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Good evening, Bruce, and welcome to the Literature department of the University of Woolloomooloo.  Bruce and myself have been spending some time going over the works of Bruce McMaster Bujold, particularly the Vorkosigan Saga, about the adventures of one Bruce Vorkosigan.  This week we look at another chapter in the novel CryoBruce, where, in Chapter 12, Bruce tries to figure out what happened to the real body of Bruce Sato, Bruce and Bruce’s mother.  So crack a beer, sit back, and enjoy the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.

Chapter Twelve

Miles just barely kept himself from blurting, idiotically, Are you sure? Neither set young face held the least doubt. “Then who,” he choked, wheeling to stare at Raven, at the draped figure on the table, “was it that we just . . .” Murdered was unfair, as well as inaccurate. And, he suspected, would also be deeply offensive to the upset cryorevival specialist. “That we just . . .” Fortunately, no one here seemed to expect him to fill in the blank.

Raven says the numbers matched the ones Miles gave him, which meant that either he got the wrong drawer number, or somebody fudged the numbers somehow, either to deliberately hide Lisa Sato’s body, or by accident; the last possibility is so depressing that Miles discounts it for now.  Or, it occurs to him, they might just have been pre-empted–somebody else might have substituted a body for Sato’s.

Trying to stick to facts they can actually obtain, he asks Raven to identify the actual body; Vorlynkin reminds him of the presence of the children, and Miles realizes he should deal with them before they get too disturbed.  He takes them back outside and apologizes to them, saying that he still wants to find their mother, he just needs more information.  They ask him if they’ll have to go back to their aunt and uncle, and Miles says they can go back to the consulate with Vorlynkin, until they turn up some more data; he’ll go back there after he helps with the cleanup.  He tells the Consul to get Johannes to look for Lisa Sato’s acquaintance Dr. Leiber, the only solid lead they had.

Roic, awakened by the commotion, emerges from the room he’d been bunking in and asks what’s going on; Miles brings him up to date, and is rewarded by a particular type of Armsman-bland that conveys Roic’s opinion of the situation; he reinforces it by noting that they could have been on their way home by now if they’d left after the meeting with Wing, though Miles notes that they can’t stop now.

They go back into the lab, where Raven and Tanaka have cleaned up from the aborted revival and are preparing for the autopsy; Tanaka asks if they still get the free revivals, and Miles says he’ll hold to that, since they’re likely to be back.  Raven asks if they want to send samples to a commercial lab, or make do with what equipment they can scrounge; to do the job as good a commercial lab, he’d need to bring in some of his team from Escobar, which will take longer.  Miles says he doesn’t want this information getting out yet, so he tells Raven to go as far as he can without help, and then they’ll reassess; he tells them his theory, that this was a deliberate substitution, and he hopes that this woman’s identity will lead them to whoever took Sato’s body in the first place.

He notes the possibility that Lisa Sato might never have been frozen at all, and Raven comments that that seems a needlessly cruel thing to do to her children; Miles says that it might have been more dangerous for her to stay with them.  Tanaka, inspecting the woman’s wrapping, mentions that it’s the kind used decades ago, back when she was a student; Miles presses her for more information, and she says it was used from about fifty years ago to about thirty.

Jin and Mina are quiet in the lift van back to the consulate; Vorlynkin apologizes to them for the mixup, and Jin says it’s not his fault.  Vorlynkin says he’d have been furious if his daughter had been the one dragged into this; Mina asks about his daughter, and Vorlynkin says she’s on Escobar with his ex-wife, her mother.

“Why are you divorced?” asked Mina. If they’d been sitting together, Jin could have kicked her in the ankle to shut her up, but unfortunately she was out of reach.

Vorlynkin shrugged. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault, really. She was an Escobaran. I met her when I was stationed at the embassy there as a junior secretary. When we first married, I thought it was understood that she would follow where my career took me. But by the time I was offered the promotion and the transfer to the Barrayaran embassy on Pol, Annah had come along. And my wife changed her mind. With a baby to look out for, she didn’t want to leave the security of her family and her homeworld. Or she didn’t trust me enough. Or something.”

He says that now she’s remarried, and her new husband wants to adopt Annah, and he wonders if that’s for the best; Mina says she’d want her real  daddy, and Jin says that it’d depend on if he was a nice guy.  Jin asks if he couldn’t have just refused the transfer, being a diplomat rather than a soldier, and Vorlynkin says that he’d made the choice back then, though he’s not sure he’d make the same choice again.

Back at the consulate, Vorlynkin gets them some food, then Mina goes upstairs with the cat while Jin goes to check on his creatures; afterwards he goes upstairs too.

