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Hey there hi there ho there!  It’s time to read more of the adventures of Cap’n Cordelia and her intrepid Barrayaran cohort, Adm’l Aral!  This week we cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of Shards of Honour, which may, conceivably, bring us close to the end of that book.  Remember when all books were that short?  Well, maybe urban fantasy books are these days, but that’s about it…

Chapter Thirteen

The next day, Dr. Mehta starts her first session with Cordelia.  She sets up a box which she says will let her monitor Cordelia just enough to let her know when she thinks a subject is important.  She takes a pill, ostensibly for her allergies, then asks if she may smoke.  Cordelia assents, and Dr. Mehta lights an aromatic cigarette and sets it in an ashtray, though she makes no move to smoke it right away.  She then goes through a series of words, some of which occasion odd responses from Cordelia (like “Seventeen”, which makes her think of the uterine replicators) before she homes in with “Admiral Vorrutyer” and “Admiral Vorkosigan”.

She then begins to talk to Cordelia about Vorkosigan.  She asks Cordelia is he is in Intelligence, and Cordelia says he is not; she mentions “Butcher of Komarr” and Cordelia hotly denies it, though when Dr. Mehra asks why, she admits she has no evidence beyond what Aral told her, but it seemed consistent with his character.  Dr. Mehta asks if Aral never lied to her, and Cordelia admits he did, since she was an enemy officer, but she tries to explain the “word as bond” concept to the doctor.

“So this word of honor business—you believe he never breaks it?”

“Well . . .”

“He does, then.”

“I have seen him do so. But the cost was huge.”

“He breaks it for a price, then.”

“Not for a price. At a cost.”

“I fail to see the distinction.”

“A price is something you get. A cost is something you lose. He lost—much, at Escobar.”

Cordelia sleepily thinks that she should try to change the subject, but Dr. Mehta pursues the Escobar tack.  Cordelia begins to ramble about Aral and his attraction for her as a lady soldier, his patriotism and devotion to his soldiers, the Emperor, Bothari…  Dr. Mehta asks about Prince Serg, and Cordelia suddenly realizes that the “cigarette” smoke is some kind of drug.

Cordelia swept the recorder from the table and fell upon it as it smashed to the floor, beating on it with her good hand, her right hand. “Never talk! No more death! You can’t make me! Blew it—you can’t get away with it, I’m sorry, watchdog, remembers every word, I’m sorry, shot him, please, talk to me, please, let me out, please let me out pleaseletmeout . . .”

Dr. Mehta is intrigued by Cordelia’s idiosyncratic reaction to the drug; she gets out an ampule, but Cordelia kicks it out of her hand and Mehta backs off, clearing away the smoke.  Cordelia says that the smoke was a dirty trick, and Mehta agreed, but it made for a productive session.  She picks up the pieces of her recorder, assuring Cordelia that the recording of the session is undamaged.  She says that there is no longer any doubt that the Barrayarans have done something to Cordelia’s mind.  Cordelia says that she has an aversion to being drugged against her will, and Mehta says that it’s a legitimate method, as long as permission is acquired post facto.

Cordelia says that she no longer wants Dr. Mehta on her case, which Mehta diagnoses as an implanted aversion defense.  She tells Cordelia that, as a military officer, she has no choice about who treats her, and says they’ll meet again tomorrow.

The next day, Cordelia wanders the city and doesn’t return until late at night.  She tries to write a letter to Aral, throwing out her first attempt as too personal and settling on a more neutrally-worded second try.  She writes it on paper and kisses it before sealing it.

The day after that, Mehta calls to cancel their session, but Cordelia thinks this might be a ruse and leaves the apartment anyway.  This time, she is followed by two men, whom she is unable to shake off.  The next afternoon, she stays in the apartment, wondering how she’ll handle Mehta this time.  Mehta arrives on time with Commodore Tailor and a burly medtech.

Tailor says they’ll have to ask her to agree to hospitalization and further treatment, because they think that the Barrayarans have tried to make her an agent.  They’ve examined her letter to Aral, but couldn’t find a hidden message in it, though the letter was destroyed in the process, and thought they should let her try to explain it herself.  Cordelia protests the seizure of the letter, but Tailor says that it falls under “emergency security” even though the war is over.

Cordelia asks what happens if she refuses to commit herself, and Tailor says he’ll have to order her.  She inadvertently mentions Captain Negri, which makes them more suspicious; Mehta says that they think that if she was under Negri’s control, she’d never know it, and that obviously Vorkosigan is her control; Cordelia protests, but is unable to sway them.  She says she can resign, but Mehta says that even as a civilian, they can get permission from her next of kin.  Cordelia realizes her mother has taken a long time preparing the tea, and has probably already given them permission, out of worry.

