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Join me please in welcome back the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, my loving tribute to the exquisite science fiction series crafted by Lois McMaster Bujold.  This week I finish the last two chapters of Ethan of Athos, the book which doesn’t really feature our usual protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, but does well enough for all of that.  It’s really all denouement, but a satisfactory one, at least.

Chapter Fourteen

Ethan goes to visit Quinn in the Minimum Security detention blocks, passing through security checks without incident but feeling vaguely guilty anyway.  He encounters Captain Arata outside the infirmary, who tells him that Quinn’s managed to settle her fines, and is just waiting for her medical release.  Ethan says he just wants to ask her a question.

“As did I,” sighed Arata. “Several. I trust you will have better luck getting answers. These past few weeks, when I wanted a date, all she wanted to do was trade information under the counter. Now I want information, and what do I get? A date.” He brightened slightly. “We will doubtless talk shop. If I worm any more out of her, maybe I’ll be able to charge our night out to the department.” He nodded at Ethan; an inviting silence fell.

Ethan wishes him luck.  Quinn had concocted a story which managed to fit all the available evidence while omitting any mention of Terrance Cee, or even Okita, claiming the Cetagandans had been trying to capture Quinn to program as a spy against the Dendarii.  The Bharaputrans were in their embassy negotatiating their deportation.  Arata laments pointedly that he can’t use fast-penta without a court order and leaves.  Ethan looks around Quinn’s room and wistfully notes the lack of openable windows.

“How do you feel about windows that open?” he asked Quinn. “Downside, I mean.”

“Paranoid,” she answered promptly. “I keep looking around for things to seal them up with. Aren’t you going to ask how I am?”

Quinn is mostly fine, a little bruised and her dislocated arm in a sling, back in her Dendarii uniform and only a little stiff.  She asks how he feels about women now, and he says about the same as she feels about windows.  She admits she did get used to windows, but she was always a thrill-seeker.  Her first downside experience, though, after a lifetime of dreaming about warm ocean breezes, brought her down into a blizzard.  Ethan sympathizes, and Quinn points out that his ability to empathize with others is a rare and unexpected quality for an Athosian.

Ethan nervously asks Quinn if he may make an unusual, and possibly offensive, request.  He tells her that he’s going to continue his quest for ovarian cultures, probably on Beta Colony, but, in the circumstances, he asks her if she’d like to donate an ovary to Athos herself.  Quinn is quite surprised by the request; Ethan assures her that it’s painless, and Kline Station has all the facilities he needs.  Quinn assures him that she has one to spare, and confesses that she’d been expecting a much different proposition from him.  Quinn asks who could make use of her donation, and Ethan says anyone could; she could have a hundred sons in a year, though of course no daughters.  Quinn muses that her line of work isn’t conducive to parenthood, but that she’d never get to see her sons.  Ethan said he could probably push his influence to sending her a holocube if she wanted, or half-seriously suggests she could impersonate a man and sneak down to the planet herself.

Quinn notes that Ethan is even cheekier than Arata was, especially since he doesn’t over her anything in return.  She wonders if the planet can handle a hundred little Quinns, and Ethan assures her that potential fathers are screened very carefully.  She agrees to the donation.

After the operation Ethan and Quinn meet in a small cafe.  Quinn says the operation was, as promised, quite painless, and there’s not even a scar; Ethan says the culture is taking quite nicely, so in 48 hours or so he’ll be leaving for Beta Colony.  Quinn says she’ll be leaving that night, before any more trouble with the Stationers, or the Cetagandans.  She does reassure Ethan that Millisor had informed his superiors about Helda’s destruction of the cultures before his death, though they will still be looking for Terrence Cee.  She had ample reports for Admiral Naismith, and all that remains is Cee himself, who appears at the cafe himself.

Cee delivers a refrigerated box, containing a tissue sample, and three data discs to Quinn, who laments that Cee isn’t joining the Dendarii after all.  Cee says his choices have opened up, thanks to her, and Quinn reminds her that the offer will remain open.  Quinn says she’s managed to find another recruit, a migrant worker who oddly enough manages to look a lot like Terrence Cee, which should help throw off the Cetagandans’ trail.  Cee isn’t sure where he’s going himself, except away from Cetaganda.  He suggests that Quinn conceal the box, and she says she has a good idea on how to do that.

