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Posts Tagged ‘Vorpatril’

Generally things are numbered up, instead of down, because most of the time you don’t know how many things there are going to be, in total.  You would feel foolish to start with Chapter Fifty of your book and end on Chapter Three, or reach Chapter One and still have chapters to go.  And yet, this is the end of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, so it feels a little bit like we’ve reached Zero in the countdown…or, as we always did as kids, “Blastoff!” or “Ready or not, here I come!”  The last novel to date, CryoBurn, has reached its end, with the sucker-punch of revealing the death of Count Aral Vorkosigan, and all that’s left is the Aftermaths.

Aftermaths

The last five hundred words, or so, of CryoBurn of course require special treatment.  After the bombshell of the last three words of Chapter Twenty, the author decided, quite wisely, not to leave us hanging; however, probably also not wanting to overshadow the rest of the book, she confined herself to five hundred-word “drabbles”.  Quite frankly, I feel that she failed in not overshadowing the rest of the book, because these last 503 words pack more of a punch than the rest of the book put together, IMHO.  It’s like the spearpoint effect, except that these spearpoints are all tipped with scalpels.  Probably laser-scalpels.

Also, because of their extreme brevity, I’m tempted to just quote them wholesale, but I probably shouldn’t.  I was reading about somebody who got sued for lifting one brief passage from Gerald Ford’s biography of Nixon–and lost, because that one passage was the most important one in the book.  So I won’t just quote them, except perhaps for the best bits; in fact I’m not sure it’ll work to just summarize them, because they’re so short that it’d really just be paraphrasing them entirely.  In other words, bear with me here, I’m not sure what I’m doing.

First, we get Mark’s immediate reaction to Miles’s reaction to the news; he’s reminded of the time he shot “a man” with a nerve disrupter, and saw the life drain from the eyes.  Later he realizes that he did see a death, the death of “Lord Vorkosigan”.  I find it interesting that nowhere in that passage does he seem to consider that the man he shot was, surely, Ser Galen, his own father-figure at the time.  I feel like there’s something there–Miles reacting to the death of his father like Mark’s own “father” when he died.  Perhaps it’s more significant that he thinks of Count Aral Vorkosigan as “their” father, in a way that may have seemed inconceivable at the time of Mirror Dance

Second, we get Count Miles Vorkosigan, now on a fast courier to Sergyar, swearing at his reflection and snarling at Roic, asking why they’re in such a hurry now that there’s nothing to be done.  Roic tells him that Cordelia is waiting for them on Sergyar, though he stumbles over calling her “the Countess” or the “Dowager Countess” before settling on “your mother”.  This is, quite frankly, the slightest of the drabbles–I get more of an impression of Miles’s state of mind from Ivan’s piece, later, quite frankly.  But then, I feel like we know Miles the best, after all this time, so I feel that I have a pretty good idea what’s going on inside his head in the first place.

And speaking of inside his head, he says “I feel like my brain’s been pulled out, and there’s nothing in my skull but loose wires waving from my spinal cord.”  This feel uncomfortably reminiscent of the loose wires pulled from the brain of the pilot on Auson’s ship, back in The Warrior’s Apprentice, Miles’s first kill (via Bothari, but I’m sure Miles still counts it as such)

Third, we get Cordelia; she was the one who’d found him, two hours dead of a brain aneurysm on a warm afternoon.  Miles is asking her why she didn’t cryoprep him anyway, in case technology was one day advanced enough to revive him, but she said he wouldn’t have wanted to live as a vegetable.  She thinks privately to herself that his memories themselves were almost as much of a horror, and then apologizes to Ensign Dubauer.

It does feel like a turnabout, after she kept Aral from euthanising Dubauer way back in Shards of Honour, to have made another choice for Aral himself, although it is in accordance with Aral’s expressed wishes on the subject.  Is she sorry for the fact that she couldn’t bring herself to try preserving as much of Aral as she did of Dubauer?  Or is she retrospectively wishing she had let Dubauer die rather than trying to keep his body alive?