Tailor says that if they’re wrong, the best way to prove it is to cooperate, but Cordelia thinks again of the lives sacrificed to kill Prince Serg.  Mehta thinks it’s odd for them to conceal the espionage under cover of a love affair, since Cordelia and Aral are such an unlikely romantic pair.  She pretends to accede, hoping for an opportunity, and asks to go shower and pack.  Mehta follows her, hoping they can talk.

“You know you remind me a bit of the late Admiral Vorrutyer. You both want to take me apart, see what makes me tick. Vorrutyer was more like a little kid, though. Had no intention of picking up his mess afterwards.

“You, on the other hand, will take me apart and not even get a giggle out of it. Of course, you fully intend to put the pieces back together afterwards, but from my point of view that scarcely makes any difference. Aral was right about people in green silk rooms. . . .”

Mehta looked puzzled. “You’ve stopped stuttering,” she noted.

“Yes . . .” Cordelia paused before her aquarium, considering it curiously. “So I have. How strange.” Stone smashes scissors. . . .

She wraps a belt around Mehta’s neck, binding her hands with the other one.  She tells Mehta it’s time for some real Barrayaran interrogation techniques.  She asks how many guards there are outside the apartment.  Mehta says none, and Cordelia dunks her face in the aquarium.  After three or four tries, Mehta breaks and tells her there are four, and where they are.  Cordelia then binds and gags her, gets her money and ID cards, and starts the shower for camouflage.

She sneaks out, hoping Tailor and the medtech are occupied in the kitchen.  Tailor is standing in the doorway, drinking coffee; he spots her sneaking past, and after a moment salutes her quietly.  Cordelia returns the salute and slips out.

In the hallway is a journalist and his cameraman; Cordelia spins a tale of government conspiracy, and asks for help in sneaking past the agents.  She takes the camera and the cameraman’s hat and jacket, and walks past with the journalist.  They go to the shuttleport, where she ditches the reporter at the bar and heads off to find a ship leaving.  She collars a port employee and adroitly convinces her that she needs to find a ship leaving for Escobar, strictly hush-hush.  The employee sets her up with a ship, and Cordelia warns her about a couple of journalists, Mehta and Tailor, who may pretend to be government agents and try to find her.

At the ship, Cordelia pretends to have a secret mission to contact the Emperor of Barrayar with an ultimatum, and tells the pilot, Mayhew, that he was selected personally by the president as a man of discretion.

He took her aboard the freighter shuttle, and made her a seat among the last-minute cargo. “You know all the big names in Survey, don’t you, ma’am? Lightner, Parnell . . . Do you suppose you could ever introduce me?”

“I don’t know. But—you will get to meet a lot of the big names from the Expeditionary Force, and Security, when you get back from Escobar. I promise.” Will you ever . . .

“May I ask you a personal question, ma’am?”

“Why not? Everyone else does.”

“Why are you wearing slippers?”

She stared down at her feet. “I’m—sorry, Pilot Officer Mayhew. That’s classified.”

Comments

During the second scene with Mehta, and Cordelia’s escape, Bujold does a nice job of repeating the phrases “Scissors cut paper”, “Paper wraps stone”, and “Stone smashes scissors” at appropriate points in Cordelia’s internal monologue.  No way I could have conveyed that without quoting much more than I should, so take my word for it, it’s pretty cool.  Cordelia’s internal free association during the first Mehta scene is pretty good, too.

At least Tailor seemed to be an unwilling participant, letting her sneak past at the end; Mehta was the real slimebucket, unable to conceive that her pet theory might be wrong, and she probably would have refused to be convinced otherwise even if Cordelia told her the whole truth, because it was practically unfalsifiable.  How can you prove that you weren’t actually brainwashed to the point that you don’t remember it in the first place?  In fact, Cordelia’s very escape probably just made her belief stronger.  Cordelia really burned her bridges there, not without some personal cost, and quite frankly I don’t recall ever hearing of her returning to Beta Colony after that.

I don’t know if there’s any confirmation that the pilot Mayhew at the end is the same pilot named Mayhew who turns up in later books, but there’s no reason not to assume that.  Considering how his career is a wee bit blighted the next time we see him…

Chapter Fourteen

Cordelia flies her lightflyer, rented in Vorbarr Sultana, over a lake, and down onto the driveway of the Vorkosigan country estate.  Bothari comes around a corner on his patrol, and Cordelia asks if Aral is in.  Bothari salutes her and says he is.  Cordelia says that he looks better than he did at Escobar, but Bothari says he doesn’t remember much of Escobar, and has since been discharged, now being employed by Aral himself in his personal guard.

She makes her way around the back of house, where Bothari has told her Aral would be, dressed in an unaccustomed dress to blend in on Barrayar.  She comes upon a graveyard, where an older man is planting flowers, evidently Aral’s father the Count.  She introduces herself, and asks where Aral is.  He says that Aral has told him a little about her, and he’s pleasantly surprised to see her there.  He says Aral spends most of his time in a pavilion overlooking the lake.  Cordelia asks delicately if he’s likely to be sober, and the Count admits probably not, since his drinking hours have been creeping up earlier and earlier.