Quinn arrives at the Cold Storage station with a freezer transport box and asks for her newts, and they needn’t bother thawing them since she’s shipping them frozen.  While they’re waiting, Teki comes in with an urgent disposal, and is a little put out with Quinn for his experienced at the Cetagandans’ hands, though he admits that his girlfriend, at least, was sympathetic about his sufferings.  He pleads with her to tell him what was really going on, and Quinn promises, as soon as it’s declassified; she says goodbye, since she’ll be leaving in a few hours.

Teki notices Ethan and apologizes for what Helda did.  He says he’s been promoted to her post, at least until she returns from medical leave, but Quinn assures him that the “leave” is permanent.  Teki heads off to throw out his canisters; Ethan and Cee follow, curious, while Quinn waits for her newts.  Ethan confirms for Teki what Helda had done with the shipment.  Ethan asks about Teki’s canisters, and Teki tells him that they’re samples of contaminants that have been disposed of, which they’re storing outside the station in case they need them for legal or medical reasons.  Teki bags up the canisters, labels the bag, then passes it to a robot who takes it out through an airlock.  Teki opens up a wall panel so they can watch it take the bag to tether to one of the many projections on the station’s surface.

“It’s like the universe’s biggest closet,” mused Teki. “Our own private storage locker. We really ought to clean house and destroy all the really old stuff that was thrown out there in Year One, but it’s not like we’re running out of room. Still, if I’m going to be an Assimiliation Station head, I could organize something . . . responsibility . . . no more playing around . . .”

The ecotech’s words became a buzzing drone in his ears as Ethan’s attention was riveted on a collection of transparent plastic bags tethered a short way down the grid. Each bag seemed to contain a jumble of little white boxes of a familiar type. He had seen just such a little box readied for Quinn’s donation at a Station biolab that morning. How many boxes? Hard to see, hard to count. More than twenty, surely. More than thirty. He could count the bags that contained them, though; there were nine.

“Thrown out,” he whispered. “Thrown—out?”

Ethan silently points out the bags to Cee, who after a moment begins to swear under his breath.  He tells Ethan that he recognizes the boxes, and can even make out the House Bharaputra labels on them.  Ethan says that Helda must have put them outside without leaving any computer records, “throwing them out” where they’d never be found.  Frozen in the vacuum, Ethan thinks that they should still be good.

“We’ve got to tell Quinn,” Ethan began.

Cee’s hands clamped down over Ethan’s wrists. “No!” he hissed. “She has hers. Janine—those are mine.”

“Or Athos’s.”

“No.” Cee was trembling white, his eyes blazing like blue pinwheels. “Mine.”

“The two,” said Ethan carefully, “need not be mutually exclusive.”

In the loaded silence that followed, Cee’s face flared in an exaltation of hope.

Comments

See, I told you they weren’t gone…  Just a matter of semantics, a minor dialectical difference, which was enough to convince the Cetagandans that they were.  I wouldn’t have been quite so confident that Helda wouldn’t have screwed them up in some other way just to strike a final blow against Athos, but if she was trying to be surreptitious about it she might not have had the opportunity.  Or she might not have thought it necessary, since they were being left unlabelled in a gigantic space storage locker.  It was, admittedly, sheerest chance that Ethan happened to spy them and recognize them for what they were.  If he’d decided to hang around with Quinn, for instance, he wouldn’t have seen a thing.  So while a lot of the other seemingly bizarre plot twists have reasonable explanations once you know everything that’s going on, this one is truly random.  But I’ll forgive the author for it, because it’s such a nice twist that helps out that nice Ethan boy.

We’ve only seen a few glimpses of Arata, and I don’t even really remember him from previous reads, but this time through I’m slightly intrigued about him.  I think that Miles Vorkosigan would have enjoyed meeting him, sort of like Dag Benin, depending of course on the circumstances.  If it had been a Miles adventure, I’m sure Arata would have turned up earlier, but Elli and Ethan spend more time trying to evade the attention of Station Security, or at least Elli does, so we have to wait until most of the way through the book.  Pity.

Chapter Fifteen

As Ethan and Cee approach the surface of Athos in a shuttle, Ethan points out landmarks to his companion.  Cee asks what kind of welcome Ethan is likely to get, and Ethan says his mission was fairly secret, to keep from alarming people, but at least some of the Population Council should be there, as well as Ethan’s father, and possibly Janos as well.  Ethan wonders how Janos will react to meeting Cee, if he’ll be jealous enough to start doing the work to fight to be Ethan’s designated alternate.