Also, the thought that his memories were so much of a horror that death would be preferable; was it really that bad?  Okay, from the period of Mad Yuri’s War and the death of so much of his family, to the violent end of his first marriage, his travels with Ges Vorrutyer…and then his betrayal of Prince Serg and sacrifice of so much of his honour in the name of Emperor Ezar, Gregor and the Imperium, there was a lot of bad stuff in there.  And his feud with his father over Miles.  But was there nothing in the last few decades of his life that outweighed that?  Gaining another son, and grandchildren, seeing Miles grow up and achieve so much, seeing Gregor grow up and achieve so much…nothing worthwhile?  Okay, perhaps Cordelia knew him best, perhaps nothing could dent his ongoing torment of his shattered honour, but…somehow I just don’t see it.  Who shaves the barber?

Fourth, we get Ivan.  Not sure if Tej was a gleam in the author’s eye at this point, but certainly there’s no mention of a wife, or any children of their own.  But Ivan himself is not really the focus of this scene.  He watches Miles go up to present the eulogy, almost deciding to toss away the carefully-prepared speech and do the whole thing off the cuff instead.  But instead he sees his children, calms down, and reads the speech after all.  And Ivan “wonders what the old Miles would have said”.

The whole scene is from Ivan’s POV, and I’m not sure why; perhaps just that we’d already done Miles, and we wanted to see that Ivan was there.  The last thought, about the old Miles, is perhaps a little unkind.  Would it have been better for Miles to babble away about his father in front of all those people?  Perhaps Ivan isn’t thinking it would have been better for the “old Miles” to have taken over, but he’s just curious.  He’s a little wary of his cousin, perhaps, after all this time, and may very well have been avoiding him a little; Lady Alys is mentioned (later) as being in charge of the arrangements, of course, so perhaps there hasn’t been the opportunity.  Ivan’s been on Ylla for a few years by now, hasn’t seen much of his cousin in a while, maybe misses the old familiar Miles who would order him to use his initiative.  But this is also the Ivan who dealt with Miles after getting fired from ImpSec, the one who ruthlessly subjected him to an ice-water bath to pull his head out of his ass; he probably just wants to pull Miles out of himself again, in case he’s shuttering up his grief.  But maybe he doesn’t have the freedom to do that anymore, as father and as Count.

Fifth, and last, we get Gregor, at the interment at Vorkosigan Surleau.  And here I will quote a bit.

The grave was double but only one side dug; the earth waited like a bridal bed. The pallbearers were six: Ivan, Illyan, and Koudelka, of course; Duv Galeni for Komarr; Admiral Jole for Sergyar. And one other.

Lady Alys tells the Emperor that he should be one of the mourners, but Gregor tells her that it’s his turn to carry Aral Vorkosigan now, for a change, and she gives way.

I gather that the “chief mourners” are Miles and Cordelia, perhaps Mark, as the immediate family.  Ivan, as nephew (well, first cousin once removed, really), must be far enough away to be spared for pallbearing.  Illyan and Koudelka make sense as his longtime subordinates and friends, and one presumes that he was well acquainted with Jole after all spending several years on Sergyar.  (How long was that?  Ten years, from _Memory_ to _CryoBurn_?)  Or, actually, looking it up in the Companion, it turns out that there was a Jole who was Aral’s aide-de-camp in _The Vor Game_, likely the same guy; possibly even the same Gentleman Jole from the forthcoming book?  And Galeni?  Is he just there as a token Komarran?  It doesn’t seem like he could have had a particularly close relationship with Count Aral Vorkosigan, especially since he didn’t achieve prominence in ImpSec until after the events of _Memory_…but they had to have one Komarran in there, or else risk whispers about how none of them wanted to carry The Butcher’s coffin, so I guess Galeni was the best bet.

Did Alys had another choice for sixth, that Gregor displaced?  Not sure who that would be…another of the Counts, or an Admiral or General?  Miles and Mark are out; not only are they likely “chief mourners”, but, well, height matters…  Not Mrs. Koudelka, surely; that would be indecorous.  Would Armsmen count?  Was it Pym or somebody who was being replaced?

Also, “bridal bed”?  Shudder.

