odd, stunted body than any other man’s in years, especially since Tien’s accusations of infidelity.  But his scars give him the air of a survivor, and she wishes she could get some tips from him on just how to do that.

The men return–Tien and the two Auditors, no Tuomonen, just family and guests.  Vorkosigan is telling Tien that he wishes tomorrow’s inspection to come as a surprise to his staff.  Ekaterin asks if they found anything, but Vorthys said Madame Radovas doesn’t know why her husband was in space.  Tien makes a comment about middle-aged men running off with younger women, and Ekaterin wonders to herself why Tien can’t do that, instead of maintaining fidelity as his sole virtue.

The household goes to bed, and Ekaterin lies awake next to her husband, who she can tell is also not asleep.  She thinks about how his brother’s suicide was such a bad example for Tien, whose own attempts had been sadly ineffectual.  While she’s trying to sleep, Tien gets up and goes out to the kitchen.  She remembers an old family recipe for insomnia, warm milk with brandy and spices, and after a few minutes gets up to make him some.  In the kitchen, though, the only light is the comconsole; it puzzles her, since she was brought up never to call anyone this late except in cases of birth or death, and she lurks in the doorway to find out what’s going on.

Tien is talking to Administrator Soudha, asking him about Radovas’s body; Soudha seems to still be fully dressed, and doesn’t seem to be disturbed about Radovas’s fate.  Tien tells him about the surprise inspection tomorrow; Ekaterin wonders why he’s going against Vorkosigan’s orders, in the Emperor’s Voice.  Tien is worried about what they’ll find, particularly in the Waste Heat experimental station, which apparently consists mostly of fictional employees, and Soudha tells him calmly to keep the Auditors away from it, reminding him that he’s getting an extra salary out of the scam as well.  Soudha tells him to make excuses if the Auditor wants to speak to anyone fictional; Lena Foscol’s accounts are meticulous, and nobody will be able to poke any holes in them.

Tien says he’s the one who’s had Imperial Auditors in his house, and it’s making him antsy; he then asks Soudha for another twenty thousand mark advance on his stipend, or else.  Soudha isn’t impressed by his attempted threats, since Tien has as much to lose as anyone; he tells Tien not to calm down, and just cooperate with ImpSec so they don’t get suspicious.  Tien insists that there’s more like fifty thousand marks a month in imaginary salaries in Soudha’s department, and asks what happens if ImpSec decides to fast-penta their accountant.

Ekaterin, horrified at what Tien has gotten involved in, backs away, missing the end of the exchange; she slips into the bathroom to wait for Tien’s return, shaking and staring at her reflection.  When she returns to bed, she claims to be unwell.  Trying to keep from believing the worst, she asks Tien if he’s done anything for their galactic trip, but he says he was too busy, even though she knows he already transferred the money out of her account.  She offers to take care of the arrangements, but he shuts her down, telling her that can wait until her uncle’s gone home.  She’s forced to conclude that Tien’s urgent need for money has nothing to do with his promise to her.

She lies awake for the rest of the night, waiting for the dawn, reduced as it is by the soletta accident.  In the morning, she sends Nikki off to school, and Uncle Vorthys leaves for his orbital flight; Vorthys says he’s not sure if he’ll be back, but if the case drags on, his wife might come to join them.  She avoids Tien and Miles by escorting Nikki to school, and they’re gone by the time she returns.  Then she heads to Tien’s comconsole, wishing, now, that she’d taken Miles up on his offer to show her how he’d done it.

Tien’s financial accounts aren’t locked; there should have been a respectable accumulation there, but it seems to have almost all vanished, with no trace of how.  Except for the most recent transfer, her money, which turns out to have been sent to a hidden account.  Her attempt to access it requires a palm-print; all their other bank accounts have shared access, in case one or the other becomes disabled, and it’s possible that this falls under the same umbrella.

Maybe ImpSec covert ops doesn’t have all the advantages, she thought grimly, and placed her right hand in the light box. If only you were willing to betray a trust, why, the most amazing range of possible actions opened up to you.

So did the file.

She took a deep breath, and started reading.

Tien seems to have been an aficionado of Komarran trade fleets.  Komarr went from charging traders who used its wormholes to starting its own trade fleets.  Some trade fleets return with spectacular profits; some don’t return at all, or return as failures.  Many of the fleets have publicly traded shares, and buying them is Komarrans’ favourite form of gambling.  Tien, focusing on the successes as always, confident in his luck, had borrowed sixty thousand marks, and added forty thousand marks of his own money (or, more likely, money from Soudha’s fake employees, since that represents eight months’ salary) and put it all on one fleet.  That fleet had left amid much hype and fanfare, but returned tail between its legs after losing precious cargo and ships in a wormhole mishap.  Tien has now lost three-quarters of his money, and still has twenty thousand marks of his debt left to pay off, a situation which is apparently growing desperate.  She could almost feel sorry for him, if so much of the original money hadn’t been embezzled.

The scam at the terraforming project is more likely to be Soudha’s than Tien’s; most likely Soudha was just buying Tien off with his own share of the profits.  Maybe Tien’s gamble on the fleet had been an attempt to extricate himself from the scam, though privately she doubts he would necessarily have followed through if the windfall had actually come through.  Nor would she, before today, have been suspicious if he’s presented her with trade-fleet-won profits on that scale.

A Vor woman’s first loyalty was supposed to be to her husband. Even unto treason, even unto death. The sixth Countess Vorvayne had followed her husband right up to the stocks in which he had been hung to die for his part in the Saltpetre Plot, and sat at his feet in a hunger strike, and died, in fact a day before him, of exposure. Great tragic story, that one—one of the best bloody melodramas from the history of the Time of Isolation. They’d made a holovid of it, though in the vid version the couple had died at the same moment, as if achieving mutual orgasm.

Has a Vor woman no honor of her own, then? Before Tien entered my life, did I not have integrity all the same?

Yes, and I laid it on my marriage oath. Rather like buying all your shares in one fleet.