As he sat on his bed and plotted his recapture of the cat, Mina sniffed and said, “They lied.”

“Grownups always lie.” Jin brooded. “Mom lied. She always said everything was going to be all right, and it wasn’t.”

Mina drifts off to sleep, and Jin sneaks the cat away from her and goes to lie on his own bed; he wishes he were back at Suze-san’s, and wonders if he should have left Miles in the street after all.  He dozes until awakened by Roic, a couple of hours later, who asks him if he can come to look at something on the comconsole.  Roic waits until the kids are ready and leads them downstairs.

Now that he was getting used to the big man, Jin kind of liked Roic. For Miles-san, it must be like owning your own private grownup, following you around and doing stuff for you. Except you got to tell him what to do, instead of the other way around. Jin wished he owned a Roic.

They go down to the room in the basement with all the spy equipment, where they join Miles, Raven, Vorlynkin and Johannes.  Raven is using a machine that he identifies as a DNA scanner, which he is happy to find at the consulate; Miles calls them over to his comconsole, where he’s brought up pictures of different Dr. Leibers for them to look at.  Mina has trouble deciding between them, not having caught more than a glimpse of the man and that years ago, but she is sure that he had black hair and was old, at least thirty.  They narrow it down to two men, and Mina thinks it’s probably the skinnier one, but Roic says it’s probably that’s as far as she’ll be able to help them; Miles points out that the skinny one works at NewEgypt Cryonics, while the other is an obstetrician, so he’s inclined to pick the skinny one.  Roic notes that this Dr. Leiber seems to have taken the corporate route rather than fleeing like Miles had predicted, but Miles says they just need to find out the whole story.

Meanwhile, Raven and Johannes have found a DNA match, with a picture that matches the cryocorpse they’d failed to revive; she seems to have been a woman named Alice Chen, frozen about 45 years ago, and they have a wealth of information about her from the public database.  She seems to have had a blood disease, probably why she was frozen, though Raven says it shouldn’t have affected her revival, and the disease is curable these days.  Miles wonders again why she was switched with Lisa Sato, which is now his working theory; Chen was frozen at a different facility and moved to the Cryopolis later, and then swapped with Lisa Sato.  Mina asks if somebody stole her mommy, and Miles says it looks that way, but hastens to reassure her that that means they probably cared enough about her to keep her safe.

Miles says the next step is to meet with Dr. Leiber, somewhere outside of work; Roic says he needs a proper perimeter this time, and Miles agrees, and says he can even take Johannes along.  He adds, to the children, that if Dr. Leiber is a solid lead, then they’ve definitely earned payment as informants, and couriers as well, even if Jin was captured before he could finish his job.

“You propose to pay them adult rates?” asked Vorlynkin. Jin thought he sounded more startled than disapproving, and hoped he wouldn’t try to talk Miles-san out of this wonderful idea.

“Damn straight.” Miles-san added, “My case budget allows for a lot of discretion, you know.”

“Then I wish you’d buy some,” snapped Vorlynkin. He shut his mouth abruptly, as if startled at what had fallen out of it.

Comments

I’m not sure why Raven suggested going to a public lab, since it must be clear that Miles wants to keep this all on the hush-hush; he seems a little more practical than that, being a Jacksonian and all.  Perhaps he’s thinking that a sufficient fee will be enough to ensure their secrets are kept, or perhaps he’s just pessimistic about what he can achieve with limited equipment.  Unwarrantedly, apparently, since he’s able to identify her just given the DNA scanner and comconsole access at the consulate.

Not sure about the significance of the conversation about Vorlynkin’s divorce–character-building?  Thematic resonance?  Surely it doesn’t come into the plot later or anything…  I suppose that Vorob’yev got a romance somewhere in the back corner of Cetaganda, but I just wasn’t sure that we were devoting that much attention to Vorlynkin.

This is the point of the book where I begin to lose track of why we’re doing this.  It’s like in Komarr, where we started out looking at the soletta disaster and then kept spending time on the embezzlement at the terraforming station, until, luckily, it looped back around.  Miles was sent to Kibou-daini to investigate this new cryocompany setting up on Komarr, and now he’s chasing after a frozen protester who happens to be the mother of a runaway he bumped into by chance.  Why does he think that this is going to pay off, again?  I’m all for serendipity, but I guess what I prefer is for the protagonist not to be counting on it paying off.