And so the series ends, at least for now, with the passing of one of its earliest characters.  Like Taura, there’s only so long you can put off killing off a character whose health has been at risk for several books now…


It’s been four years, to the month, at least, since I started this reread.  As you may have gathered, the last two books have been more burdensome, and it’ll be a bit of a relief to be done.  (I’ve made promises to try to do some actual writing with the time that I’ve been devoting to the blog entries, but we’ll see how well I do at that.)  Will I return when Gentleman Jole comes out?  Perhaps, but no promises.  I have no plans to take the blog down right away or anything, but this may be my last post here ever, so…farewell, loyal readers.

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It’s been a long time coming, and it may have seemed like it would never get here, what with glaciers and drifting continents overtaking it on all sides.  But this week’s installment of The Vorkosigan Saga Reread finally brings us to the end of Captain’s Vorpatril Alliance, that Lois McMaster Bujold novel which, unlike so many others in the Vorkosigan Saga, doesn’t concern itself directly with Miles Vorkosigan, or even his mother, but instead focuses on perennial sideman Ivan Vorpatril, given a perhaps uncomfortable spotlight for once.  This week I cover the last chapter and the epilogue, as the denouement denoues itself nicely.

Chapter Twenty-Five

With Gregor’s decisions made, things start to move very quickly.  The Cordonahs are, officially, being deported, which isn’t the most prestigious way to be leaving the planet, but since they do want to leave, they accept it.  Lady Alys throws them an excellent farewell luncheon, and then they are escorted to go pack, except for Lady Moira, who is dragged off for a hasty debrief by Duv Galeni; he laments that two hours was not nearly enough for a century’s worth of information, so he plans to send an analyst and one of Professora Vorthys’s history students along with them for the beginning of their trip in the hope of gleaning more information.  A lot of the documents they found are still classified; they’re declassifying as many of them as they can, but there are some facts about the old ghem-junta that, even after a hundred years, they may not want to get out.  Even the declassified ones will be enough to make a number of historians’ careers, though, and the history textbooks may need to be heavily revised.

Vormercier’s yacht will be supplied with a military crew to take them to Komarr, mostly to ensure that they arrive there and not somewhere else; afterwards they can hire their own commercial crew.  Amiri is apparently still planning to go back to Escobar, and a government courier vessel from Komarr will be expediting him there, after which any potential bounty hunters will be problems for Mark and the Duronas.

Tej goes to speak with her mother, who’s busy packing; Lady Alys courteously leaves them alone.  The Baronne asks Tej if she’s packed, and Tej says that she’s going to stay with her husband; Udine reassures her that she doesn’t have to, their earlier insistence that she stay with her husband just being a ploy to keep her safe.  Tej says that she’s already made up her mind, and when her mother objects that it was too quickly, she asks how long it took her to decide she wanted Shiv.  The Baronne then invites her to at least ride along with them for a while, perhaps to Pol; Tej, not sold on the image of being stuffed into a ship with her family, and Byerly, says she’d rather just say her goodbyes here.

The Baronne allows that at least she’ll be safe; they’ll be heading to Fell Station with their war chest, a bare hundred million Betan dollars, which after all the deductions is barely five percent of their find.  Tej assures her mother that they will be able to make do with such reduced resources.  The Baronne asks what she sees in Ivan, and she finds it hard to explain–it’s what he sees in her, and how restful his approach to life is, his waiting-and-seeing.

Later, Ivan and Tej have time for a chat with Rish and Byerly, who tells them how Ser Imola has been swiftly dealt with, not much fight left in him.  By laments having to flee the planet so swiftly, having to pick and choose from his apartment like it’s on fire, leaving strangers to pack things up; apparently his new cover is that he was conspiring with the Arquas and is fleeing with them to keep from getting arrested.

“I’m sure you’ll do well,” Tej tried to reassure him.

“It’s bloody _Jackson’s Whole_.  Where enemies are killed and eaten.”

“We do not!” said Rish indignantly.

Byerly waved this away.  “I speak, of course, metaphorically.”  Though he looked as if he weren’t entirely sure.

“Well, if you get in over your head, just try channeling your great-great-grandfather Bloody Pierre,” advised Ivan Xav.  He added after a moment.  “Or your great-great-grandmother.  For you, either one.”

By cast a sneer at him.

Ivan tells Tej that one of the few people Pierre was supposed to have been afraid of was his wife; By reminds Ivan that Vorrutyer history is notoriously unreliable, and belatedly congratulates Ivan on winning Tej’s affections.