Not that she would win back her honour by turning in Tien to the authorities.  She’s honour-bound to stay with him, no matter how much she reduces herself to do so, since if she’s not a Vor woman, she has nothing left.  Could she bring herself to leave?  Maybe now, before his crimes come to light, she might be able to manage it, even though it’s still desertion; if she stays, she’s condoning his actions by her silence.  She sits silent for a long time, trying to decide what to do.

Comments

After last week I was beginning to feel that Komarr must have longer chapters than Memory, or some of the other books in the series.  I did a quick word count on the digital copies that I have, and apparently I was partly right.  Last week’s Komarr chapters, Five and Six, were over twice as long as the average chapter in either book…but the rest of them weren’t that much longer.  This one is fairly short, for instance, though highly important, because now we discover that Tien is, in fact, involved with the shenanigans that are going on.  Right now it’s not clear that it has anything to do with the soletta accident, except for the linkage of Radovas and Soudha.  Still, that could be a coincidence, couldn’t it?

Ekaterin’s impulse to make the milk-brandy drink for Tien is probably her last charitable feeling toward him.  It’d take a lot of work for him to overcome that, were he to become aware of the problem at all, and I doubt it’d work anyway.  She is now driven so far away that she is seriously considering cutting her losses and forsaking her marriage oath.  I wonder what kind of draconian divorce laws Barrayar has…I can’t recall running across any examples of divorce there, in fact, so it must be pretty unpleasant.

Chapter Eight

Miles and Tien are met by Tuomonen in Tien’s apartment building, which strikes Miles as meaning that Tuomonen means to act as Miles’s ImpSec guard whether he wants one or not.  Miles and Tuomonen get a bubble-car to themselves, Komarran commuters generally wanting to avoid riding with ImpSec officers in uniform; Tuomonen notes that he does sometimes wear civilian clothes, when he wants to catch up on Serifosan gossip.  He tells Miles that he sent the library to ImpSec Solstice with one of the guards; it turns out that ImpSec Serifosa has a staff of only four people, not counting the ten guards at the Sub-Consulate.  Serifosa tends to be fairly quiet, even during the Revolt, and Tuomonen makes up for his lack of staff by subsidizing a group of salaried local informants, though none of them, sadly, in Terraforming.

Tuomonen does note that Terraforming requires the least background checks of any government department, the presumption being that it’s more important that they love their own planet and want to improve it; sabotaging it won’t do their own people any good.  Miles wonders if Radovas was one of the disaffected.

At the Terraforming building, Tien takes them up to his office, and they makes plans for the day’s inspection.  Tuomonen says he talked to Andro Farr, and he wants to follow up by talking to some of Marie Trogir’s work-friends.  Miles says that he’ll start from the Radovas angle, then, starting by talking to Soudha.  Tien takes Miles down to Waste Heat, leaving Tuomonen behind to examine Tien’s comconsole.  Soudha isn’t there, but Miles dismisses Tien anyway, examining Soudha’s office, which is fairly sparse, containing nothing conspicuously telling.

Soudha arrives, only mildly surprised to find Miles in his office.  Miles tells him about Radovas’s death, watching for his reaction carefully.  Soudha guesses a heart attack, before Miles tells him about finding the body in space, and Soudha concludes that it must have something to do with the soletta accident, given Miles’s presence.  Soudha asks about Marie Trogir, who Miles tells him hasn’t been found yet.  Miles asks for some insight into Radovas’s personality, but Soudha merely says that he was a good worker but kept to himself.  Miles asks about Radovas’s hiring, and Soudha said that waste heat is a concern on space stations, so he brought valuable experience to the project.  Miles then asks why Radovas would have left; Soudha says he gathered the impetus came from Marie Trogir, about whom he knew even little, since Radovas had hired her and, as her supervisor, did all her evaluations.

Miles asks to examine Radovas’s work area, but Soudha says it’s already been reassigned, though they haven’t hired a replacement yet.  Miles asks to speak with some coworkers, and Soudha says that some are on vacation, and others out at the experimental station, but offers him a couple who are present.  The first, Arozzi, is a younger man, scrambling to cover Radovas’s work, who didn’t know much about him, but, Miles judged, may have had a crush on Marie Trogir.  The other, Cappell, a mathematician, is more experienced and a little cynical, and not close to either Radovas or Trogir.

He’d be glad to show my Lord Auditor a few thousand more pages of his work. No? What was Trogir like? Well-enough looking, he supposed, but rather sly. Look what she’d done to poor Radovas, eh? Did he think Trogir might be dead as well? No, women were like cats, they landed on their feet. No, he’d never actually experimented with testing that old saying on live cats; he didn’t have any pets himself. Nor a wife. No, he didn’t want a kitten, thank you for the offer, my Lord Auditor . . . .

Over lunch with Tuomonen, they wonder if they should get a female interrogator to deal with the more reticent female coworkers.  Komarran egalitarianism can be inconvenient for Barrayarans–for one thing, Barrayaran women who go to study on Komarr tend to stay there, which only exacerbates the already pronounced sexual imbalance.  Tuomonen himself, of course, just married a Komarran woman, and says that Komarrans tend to be in favour of the Emperor doing the same thing.  Even Barrayarans on Komarr seem to be in favour of the upcoming marriage, and those who disapproved of Tuomonen’s choice at the time now credit him with shrewd foresight.

Miles asks if Tuomonen found out much about Radovas; most of them knew little about him, though one women had thought Cappell was the one who was sweet on Trogir.  Miles considered this as a possible motive, but surely Andro Farr would have been a better target for a romantic rival.  Farr himself is a possible suspect, but so far they’ve found nothing to implicate him.  Tuomenen says Farr has so far been his best source of information on Trogir.  Miles debates going topside, but decides to stay down here and pursue this end of the story.

