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Posts Tagged ‘Soudha’

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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You know, it’s not easy coming up with creative openings for these posts all the time.  Maybe if I devoted some time to it during the week instead of trying to think of it at 11:15 Wednesday night…  Ah, well.  Suffice it to say, then, that this is another entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in which I synopsize and free-associate about another couple of chapters in Lois McMaster Bujold’s saga of Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  This week I cover chapters Seventeen and Eighteen of the novel Komarr, wherein Miles and Ekaterin, separately, find out a lot more about just what the Komarran conspirators are really trying to accomplish.

Chapter Seventeen

The next morning Ekaterin sets out on a ferry to the Barrayar wormhole station to meet her aunt.  Uncle Vorthys, whose unofficial motto is “No artificial shortages” (usually referring to desserts) has sprung for a private room for her; however tiny, it’s still better, on an eight-hour trip, than the economy seats she, Tien and Nikki had settled for on their original trip to Komarr, made worse by coming at the end of a week’s passage from Barrayar.  That had been one point in Venier’s favour–accepting his proposal would have meant she wouldn’t be facing such a return trip.  She’s not sure why he’d felt moved to make such an offer to her, since she’d gone to such lengths to avoid encouraging any male attentions.

Neither Venier’s nor Vorkosigan’s enthusiastic plans for her future education and employment were distasteful to her, indeed, they matched her own aspirations, and yet . . . both somehow implied, You can become a real person, but only if you play our game.

Why can’t I be real where I am?

Determined to keep from brooding, she pulls out her reader and prepares to enjoy the solitude of the cabin, wondering why solitary confinement was considered punishment.  She’s briefly guilty over having left Nikki behind–Madame Vortorren, wife of an aide to Serifosa’s Seputy, had been kind enough to offer her assistance, but she seems to run her household in an old kind of benign neglect–but she looks forward to having her aunt to herself, to have a frank discussion about her marriage just ended.

Her first book is a disk on estate and financial management recommended by the lawyer she’d talked to–who had confirmed her lack of liability for Tien’s debt–which is somewhat dry, but she is determined to learn about it anyway, to regain some control of her life, and she has a gardening disk to read afterwards as a reward.  She even manages to sneak in a two-hour nap before the ferry docks at the transfer station.

The station was built after the rediscovery of the route to Barrayar via Komarr, enhanced during the abortive Cetagandan invasion of same that the Komarrans had authorized, and then captured by the Barrayarans during their return invasion of Komarr.  Under Barrayaran management it’s continued growing, with a separate military station on the other side of the jump point.

After the ferry docks, Ekaterin gets a map of the station and finds a hostel room for herself and her aunt, since Professora Vorthys, with her bad jump lag, will likely need time to recover before heading down to the planet.  She gets a quick snack, since her aunt will also probably not feel like eating right away, and sits in the arrival lounge to wait.  Not having brought her reader, she instead people-watches, though her mind drifts back to her own problems.  She wonders if the Old Vor version of marriage is intrinsically soul-deadening for women, or if it was just hers?  The Vorthyses do seem to be a counterexample, though Ekaterin wonders what secret compromises her aunt might have made.  Maybe it depended on who you happened to pick for a spouse, which people tended to decide upon at an age of maximum idiocy–a good evolutionary strategy designed to maximize production of children, she supposes, though it didn’t work out that way for her.

Passengers from the shuttle begin to debark, though Aunt Vorthys comes near the end, being aided by a porter and looking distinctly ill.  She said the ship had been a speedy one, which gave her less time to recover between jumps, and her feet swelled up so much she had to swap her boots for bedroom slippers.  Ekaterin insists that her aunt ride on her luggage float pallet so she can tow her to the hostel.  She apologizes to her aunt for bringing her out there when she’ll be going back to Barrayar in a few weeks anyway, and Madame Vorthys says she’d have come to join her husband anyway since the case didn’t seem to be progressing all that swiftly.  Ekaterin promises to tell her all the details once they’re alone.