“He has taken this Escobar failure unnecessarily personally, I think. His resignation was not in the least called for.”

She deduced the old Count was not in the Emperor’s confidence on this matter, and thought, it wasn’t its failure that slew his spirit, sir; it was its success. Aloud, she said, “Loyalty to your Emperor was a very great point of honor for him, I know.” Almost its last bastion, and your Emperor chose to flatten it to its foundations in the service of his great need. . . .

She finds Aral in the pavilion, sitting in a chair with his eyes closed, with a gaudy shirt and bare feet.  She watches him sit up and take a drink before speaking.  Once he realizes she isn’t a hallucination, he seems embarrassed to be seen in his current condition.  He explains that he can achieve unconsciousness by lunch if he starts on the brandy after breakfast.  She comments on the shirt, and he explains it was a joke gift from some of his officers, most of whom are now dead.

Cordelia asks about Bothari, and Aral tells her that he got off on the Vorrutyer charge and got an honourable medical discharge.  Aral got his father to hire Bothari, and the uniform and duties give him a certain stability.  Serving under Vorrutyer, he’d been on the verge of schizophrenia.

He asks Cordelia if she can stay, and Cordelia says that she can, that she found when she went home that it had changed, or she had.  She alludes to her trouble, saying that she mailed in her resignation from Escobar.  He is quite pleased that she plans to stay, and promises to give up his suicide by alcohol, and they snuggle in the chair.

A few weeks after their marriage they head to ImpMil Hospital in Vorbarr Sultana, with Bothari as driver and bodyguard.  Bothari asks Aral if she knows, and Cordelia says that she does–they are going to pick up Bothari’s baby girl from one of the uterine replicators.  Cordelia asks Bothari what he’s going to tell her about her mother, and he says he’ll say that they were married, and she died; he doesn’t want her to be known as a bastard.  He has hired a village woman to look after her.  He’s going to name her Elena, after her mother.

Cordelia was surprised into an unguarded remark. “I thought you couldn’t remember Escobar!”

A little time went by, and he said, “You can beat the memory drugs, some, if you know how.”

Vorkosigan raised his eyebrows. Evidently this was new to him, too. “How do you do that, Sergeant?” he asked, carefully neutral.

“Someone I knew once told me . . . You write down what you want to remember, and think about it. Then hide it—the way we used to hide your secret files from Radnov, sir—they never figured it out either. Then first thing when you get back, before your stomach even settles, take it out and look at it. If you can remember one thing on the list, you can usually get the rest, before they come back again. Then do the same thing again. And again. It helps if you have an, an object, too.”

“Did you have, ah, an object?” asked Vorkosigan, clearly fascinated.

“Piece of hair.” He fell silent again for a long time, then volunteered, “She had long black hair. It smelled nice.”

Cordelia notices a flyer that keeps on their tail, and Aral tells her it’s Imperial Security; not everyone is convinced he’s serious about retiring.  He says for a while he liked to flush them out, like flying drunk in the canyons south of the estate.  He admits that he did have one wreck, and Bothari surprised him by saying that there was a second one, which he doesn’t remember, and left him unconscious for a whole day.

Vorkosigan looked startled. “Are you pulling my leg, Sergeant?”

“No, sir. You can go look at the pieces of the flyer. They’re scattered for a kilometer and a half down Dendarii Gorge.”

Vorkosigan cleared his throat, and shrunk down in his seat. “I see.” He was quiet, then added,

“How—unpleasant, to have a blank like that in one’s memory.”

“Yes, sir,” agreed Bothari blandly.

Aral tells Cordelia she’s likely been watched too, with his profile after Escobar.  He’s been made out as some sort of hero, for saving so much in the retreat, though he obviously dwells on those he couldn’t save as well.  They reach Vorbarr Sultana and Cordelia spots a block of burnt-out buildings, which Aral identifies as the former Ministry of Political Education, destroyed in riots.  He says they were actually carefully orchestrated, just enough to decimate the Ministry before the guards swept in and dispersed the rioters.

At ImpMil, they first visit Koudelka, who is slowly receiving prosthetic nerve implants to repair the disrupter damage.  He is happy to see Cordelia, and congratulates the Vorkosigans on their marriage.  His arm is moving repetitively, which the doctors are trying to figure out; he says the worst part is not the pain, but the odd synaesthetic sensations.  A doctor comes in and deactivates the nerves in his arm until they can fix the short.  Aral comments that it’s taking a while, but he’s seeing consistent improvement; Koudelka laments that he’s going to be discharged after all, even after all this trouble.  After a moment, he admits that it’s probably for the best, since he wouldn’t be much good in hand-to-hand combat.  He asks after Ensign Dubauer, and Cordelia tells him that he’s about the same, and his mother looks after him now.