Soudha supplied Miles with more human sacrifices in the form of employees called back from the experiment station. They all seemed more interested in their work than in office gossip, but perhaps, Miles reflected, that was an observer-effect. By late afternoon, Miles was reduced to amusing himself wandering around the project offices and terrorizing employees by taking over their comconsoles at random and sampling data, and occasionally emitting ambiguous little “Hm . . .” noises as they watched him in fearful fascination. This lacked even the challenge of dissecting Madame Vorsoisson’s comconsole, since the government-issue machines all opened everything immediately to the overrides in his Auditor’s seal, regardless of their security classification. He mainly learned that terraforming was an enormous project with a centuries-long scientific and bureaucratic history, and that any individual who attempted to sort clues through sheer mass data assimilation had to be frigging insane.

Now, delegating that task, on the other hand . . . Who do I hate enough in ImpSec?

While digging through Venier’s comconsole, Tien asks Miles if he needs him for anything else, or if he can go home.  Miles gives him leave to go, promising to go collect his things later that night–or maybe even just send someone for them, to avoid any further confrontation with Ekaterin.  Tuomonen comes to check on his progress, and Miles says the best thing he’s found was an encrypted file of Barrayaran jokes, which Tuomonen says his mother-in-law has already sent him.

Miles says they haven’t found anything there, maybe even a suspicious amount of nothing, and he may want to sleep on it overnight.  Maybe something will come in from the analysis of Radovas’s library, and in any event he plans to visit the Waste Heat experiment station tomorrow.  He’s tempted to call in the troops, do a full audit, fast-penta everyone in sight…but he has no reason.  Tuomonen points out that, as an Imperial Auditor, Miles doesn’t need a reason, he can just order it done; Miles remains noncommittal.  Tuomonen offers to bring Miles to the ImpSec office, but Miles wants to stay and see if he can figure out what’s bothering him.  He does accept Tuomonen’s offer to send someone else by later to pick him up, which fits in with Miles’s plan to send a minion to the Vorsoissons’.  Tuomonen leaves Miles considering Venier’s comconsole.

Comments

Another short chapter, with a lot of nothing–we know, of course, that Soudha was forewarned, and so if there had been anything incriminating, they may have had time to remove it.  Who would have done it, in the middle of the night, though?  Would Miles have noticed staff members who were suspiciously tired, or taking stim pills?  Maybe Soudha just kept the main office scrupulously clean and unincriminating on principle, or had already started cleaning up when the Auditors first arrived, or when the accident happened…

One thing is for sure, that Waste Heat experiment station (or is it an “experimental” station?) is definitely looming larger and larger.  Something is going on out there, according to Soudha and Tien’s late-night conversation, and even Miles is getting suspicious of it.  What could be out there?  Good thing Miles is going to check it out tomorrow…then we’ll definitely get to the bottom of things.

The next two chapters, in fact, I’m pretty sure things start to come to a head, if I’m remembering them correctly.  Though we’re not up to the halfway point in the book yet, so I could be getting ahead of things.


I do try to keep from rereading further ahead than the current week’s chapters (though, with Memory, I often found myself slipping, and I do wonder if it’ll happen again in A Civil Campaign, but so far Komarr doesn’t seem to be tempting me the same way), so I’m mosly going on vague memories of what comes next.  Come back next week, and you’ll see if I was right…

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As the leaves that are green turn to brown (except for the native Barrayaran plant life), so does time move ever on, and the proof of that is that here is another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Though in Lois McMaster Bujold’s book Komarr (for it is on Komarr that our scene lies), there’s not a lot of plant life outside of the domes anyway, and most of it probably doesn’t technically have leaves anyway.  But, nonetheless, here are two more chapters of the Vorkosigan Saga for your edification, and entertainment.

Chapter Five

As they get ready for bed, Tien asks Ekaterin to keep the Auditors occupied tomorrow, so his department can get some work done.  Ekaterin says she already took her uncle out, and she doesn’t know what Vorkosigan likes to do; Tien suggests shopping, perhaps.

Ekaterin decides she’d better offer him sex soon.  She needs to do it regularly to keep his tension from building up so high that even sex won’t work any more.  It’s not for her pleasure any more, unfortunately, though Tien is determined to give her satisfaction as well, or else he accuses her of being frigid.  As a result, she finds herself retreating into private fantasies when she’s with Tien, and they’ve gotten uglier over time.  Particularly after the time, a few jobs ago now, where Tien had apparently started suspecting her of having an affair.  He’d stalked around, trying to catch her at it, and when he eventually confessed his suspicions, his suspects were so ridiculous she didn’t even know how she’d come up with them.  When she kept scrupulous out of unchaperoned male company, he only accused her of a lesbian affair instead.

That had broken something in her at last, some will to desire his good opinion. How could you argue sense into someone who believed something not because it was true, but because he was an idiot? No amount of panicky protestation or indignant denial or futile attempt to prove a negative was likely to help, because the problem was not in the accused, but in the accuser. She began then to believe he was living in a different universe, one with a different set of physical laws, perhaps, and an alternate history. And very different people from the ones she’d met of the same name. Smarmy dopplegangers all.

Still, the accusation alone had been enough to chill her friendships, stealing their innocent savor and replacing it with an unwelcome new level of awareness. With the next move, time and distance attenuated her contacts. And on the move after that, she’d stopped trying to make new friends.

She realizes that he acts so crazily because he’s afraid of losing her, and she admits that his fears are not without substance, because the only feeling she has left for him now is loyalty.  She wonders how much of this behaviour might be because of the Vorzohn’s, and then she wonders if Tien is putting off treatment because on some level he feels that once he’s well she’ll feel free to leave him.

Tien comments on her increasing tension, and she makes an effort to relax and slip into one of her fantasies.  She does crave touch, even his, but she knows she can’t be too selfish about it.  He has rights to her body, anyway, but not her mind.  After they’re done, Tien seeks reassurance that their sex life is getting better, and she tries to ease his mind.  She waits until he starts snoring, then goes into the bathroom to cry.  She hates that she still wants his touch, and wishes she could get rid of it.  Finally, her crying done, she takes some painkillers and goes back to bed, but finds Tien is awake; he asks why she was in there so long.