Come back next week for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread…probably with less lame Monty Python references.  There’s still several more chapters before I ring down the curtain and the book joins the choir invisibule…

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I almost went out to see a movie tonight, but luckily I was spared this horror and was able to devote my time to finishing up this blog post for you, my readers.  I did not have to see Jupiter ascend, or any King’s men, or any shadows of grey, or anything like that.  Instead I was able to focus on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, covering another chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel CryoBurn, the last (to date, and for the foreseeable future) of her novels of Miles Vorkosigan.  In this chapter, Chapter Eleven, things go off easily…maybe a little too easily.  Or do they?

Chapter Eleven

The body-stealing expedition sets out at high noon, rather than the stormy midnight Roic had half-hoped for; they drive a lift-van into the NewEgypt facility, and are passed without even having to use the floral excuses they’d come up with.  Miles explains that it’s visiting hours, and they don’t want to offend any potential clients; they’d be more worried about vandalism at night, or theft from employees.  Roic, Miles and Raven are dressed in hospital uniforms, Roic’s a little small and Miles’s too big; they drive to the loading dock to deliver their frozen corpse, which they unload on a float-pallet in a hidden insulated body-bag, and Johannes drives off to park the van.

They make their way through the facility, encountering a few employees and visitors but arousing no suspicion, Miles guiding them to their destination using a map on his wristcom.  Miles picks an electronic lock in an underground passage, which leads them into an unfinished, less well-lit corridor; this area is designed like four concentric circles with spokes crossing them.  Miles guides them to a more finished corridor, not as flashy as Roic was expecting, and counts his way to the prospective drawer, whose serial number Raven confirms.

Miles gives them his electronic lockpick and heads off to turn off the power to this section, which turns out to be the best way to conceal opening a single drawer; as he trots off, Raven and Roic open up the body bag and wait for the lights to go out.  When they do, they open the drawer and Roic lifts out the body within, then slides in their replacement with Raven’s help, hoping the difference in the wrappings won’t be too noticeable.  They exchange signals with Miles confirming that all’s gone well, and he reactivates the power, while Roic and Raven clean things up and hope that any techs coming to check out the failure won’t get there too quickly.  Miles returns and urges them on, visibly enjoying the activity, and they manage to make their way back out just as the sound of technicians is drifting down the corridors.

They arrive back at the exit without incident, and summon Johannes to pick them up; by the time they’re loaded and out of the facility, Miles notes that it only took sixteen minutes.  Roic and Miles, looking less Kibou than the other two, stay in the back keeping an eye on the body, making sure it doesn’t roll around and get damaged.  Roic says the whole thing reminds him of Sergeant Taura, and wonders if they should have frozen her, too, when she was dying in the Durona clinic; Miles recalls that they all failed to talk her into it.

What, wake up, still a freak, in some strange place and time, with all my friends gone? Taura had said to the protesting Roic, in that terribly-wrong-for-her thready voice. But you could make new friends! was an argument that had failed to move her, in the exhaustion of her failing metabolism.

Roic made a helpless gesture. “You could have overridden her. After she was too far gone to tell, ordered her cryoprepped.” God knew m’lord was capable of riding over any number of other people’s wills.

M’lord shrugged, face sobered in the shared memory. “That would have been for our benefit, then. Not for hers. But Taura chose fire over ice. That, at least, I had no trouble understanding. High temperature cremation leaves no DNA.”

She’d been indifferent to where her ashes would be scattered, except not Jackson’s Whole, so m’lord had provided a burial plot for her urn in his own family cemetery at Vorkosigan Surleau, overlooking the long lake, a task m’lord and Roic had seen to personally.

“Nobody,” muttered Roic, “should die of old age at thirty-standard.” Certainly not such a blazing spirit as Taura’s had been.

Miles muses about whether their current lifespans will seem unreasonable, if anyone really gets this life-extension thing figured out.  He notes that even if nobody’s body aged, it’s been calculated that 800 years will be a likely median lifespan before encountering a fatal accident of some sort; he adds that even those who worry about dying don’t seem to consider all the time they didn’t exist before they were born, which Roic doesn’t want to think too hard about.

They wait at the lab for hours as the bring Lisa Sato’s body temperature up to almost freezing; Johannes goes back to the consulate, and Miles and Roic take turns napping in a nearby toom, with Raven and Tanaka also alternating shifts.  By dawn they’re ready to start, replacing the cryo-fluid with synthesized blood, which improves the frozen body’s colour immensely; the blood, being wholly artificial, lacks the body’s built-in antibodies, so it’ll require some time in isolation to build up the immune system.

Miles is allowed to watch the procedure, but only with a sophisticated medical mask keeping him from becoming a source of contagion.  As the operation proceeds, though, Raven becomes concerned about the lack of activity in the brain; they try applying electric shock to the head, but then Raven announces that this isn’t working.