Luxurious groundcars appear to drive them to the shuttleport, thanks to Lady Alys; a pair of men in Vorbarra livery appear with two boxes of the Ninth Satrapy gold coins, as a personal gift from Gregor, which Shiv points out wryly is also precisely 5% of them.  He tells them convey to Gregor that “Baron and Baronne Cordonah are as pleased to accept his memento as he is to bestow it”.  The rest of the money will be transferred digitally later, less this advance.

The Baron comes to say farewell to Tej, commenting on the Barrayaran tradition of “giving away” the bride, though Ivan tells him that they also have been known to have elaborate marriage contracts.  Shiv reiterates the invitation for Tej to join them for a few jumps, and she reiterates her refusal; he tells her she’ll be welcome back at home anytime, and she refrains from pointing out that they don’t have their home back yet.

“Look at it this way, Dada.  You’re coming away from Barrayar with everyone’s freedom, a ride, and a war chest.  Not to mention the covert alliance with The Gregor.  I can’t imagine any House heir alive who could match that bride-price, right now.  It’s princely, more literally than anyone here quite lets on.”  Barrayarans!  “And do you think that you’d have had any of it if I hadn’t married Ivan Xav?”

Shiv shakes Ivan’s hand, and gives him a father’s warning that he better take good care of his daughter; Ivan assures him he will.  After they’ve departed, Ivan asks if offering to kill people was a traditional Jacksonian expression of affection.  Tej reminds him of the story she’d read about his Aunt Cordelia’s gift of Vordarian’s severed head, and Ivan says he’s a more modern Barrayaran than that.

Their meeting the next morning with The Gregor was very short.

“Ylla?” said Ivan Xav in a confounded voice.  “Where the hell is Ylla?”

Comments

You know, it would be a bit easier sometimes if Jacksonian Houses behaved a little more like actual families.  By which I mean–House Cordonah was run by the Arquas.  Shouldn’t that make is House Arqua?  Or shouldn’t their family name be Cordonah?  I realize that we have lots of cases where that doesn’t happen, but those are like when you have an actual political entity, like a country.  You can change from one dynasty to another and not have to rename the country.  But I never got the impression that Jacksonian Houses were tied to geographical areas.  They seemed to have divided the planet on more economic lines, staking out their territory based on their business rather than the land they occupy.  I could be wrong, I suppose, but that’s the impression I always got.  So I guess it’s more like a business trademark, where you don’t want to change the name of your company because your customers would get confused if it was House Stauber trying to sell their weapons rather than House Fell.  But I just want to know–can I call the Arquas Cordonahs, or not?

It’s a nice short chapter to tie off the book, except it really doesn’t.  The Arquas (or Cordonahs) are being hustled off the planet quite quickly, and Tej isn’t really doing her utmost to spend every last second of that time with them, because she’s really looking forward to not being oppressed by their presence.  I mean, she’s happy they’re alive, but she’ll be happier when they’re alive somewhere else, now that she’s found an alternative family in good old Ivan Xav.

So it falls to the epilogue to really resolve matters, to show us the direction things moved in over a slightly longer span of time.  And also to tell us something about this Ylla place.

Epilogue

Ivan is posted as Senior Military Attaché to the Barrayaran consulate on Ylla, though there turns out not to be any other military attachés for him to be senior to, or anyone at all besides the consul, who is somewhat dispirited.  They arrive on the city where the consulate is located during its dreary winter, with Tej heartily jumpsick.  Ivan, used to the much more hectic workflow of Vorbarr Sultana, is able to whip the consulate into shape without much effort, and quickly discovers that it doesn’t really need to be in the capital, as long as it’s near a shuttleport and the comconsole net.  So he moves the entire consulate to someplace much nicer on an equatorial island, hires a clerk, and gets his work down to an average of three mornings a week.  Ylla’s oceans are, unfortunately, unpleasant to swim in, between the irritants in the water and the carnivorous native lifeforms, but they’re nice enough to look at.

A batch of mail arrives one sunny afternoon, and Ivan brings it out to where Tej is sunbathing; his morning’s work is done, where he’s been working on his first annual performance review, toning down the consul’s overly-positive remarks to something less likely to get him transferred to somewhere less salubrious.  Gregor had said that it would probably be at least two years before things blew over enough for him to come home, and they’d also had only a day to pack for their galactic exile.