To try to change the subject, she brings up a call she’d received that afternoon.  His bank had called, apparently needing her approval to release his pension funds; she hadn’t thought that sounded right, so she’d put them off.  Tien swears at her angrily, and she hopes he won’t hit the wall again; she asks if she’d made a mistake.  He apologizes for losing his temper, saying he’d forgotten about the different rules on Komarr.  She asks if he’s leaving his job, and he assures her he isn’t; she asks about pension from his other jobs, and he says he’d always cashed it out at the end, and points out that she’d enjoyed the use of that money well enough.  At the moment he doesn’t see the point of saving for his old age.

She realizes that this means that if he does die, she and Nikki will be left with nothing.  Then, with some hope, she asks if this is money that he’s finally planning on using for getting the galactic Vorzohn’s treatment.  Tien is noncommittal, saying he doesn’t know if it’ll be enough, but Ekaterin offers the use of her additional stash of household money, which he says will come in handy.  She asks when they can get away, and Tien says he still needs to check it out, the arrival of the Auditors having made him too busy to get to it.  She snuggles up to him, feeling suddenly secure in newfound hope.

The next morning, after Tien and Nikki have left, Ekaterin offers to take Miles shopping.  He is surprised at the offer, then recalls he needs to buy a wedding present, for Gregor and Laisa.  Ekaterin is a little surprised to hear him referring to the Emperor and his surprising new Komarran fiancée so casually, and says she’s not sure they can find anything sufficiently fancy in Serifosa Dome.  Miles says he has to find something, as Gregor’s Second, and Ekaterin recalls a few exclusive shops she’s never dared to go into before.  Miles remembers he needs something for Duv and Delia as well.

“Delia Koudelka’s a childhood friend of mine. She’s marrying Commodore Duv Galeni, who is the new Chief of Komarran Affairs for Imperial Security. You may not have heard of him yet, but you will. He’s Komarran-born.”

“Of Barrayaran parents?”

“No, of Komarran resistance fighters. We seduced him to the service of the Imperium. We’ve agreed it was the shiny boots that turned the trick.”

He was so utterly deadpan, he had to be joking. Hadn’t he? She smiled uncertainly.

Vorthys stumbles into the kitchen in search of coffee.  Miles asks how the analysis is going, and Vorthys says things aren’t adding up like he’d hoped.  There is a mysterious vector of additional force that appeared after the collision, not attributable to an engine explosion, and some things weren’t travelling in the straight line he’d expect.  Ekaterin asks what’s strange about it, and Vorthys says it’s kind of a trough of gravitational force, rather than the funnel-shape that a regular mass would present.  Miles says it sounds like a gravitic imploder lance, and Vorthys says it doesn’t match up, and it looks like it came from the jump point towards the mirror.

Ekaterin asks her uncle to join her on the shopping trip, but he says he needs to stay behind and catch up on his reading, though they should feel free to pick something up for her aunt.  Ekaterin is a little dubious about heading out unchaperoned with Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, but she assures herself they’ll be in public, and Tien doesn’t seem to view Miles as any sort of threat.

They head out for the bubble-car station, Miles’s short legs having no trouble keeping up with hers, his stiffness from the day before seeming to be gone.  She asks where they should go, and he says the last time he went shopping was for military ordnance.

She laughed. “That’s very different.”

“It’s not as different as you might think. For the really high-ticket items they send sales engineers halfway across the galaxy to wait upon you. It’s exactly the way my Aunt Vorpatril shops for clothes—in her case, come to think of it, also high-ticket items. The couturiers send their minions to her. I’ve become fond of minions, in my old age.”

His old age was no more than thirty, she decided. A new-minted thirty much like her own, still worn uncomfortably.

She asks about his mother, and he admits she’d probably rather wear her Betan Survey fatigues.  They reach the bubble cars and Miles automatically seals the car after they enter; Ekaterin knows that she should share with other riders, but she’s happy enough not to have to sit with strangers this time.  They head for the Shuttleport Locks district, where there are pricier stores to cater to tourists.  They take off slowly, arching out into a high tube to the next complex, but they slow up even further.  Ekaterin says there’s a lot of blockages these days, due to an excess of traffic, and the politicians keep arguing over how to fix it with no clear consensus.  She hopes he’s not afraid of heights, of claustrophobic; Miles says he’s fine with enclosed spaces as long as they’re above freezing.

Returning to the topic of his mother, Ekaterin asks if she was really in the Astronomical Survey; Miles says she was in the Expeditionary Force during the Escobar War, but she started out in the Survey, doing wormhole exploration.  Ekaterin is impressed, since wormhole wildcatters always struck her as somewhat crazy.  The bubble-car starts to move again.

“I’ve met some of ’em. I confess, I never thought of the government Survey as in the same league with the entrepreneurs. The independents make blind jumps into possible death hoping for a staggering fortune. The Survey . . . makes blind jumps into possible death for a salary, benefits, and a pension. Hm.” He sat back, looking suddenly bemused. “She made ship captain, before the war. Maybe she had more practice for Barrayar than I’d realized. I wonder if she got tired of playing wall, too. I’ll have to ask her.”

“Playing wall?”

“Sorry, a personal metaphor. When you’ve taken chances a few too many times, you can get into an odd frame of mind. Adrenaline is a hard habit to kick. I’d always assumed that my, um, former taste for that kind of rush came from the Barrayaran side of my genetics. But near-death experiences tend to cause you to reevaluate your priorities. Running that much risk, that long . . . you’d end up either damn sure who you were and what you wanted, or you’d be, I don’t know, anesthetized.”

“And your mother?”

“Well, she’s certainly not anesthetized.”

Miles says, amused, that most people pump him about his father, not his mother, and Ekaterin apologizes if she’s being rude.  Miles says she’s not, and she asks whether raising him was a kind of “wall” for her.  He asks if she knows the story, and she says she only heard about the Lord Regent’s crippled son, since her family was far from the rarefied upper reaches of the Vor.  He tells her about the soltoxin grenade, and how the damage is actually not genetic, noting that it’s not as important as it used to be for him to emphasize that.  Now he prefers to act the role of a visible, successul “mutie” in hopes that it won’t matter as much to people.  He managed to get into the service, then found himself in ImpSec, where they were more interested in results than appearances; this worked well for him, except that most of his achievements were classified.  On his discharge, he was rescued from anonymity be becoming an Imperial Auditor.