Their next stop is in the research wing.  Aral introduces his wife to the doctor in charge, and Cordelia is firm about accompanying them.

“Good morning, sir,” [the technician] said cheerfully. “Going to watch us hatch this chick today?”

“I wish you’d find some other term for it,” said the doctor.

“Yes, but you can’t call it being born,” he pointed out reasonably. “Technically, they’ve all been born once already. You tell me what it is, then.”

“They call it cracking the bottle at home,” suggested Cordelia helpfully, watching the preparations with interest.

The doctor and technician work on the uterine replicator.  The doctor asks if they have any funding to try to reproduce the machine, but Aral says that once the children are all born, he won’t be involved anymore; he suggests the doctor try to think of a military application.  As they open it up, the doctor expresses his admiration for the surgeons who extracted the placentas in the first place.  He cuts it open and pulls little Elena out, and she begins crying lustily, which disturbs Aral and Bothari, but Cordelia assures them it’s quite normal.  They finish examining the baby and hand her to Cordelia, who demonstrates how to hold her properly and calms her down.  As Aral is invited to examine the replicator, Cordelia gives the baby to Bothari, who isn’t sure the baby looks anything like him; he is cheered by the prospect that she might look like her mother instead.  Aral holds her briefly as well before giving her back to the doctor.

The doctor makes sure of the plan–to release the baby into Aral’s custody instead of the Imperial Orphanage.  They leave Bothari behind to watch over the baby, at his own request, and head out for lunch.  Cordelia says the doctor seemed to have concluded that the baby was hers or Aral’s, or both, which bothers Aral but amuses Cordelia.

“Just wondering what happened to her mother. I’m certain I met her. Long black hair, named Elena, on the flagship—there could only have been one. Incredibly beautiful. I can see how she caught Vorrutyer’s eye. But so young, to deal with that sort of horror . . .”

“Women shouldn’t be in combat,” said Vorkosigan, grimly glum.

“Neither should men, in my opinion. “

Her memories were removed as well, and Cordelia asks why.  Aral tells her that after Vorrutyer finished with her, she was catatonic.  Bothari asked permission to take her into his quarters, which Vorrutyer granted; instead of torturing her further, though, Bothari started living an odd sort of fantasy life with Elena, pretending she was his wife and nursing her back to health.  These were the memories that Bothari would have tried to preserve, he thought.

Comments

The whole Bothari situation is a little squicky, isn’t it?  He’s certainly not a particularly sympathetic character, though he does have his moments nonetheless.  Over the next couple of books we’ll see more, not to mention little Elena.  And, what the heck, Koudelka, too.  Not Dubauer, though.

This could almost be another ending, but there’s a little bit more to come as well, in the last chapter.  I seem to recall Bujold having said that she had trouble figuring out where to end the book, but eventually she took off the last few chapters, which ended up as the first few chapters of Barrayar instead.

Notice that we also have more medical personnel with no names.  Again, what’s up with that?  My wife thought that one of the ones in this chapter would be the surgeon from before, who was tasked with bringing the replicators back to Barrayar, but I see no evidence of that.  After all, we have “the doctor” and “the technician”, rather than “the surgeon”, and neither of them seemed to have met Cordelia before.


So, yes, one more chapter, plus the odd little short story “Aftermaths”, and then we can move on to Barrayar.

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Please find yourself reading this, the sixth part of the reread of the saga of Vorkosigan, by Lois McMaster Bujold.  The coverage of this installment will comprise the eleventh and twelfth chapter of the novel entitled Shards of Honour, the which is the first part of the novel omnibus whose title is Cordelia’s Honour.

And that’s what you get when I try to come up with an interesting introduction.  At least I didn’t use the phrase “weekend of lengthiness”.  And you should see the travesty that resulted when I tried to do an introduction in the form of an old-style text adventure game.  I deleted it, but I may try it again, so be warned.  Okay, so I may not be Leigh Butler, but I can still summarize chapters and then babble about them, so here goes.

Chapter Eleven

After weeks of routine life in the prison camp, Aral comes to talk to Cordelia; she immediately goes to meet him, despite the suspicions of her fellow prisoners.  He asks if he can speak with her, and she steers him off for a walk away from prying eyes and ears, except for Illyan, who still follows Aral.  She notes that he’s been promoted again, and he says he’s mostly just cleaning up the mess.  He apologizes for drugging her, and she says there is literally nothing to forgive.

Aral asks Illyan for privacy to discuss a personal matter; when Illyan is reluctant, he swears on his honour that it’s to do with his marriage proposal.  Illyan agrees to give them time alone.  They walk to the promontory overlooking the crater, where they’d spied on the cache so long ago, and Cordelia comments that it’s not like him to forswear his word, or to lie to her.  Cordelia asks him about the assassination plot, and he doesn’t deny it, merely states that the idea came from Negri and the Emperor, he merely carried it out.