Ivan’s packet includes a birthday greeting (for his 36th) from Admiral Desplains, who doesn’t seem to be as fond of Ivan’s replacement, but implies that he doesn’t expect Ivan to return to his old post, either.  Tej says that Rish writes that they’re working on repairs to Cordonah Station, Topaz has replacement legs so the Jewels can perform again (they’d been amputated as punishment for helping Tej’s parents escape from Prestene captivity), and Erik has been pronounce cryo-revivable, but there are complications.  Apparently Erik was actually House Prestene’s inside man, so they’re keeping him on ice for a while, mostly as a threat to keep Star and Pidge from fighting too much over the succession; once they’re better entrenched, then maybe they’ll bring him back in a more subordinate position.  Tej notes that she’s happy to be out of family politics.

Rish doesn’t mention anything about Byerly, but Ivan has a letter from him, sent around the same time.  He tends to be a little overly verbose, but Ivan happens upon a mention of the brooch which Lady Moira had picked up in the vault; apparently it actually contained the genetic samples of the Barrayaran population from the Ninth Satrapy.  Ivan isn’t sure what the Barrayarans would make of that, especially since many of their ancestors would be clonable from those samples.  He reads further, and discovers that Lady Moira had offered to sell them back to the Star Crèche, for ten million Betan dollars; a Star Crèche envoy came all the way to Jackson’s Whole to make the pickup, and when she was there, Lady Moira ceremoniously destroyed the brooch, apparently as payback for being culled from the haut a century earlier.

Lady Alys had written to Tej, telling her about the galactic tour they’d been on–also heavily encouraged by Gregor, with Laisa’s help–and have now returned from, without too many unfortunate incidents.  Ivan recalls his last conversation with Gregor, about what had gotten into Illyan.

“I think he was bored, Gregor.”

“Bored!” Gregor jerked to a halt, taken aback.  “I thought he was exhausted.”

“Right after the chip breakdown, sure.”  Profoundly so.  “For a while, everyone–even Mamere and Simon himself–assumed he was some fragile convalescent.  But…quietly–he does everything quietly–he’s grown better.”

“I thank your mother for that, yes.”

Yeah, really.  Ivan shied from trying to imagine the biography of a post-chip-Simon minus Alys, but it might have been a much shorter tale.  “He’s fine when she’s with him.  But she’s been going off to the Residence a lot, lately, leaving him to his own devices.  And then Shiv came along and pushed all his old buttons, and, well, here we all are.”

Ivan suggested that Gregor find some kind of occupation for him in future, not as heavy or full-time as his previous job, but something to give him some variety.  Tej continues that they have dedicated the new ImpSec building, with Illyan cutting the ribbon, though refusing the honour of having it actually named after him; the building is not built near the old site, but somewhere with fewer holes under it.  Next letter is from Aunt Cordelia to Ivan; Tej had met them during their stopover on Sergyar on the way offplanet, and Simon and Alys had stopped there on their way back.  What his mother hadn’t mentioned, though, was their visit to the Orb on Beta Colony.

“They signed up for some sort of one-week deluxe instructional course.  That doesn’t sound too… Role-playing?  Because Mamere thought it might be easy for Simon to get into on account of having done covert ops in his youth.  And the first day was pretty rocky, but once she persuaded Simon to stop treating the mandatory psychological interest survey as a hostile interrogation, things smoothed out…and…”

Mercifully, Cordelia changes the subject at that point to their sailing expedition on the less-toxic seas of Sergyar.  Tej suggests they stop at the Orb when they go back, though of course she doesn’t need any sexual instruction herself.  Ivan asks about the “survey” that had troubled Illyan, and Tej describes it as a sort of brain scan done while they show you images, to determine what kinds of things you like, but also a way of finding potential problem customers.  Of course, this being Beta Colony, those problem customers are still allowed in, just supervised differently; some of them are just disturbed by the things lurking in their brain.