She asks if he wants to be famous, and he says he just wants to be known for himself.  He has nothing but respect for his father, but he secretly hopes for a day when Aral Vorkosigan is mentioned in history books mainly for being Miles Vorkosigan’s father, which makes her laugh.  She says it sounds like hubris, which he heartily agrees with.  He turns pensive for a moment, and is about to bring up something from her comconsole the other day, when the bubble-car pulls into the station and he cuts off.

In the Shuttleport Locks district, Miles seems drawn to the seedier side first, full of the less well-off galactics, and some of the kitschier stores.  He finds a lava lamp in a store, and stares at it in fascination, but Ekaterin discourages him from getting it as a wedding present for Gregor.  At the last moment he decides to get it anyway, for a birthday present instead, and then lets Ekaterin drag into the classier section.  That area, full of well-lit antique and jewelry shops, and high-class couturiers, doubtless with minions, he finds less interesting, but then something catches his attention in a jeweler’s kiosk.

The jeweler has a whole display of miniature planets inside tiny grav-bubbles, made to exacting detail, with a terminator line moving across the surface to simulate realistic day-night cycles for the planet in question.  They have most of the planets in the nexus available–including an Earth with its moon orbiting an inconveniently accurate handspan away–and the cost alarms Ekaterin, but Miles doesn’t seem to pay the price any attention.

“Oh, yes, a typical tech toy—high-end this year, everywhere next year, nowhere after that, till the antiquarians’ revival. Still . . . it would be fun to make up an Imperial set, Barrayar, Komarr, and Sergyar. I don’t know any women with three ears . . . two earrings and a pendant, perhaps, though then you’d have the socio-political problem of how to rank the worlds.”

“You could put all three on a necklace.”

“True, or . . . I think my mother would definitely like a Sergyar. Or Beta Colony . . . no, might make her homesick. Sergyar, yes, very apropos. And there’s Winterfair, and birthdays coming up—let’s see, there’s Mother, Laisa, Delia, Aunt Alys, Delia’s sisters, Drou—maybe I ought to order a dozen sets, and a have a couple to spare.”

Ekaterin points out that if all of these women know each other (and she wonders if any of them are lovers, or prospective lovers), it might be a little crass to get them all the same thing.  She persuades him to restrain himself, buying two Komarr-Barrayar pairs, for Laisa and Delia, a Sergyar on a chain for his mother, and a last-minute Barrayar for someone he doesn’t specify.

The shopping done, Ekaterin takes him to a nearby park, with a naturally-landscaped lake in it.  They stop for a view of the downtown skyline over the lake, and Ekaterin points out that all of this was created manually, and maintained full-time.  She wonders if Komarrans will be able to deal with real forests by the time they actually have them on the surface, or if they’ll think these toy parks are the real thing.  Miles’s reply is interrupted by a loud bang from some construction site behind them, and his instant reaction is to toss the package aside, draw his stunner, and push Ekaterin behind him, before he figures out that it’s harmless.  Then they discover that he’s dropped the packet over the edge of the bluff, and it’s snagged on a bush halfway down.

Miles decides he can probably reach it, and jumps over the safety railing, lying down to reach over the edge of the bluff, but his arms are too short after all.  Ekaterin, not wanting him to fall head-first into the lake, whose depth she doesn’t know, volunteers to try herself.  Miles suggests sending for an ImpSec minion with a stick, but Ekaterin pronounces that overkill.  She crawls to the edge herself, leaning forward to try to reach it, but the edge of the bluff begins to fragment under her.

One wildly back-grappling arm was caught suddenly in a viselike grip, but the rest of her body turned as the soil gave way beneath her, and she found herself dangling absurdly feet-down over the pond. Her other arm, swinging around, was caught, too, and she looked up into Vorkosigan’s face above her. He was lying prone on the slope, one hand locked around each of her wrists. His teeth were clenched and grinning, his gray eyes alight.

“Let go, you idiot!” she cried.

The look on his face was weirdly, wildly exultant. “Never,” he gasped, “again -”

His half-boots were locked around . . . nothing, she realized, as he began to slide inexorably over the edge after her. But his death-grip never slackened. The exalted look on his face melted to sudden horrified realization. The laws of physics took precedence over heroic intent for the next couple of seconds; dirt, pebbles, vegetation, and two Barrayaran bodies all hit the chilly water more or less simultaneously.

The water turns out to be only a meter deep, and they emerge wet and muddy but unscathed, though Ekaterin has lost a shoe.

“Oh,” said Ekaterin faintly. “Drat.”

There was a meditative pause before Lord Vorkosigan spoke. “Madame Vorsoisson,” he said mildly at last, “has it ever occurred to you that you may be just a touch oversocialized?”

She couldn’t stop herself; she laughed out loud. She clapped her hand over her mouth, and waited fearfully for some masculine explosion of wrath.

From this vantage, Miles retrieves the package easily by throwing rocks at the bush until the package is dislodged, then catches it.  He offers Ekaterin his arm and escorts her to the edge of the lake, grabbing a low-hanging tree and pulling himself and then her out of the water.  Ekaterin worries briefly if they’ll get in trouble, but nobody seems to have noticed anything, and anyway, Miles is an Imperial Auditor.  She asks if he’s upset about the accident; Miles says a needle grenade is an accident, that was just an inconvenience.  He then admits to feeling a little odd, and tells her about his seizures, in case he should have one.

She takes him to a bench, and he hunches over, shivering.  He recovers in a couple of minutes, and he tells her that wasn’t a seizure, but a combat flashback.  She thinks he looks shocky and a little unhealthy; he says he was mostly just stunned by an insight, and thanks her for it.  She peevishly asks him to explain what he’s talking about, or shut up, and he is struck by the extreme justice of this remark.  He tells her how, on the escape from Dagoola IV, their shuttle had problems closing its hatch until they jettisoned the broken loading ramp, and when it did, a certain Sergeant Beatrice had fallen as well.  He’d tried to reach her, but couldn’t get hold of her hand, and it had tormented him ever since…but now he realized, based on his recent experience, that if he had grabbed her hand, he’d just have been pulled out with her.  Ekaterin agrees that he wouldn’t have let go, because she now has marks on her wrists from his unyielding grip, for which he apologizes.  He says that somehow, inside his head, he’s six feet tall.