His fingers pulled gently on the grass stems, breaking them off delicately one by one. “He didn’t come out with it directly. First he asked me to take command of the Escobar invasion. He started with a bribe—the viceroyalty of this planet, in fact, when it’s colonized. I turned him down. Then he tried a threat, said he’d throw me to Grishnov, let him have me up for treason, and no Imperial pardon. I told him to go to hell, not in so many words. That was a bad moment, between us. Then he apologized. Called me Lord Vorkosigan. He called me Captain when he wished to be offensive. Then he called in Captain Negri, with a file that didn’t even have a name, and the playacting stopped.

“Reason. Logic. Argument. Evidence. We sat in that green silk room in the Imperial Residence at Vorbarr Sultana one whole mortal week, the Emperor and Negri and I, going over it, while Illyan kicked his heels in the hall, studying the Emperor’s art collection. You are correct in your deduction about Illyan, by the way. He knows nothing about the real purpose of the invasion.

“You saw the Prince, briefly. I may add that you saw him at his best. Vorrutyer may have been his teacher once, but the Prince surpassed him some time ago. But if only he had had some saving notion of political service, I think his father would have forgiven him even his vilest personal vices.

The Prince had already attempted to assassinate his father twice, and the Emperor wanted him taken care of secretly but quickly, because his own life couldn’t be prolonged for much longer.  The Prince’s heir was only four years old, and so the Emperor needed to not only get rid of the Prince, but ensure that Grishnov and his party were out of the picture for the Regency period to follow, as well.  Aral was on the scene to ensure that everybody followed the script, including goading the Prince into being present at the end.  Cordelia surmised that the other agent was the chief surgeon, which Aral confirms.  Vorrutyer hadn’t been intended to die, just to be the scapegoat, and apologize fatally to the Emperor afterwards, but his death did mean that he didn’t get a chance to go down fighting.

Cordelia is sickened that even she and her convoy were part of the Emperor’s plan.  Aral reassures her that the Prince was really that bad, and this way was still better than a civil war.  But the Emperor didn’t want his son to die in shame, and this way he got to have a glorious death in battle.  Aral asks Cordelia if he did the right thing, but she refuses to judge him.  Cordelia discovers that he doesn’t have anyone else to talk to the way he does to her.  He asks her again to marry him.

She sighed, and laid her head upon her knees, twisting a grass stem around her fingers. “I love you. You know that, I hope. But I can’t take Barrayar. Barrayar eats its children.”

After the war, Cordelia says that there will be no chance for a Barrayaran to get to Beta Colony for some years, and the “Butcher of Komarr” reputation will weigh against Aral particularly.  Cordelia says she wants to go home and see her family, and try to work out a solution to the problem, but she promises to write him, at least.  Aral says that after the cleanup he plans to go home and get drunk–the Emperor has “used him up” and can’t possibly ask anything more of him.

As they head back down the path, Aral asks if there’s anything else he can do for her, or the camp.  All Cordelia can think of is a marker for Reg Rosemont’s grave, which Aral promises to arrange.

“Wait.” He paused, and she held out a hand to him. His thick fingers engulfed her tapering ones; his skin was warm and dry, and scorched her. “Before we go pick up poor Lieutenant Illyan again . . .”

He took her in his arms, and they kissed, for the first time, for a long time.

“Oh,” she muttered after. “Perhaps that was a mistake. It hurts so much when you stop.”

“Well, let me . . .” His hand stroked her hair gently, then desperately wrapped itself in a shimmering coil; they kissed again.

At this point they are interrupted by Illyan, who reminds Aral of an upcoming meeting.  He asks if he may congratulate Aral on his engagement, and is baffled when Aral says he may not.

The next day, as the prisoners are starting to be shuttled up to the ship to take them home, Aral summons Cordelia again to confirm the details of the grave marker.  Alfredi is even more suspicious of him this time–she doesn’t buy that it took Aral and Cordelia two hours to arrange the grave marker, which had been Cordelia’s story.  Aral is busy in a conference with Illyan and two other officers when she arrives, and indicates the grave marker for her to inspect.  It is a steel slab, solid and built to last, and the information on it is correct.

Just then an Escobaran medtech comes in, despite the protests of the guard outside, demanding that Aral sign a receipt for a delivery.  The medical personnel on the ship have extracted the fetuses from any pregnant female prisoners, and are returning them to the Barrayarans, each in its own uterine replicator, each clearly labelled with the father’s DNA.  Aral is baffled, dumbfounded, and then appalled, asking what he’s supposed to do with them.  The medtech unsympathetic, asks if they thought they were going to leave that decision to the mothers.