Finally, there is a letter from Miles; he writes that the old ImpSec building was purchased by a Barrayaran investor who turned out to be Mark Vorkosigan, who has not only managed to get the building raised up to its previous level again, but now plans to reopen it as a hotel/restaurant/nightclub, which Miles heartily disapproves of.  He also mentions their decanting another infant, Lady Elizabeth Vorkosigan; as Tej looks at the baby pictures, he contemplates how he’s somehow become an uncle, through no fault of his own, and compares it gingerly to the prospect of eventual fatherhood.  Tej, apparently thinking on similar lines, points out neutrally that one wouldn’t want to drag a uterine replicator, or an infant, through all those wormhole jumps back to Barrayar.

Ivan muses on how he’s four years away from being a twenty-years man, which, he explains to Tej, is when a Barrayaran soldier either takes early retirement or re-ups with an eye to command rank.  Tej asks which he’d prefer, and Ivan says he’s not as keen for high rank as he may have been when he was younger; the consul has suggested he move into the diplomatic corps, which is not an uncommon career path, though it would involve more travel.  Tej decides it might not be so bad, to suffer through wormhole jumps once in a while, if it keeps them from having to spend too much time with their families; Ivan points out that her linguistic talents would certainly come in handy.

In all, in truth, it was a problem for another day, Ivan decided.  When life and chance handed you an afternoon as idyllic as this one promised to be, it seemed profoundly ungrateful not to pay attention.

Ivan ran a toe up Tej’s shin, and began attending.

Comments

So Ivan and Tej got kicked offplanet for a temporary exile, the way his mother and Illyan did, though apparently for a little longer.  Ivan does, at least, get to get some advantage out of his penchant for laziness, at least in the sense that he’s willing to put in a little hard work to make his life easier in the long run.  And the rest is just like the thing where they tell you what happened to the characters after the events of the movie, to some extent.

Illyan and Alys went off for a while, did the Orb thing, and went back home.  Mark bought the old ImpSec HQ with nefarious commercial purposes in mind, while they built a new one somewhere else.  Miles and Ekaterin had another baby.  And Ivan contemplates his future, now that he’s been jolted out of his prior career track; would he have been thinking about it so much if he’d still been sorting snakes for Admiral Desplains (and still single)?

I should probably do some kind of summation of the book.  I was dissatisfied with it my first time through, and my reread hasn’t altered my views all that much.  I rarely managed to maintain a two-chapter-per-week pace, which I managed much better in A Civil Campaign, for heaven’s sake, where the chapters were huge, and mostly that was because I wasn’t that interested.  The book starts off a little slow, picks up for the wedding, slows down when we go back to Barrayar as Tej meets familiar characters and gets presented with recaps of earlier events, and then sinks into a morass of Jacksonian relatives.  Ivan gets lost by the wayside for chapters at a time, until finally he joins them in the vault and actual excitement happens.  The pace still seems jerky, the Arquas and Ser Imola getting brought in too abruptly, the Vormerciers vanishing just as suddenly, the romance progressing and then stopping dead before eventually resuming.

Ivan is just not the same kind of protagonist as Miles, or even Cordelia.  He is reluctant to act, and generally shies away from the plot in most of the books we see him in, unless dragged into it by Byerly or Miles, or kidnapped as a hostage or something.  He’s not a total incompetent in a crisis, but he tries much harder to avoid them, or situations where a crisis might even potentially arise.  So he doesn’t get involved until he has no choice, and it takes a little too long to get him to that point.  While Ivan’s stellar showing in A Civil Campaign made me think that a book with him as the star would be a great idea, in practice it felt more like Dr. Watson getting his own story, or Xander Harris, or some superhero sidekick, or something.


 

Next, of course, is CryoBurn, after my usual week off.  Which I also didn’t like that much, despite its actually having Miles as a protagonist, and maybe I’ll figure that one out too.