Cee regarded his hands meditatively, and glanced up at Ethan. “And will they view you as a hero, or a traitor, in the end?”

Ethan admits that he’s been praying for guidance on the subject.  Ethan’s cargo is strapped to seats near them, rather than being left to the vagaries of the cargo hold; the other passengers, crew members heading for downside leave and the census takers, are keeping their distance.  He did buy some cultures on Beta Colony as well, to keep the Cetagandans off the scent, but they swapped those for the Bharaputran ones and hid the Betan samples in Ethan’s luggage.  He says that somebody had to make the decision, and the Population Council would probably have been unable to make up their minds, but it needs to be all or nothing, or else it would tear the planet apart.  Except, of course, for the “EQ-1” culture he took from Quinn, but he figures it’ll average out in the long run.  Cee points out that he’s hedging his bets with the Betan cultures, but Ethan says that while he couldn’t bring himself to throw them out entirely, he hopes to splice the telepathy gene into them over time as well, once he’s risen to head up a Reproduction Centre, or even farther.

The welcome committee turns out to consist largely of Rep Centre representatives eager for their new cultures, but Dr. Desroche, the Chairman, and Ethan’s father are all there.  Ethan downplays the problems he encountered.  His father comments on his paleness, and Ethan explains that on Kline Station he couldn’t go outside, on Beta Colony everyone lives underground, and they only spent a week on Escobar.

Ethan suddenly notes Janos’s absence and asks his father about it.  Ethan initially fears the worst, a lightflyer crash, but his father explains that Janos went a little wild after Ethan left, and ended up running off to the Outlands to live on the frontier with fewer restrictions.  Ethan is somewhat relieved, and says that it’s probably for the best that Janos find out what he wants before committing himself to parenthood.

He turned to Terrence Cee, his grin escaping control at last. “Here, Dad, I want you to meet someone—I brought us an immigrant. Only one, but altogether a remarkable person. He’s endured much, to make it to refuge here. He’s been a good traveling companion for the last eight months, and a good friend.”

Ethan introduced Cee; they shook hands, the slight galactic, the tall waterman. “Welcome, Terrence,” said Ethan’s father. “A good friend of my son’s is a son to me. Welcome to Athos.”

Emotion broke through Cee’s habitual closed coolness; wonder, and something like awe. “You really mean that . . . Thank you. Thank you, sir.”

That night, on the verandah of Ethan’s father’s house, Ethan tells Cee that the best way to earn the rights to Janine’s children is earn his parental duty credits through public works, done over and above regular employment.  Ethan takes the plunge and says that he makes enough for two himself, especially with the prospect of promotion ahead of him, and once Ethan has his own sons, then he’d love to have Cee has Primary Nurturer, which is a great job for accumulating duty credits.  He admits it’s not an adventurous life compared to Cee’s experiences up to then, but it would be good experience for Cee’s own children, and Ethan would be happy to be Cee’s Designated Alternate as well.

Cee says that after what his adventures have put him through, something quiet sounds just right.  He mentions to Ethan that he was under the impression that the Designated Alternate relationship was kind of like a marriage, and wonders if he would expect sex to be part of it.

“Well . . .” said Ethan. “No, not necessarily. D.A. arrangements can be, and are, entered into by brothers, cousins, fathers, grandfathers—anyone qualified and willing to act as a parent. Parenthood shared between lovers is just the most common variety. But here you are on Athos, after all, for the rest of your life. I thought, perhaps, in time, you might grow accustomed to our ways. Not to rush you or anything, but if you find yourself getting used to the idea, you might, uh, let me know . . .” Ethan trailed off.

“By God the Father,” Cee’s voice was amused, assured. And had Ethan really feared he would surprise the telepath? “I just might.”

Before going to sleep, Ethan takes a moment to think of Elli Quinn and EQ-1, and then of Dr. Cynthia Jane Baruch, his own “mother”, who had been hired to provide her genes to start out Athos.  He whispers her a quiet salute and prepares to face the future.