He rubs at her wrists, and she realizes they’re both freezing cold, and says they need to get warm and dry.  She buys some towels at a kiosk, and they get into a bubble-car, and turn up the heat as far as it goes.  Miles strips out of his wet clothes, and Ekaterin is astonished at his array of scars, realizing he wasn’t joking at needle grenades.  Miles says a lot of the scars are from his various bone-replacement surgeries, too.  As he dries off and warms himself up, he apologizes for not having told her about the seizures earlier.  Then he apologizes for accidentally finding the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy file on her comconsole.

Ekaterin is dismayed, thinking she may have left it open, but Miles admits to having hacked it out of curiosity, while taking a break from autopsies, and compliments her on her gardens.  He apologizes again, pleading only old ImpSec habits, and offers to help her in any way he can.  Ekaterin refuses his help, and withdraws from him, wondering how Tien will react to finding out his secret has been found out.  Miles says that there are things that can be done for them, whoever’s suffering from the disease, but Ekaterin refuses him again, and tells him what he did was wrong.  Miles agrees, but refuses to compound the wrong by pretending he doesn’t know about the problem now; he says at the very least she should consult her uncle for help, but she says she won’t do that either.

They return to the Vorsoisson apartment in chilly silence, where they are greeted by a mostly-oblivious Vorthys.  Another courier has stopped by with some hot new evidence–they’ve found a body, an entire male one, just when they had accounted for everyone who could possibly have been in the vicinity of the crash.

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Who does he buy that other Barrayar jewelry piece for?  (It isn’t clear whether it’s earrings or a pendant…)  I don’t recall if it ever comes up.  It seems like a bit of a pointed gift for Elli…maybe Elena?  Mark?  I’d love that kind of thing, anyway, though admittedly having the Moon orbiting at a realistic distance (it mentions “a handspan” in the text) would be inconvenient unless you were wearing it on a hat.

The opening scene, with the expose of Ekaterin and Tien’s sex life, is perhaps one of the more chilling ones in the series, practically on par with Mark and the Black Gang.  Like nothing else, it shows how far their relationship had degraded, though by this time we’ve gotten ample evidence of just how screwed up Tien is, from his career sabotage to his closed-mindedness and prejudice to his groundless suspicions of his wife’s fidelity.  We’re just getting the barest glimpse of his financial peculations in this chapter, to be revealed in much more horrifying detail later on, but the repeated liquidation of any pension funds is entirely typical.

It is nice to see, in this book, how much more at peace with himself Miles is.  Even something like his failure to keep Ekaterin from falling into the lake just leads to a personal epiphany, and progress towards the ability to forgive himself for something he’s been beating himself up over for years.  Though, admittedly, his screwup with peeking into their private files cancels that out a bit.  He does admit to it, so he gets points for honesty, but admitting that you did something bad to someone else doesn’t cancel out having done it in the first place.  It just avoids the even worse thing which is being found out without having admitted it.

Chapter Six

Miles takes a long shower to warm himself up.  He’d been trying to reassure her, as much as possible about the potentials in life as a mutant, because he could tell she was worried about Nikolai’s future.  She’d begun relaxing and opening up, even after the fall into the pond, and seeing him half-naked in the bubble-car.  But when he confessed to finding about the Vorzohn’s, she’d shut him out again.  He almost wishes he’d kept from telling her, but he hadn’t been able to keep on without telling her the truth.

Her icy, armored We don’t require assistance felt like . . . missing a catch. He would be forced onward, she would spin down into the fog and never be seen again.

You’re overdramatizing, boy. Madame Vorsoisson wasn’t in a combat zone, was she?

Yes, she is. She was just falling toward death in exquisitely slow motion.

Finally emerging from the shower, he dresses and rejoins Vorthys to examine the new autopsy report.  Miles asks first if they’re sure he’s from their collision, and Vorthys says that the trajectory and time of death matches perfectly.  The news hasn’t been released, or leaked, yet; Miles thinks that he’s going to have to go to Solstice soon to deal with political issues soon anyway, while Vorthys says he’ll have to go back to orbit to examine the control systems they’ve retrieved.  It would be a relief for Miles to move out of the tension-laden Vorsoisson household, though Vorthys says he’ll wait until morning at least.  Vorthys also mentions that they’ve found some odd pieces of equipment, and new things, not just old pieces of a makeshift still; Miles considers joining Vorthys on the trip tomorrow.

He goes looking for Ekaterin for one last conversation, but she’s gone, probably picking up Nikolai from school.  He takes the autopsy report to her comconsole to look over it again, not without a twinge of guilt over his earlier snooping.  The man whose body they found has no I.D. in his clothing anywhere, much of which was destroyed in the explosion.  He wonders why they haven’t identified him yet, but restrains himself from heading up to the space station to breathe over their shoulders; instead, he calls General Rathjens, head of ImpSec Komarr in Solstice.

Rathjens hasn’t had a chance to look into the preliminary report on the new body; Miles asks him how they plan to go about identifying him.  Komarran authorities perforce share all their information with ImpSec, though not vice versa; if the man’s a Komarran or a registered galactic visitor, it shouldn’t take too long, but it’ll take longer if he’s a Barrayaran, and of course longer if he’s unregistered somehow.  He doesn’t match up with any missing persons reports, which Miles finds odd if he’s a Komarran, since he would’ve been gone for three weeks by now.  Rathjens points out that Miles is on an unsecured comconsole, and Miles says he just wants general information.  He asks to be notified when they identify the man, because if he has relatives on Komarr to be notified, he’d like to go along and observe.