He looks to Cordelia for help; she assures him that they’re all in working order, pointing out their green lights.  He orders the chief surgeon to attend him, and signs for them, and the data disc of maintenance instructions.  The fetuses range in age from seven weeks to four months.  Cordelia asks what they normally do with soldier’s by-blows, and Aral says that they are usually aborted.  She points out that, but for Bothari, one of those babies might have been hers and Bothari’s, or Vorrutyer’s.  Aral begs her for advice, and Cordelia says that he should take care of them–he signed for them, after all.  He considers this, and decides that he has thus pledged his word as Vorkosigan, and this sets him back on an even keel.

The surgeon arrives and is struck with cupidity at the sight of the replicators, but Aral and Cordelia are adamant that he can’t just flush the fetuses out, and that Aral has sworn that they will be protected.  The surgeon says that he doesn’t have full facilities to deal with them–that would take the resources of ImpMil, the military facilities on Barrayar.  He examines the complex instructions on the data disc, and says that there’s no way all that could be done in time, and that Aral will have to “eat his word” this time.

Vorkosigan grinned, wolfishly and without humor. “Do you recall what happened to the last man who called me on my word?”

The surgeon’s smile faded into uncertainty.

“These are your orders, then,” Vorkosigan went on, clipped. “In thirty minutes you, personally, will lift off with these—things, for the fast courier. And it will arrive in Vorbarr Sultana in less than a week. You will go to the Imperial Military Hospital and requisition, by whatever means necessary, the men and equipment needed to—complete the project. Get an Imperial order if you have to. Directly, not through channels. I’m sure our friend Negri will put you in touch. See them set up, serviced, and report back to me.”

“We can’t possibly make it in under a week! Not even in the courier!”

“You’ll make it in five days, boosting six points past emergency max the whole way. If the engineer’s been doing his job, the engines won’t blow until you hit eight. Quite safe.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Couer, scramble the courier crew, please. And get their captain on the line, I want to give him his orders personally.”

The surgeon wonders if Cordelia is to blame for this, with her “Betan sentimentality”, and Aral warns him against “Betan insubordination”.  The surgeon says he understands if Aral wants to impress his girlfriend, but he needs to think ahead.  Aral begins to visibly lose his temper, and the surgeon subsides.  Aral says that he will worry about what happens to them after they’re born.  After the surgeon leaves, Cordelia wonders if the replicators will be safe in his custody, but Aral reassures her that he’ll end up taking possession of the whole project.  Just then, Cordelia is informed that the last shuttle is ready to lift, at the same time that an urgent call comes for Aral, so they have to part abruptly and wordlessly.

Comments

Why doesn’t this surgeon ever get a name, when so many other more minor characters did?  Also, why was it so obvious to Cordelia that he was the other agent?  Don’t feel like going back to try to puzzle it out–you check it for me and let me know.

The uterine replicator delivery of the bastard fetuses is fiendishly ingenious.  Do they have a lot of rapes on Escobar, or Beta Colony, one wonders?  I suppose this isn’t necessarily a Star Trek-style future where all the bad things people do have been weeded out (except as necessary for the plot of this week’s episode), but one does get the impression that Beta, with its freewheeling sexuality, sees less rape than, say, the modern-day U.S.  I guess I don’t know as much about Escobar, since we don’t spend a lot of time there.  The fact that they were able to do same-day delivery (haw!) on the replicators means that they were ready for/expecting something like this.  They may have even requested the pregnant prisoners to go up on the first shuttle or something, to give them time for the ultra-quick extractions.  I don’t recall at this point whether most replicator fetuses are supposed to be started in vitro or in vivo (except on Athos, where of course they’re 100% vitro), but I suppose if Escobarans still have sex, and they still sometimes get pregnant that way, it should be a common enough procedure for medtechs to be practiced in it.  I think that on previous read-throughs I had missed the quick turnaround on the fetuses, though I suppose it was necessary if Cordelia was to be there to witness the delivery, unless of course there had been two separate shipments of prisoners…but why wouldn’t Cordelia, the hero of Escobar, be on the first shuttle, then?  So, skilled, fast and prepared medtechs.  Maybe they’ve dealt with Barrayarans or other uncivilized races before and were expecting this sort of thing.

Maybe it’s just that it’s the fourth or fifth time through the book for me, but Aral’s revelations about the Emperor’s plan are almost anticlimactic by this point.  It’s probably just that I’m on the lookout for all the clues now, as befits an intrepid rereader and synopsizer.  At least for the stuff I remember from earlier reads.  Maybe one day there’ll be some kind of temporary topical memory suppressant we’ll be able to use so that we can forget having read a book before and reread it for the first time again.  I’m sure somebody on Jackson’s Whole has invented it, or is working on it.