Comments

So did Cee take himself some tyramine on the shuttle?  Because he seems to be fairly telepathic in this chapter.  I guess it would no longer be that dangerous a substance to buy on Kline Station, although if someone from Cetaganda followed up and found traces of it before Ethan’s ship left…  I guess if Cee were smart, he’d buy it before Elli left with his lookalike so it still wouldn’t be traced back to him.  Or was it just an author goof to toss in some telepathic incidents so Cee could find out that the Athosians were really on the level?  Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt for now.

The way Dr. Cynthia Baruch’s name is revealed at the end, I almost expect it to be a reference to something else in the series, the way Miles’s grandmother’s name appears, or “Admiral Naismith” himself.  Of course, it would have to be something long predating the series proper, like a short story farther back in the timeline, or maybe Falling Free or something, but according to the Vorkosigan Companion it isn’t.  The significance of the name is not so much of the name itself, as it is the shift in his attitude toward being able to appreciate women as people, and to think of Baruch as being his mother.  Of course, it’s unlikely that his own attitudes are likely to change much, because even a planet of telepaths won’t be able to find out too much about people they never actually meet…

How is Ethan going to explain all these extra cultures, by the way?  The Betan ones, that is?  Is he just going to insinuate them in quietly, or pretend to receive them as another shipment later on?  How will he explain how he paid for them?  Or maybe he could just explain the matter once the crisis has died down a little, and maybe the Population Council will be grateful that, if they had to pay for two batches of cultures, they actually ended up with two of them in the end.

One hopes that Ethan and Terrence will still be around when the first telepaths begin to come of age, and I suppose they’re young enough that it might happen.  Athos does have some access to galactic medicine, even if it is a bit of frontier world, so lifespans should be in line with at least Barrayar, if not Beta Colony.  And, if you think about, Terrence’s kids will be telepaths as well, since he already carries the gene, so they’ll have two recessives and it’ll be fully expressed.  Their story could be interesting…

Overall Comments

I’m still not sure how I feel about this book.  It has its gripping segments, and a fast-moving plot, once it gets started, but it has a slow beginning, and Ethan isn’t the most capable or resourceful of characters.  Also, the telepathy idea, while intriguing, never feels quite fully formed.  Terrence Cee never makes full use of it, because of the limitations the author put on it, but its impact, even on a remote planet, is likely to be shattering.  And let’s not forget the likelihood that the Cetagandans will, in fact, rediscover it.  As a standalone book, that’s not bad, though it does seem to require a sequel to see where it comes out in the end, but as an adjunct book to a series, it feels like it should eventually come to dominate the plotline unless the author just decides to cop out and ignore it.

Kline Station is a good and well-realized setting, in a way that is usually reserved for planets, space stations being some kind of fragile, utilitarian appendage never gone into in such detail, and seeing Elli Quinn in her native element is a helpful delineator of her character for later books.  She isn’t really a major character in the Miles books for too long, but this book more than hints at how she rose from faceless mercenary.


And that’s it for Ethan of Athos!  When I return in two weeks, it’ll be time to return to Miles in “Labyrinth”.  It looks like I’m going to do that novella in three parts, since it divides fairly well, if not perfectly, into chunks of approximately the right size.  But I will take a week off in between, so see you at the end of July…

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Welcome back, every so slightly belatedly, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I go through the books of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga a chapter or two at a time, summarize them, share some of the best quotes, and come up with a few insights to share with you.

On some planet, somewhere in the galaxy, this is probably Tuesday, but on this planet it looks like I just got a day behind due to personal reasons that I’m not really going to go into because this isn’t a personal blog.  How will this affect the future of the Reread?  More on that below, but for now, here’s the next two chapters of Ethan of Athos, as we see what hijinks Elli Quinn, Terrence Cee, and Dr. Ethan Urquhart get up to when they’re all working together against Ghem-Colonel Millisor.

Chapter Ten

Ethan shares some of the wine with Terrence, but stops before getting more than a little buzzed.  Cee asks if he’s sure that none of the shipment that arrived on Athos could have been part of the original contents, and Ethan confirms that it was nothing more than trash, and there’s no way that Janine’s cultures could have been in there.  Cee says he saw the original shipment onto the shuttle on Jackson’s Whole; Quinn says that means the switch must have happened on Kline Station, during the two months they were waiting for Ethan’s ship, and hundreds of ships could have left with the crates in that time.  Quinn admits that if she was going to track it down, she’d rather let Millisor do the work and just follow him.  She’d also rather just take a genetic sample directly from Terrence.  Cee says that eventually Millisor’s team will discover his arrival on Kline Station, so he can’t wait that long.  Quinn reminds him that they’ll be wasting time following Teki around.