After that, he starts reading over the terraforming reports, leaving the office door open in case Ekaterin should happen by.  Instead, he turns around at one point to find Nikolai standing there instead.  Miles quizzes him about school, to one-word responses, but Nikolai does seem to be satisfying some of his curiosity about the odd Auditor, and Miles allows it.  Nikki asks him if he was a spy, and Miles tells him he was a courier, and describes the dull missions he went on to deliver messages, and the reading and studying he did to kill time.

“Oh,” said Nikki, sounding a little dismayed, possibly at the thought that even grownups weren’t spared from homework. He regarded Miles more sympathetically. Then a spark rose in his eye. “But you got to go on jumpships, didn’t you? Imperial fast couriers and things?”

“Oh, yes.”

“We went on a jumpship, to come here. It was a Vorsmythe Dolphin-class 776 with quadruple-vortex outboard control nacelles and dual norm-space thrusters and a crew of twelve. It carried a hundred and twenty passengers. It was full up, too.” Nikki’s face grew reflective. “Kind of a barge, compared to Imperial fast couriers, but Mama got the jump pilot to let me come up and see his control room. He let me sit in his station chair and put on his headset.” The spark had become a flame in the memory of this glorious moment.

Miles immediately recognizes that Nikki is obsessed with jumpships, and Nikki confirms that he’d love to be a pilot someday.  Miles said he’d wanted to be a strategist.  Nikki said his dad was a soldier and it sounded boring; he’d rather be a pilot and fly all over the place.  Miles recognizes that if he does carry Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, they wouldn’t let him in the military for pilot training, so he talks up Komarran trade fleets instead, telling him they’ll get much more interesting missions than dull military voyages.

Nikki runs off and returns with a box of jumpship models, showing them to Miles.  Miles spots an RG freighter, and tells Nikki how he used to own one, until it crashed into another ship, destroying its Necklin rods.  Soon they’re sitting on the floor together, Nikki showing off his models and knowledge of their specs, Miles relaying his personal knowledge and interesting anecdotes.  Nikki asks how he’d become a nonmilitary pilot, and Miles says he’d need to pay for a training school, and for the neurological interface, but he’s got at least ten more years before he’s eligible, and there’s the potential for scholarships and the like.

Jumpships exhausted, Nikki asks a few questions about Miles’s Auditor career, which are interrupted by the return of Tien.  Tien is dismissive of Nikki’s latest obsession, telling him he’ll grow out of it; Miles tries to supply a few more encouraging messages as well.  Tien says it’s suppertime, and so Miles suffers through one last, tense meal with the Vorsoisson family, mostly dominated by Tien holding forth ill-informedly on Komarran politics.  Miles watches them, realizing that Ekaterin’s silence is more withdrawal than serenity, and Tien’s energy is more tension and twitchiness.  He can spot some clumsiness in Tien if he looks, concluding that he is the Vorzohn’s sufferer after all.  He empathizes somewhat with Tien’s denial of his illness, so similar to Miles’s with his seizures, but has no sympathy with what Tien’s choices may mean for his family, particularly Nikolai.

In the middle of supper, the door chimes; Ekaterin goes to answer it, and Miles follows.  It proves to be an ImpSec Captain named Tuomonen, head of the Serifosa office, who has information about the identity of the extra body found in space.  They go to the living room to talk, and Miles asks Ekaterin to send Vorthys when he’s ready; Tuomonen asks for Tien as well.  He tells Miles that the body turns out to be someone from Serifosa, an employee of the Terraforming Project; Miles immediately hazards a guess, correct, as it turns out, that it is the missing Dr. Radovas.  He asks if they’ve found Marie Trogir as well, but Tuomonen says she hasn’t turned up; Miles says they shouldn’t assume she’s dead, either.

Tuomonen gives Miles a file on Radovas, mostly pulled from public sources, but notes that he was in a revolutionary group during the Komarr Revolt, when he was a university student.  Tuomonen himself, it turns out, married a Komarran woman, whose mother was a former revolutionary herself, but then so were half the Komarrans of that age, so it might not be significant on Radovas’s part.  Miles asks for his thoughts on the file, and Tuomonen suggests he read it over himself first, without prejudice.  Miles, curious, asks what Tuomonen thinks about Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan.

“About two-thirds of your career is locked under a need-to-know seal that requires clearance from ImpSec HQ in Vorbarr Sultana to access. But your publicly recorded awards and decorations appear in a statistically significant pattern following supposedly routine courier missions assigned to you by the Galactic Affairs office. At approximately five times the density of the next most decorated courier in ImpSec history.”

“And your conclusion, Captain Tuomonen?”

Tuomonen smiled faintly. “You were never a bloody courier, Captain Vorkosigan.”

“Do you know, Tuomonen, I believe I am going to enjoy working with you.”

Vorthys and Tien arrive, and Tuomonen tells them about Dr. Radovas, watching Tien carefully as he does so.  Tien seems to be genuinely surprised, but can’t tell them much about the man, except that he was in Soudha’s Waste Heat department, and seemed unexceptional.  He’d resigned five days before his death, so it would have been impossible for him to be on the ore ship, unless he’d joined it en route somehow.  Tuomonen says they’ll be telling Madame Radovas shortly, but Miles says it can wait until he’s gone over the report.

They all, including Tien, go over it on Tien’s computer.  Radovas lost two years of his schooling to the Revolt, and spent two years on Escobar after graduation, working in their shipyards.  Refused a government research job because of his revolutionary associations, he worked in the Komarran orbital yards, before being suddenly hired by Soudha for the Terraforming Project, without even a raise in pay.  Miles finds it odd, considering Radovas was a specialist in jump-point technologies, that he should have taken the job, which Tuomonen agrees with.  Vorthys said there could be many reasons, including his wife being tired of living on a space station.

The next step is to go speak to Madame Radovas, which the four of them do (though Miles is unsure why Tien is still with them), as well as a female dome security officer, Group-Patroller Rigby.  When Madame Radovas answers the door to see the presence of the officials, she seems to draw the obvious conclusion that it’s not good news, though to Miles’s eye she seems to be the underreacting type.  Rigby informs her officially that her husband’s body has been found; Madame Radovas says she’s not as pleased as she thought she’d be, and asks after Marie Trogir.  Rigby says they have questions for her first, and will try to answer hers as well.