Her aunt had grandchildren, Ekaterin thought, yet still seemed late-middle-aged rather than old. In the Time of Isolation, a Barrayaran woman would have been old at forty-five, waiting for death—if she made it even that far. In the last century, women’s life expectancies had doubled, and might even be headed toward the triple-portion taken for granted by such galactics as the Betans. Had Ekaterin’s own mother’s early death given her a false sense of time, and of timing? I have two lives for my foremothers’ one. Two lives in which to accomplish her dual goals. If one could stretch them out, instead of piling them atop one another . . . And the arrival of the uterine replicator had changed everything, too, profoundly. Why had she wasted a decade trying to play the game by the old rules? Yet a decade at twenty did not seem quite a straight trade for a decade at ninety. She needed to think this through . . . .

Ekaterin takes them through a shortcut she’d discovered earlier which should take them past some food kiosks and to their hostel.  The utility corridor is mostly deserted, except for one man coming toward them, wearing a Southport Transport uniform and carrying food boxes.  To Ekaterin’s shock, she recognizes him as a man named Arozzi from Waste Heat Management, and he recognizes her too.  He asks if Tien is with her, and before Ekaterin can react, he drops his burden and pulls out a stunner; he apologizes as he fires.

She isn’t unconscious for long, so the stun must be fairly light, but she’s essentially paralyzed as Arozzi loads her onto the float pallet, threatening her aunt with the same treatment unless she behaves.  She must look jump-sick like her aunt, because nobody seems to take any notice as Arozzi tows them along.  Eventually they reach a Southport Transport Ltd. door which leads to a loading bay.

Soudha comes to greet them, expecting his dinner, but is dismayed to see Arozzi’s two captives.  Arozzi explains how they could have identified him, but Soudha says the last thing they need is hostages.  He asks who the other woman is, and Professora Vorthys identifies herself as the Auditor’s wife.  Ekaterin is well enough to sit up now, and Arozzi takes his stunner back out as Lena Foscol appears.  Ekaterin loudly identifies them to her aunt as the people who stole money from Terraforming and murdered Tien; Foscol insists she didn’t kill him, but Ekaterin tells her about the empty oxygen canister.  Soudha insists that they didn’t intend him to die, and they only grudgingly accept that even someone like Tien could have been so careless.

Ekaterin sits up to get a better look at the chamber.  It’s a large, strongly-lit room with a control booth on the opposite side, mostly dominated by the large cone-like object sitting in the middle on a float cradle, twice Ekaterin’s height, hooked up to station power.  She realizes it may have been brought up to the station weeks ago, before anyone was thinking to look for it; they may even own the company and the loading bay.

Foscol says she’s not a murderer, like Barrayarans; Ekaterin insists she never killed anyone, but Foscol apparently holds all Barrayarans responsible for the deaths in the Komarr Revolt.  Ekaterin says she was five years old that time, and says that so far Foscol and her group seem to have killed not only Tien, but the soletta staff, the ore freighter’s crew, and probably Radovas and Marie Trogir.

“If you want to go back in history,” the Professora put in dryly, “you Komarrans were the people who let the Cetagandans in on us. Five million Barrayarans died before the first Komarran ever did. Crying for your past dead is a piece of one-downsmanship a Komarran cannot win.”

“That was longer ago,” said Foscol a little desperately.

“Ah. I see. So the difference between a criminal and a hero is the order in which their vile crimes are committed,” said the Professora, in a voice dripping false cordiality. “And justice comes with a sell-by date. In that case, you’d better hurry. You wouldn’t want your heroism to spoil.”

Ekaterin notes that they don’t deny being thieves, stealing from their own planet’s Terraforming project.  Foscol says that their project will pay for itself many times over, in its benefit for future generations.  Ekaterin has been trying to find something they can use to escape, or call for help, while keeping the Komarrans arguing; she spots an alarm panel maybe ten steps away, and tries to determine if she’d be able to make it that far without getting stunned, while trying to appear more impaired than she was.