Cee asks Ethan if they want to recover the shipment, and Ethan says they’ve pretty much written it off as a dead loss.  He’d rather buy a new one than recover the old one but attract a Cetagandan attack on their planet, and would almost feel safer if Millisor just recovered it.  Cee says that he cannot accept the results of the Cetagandans regain the telepath gene, with the possibility to breed new telepaths without so much inconvenient free will.  Quinn points out that Millisor’s mostly interested in keeping the gene out of everyone else’s hands, since the Cetagandans will eventually be able to reconstruct it now that they know it’s possible.  She adds that it might be better if, by that time, there were a race of free telepaths available to oppose them.

Cee asks if Admiral Naismith would be any better, and Ethan suddenly realizes that Cee’s questioning indicates that his telepathic abilities have been activated.  Quinn suggests just giving the gene to all of the governments, giving Millisor apoplexy and keeping Athos from being singled out, but Cee says he doesn’t want to risk creating that many persecuted slave telepath minorities.  Ethan realizes that he’s present at the cusp of a major historical change, and finds the sensation dizzying.

Cee says that he’d rather just kill himself and be done with it, except for his promise to Janine.  He tells Quinn that if she can find Janine’s samples for him, he’ll go along with her.  Quinn points out that her mission is essentially over, and she could satisfy her commander simply by stunning Cee and taking a tissue sample, just for their information.

“What do you want of me?” Cee demanded. Anger edged his voice. “To trust you?”

Her lips thinned. “You don’t trust anybody. You never had to. Yet you demand that others trust you.”

“Oh,” said Cee, looking suddenly enlightened. “That.”

“You breathe one word of that,” she smiled through clenched teeth, “and I’ll arrange an accident for you like Okita never dreamed of.”

“Your Admiral’s personal secrets are of no interest to me,” said Cee stiffly. “They’re hardly relevant to this situation anyway.”

Cee then turns his attention to Ethan, which involuntarily causes Ethan to immediately think of all the sins and secrets that he’d want to keep hidden, including his physical attraction to Terrence.  He wishes he had the chance to really try to sell Cee on the beauty of his world of Athos, to take him sailing on their oceans.  Cee comments that he never saw any oceans during his life on Cetaganda, and Ethan realizes how transparent he’s being.  Cee asks if Ethan can shelter Janine’s genes as well as Cee himself, and Ethan admits that he doesn’t know he’s even going to save himself yet.

Quinn points out that they haven’t found the ovarian samples yet, and none of the parties involved seem to know where they are.  Cee says that anyone who knew what it was would probably covet it, including governments and criminals.  Ethan suggests House Bharaputra, but Quinn points out that any Bharaputrans who knew about them were killed by Millisor’s group, or else Quinn would have been tasked with recovering Millisor and the samples rather than just killing the Cetagandans.  Ethan suggests some random entrepreneur, but Quinn says that’s all they need, to widen the circle of suspects.  She asks Cee if he’s done with his scanning, and Cee says he is, obviously suffering from a major headache.  Quinn goes out to gather more information; Ethan gives Cee some painkillers, and they both try to get some sleep.

Quinn returns a while later, waking Ethan and Cee.  Nothing new from Millisor and Rau, and no information from attempting to pump the warehouse supervisor.  Cee notes the time and says he has to get to work, to maintain his cover identity and continue working toward a ticket off the station.  Quinn says she can take care of the ticket, but Cee says she’ll only offer it in the direction she chooses.  Cee goes off to get ready, and Quinn asks Ethan if he said anything more.  Ethan says they just slept, but he’s been trying to think of a new angle for the shipment, like pursuing where the trash that arrived on Athos might have come from.

They are interrupted by a signal on Quinn’s beeper, on Teki’s emergency code.  Quinn calls back and discovers that it’s Teki’s girlfriend Sara.  She says that Teki never met her for their date last night, and starts to leave an annoyed message with Quinn, but Quinn, alarmed, says she hasn’t heard from Teki either.  She tells Sara that she saw Teki just before his work shift; Sara said she’d been calling around to Teki’s friends, and got Quinn’s number from her father.  Quinn becomes very serious and tells Sara to file a missing persons report for Teki, to use Quinn’s name and talk to Captain Arata directly.