Chapter Twelve

The prisoners are sent home on a converted passenger liner, staffed with a fair number of psych officers.  Cordelia’s reluctance to talk about her experiences is soon noticed, as she avoids the “spontaneous” group therapy sessions.  A woman named Irene, obviously a covert psych officer, keeps trying to involve her in conversation, which Cordelia manages to divert, but after a week of that Cordelia finds herself with a new roommate, Joan Sprague.  Cordelia correctly deduces that Dr. Sprague is Irene’s boss, and makes it clear that she prefers to keep the “therapy” straightforward and out in the open.

Sprague asks Cordelia to try to remember what happened to her on the Barrayaran ship.  Cordelia informs her that she can remember it all too well, and would rather like to stop thinking about it.  She tells Sprague about what happened on the ship, but omitting Aral’s intervention, claiming she merely hid out on the ship until put into the brig.

“So. You don’t remember being tortured or raped by Admiral Vorrutyer, and you don’t remember killing him.”

“I wasn’t. And I didn’t. I thought I made that clear.”

The doctor shook her head sorrowfully. “It’s reported you were taken away from camp twice by the Barrayarans. Do you remember what happened during those times?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Can you describe it?”

She balked. “No.”

She doesn’t want to reveal anything that Aral told her, or that she concluded, about the plot to kill Prince Serg, because if it got back to Barrayar it could destabilize the whole government.  Instead she brings out the story about Rosemont’s grave marker again.  Sprague says her case is like that of another woman, raped by Vorrutyer and covered up by the Barrayarans; Cordelia knows the woman, the dark-haired Escobaran she met before, but says their cases are different.

Sprague brings up the physical evidence of torture–her broken arm, cracked ribs, bruises, and evidence of extreme stress.  Cordelia mentions the gravity failure, but Sprague says that all of the damage didn’t occur at the same time, so that can’t account for it all.  Sprague brings up the possibility of drug therapy to help with her memories, but it would require her voluntary cooperation, which Cordelia is thankful for, since it means she can still refuse.  She can’t get rid of Sprague as her roommate, and she soon begins to suffer from sleep deprivation because she is afraid she’ll say something in her sleep.

She ended the trip far more frayed than she had begun it, floating on the edge of real breakdown, plagued by pounding headaches, insomnia, a mysterious left-hand tremula, and the beginnings of a stutter.

After Escobar, she is conveyed to Beta Colony in a fast courier sent especially for her.  Curious, she checks out some of the Betan news coverage on the trip, and is horrified to find out that Aral is being blamed for the prisoner abuses, his “Butcher of Komarr” reputation weighing against him again.

When she arrives, she waits for a shuttle, delayed by a storm on the planet, and then finds out that she is its sole passenger when it does arrive.  They have bought her a new Expeditionary Force uniform, and they ask her to put hers on; she is amused by the shiny jackboots, which she needs the stewardess to help her into.  She sees a crowd at the shuttleport as they near, and the stewardess says that the President, “Steady Freddy”, is going to make a speech.  Cordelia looks forward to sneaking out unnoticed through the crowd.

As they arrive on the ground, Cordelia worries that there’s going to be some sort of reception for her, which she’s not sure she’s up to handling.   She is greeted by the President’s cabinet Press Secretary, Philip Gould.

She was tumbling fast. “You’re not p-planning some kind of, of d-dog and pony show out there, are you? I r-really just want to go home.”

“Well, the President is planning a speech. And he has a little something for you,” he said soothingly. “In fact, he was hoping he might make several speeches with you, but we can discuss that later. Now, we hardly expect the Heroine of Escobar to suffer from stage fright, but we have prepared some remarks for you. I’ll be with you all the time, and help you with the cues, and the press.” He passed her a hand viewer. “Do try and look surprised, when you first step out of the shuttle.”

“I am surprised.” She scanned the script rapidly. “Th-this is a p-pack of lies!”

He looked worried. “Have you always had that little speech impediment?” he asked cautiously.

“N-no, it’s my souvenir from the Escobaran psych service, and the l-late war. Who came up with this g-garbage, anyway?” The line that particularly caught her eye referred to “the cowardly Admiral Vorkosigan and his pack of ruffians.” “Vorkosigan’s the bravest man I ever met.”

Gould guides her out of the shuttle.  Cordelia says she just wants to see her mother, but Gould says she’s with the President already.  Gould leads her through masses of people and reporters until she sees her mother, collapsing into her arms with relief, though her mother doesn’t seem to understand her stress.  Her brother is also there, and her crew, also in the new uniforms.  She stands on the podium next to Steady Freddy as he makes his speech, segueing into her award.  She asks Gould if this is for the plasma mirror delivery, and Gould tells her that her crew already has that one; this is for her alone, for her killing Admiral Vorrutyer.

When it is her turn, Cordelia starts reading her speech, stammering constantly, but soon departs from the script, declaring that she’s not sure she would have deserved a medal for killing Vorrutyer even if she had done it.  She rips off the medal, telling them that one of Vorrutyer’s own men killed him, and that Aral Vorkosigan wasn’t to blame for the abuse of the prisoners.  Just then they cut off the sound pickup; she throws the medal at Steady Freddy, her arms are grabbed from behind, and when she lashes out with her new jackboots, she accidentally kicks Freddy in the crotch.  She is quickly hustled off the stage, asking please not to be sedated, as the President’s media event collapses around him.