Sarcastically, she asks if they think they’re going to shut down the wormhole jump to Barrayar; from their reaction, she suddenly realizes that that is their plan after all.  She knows there are ways to temporarily disrupt a wormhole, by sacrificing a ship in mid-jump, and wormholes do open and close naturally, but she doesn’t know of a way to artificially close one permanently, and she asserts that it won’t work for long, though she supposes they might have an uprising timed for the wormhole’s closing.  Foscol and Soudha insist that it will work, they’ll be able to rid themselves of Barrayar without firing a shot.

Ekaterin says that three-quarters of the Barrayaran fleet is on this side of the wormhole, not to mention Sergyar, so it seems like there’ll still be a few Barrayarans left over.  Soudha admits that they’d intended to strike during Gregor’s wedding, when the fleet would be in orbit around Barrayar, but their hand has been forced.

Ekaterin squeezed the Professora’s ankle and climbed slowly to her feet. Upright, she swayed, wishing her unbalance really were artistic fakery to put the Komarrans off-guard. She spoke with deadly venom. “In the Time of Isolation, I would have been dead at forty. In the Time of Isolation, it would have been my job to cut my mutant infants’ throats, while my female relatives watched. I guarantee at least half the population of Barrayar does not agree with the Old Vor lords, including most of the Old Vor ladies. And you would condemn us all to go back to that, and you dare to call it bloodless!”

“Then count yourself lucky you’re on the Komarran side,” said Soudha dryly.

Soudha tells the others to get to work, and Ekaterin realizes that they’re no longer intended to wait to put their plan into operation.  When Arozzi’s attention is momentarily distracted, Ekaterin leaps up and barrels past him towards the alarm; the Professora tosses one of her boots at Arozzi just when he’s trying to bring his stunner to bear.  She manages to pull the alarm just as Arozzi stuns her, and she is gratified to hear klaxons start up around her.

When she wakes up again, though, they are stuffed into a lavatory, and the Professora tells her that they’d gagged her and dragged both of them out of sight by the time any authorities showed up.  Soudha had admitted culpability and agreed readily to paying a fine for a false alarm, and then locked the women in the bathroom.  She tells her niece that it was a good try, though; Ekaterin says it’ll make the next try harder, and they might not get another.  She also adds that she’d already sent a message to her uncle from the station, so they might not be missed until they fail to return to Komarr on the next shuttle, and she’s not sure they have that much time.

Comments

More primitive futuristic book-reader technology, with Ekaterin’s e-reader needing to have actual disks inserted into it with books on them.  It’s easy enough to just pretend that they’re not actually physical disks, I suppose–maybe they call them “disks” on Barrayar the same way that one may “dial” a touch-tone phone.  (Though I never could picture “dialing” a keypad the way Larry Niven often used the term in his stories.)  That still doesn’t explain Radovas’s physical library of book-disks, of course, but predicting future technology is a tricky business.  A lot of if comes from underestimating just how small things will get in even the near future, but I can’t help but wonder if at any point we’ll have gone too far the other way…

Ekaterin’s unfortunate–what’s the opposite of serendipitous?–encounter with Arozzi brings us finally into the book’s climax.  Up to this point Ekaterin hasn’t been able to do much about the conspirators themselves, but, oddly, now that they were forced to deal with her, she’s close enough to at least cause them some inconvenience, and maybe more.  I don’t know if they have anything more lethal than Arozzi’s stunner, since by their lights they’re essentially pacifists, with their visions of a “bloodless engineer’s revolution”.

I wonder what the population of Barrayarans on Komarr is at this point?  No doubt they’re in a minority, though in positions of authority.  What would happen if the scheme were to succeed?  Would the Barrayarans left outside the wormhole try to hold on to Komarr, or would they give it up and retreat to Sergyar, which they would have a clearer claim on?  I imagine they’d try to find another unknown wormhole route to Barrayar, though of course I imagine that was done last time.  If the Komarrans did kick them out, they probably wouldn’t allow a lot of experimentation on the closed wormhole trying to reopen it.  Would the Cetagandans come after them again, hoping for an easier victory this time, trying to annex Sergyar?  More importantly, perhaps, what would happen when the wormhole-closing technology got out?  It would turn into a huge blackmail weapon–any other wormhole cul-de-sac (like Aslund, for example) could end up at the mercy of anyone who could get one of the weapons aimed at their wormhole.  Though it might not end up actually being used that often, at least while it’s irrevocable, so bluffs might be called…it’d be like the Cold War, wormhole brinksmanship.