Quinn hangs up and says that Millisor has probably decided to pick up Teki for questioning, which would be bad because he doesn’t know about much except for Elli’s involvement, and this will blow her cover.  Cee says that Millisor must be getting desperate.

“I meant to push Millisor off-balance.” Quinn bit through a fingernail with an audible snap. “But not that far off. I gave them no reason to take Teki. Or I wouldn’t have, if he’d done what I told him and turned around immediately—I knew better than to involve a non-professional. Why didn’t I listen to myself? Poor Teki won’t know what hit him.”

“You didn’t have any such scruples about involving me,” remarked Ethan, miffed.

“You were involved already. And besides, I didn’t use to baby-sit you when you were a toddler. And besides . . .” she paused, shooting him a look strangely akin to the one Cee had just given him, “you underestimate yourself,” she finished.

Quinn starts to leave the room, then stays behind and paces instead.  She wonders why they’ve had him so long; Teki didn’t have a tracer on him, like Ethan did, and his past is well-documented on the station, unlike Ethan’s.  Cee points out that they couldn’t find anything out about Ethan, but if they think he’s involved anyway, then they’ll be less likely to give up on Teki.  Quinn says they’re likely in Millisor’s room, the one she hasn’t been able to bug, and she tries to puzzle out a way to get into it.  She says that Millisor is likely trying to provoke her into acting hastily, and tries to think of what Admiral Naismith would do.

“Never do yourself,” muttered Quinn, “what you can con an expert into doing for you. That’s what he’d say. Tactical judo from the space magician himself.” Her straight back held the dynamism of zen meditation. When she turned her face was radiant with jubilation. “Yes, that’s exactly what he’d do! Sneaky little dwarf, I love you!” She saluted an invisible presence and dove for the comconsole.

Cee and Ethan stand by in puzzlement as Quinn places a call to the Ecobranch Epidemiology Hotline.  She reports a potential disease vector for a particularly nasty new strain of “Varusan Crotch-rot”, which she blushingly confesses to have caught from him herself.  She gives Millisor’s cover identity and provides her real name before signing off, telling Cee and Ethan that she’s just committed a major crime by her false report.  She says that Ecobranch may need some backup against the Cetagandans, so they head off to help.

Comments

See, I told you Teki was the Ivan!  He’s even been taken hostage to fulfill the “dude in distress” role.  Tough luck for him, of course, especially if he’s getting the interrogation that Ethan got, except with less reason…  Except being related to that dangerous provocateuse Elli Quinn, that is.

More of Elli’s crush on Admiral Naismith, with one of those “I love you” outbursts that would have been incredibly awkward if Miles had actually been in the room.  To be offset by “sneaky little dwarf”, to be sure.  Her willingness to implement her plan by not only perjuring herself (sort of) but admitting to sex with a disease-carrier is heroic, to be sure.

I’m going to assume that the secret about Admiral Naismith that Elli is so concerned about Terrence spilling is Naismith’s dual identity as Lord Miles Vorkosigan.  I actually wasn’t sure that Elli was in the loop on that one, but I guess she might have figured it out during the trip back to Beta Colony in The Warrior’s Apprentice, if nothing else.

Both Terrence and Elli seem to be convinced that Ethan is totally underestimating his competence here, and I have to admit, I’m not sure why.  The list of Ethan’s actual achievements so far amount to keeping his head above water, and that with a lot of help from other people.  Maybe he should be getting a medal just for being brave enough to leave his planet when he thought the rest of the galaxy was like Land of the Succubi, but somehow I don’t think Elli, at least, would give him any credit for that one.  Sure, he is a skilled doctor, and he shows a certain amount of determination, but I’m sure he’s convinced that he’s the last hope for his planet’s future; does that make him heroic?  I’m not sure I buy it.

Chapter Eleven

Ethan, Quinn and Cee go down to the corridor outside Millisor’s room; Cee stays by the lift tubes with one stunner, while Ethan and Quinn position themselves where they can keep a watch on Millisor’s door.  Quinn has the other stunner, leaving Ethan armed with nothing more than a medkit.  She tells Ethan that Teki will doubtless be needing a fast-penta antagonist as soon as they can get to him.

