It was the best of blogs, it was the worst of blogs, it was the beginning, it was the end, it was fire, it was ice, it was life, it was death, but most of all, it was the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. And it is, indeed, almost the end, as we reach the last chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s CryoBurn, but not, quite, the very end. Because the book has a coda, “Aftermaths” as they’re called. But first, here’s the math:
Jin’s Aunt Lorna joins the Satos, and Consul Vorlynkin, for an outdoor lunch in the back garden of the consulate; Jin was a little worried about her being there, but they end up allies, because she doesn’t want him back living with her either. She and his mother do agree that it was wrong for him to run away like that, leaving them worrying what had happened to him; Jin points out that if he hadn’t run away, he’d never have met Miles-san, and she would still be frozen.
Consul Vorlynkin has been looking more relaxed since Miles left the day before, which Jin supposes makes sense, given how quiet it’s been since the Lord Auditor left. There have been lots of people coming to talk to them, police and lawyers and journalists, but they haven’t taken his mother away, so that’s something.
Min comes running out of the house with the box Lady Murasaki lives in, announcing that her babies have hatched; the adults seem less than impressed, and Lieutenant Johannes decrees that the baby spiders have to stay out in the garden. As Mina is trying to find them a pretty place to live, Jin tries to reassure Johannes that the chickens will likely eat a lot of the spiderlings.
Raven comes outside, and introduces himself to Aunt Lorna, who seems taken with him; after admiring the spiderlings, he tells Lisa that her friends Mr. Kang and Ms. Khosla have been successfully revived, and Lisa thanks him sincerely. They will also need time for their immune systems to recover, but in a couple of days they should be able to give statements to the police; in the meantime, Kareen is dealing with their security, which her family apparently has a certain talent for.
“Yes, I believe Lord Vorkosigan did say something about that, before he left. He does seem to know the most extraordinary range of people. Only to be expected, given his background.”
“What is this Lord Unpronounceable you keep talking about, anyway?” asked Aunt Lorna.
“What, or who?” said Raven-sensei. “Although I gather that for him, the two are nearly inextricable.”
“He investigates insurance fraud for somebody,” Jin supplied. “His boss is named Gregor. He talks about him a lot.”
Vorlynkin then fills in a few gaps in Jin’s conception of Miles, informing him that “Gregor” is the Barrayaran Emperor, and Miles’s job as Auditor has a much wider scope than mere insurance fraud, in addition to his illustrious parents, the Viceroy and Vicereine of Sergyar; Jin begins re-evaluating Miles from his earliest impressions, and wonders what it would be like to be an adult and still have a living father. Mina asks what a Viceroy is, and Vorlynkin explains it to her, and then she says he has an important job and an important family. Aunt Lorna says that he probably has the job because of the family, but Vorlynkin says he also has a talent for ferreting things out, which leads to Jin wishing for a ferret; Vorlynkin points out that he does have a sphinx, and that should be enough for now. Jin decides that having a mother back is also pretty good, though a ferret would be nice…
Mina is a little alarmed when they find Nefertiti eating violets, and Jin worries that the Consul will be upset, but Vorlynkin says that candied violets are often put on salads, so as long as she doesn’t eat too many at a time, she should be okay. Jin thinks that he really likes Vorlynkin, who knows all sorts of stuff, and his mom also seems to like him…so maybe he’ll stick around for a while.
Miles and Roic meet up with Mark at the Escobar transfer station; Miles has a few hours to kill before his ship leaves for home, so Mark agrees to join him, even though they’ve already spent days together on the ship from Kibou-daini, even if a lot of that was working separately. Mark says Kareen had sent him a message from Kibou-daini, where she and Raven are getting the new Durona clinic started; he tells Miles about the two friends of Lisa Sato that have been revived, and are now testifying, and Oki has also agreed to testify in exchange for leniency. Miles’s name has so far managed to stay out of the issue entirely, though Mark twits him about his supposed reluctance to stay in the shadows.