Chapter Eighteen

Miles gets to come along to the shuttleport to see Ekaterin off, because the experts Vorthys has ordered are due in shortly afterward, but he limits himself to wishing her a safe journey.  They meet the experts, Dr. Riva and her younger companion Dr. Yuell, and whisk them off to the Waste Heat station.  ImpSec Major D’Emorie records loyalty oaths from both of them, even though Miles is sure they’ve both already taken one, and secrecy oaths as well.  Vorthys brings them up to speed on the situation, though much of the technical information goes over Miles’s head, and he begins to feel a little stupid.

Dr. Riva seems surprised that the Necklin rods seem to be receiving power in pulses, since normally they need their power without unwelcome fluctuations.  As they try to figure out what this would mean, Miles asks what this would do to whatever it was aimed at; Dr. Riva says that most of the gravity effects would take place on the edge of the five-space pulse, rather than in the centre.

“Could it be, I don’t know . . . that we’re looking at half the weapon?”

Riva shrugged, but looked interested rather than scornful, so Miles hoped it wasn’t a stupid question. “Have you determined if it is meant to be a weapon at all?” she said.

“We’ve got some very dead people to account for,” Miles pointed out.

“That, alas, does not necessarily require a weapon.” Professor Vorthys sighed. “Carelessness, stupidity, haste, and ignorance are quite as powerfully destructive of forces as homicidal intent. Though I must confess a special distaste for intent. It seems so unnecessarily redundant. It’s . . . anti-engineering.”

Vorthys says he’s more interested in what effect it would have if it was aimed at a wormhole, or activated while traveling into one.  The experts debate that for a while, then Dr. Riva asks if they can sleep on it overnight.  Vorthys says that, unfortunately, they’ll need to stay there until they’ve solved the problem.  Dr. Riva laments having to stay at the “ImpSec Budget Hostel” again–bedrolls and ready-meals–and goes out to pace in the corridor.  Miles tries to figure out where the Komarrans may have hidden their giant device, but can’t come up with anything.  Eventually he notices that Dr. Riva’s footsteps have stopped, so he goes to investigate.

She turns out to be sitting on a window ledge looking at the the landscape.  Miles tentatively asks what she’s thinking, and she says she doesn’t believe in perpetual motion.  Then she asks if he’s really the son of the Butcher of Komarr, and he agrees he’s Aral Vorkosigan’s son.

“The private life of men of power isn’t what we expect, sometimes.”

He jerked up his chin. “People have some very odd illusions about power. Mostly it consists of finding a parade and nipping over to place yourself at the head of the band. Just as eloquence consists of persuading people of things they desperately want to believe. Demagoguery, I suppose, is eloquence sliding to some least moral energy level.” He smiled bleakly at his boot. “Pushing people uphill is one hell of a lot harder. You can break your heart, trying that.” Literally, but he saw no point in discussing the Butcher’s medical history with her.

“I was given to understand that power politics had chewed you up.”

Surely she could not see scars through his gray suit. “Oh,” Miles shrugged, “the prenatal damage was just the prologue. The rest I did to myself.”

She asks if he’d like to change his past, if he could, and he admits that he probably doesn’t, since he doesn’t know what changes might end up making him a smaller person.  She says that sounds like a working definition of satisfaction.  They break for lunch, and exchange scurrilous anecdotes, including Miles’s story of sinking his vehicle on Kyril Island.  Dr. Riva seems to get more subdued as time goes on, even after they return to work.  Miles wonders if she’s waiting for inspiration to strike, or if there’s something else going on.  She would have been in her twenties at the time of the Komarr revolt, but she’s cooperated since then, and has adult children, so she doesn’t seem the terrorist type.  Still, her earlier question about changing the past seems indicative of something.  He feels time ticking away, and Dr. Riva seems to have ground to a halt.