They duck into a door niche when two Ecobranch personnel and a Security guard come down the hallway with a sealed passenger pallet.  Ethan is dismayed to see that one of them is Helda; Quinn encourages him to act inconspicuous, drawing him close to cuddle, which of course makes him intensely uncomfortable, but he tries to play along.  Quinn’s beeper goes off, and she checks it to see that it’s Millisor calling, probably having squeezed her number out of Teki to try to pressure her.

Helda buzzes the room and calls “Harman Dal”‘s name, but nobody responds.  She points out to the Security guard that it’s definitely occupied, and with company.  After the third buzz with no response, she tries an override, but it still doesn’t open, which the Security guard notes happily is a fire-safety violation.  Helda, incensed, accesses the fire-control panel and taps in a code which is followed by a muffled roar and cries from within the room.  Quinn explains to Ethan that this is the station version of a sprinkler system–a system to pump all the air out of a room.  They hear pounding on the door from inside, but Quinn whispers that they can’t open it from the inside because of the pressure differential.

Helda reverses the controls and pumps the air back; the door pops open and Millisor and Rau stumble out.  Millisor begins protesting about his diplomatic immunity protecting him against anything short of a major felony, but Helda says that a biocontrol emergency overrides any of the laws that might protect transients.  Rau spots Ethan and Quinn, and points them out to Millisor, who subsides.

The Security man spots the Cetagandans’ hostage inside, tied to a chair, and bleeding.  Quinn steps forward to offer Ethan’s medical assistance, and they enter the room, followed by Helda.  Teki is tied up with wires that have cut into his wrists and ankles, and has a bloody nose and a couple of minor head wounds, but his eyes are bright with fast-penta intoxication.  Helda recognizes Teki and begins to berate him, but Teki says muzzily that he’s off-shift and doesn’t have to put up with her.  The security guard asks if this was a “private act” or not, and Ethan tells him curtly that he was kidnapped, drugged and tortured as he cuts Teki loose.

Helda, closing in, turned her head at the sound of Ethan’s voice and stared at him. “You’re no doctor,” she gasped. “You’re that moron from Docks and Locks again. My department wants a word with you!”

Teki yelped with laughter, causing Ethan to drop the sterile sponge he’d been applying to his ankle. “Joke’s on you, Helda! He really is a doctor.” He leaned toward Ethan, nearly tipping the chair, and confided conspiratorially, “Don’t let on you’re an Athosian, or she’ll pop an artery. She hates Athos.” He nodded happily, then, exhausted, let his head loll sideways again.

Ethan tells her that he is, indeed, a doctor from Athos, and an Ambassador, on a special mission.  Teki warns Ethan not to tell her that, because she’s been irrational about Athos ever since her son snuck off there–at age 32.  Helda asks him if he has an antidote for the truth serum, so they can sort this all out down in quarantine.  Ethan begins to think about how Helda has near-dictatorial powers down there, and shouts for Quinn, who enters, hearing Millisor and Rau with her stunner.

He tells her that the one thing they hadn’t figured out was where whoever-it-was had gotten the material to replace the ovarian cultures destined for Athos.  Very few people would have had access to human, or bovine, ovaries on Kline Station, except maybe someone like Helda who had access to a lot of cadavers, and even they must have run out of time before the shipment was due to leave, hence the frantic cow-part substitutions to try to cover it up.  Helda tells him he’s crazy and repeats that they need to get to Quarantine; Ethan asks about the shrink-wrap that they found as well, and Teki chimes in that they use the shrink-wrapper all the time.

Ethan asks Helda why, and she tells him that she wants to cut those “motherless unnatural bastards” off, until her son came home and found a real woman, and gave her some grandchildren that she’d be allowed to visit…  The Security man is agog at the prospect of arresting an eco-cop.  Millisor is more interested in what she did with the ovarian cultures that had been in the shipment.  Helda says she threw them out, and Millisor becomes livid with rage, lunging at her to be felled by two stunner beams.  Quinn points out Rau as the escaped fugitive from the other day, and suggests they search the room for contraband military equipment.

The Security man and Helda’s fellow eco-cop insist they all go down to Quarantine, which Rau will find much harder to break out of than mere detention cells, and more Security guards show up to back him up.

“Yes, sir?” said one of the new officers.