Eventually, in private with her mother and the President’s physician, Cordelia is able to calm down, and apologize for her reaction.  The physician apologizes in return, saying that they hadn’t realized the shape she was in.  They let her go home with her mother, the crowd more subdued on the way out.  There are also crowds at her mother’s building, and outside her apartment, but finally they find themselves in solitude.

Cordelia’s mother tells her how they found about what happened to her, and Cordelia says it was just a rumour started by the Barrayarans themselves.

“What did they do to you?”

“They kept following me around, pestering me with these offers of therapy—they thought the Barrayarans had been messing with my memory. . . . Oh, I see. You mean, what did the Barrayarans do to me. Nothing much. V-vorrutyer might have liked to, but he met with his accident before he’d got half started.” She decided not to disturb her mother with the details.”Something important did happen, though.” She hesitated. “I ran into Aral Vorkosigan again.”

“That horrible man? I wondered, when I heard the name in the news, if it was the same fellow who killed your Lieutenant Rosemont last year.”

“No. Yes. I mean, he didn’t kill Rosemont, one of his people did. But he’s the same one.”

She tells her mother that Aral hid her in his cabin after Vorrutyer’s death; her mother asks if he “did anything” to her, and takes her silence as confirmation.  Cordelia tries to reassure her mother that Aral’s reputation is all wrong, but ends up volunteering the wrong sort of information and doesn’t do her cause much good.  She says that people either “worship him or hate his guts”.

“Well, I don’t hate him. Can’t say as I worship him, either.” She paused a long time, and looked up to meet her mother’s eyes squarely. “But when he’s cut, I bleed.”

A few days later, Cordelia’s commander, Commodore Tailor, visits her with a woman from the Expeditionary Force Medical Service, Dr. Mehta.  Apparently Dr. Sprague’s reports have finally caught up with her; if they had arrived earlier, they might not have subjected her to the media event.  Tailor tells her that the President is still interested in her case, and hopes to recruit her as a spokesman for the government, which Cordelia makes clear she has zero interest in.

Tailor says he wants to get her fit for work again; Cordelia says she just wants her month of leave before she returns to Survey, but Tailor says that she needs to be “medically cleared” first.  Cordelia says that Sprague got off on the wrong track, but she wants to be clear, that if she doesn’t satisfy Dr. Mehta then her Survey career is basically over.  Tailor says that’s a little harsh, but essentially correct, and Cordelia agrees to talk to her.

Comments

I couldn’t quote as much dialogue as I wanted here–I’m not sure what is appropriate or allowed, but I’m pretty sure whole pages is over the line.  Read (or reread) the book yourself–it’s classic stuff.  Cordelia’s a bit off-kilter here, and nobody seems to be actually listening to her much anyway, so there’s a lot of misunderstanding.  Between the things that Cordelia can’t tell them, and the mistaken assumptions that they’re starting from in the first place, she can’t communicate with any of the Escobarans or Betans.  Even her mother has trouble crossing the line.  And so Cordelia’s estrangement from her own people begins.

This chapter is interesting, too, because in some books the plot would be over by now.  Cordelia would go home and resume her life, mourning her missed opportunity for love, perhaps.  Or she’d never go home, turning around and deciding to stay with Aral after all.  Or maybe we’d find out that there was some sort of sinister plot back on Beta Colony.  Instead–there’s just the impossibility of understanding.  Beta Colony, with its obsessive concern for mental health and well-being, as the Betans define it (and Escobar, ditto), prove to be just as oppressive, in some circumstances, as the worst Political Officers on Barrayar.  I suppose it’s not actually considered improper to have secrets, but in Cordelia’s situation, having just returned from suspect Barrayaran contamination, it’s not allowed, probably due to the adversarial relationship between the planets.  It’s saddening.

I was trying to remember if we ever did see the man that Cordelia mentioned back in Chapter Three, the former lover who persuaded her to stand down from her promotion.  For a while I was thinking that maybe it was Rosemont, after her mother referred to her as “your Reg Rosemont”, but it doesn’t add up, if Rosemont was only a Lieutenant.  We don’t see any other Betan captains, do we?  I could have sworn we saw the guy somewhere.  I must just be misremembering.  Unless…it’s not Tailor, is it?  No, there would be more awkwardness in that case.


And that’s it for another week.  Only three more chapters, plus the short story “Aftermaths”, and then we’ll be done Shards of Honour and ready for Barrayar.  I can hardly wait.  Except, of course, I don’t get to “wait”, I have to do all the hard work.  And to think I just started to do this as a sneaky way to reread the Vorkosigan series again…

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