Miles takes Major D’Emorie aside and asks for a fast-penta interrogation kit; when he returns with it, Miles asks him to take Dr. Yuell for a walk.  D’Emorie protests that he should be present if any fast-penta is being used; Miles promises to tell him anything he thinks ImpSec needs to know, thinking of turnabout for years of previous incomplete briefings.  Once D’Emorie and Yuell are gone, Miles takes out the fast-penta kit and tells Dr. Riva he needs to have a frank conversation with her.  As he applies the allergy patch, Vorthys protests that he can’t do that.

Miles took a deep breath. “My Lord Auditor. Dr. Riva. I have made two serious errors of judgment on this case so far. If I’d avoided either of them, your nephew-in-law would still be alive, we’d have nailed Soudha before he got away with all his equipment, and we would not now all be sitting at the bottom of a deep tactical hole playing with jigsaw puzzles. They were both at heart the same error. The first day we toured the Terraforming Project, I did not insist on Tien landing the aircar here, though I wanted to see the place. And on the second night, I did not insist on a fast-penta interrogation of Madame Radovas, though I wanted to. You’re the failure analyst, Professor; am I wrong?”

Vorthys protests that he couldn’t have known, and Miles says that he could have found out easily enough.  He’s been too afraid of abusing his Auditorial powers, especially as Aral Vorkosigan’s son on Komarr, but he needs to stop fighting his instincts.  Riva’s allergy test comes out clean, and Miles gets the hypospray.  Riva protests, but Miles injects her before she can stop him, saying that he’s trying to spare her the necessity of submitting voluntarily.  Vorthys, offended at what Miles has done to his guest, warns him that he’d better have a good justification for this.

Miles starts by asking about the five-space problem, talking about the acclaim that will likely come out of it once it’s solved.  Miles asks if Soudha won’t get credit, and Riva says it was more likely Cappell or Radovas who came up with it.  Miles asks her off-handedly to explain it, and she says it’s a kind of wormhole collapsing technique, which immediately seizes Vorthys’s attention.  Miles asks if that wouldn’t take an awful lot of power, and Riva says that apparently they’ve found a way to use five-space resonance to reduce the power required, though it wouldn’t be reversible, of course.  Under the fast-penta, she seems disturbed, and says that there’s something wrong somewhere.  Miles and Vorthys decide they’ve probably gotten all they’re going to out of her, but before they give her the antagonist, she holds up her hand and asks for a little longer to chase down a fleeting insight.  Eventually she tells Vorthys to remember the phrase “elastic recoil” and permits Miles to inject her.

Once she’s come back to herself, Vorthys repeats the phrase back to her, and she says that what it means is that the device won’t work properly.  She says that fast-penta had odd effects on her internal visualizations, and it might be worth trying again someday.  She regrets that she withheld that information for nothing, and asks if she’s under arrest, but Miles says that neither of them will mention anything about her violating her loyalty oath.  They’ll have to tell Gregor, but that’s about it, and they can accurately claim that the fast-penta was used experimentally to “enhance scientific insight”.

Miles asks her to explain her reasoning, in layman’s terms.  She says that it’s based on positive feedback loops, like a note that breaks a wineglass, or soldiers in step destroying the bridge they’re marching over.  Riva says that the device is supposed to resonate with a wormhole’s natural five-space frequency, which Soudha’s group think would make it collapse, but she’s decided that instead it will likely snap back out of the wormhole in a gravitic pulse, like an imploder lance, but probably aimed back along the line of the original pulse.  So if Radovas fired this at the wormhole himself, he may have killed himself when it recoiled.  Oddly, the pulse that came out seemed more powerful than any reasonable amount of energy they could have pumped into the wormhole, so it may also be a way of extracting energy from the wormhole’s structure itself.