“Took you long enough,” said the Security man. “Search that one,” he pointed to Rau, “and then you can help us run ’em all to Quarantine. These three are accused of vectoring communicable disease. That one’s been fingered as the jailbreak from C-9. This one’s accused of theft by that one, who appears to be wearing a Station code-uniform to which he is not entitled, and who also claims that one over there was kidnapped. I’ll have a printout as long as I am tall of charges for the one out cold on the floor when he wakes up. Those three are all gonna need first aid—”

Ethan, reminded, slipped up to Teki and pressed the hypospray of fast-penta antagonist into his arm. He felt almost sorry for the young man as his foolish grin was rapidly replaced by the expression of a man with a terminal hangover. The Security team in the meanwhile were shaking all sorts of glittering mysterious objects out of the unresisting Rau.

“—and the pretty lady in the gray outfit who seems to know so much about everybody else’s business I’m holding as a material witness,” the Security man concluded. “Ah—where is she?”

Comments

Final confrontation!  The good guys have defeated the bad guys, and the puzzle of the missing ovarian cultures has finally been solves, so we must be close to the end!  Or so it seems…but there’s still four chapters left, and surely there can’t be that much denouement left, can there?  There must be a few loose plot threads around…like House Bharaputra, or the other Cetagandan guy, Setti.  And I’m not convinced that the ovarian cultures are actually lost forever, but I can’t remember if I have grounds for that optimism or not.  I know that Ethan doesn’t go home empty-handed…  Oh, and Terrence Cee was standing around down by the lift tubes being conveniently absent for this chapter.  I guess if Millisor had come out to find him in the hallway, he’d really have been unable to restrain himself, so it’s probably for the best.

Anyway, it’s a great scene, showing that the station authorities are not entirely powerless after all, if you can get them mobilized in the right direction.  Only Ecobranch seems to have the authority to go in without warrants, though, whereas Security can’t do much unless they find actual evidence, hence the necessity for Elli’s prevarication.  And the reason why making those false claims is a serious crime, of course, because of the monster they unleash.  Looks like she skipped out before she could get charged, but good luck to her getting off the station, since she used her real name and everything.

I barely remembered about Helda from before, but the author took care to have her show up several times, so she became a believable antagonist.  Her motivations have nothing to do with the whole Cetaganda-Terrence Cee plotline at all, except for the coincidental involvement of Athos and the effect her actions had on the various factions.  We don’t really like her, and unlike Ethan I don’t even have that much sympathy for her after we discover the reason she hates Athos.  I mean, her son left, and reading between the lines it was probably because nothing he did, and no woman he dated, was ever good enough for her, and he’s been sufficiently traumatized by it to go to a planet that will keep him from ever having to see her again.  So in return she tries to wreck the future of an entire planet?  I’m not sure she even fully understand the damage she was doing, but on the other hand, she admitted she was willing to keep doing it as long as she had to…to get her son to come back.  I can’t even accuse her of having good intentions, and I can’t even believe that she’d forgive her son if he came back, or stop picking on his girlfriends, or be nicer to him.  She’s not a borderline psychopath like Millisor (or, you know, Bothari), but…well, maybe she is.  She’s definitely lacking in a lot of human empathy, which is probably why she likes being able to lord it over people down in Ecobranch and punish people for whatever minor infractions she could find.  With luck she won’t get to do that anymore…


Also with any luck I’ll be back next week for the next two chapters, and I wouldn’t even rule out getting back to my Tuesday schedule, but I’ll have to see.  This week was a clear sign that I shouldn’t always do it on the last two days, because things happen, and my life is in a bit of flux right now, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to get myself to work too far ahead.  If I can’t handle it, I may drop back to one chapter a week for a while.  I’ve been trying to emulate Leigh Butler’s tremendous Wheel of Time rereads, and while she’s kept up a fairly good schedule, even she had to take a week off every once in a while, so be prepared for the occasional gap.  If I’m planning to skip an entire week, I’ll try to post a note to that effect; otherwise I’ll just try to come out with it a day or two late.  I’ll have to play it by ear, but all in all, I’m still enjoying this enough that I’m not likely to just up and quit without a more major personal upheaval than I’ve encountered thus far.

So–hopefully you’ll see two more chapters next week, so we’ll see which, if any, of those loose plot threads, show up to plague our heroes.  As always, if you can’t wait that long, you can always read ahead on your own.

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