The bottom fell out of Miles’s stomach in a sickening lurch. “Raven, you can’t stop.” My God, we can’t afford to botch this one. Those poor kids are waiting for us to deliver their mother back to them. I promised . . .

“Miles, I’ve done over seven thousand revivals. I don’t need to spend the next half hour jumping on this poor woman’s corpse to know she’s gone. Her brain is slush, on a micro-level.” Raven sighed and turned away from the table, peeling down his mask and drawing off his gloves. “I know a bad prep when I see one, and that was a bad prep. This wasn’t my fault. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing I could ever have done.” Raven was far too controlled a man to throw his gloves across the room and swear, but he hardly needed to; Miles could read his emotions in his set face, the more fierce for the sharp contrast with his usual easy-going cheer.

Miles asks if he thinks it was murder; Raven points out that people do die in these things, but he supposes that in Miles’s vicinity the odds are a little different.  He plans to do an autopsy to find out exactly what was done to this body, because something didn’t seem quite right, and he doesn’t like being set up for failure like this.  Miles goes over to look at the inert body, and wonders how he’s going to break the news to Jin and Mina, that the false hope he gave them is now gone.  He’s now extra-motivated to avenge her, though.

A knock on the door proves, unfortunately, to be Vorlynkin, with Jin and Mina; Miles slips out of the room, blocking the door, and reminds them that they were supposed to wait.  Vorlynkin says that they couldn’t bear to wait any longer, even if they could only see her through glass, and he thought he’d let them at least catch a glimpse in hopes it would settle them down.  The consul swiftly figures out that something is wrong from Miles’s mood, though he doesn’t ask out loud.

Miles is not ready for this; he’s broken the news of death before, but never to children like this.  The children can also sense something from Miles’s mood, so he can’t hold back any longer.  He tells them that their mother probably died in the cryoprep, months ago, and that there wasn’t anything they could have done.  In shock, the children still insist on seeing their mother, at least, and Miles agrees reluctantly.

He slips back into the lab and asks Raven to make her ready for her children to see her; Raven is shaken at the prospect, but they clean her up hastily and then let the children in.

Jin and Mina and Vorlynkin filed through. The look Vorlynkin flicked at Miles in passing had very little love in it. Jin took the consul’s free hand as they came up to the tableside. Because who else was there left to hang onto, in this spinning hour?

The children stared some more. Mina’s lips parted in bewilderment; Jin raised his eyes to Miles with a half-voiced Huh?

Drawing back in something between outrage and scorn, Mina said, “But that’s not our mommy!”

Comments

After reading the previous chapter, I decided to read a little ahead, so I did the first part of this chapter, the body-snatching.  I thought that it might be exciting, perhaps.  Instead, it was dull as dishwater.  They make their way into the facility unremarked, they find the cryocorpse just fine, their plan to interrupt the power works fine, they make the swap, and they get away clean in mere minutes.  Ho hum.  I didn’t finish reading that chapter until I was ready to start this week’s entry…though my wife reminded me that something went wrong with the body…

So I guess it is a nice twist for the body to be the wrong one.  That part works well, the cryorevival going badly, and the tension of Miles not wanting to have to tell the children about it.  It’s a palpable relief, really, when Jin and Mina point out the mistake.  Except that, thinking about it, it’s maybe too much of a fake-out, like one of those Disney movie scenes where you think for about thirty seconds that a character is dead, and then they regain consciousness and everything’s okay.  Not quite that bad, but it transforms a tragedy into an inconvenience, making the reader feel foolish about having begun to feel sad for the children or anything.

Starting with no immune system seems like more of a problem than they make it out to be here.  They say something about having to isolate someone for a few days until their marrow begins making antibodies on their own; I certainly hope that it’s followed by a rigorous schedule of vaccination, or else you’re still going to catch everything once before you build up those immunities again.  I suppose that medicine is advanced enough to deal with that by this point, so it’s not a big deal, but it seemed like an oversight.

More moving, really, is the mention of Taura’s death.  It was almost a relief, when I read this, to find that Taura’s long-delayed death had finally caught up to her.  As an author, you have to prove you’re serious about killing off characters that you’ve given a short time to live, or else there’s no point.  You’re just a chicken or something.  Step up to the plate and kill off them characters.


 

So now they have to find Lisa Sato’s real body, or, failing that, some other clue about what was going on.  I guess this counts as a try-fail, then; how many are they up to now?  Where do we start counting?  Next week we’ll see what they do next…

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