Rigby tells her how his body was found in space, and asks if she knows why he would have been there.  Madame Radovas says he didn’t tell her anything, had in fact only left her a note on her comconsole, which she has unfortunately erased; his departure took her entirely by surprise.  He’d gone away for work trips before, but this time he took his personal files with him.  She says she had talked to Soudha, who hadn’t seemed to think it was any of his concern what Radovas did after he resigned.  Tien says he didn’t know she’d spoken to anyone at the project, and promises to have a word with Soudha about it.

Tuomonen asks her why her husband took the terraforming job.  She says they were tired of station life, wanted a more settled life for the children, and to do something for Komarr’s future.  Soudha had wanted people of different backgrounds on his project.  When Tuomonen asks, Madame Radovas says she wishes to have her husband’s body returned, though she seems at a loss what to do about it; Rigby offers community counseling assistance.  Tuomonen also says they will have to examine his comconsole and their personal records, which may be useful even if Radovas supposedly deleted his files from it.  Vorthys is spending time examining Radovas’s digital library, and asks them to bring that as well, to Madame Radovas’s bewilderment, because he insists it will tell him something of the shape of Radovas’s thinking.  Madame Radovas breaks down and tells them to take whatever they want, she doesn’t care anymore; Tuomonen goes to siphon the Radovases’ digital information, while the others go to help Vorthys with the library case.
As they’re leaving, Madame Radovas asks about any pension benefits; Tien says that since he’d already resigned, there won’t be any.  Miles, not seeing why she should be deprived because of her late husband’s fecklessness, decides to use his Auditorial power for good, and tells Vorsoisson to authorize her benefits anyway.

“I can’t—how—do you want me to alter the date of his resignation?”

Thus creating the curious legal spectacle of a man resigning the day after his own death? By what method, spirit writing? “No, of course not. Simply make it by an Imperial order.”

“There are no places on the forms for an Imperial order!” said Vorsoisson, taken aback.

Miles digested this. Tuomonen, looking faintly suffused, watched with wide-eyed fascination. Even Madame Radovas’s eyebrows crimped with bemusement. She looked directly at Miles as if seeing him for the first time. At last, Miles said gently, “A design defect you shall have to correct, Administrator Vorsoisson.”

Madame Radovas thanks Miles, and they leave her apartment, Tien carrying the library bundle.  Tuomonen asks Rigby to continue investigating the death, even though it happened outside of Serifosa jurisdiction, and pass any evidence to ImpSec.  Vorthys tells Tuomonen he won’t have time to analyze the library himself before going back to orbit; Miles authorizes him to requisition a “basement boffin” from HQ to help him out, to help produce an outline of Radovas’s mind based on his library.

Tuomonen asks Miles how long he’ll be in Serifosa; Miles says he isn’t sure, since he’ll probably be joining Vorthys in orbit soon.  He tells Tien he’ll probably move out into a hotel once Vorthys goes up, and Tien makes only a token effort to dissuade him.  Tuomonen asks him to keep ImpSec apprised of his movements, and asks him if he won’t reconsider an ImpSec escort, now that there is a Serifosa link to the case, but Miles insists on merely retaining the wrist commlink.

“Is there anything else you need?”

“Not tonight,” said Vorthys, yawning.

I need all this to make sense. I need half a dozen eager informers. I want to be alone in a locked room with Marie Trogir and a hypo of fast-penta. I wish I might fast-penta that poor bitter widow, even. Rigby would require a court order for such an invasive and offensive step; Miles could do it on whim and his borrowed Imperial Voice, if he didn’t mind being a very obnoxious Lord Auditor indeed. The justification was simply not yet sufficient. But Soudha had better watch his step, tomorrow. Miles shook his head. “No. Get some sleep.”

Comments

One does wonder why the Auditors don’t object more to Tien inserting himself into these proceedings.  I guess Tuomonen is content to keep an eye on him as a possible suspect, as somebody who knew the deceased.  Tien himself…well, I believe we find more about his motives later.  Though when reading this, it occurred to me to wonder if he was there to carry the library; otherwise, Tuomonen or Rigby would have had to carry it, since neither of the Auditors are particularly burly.  Of course, one also has to wonder how much data is actually in this library–Miles estimates it as a thousand disks, and given how much data we can store on disks with 21st-century technology, by Miles’s time (on Komarr, at least, if not Barrayar) they could probably fit the entire Library of Congress on a thousand disks, or the complete Wikipedia, and it would take a little time to figure out which bits of that Radovas had been particularly interested in.  (I could probably link here to a TVTropes page about technology being extrapolated insufficiently far, but I’ll refrain.  I’m sure Ms. Bujold was just trying to use something more futuristic than actual books…)

I do like the scene with Nikki and Miles, with Nikki’s encyclopedic knowledge of the jumpships.  It does give him and Miles something to talk about, at least.  Did they ever find another RG freighter for Arde Mayhew?  I don’t recall it being mentioned last time we saw him, in “Winterfair Gifts”, alas.  Just another missed plot thread, I guess.  Maybe there’s some fanfic out there that resolves the issue…  Anyway, Nikki’s best scenes are, of course, in the next book.  I also don’t recall the later books telling us whether he did actually achieve his jump-pilot ambitions, but I imagine that if he didn’t, it wasn’t because of lack of financial and familial support…

I don’t remember offhand exactly how Dr. Radovas did end up in orbit, or where poor Marie Trogir is right now, but I remember enough.  Waste Heat is up to something, that’s for sure, and both Tien and Madame Radovas know more than they’re saying…  How different would the book be if Miles had decided to fast-penta Madame Radovas after all?

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So now the mysterious accident in space is linked to Etienne Vorsoisson’s Terraforming Project office, even if we don’t know quite what the connection is yet.  Come back next week and we’ll see if Miles manages to blow the case wide open…probably not, since there’s still quite a few more chapters left, but maybe he’ll at least stumble across another clue.

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