Mark says when he gets back to Escobar he’ll have a lot of unanticipated work for the Duronas, and he should have the first batch sent off within a week. He plans to give Ted Fuwa a lot of work doing repairs on the clinic, in part to keep his mind off the sale price Mark talked him into. Miles says he had planned to stop on Sergyar to visit their parents, but his case has run late, and he’ll probably need to spend a few days on Komarr laying the trap for WhiteChrys, so he might not get the chance to see them until Winterfair. He asks Mark if he’ll be home then, perhaps to pitch the anti-age treatment to the Count in person, and Mark says he’ll have to see how the preliminary results look.
Miles contemplating his still-unanticipated clone, mentions the uncle they never met, Aral’s elder brother who was killed by Mad Yuri’s men; Mark says he never learned much about him, since he wasn’t important to the planned impersonation scheme, and Miles says their father never talked about it much either. It would have been so different, him not being the Count, maybe not even deciding to go into the military… He suggests they get the Count to talk about his brother, as one of the few people who’ll still remember him, and Mark agrees.
Miles asks if Mark and Kareen are thinking about marriage and children yet; the pressure is mostly off them, the other Koudelka sisters all having children by now. Mark admits that he’s terrified of children, since his experiences of being parented were by a psychotic terrorist with displacement issues; Miles says that at least Kareen is sane enough to be a good parent.
“There is that,” Mark admitted. “So what’s your greatest terror, now you’re a Da yourself?”
“What if . . .” Miles pulled at his hair, looking up cross-eyed to see if he could spot any of the sneaky gray ones, but this cut was still too short. “What if my children find out I’m not really a grownup? How dreadfully disappointed would they be?”
This time, Mark laughed out loud. It was a very good sound, Miles thought, and he grinned back ruefully at his brother.
“I think your wife already knows,” said Mark.
Miles asks Mark if he thinks that Vorlynkin and Madame Sato will hit it off, since he’d gotten the impression that the Consul was interested, but wasn’t as sure about her; Mark says he has no idea.
Roic spots Colonel Vorventa further down, ImpSec liaison at the embassy on the transfer station; when Vorventa spots them, he gestures for them to stay where they are and heads for a lift tube. Miles says he’s probably there for one of them, most likely him, and he hopes that this isn’t a new assignment, since he really wants to go home now. Roic notes that Vorventa is decked in his full dress greens, unlike his usual civilian clothes.
Vorventa’s steps slowed as he approached, and his eyes searched his quarry, though his face remained stiff. He halted at the table’s side, cast Mark and Roic a grave nod, came to attention, and offered Miles a very formal salute, though Miles was in no kind of uniform at all except his gray trousers and jacket.
The messenger moistened his lips, and said, “Count Vorkosigan, sir?”
This chapter is, of course, our true denouement. First the cozy get-together on Kibou-daini, even Aunt Lorna there; I can’t help but compare her and her husband with the Dursleys, and at least they come off well in that comparison, but then they’re not caricatures. We don’t get to see them much except through Jin’s eyes, which are not the most sympathetic, so I’m sure that they’re not monsters, but they could perhaps have been nicer to their niece and nephew.
Not much else in that scene; even Raven’s news about Lisa Sato’s reawakened friends is also relayed to Mark in the next scene. In orbit over Escobar, destroying the unity of place which has heretofore kept everything on Kibou-daini, but it gives time for some things to have happened, and is a better place for the finale to take place. The conversations about their plans for Winterfair with their father, getting him to talk about his brother, pitching the life-extension scheme to him…and not knowing that it’s already too late.
At this point I can’t remember if I was expecting anything like this when I read this the first time. Had it already been spoiled for me? Had I glimpsed it while paging ahead to find out how many pages there were in the book? Probably. Those three words, so innocuous, are one of Bujold’s spearpoints, a tiny pinprick whose setup over how many books makes it pierce your heart that much harder. Count Aral was on the verge of death back in _Mirror Dance_, and he’s never been all that young, but it’s never a good time.
The full force of that spear comes, of course, in the aftermaths. But that’s for next week…