Miles calls D’Emorie and Yuell back, and the techs get back to work on the new information.  Miles wonders whether Soudha knows what he has, or if he still thinks he has a wormhole collapser.  The accident with Radovas and the soletta must have made them think, though it also brought down a lot of disruptions upon them, and without Radovas, they may not have had the resources to figure it out, unless they’d managed to snatch someone else of Riva or Yuell’s caliber.  The conspirators would have three options–drop everything and flee, hide and rebuild in secret, or gamble everything on one rushed shot.  Miles decides to concentrate on the third option, since it’s the most time-sensitive, not to mention most in line with what he knows of their characters.

Miles asks Riva and Vorthys what will happen if they shut off the device before it reaches the backlash point, and Riva says that it might trigger the backlash anyway, so it might be unsafe to turn off once it’s been activated.  Miles considers the possibility that Soudha plans to use this to destroy military wormhole stations; if he managed all six at once, and a planetary uprising at the same time, they might be able to carry it off, but certainly ImpSec would have spotted those kind of preparations by now.  Plus they only have one device.  If they’re going to go for one wormhole, they would obviously go for the Barrayaran one.  They’d want to close off the Barrayar wormhole, if they could, even if they had to martyr themselves to do it.  So, logically, they’re heading for the civilian transfer station there…the same place that they just sent Ekaterin to.

Since this scenario could happen at any time, and would probably result in severe damage to the transfer station, he decides it needs to be investigated right away.  He calls ImpSec General Rathjens and tells him to search the Barrayar transfer station and any in-bound ships nearby, and transport for himself up to the station as soon as possible.  He tells Vorthys his conclusions, then send a tight-beam message to the number Vorthys has for Ekaterin on board the station, warning her to get off as soon as possible.  He asks Vorthys to stay there and figure out what happens when they turn the beam off, and heads out to wait for his transport.

Comments

Fast-penta is one of those technologies that Bujold has been careful to explore the ramifications of.  It’s easy to just wave your authorial hand and say that you have a perfect truth drug.  But in her world that leads to spies with implanted fatal allergies against it, criminals who are cagey about telling their confederates too much, the occasional person with a weird idiosyncratic reaction, and now, apparently, beneficial side effects associated with relaxing the brain’s inhibitions.  This book also explores the nature of wormholes to a greater degree than her other books, even if it’s still mostly handwaving about “five-space”.

Miles has been restraining his wilder impulses to take advantage of, and possibly abuse, his newfound Auditor powers, but apparently he’s been second-guessing himself too much.  It’s a valuable lesson to learn, that sometimes being cautious is worse than indulging your impulses, if you miss opportunities and lose your initiative.  Not that Miles has always been known for his caution, really–I’m thinking of Cetaganda here, mostly–but before he was always trying to evade his superiors’ oversight and hope to accomplish enough to justify it later.  Somehow losing most of his superiors threw him off balance, but he’s finally starting to acquire a new balance.

This chapter overlaps with Ekaterin’s chapter more than some of the others–for one thing, the opening paragraph, with them seeing Ekaterin off, actually takes place before the beginning of Ekaterin’s chapter.  Also, some of the revelations in this chapter, like the purpose of the peculiar Necklin device, aren’t surprises to the reader because we saw them in the previous chapter, although Dr. Riva’s additional information in this chapter puts last chapter’s information in a new perspective.  I also couldn’t help thinking, as they spend time debating science and trying to force insight, that at this very moment time is ticking away.  By the end of this chapter, Ekaterin must already be a captive, so I guess her eight-hour trip, and her wait for her aunt’s arrival, have already elapsed.  Ekaterin’s shuttle left early in the morning, and they had lunch, so I suppose that eight hours or more could have passed already…  I always picture this being more of a night-time chapter, but I guess it isn’t, yet, is it?


Three more chapters left, and we’re into the climax now for sure; two more weeks, and I may even be able to do the single chapter in the last week, which is, if I may say so, an impressive display of willpower on my part to have not had one week of slacking off yet.  Another post in seven days, fates willing…

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