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Boy, is today your lucky day!  Depending on when “today” is, of course.  But let’s presume that it’s the day that you’re reading the latest entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread (which is what this is, you know, what with all the discussion of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga and all), and you are flabbergasted to discover that, for no particular reason, this entry actually manages to cover two entire chapters!  How unpredecented!  Well, except for that time when I missed a week, a few months ago, and of course almost all of the other entries for all of the books which weren’t Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  But still, I’m impressed with myself for putting in the extra effort this time, and you’re the ones who reap the benefits of it (see below)…

Chapter Twenty-Three

Tej interrupts Ivan and Byerly’s conversation to ask if they’ve found Rish and Jet; By says no, dismayed, though they have found Star.  Tej says Rish and Jet were in the tunnel when the bomb went off.  One of the soldiers sends a little robot probe into the tunnel, and Ivan restrains By from attempting to follow, telling him it’s best to leave the engineers to do it, so they won’t have to be rescued themselves.  By examines the inhabitants of the vault, and asks who the extra three are; Tej tells him about Imola and his guards, who By says ImpSec was already looking for.

By tells them that Ivan and the Arquas seemed to have just vanished, and he didn’t realize at first, when he heard about the explosion near ImpSec, that there might be any relation.  An ImpSec patrol had followed suspect energy signatures into the garage, and found Imola’s goons trying to make off with Star; two of them escaped into the tunnel, there was an exchange of stunner fire, and that, apparently, set off the bomb.  They didn’t find out what was really going on until Star woke up and told them about the people trapped in the tunnel, and then eventually they alerted Illyan and Lady Alys.  Once they determined it wouldn’t be practical to go in through the garage, they brought in the equipment to dig down from above.

Ivan tells the soldiers to treat this as a Class Two Biohazard area, and they pass on the information with well-concealed dismay; Ivan tells the others that he wants to at least discourage casual visitors, given the value of the contents of the vault.  By asks if there’s really a fortune down here, and Ivan shows him enough to convince him, after with By starts talking furiously on his commlink.

The engineer operating the probe looks up and tells them that he found the two missing people, and they’re following “Rover” back now.  Sure enough, a very muddy Rish and Jet stumble into the vault a few minutes later, and Rish plasters herself gratefully over By.  She tells how, when she and Jet saw strangers coming down the tunnel, they ducked into a side branch by the storm drain; when the explosion happened, it deafened them for an hour, and they were trapped by rising water, and then left in the dark by their fading cold lights.    Ivan gives Rish a hug in sympathy for her predicament.  She says their air pocket was just giving out when the water began to drain away, and then the robot probe appeared to guide them out.

Rish and Jet are sent up first for medical examination, and then Imola and his goons under guard, and the Arquas in pairs; Tej stays with Ivan to go up last.  The medevac floater is a little cramped, able to accommodate two people sitting on the stretcher if nobody has to lie down; they rise through the cone-shaped hole dug down to the vault, with engineers trying to stabilize the sides.  When they rise above the ground Ivan sees the dirt they dug out in a huge pile spilling over the sides of the park and blocking streets, but at least it’s stopped raining.  Heavy equipment is parked all over the place, floodlights are still on despite the rising sun, soldiers are everywhere, security vehicles fly overhead.  A combination biohazard/accounting team is preparing to descend into the vault, and a fair quantity of ImpSec personnel are outside watching the spectacle.

As they debark from the floater, Ivan sees an approaching mob consisting of his mother, Simon Illyan, Allegre, and Duv Galeni.  Lady Alys hugs both him and Tej first thing, and Illyan shakes his hands firmly, but with a troubled air, and whispers an apology to Tej.  Allegre asks Ivan if he’s responsibly for it; Ivan says he isn’t, though he recalls uneasily the documents he signed taking responsibility for the Arquas’ actions on the planet when they arrived.  He asks them about Sgt. Abelard and his bomb, showing them the dog tags and telling them about the skeleton they’d found below.

“Is there really a treasure worth millions of marks down there?” Simon demanded next.  Galeni was right at his shoulder, for this one.

“Simon, there were millions in the first crate we opened.  Hundreds of millions down there, at the least guess.”  Ivan turned to Galeni.  “And crates of hundred-year-old documents packed to the ceiling, Barrayaran and Cetagandan.  They’re going to take years to sort.  I found a holograph letter from Prince Xav to Prince Yuri in one of them.”  He pulled the folded letter out of his jacket and handed it across to Duv, who took it; one glance, and his mouth, which had opened to say something–probably about correct document conservation starting with not folding up rare items and stuffing them in one’s pocket–just stayed open.  Ivan had never seen Duv’s eyes go so wide.

Captain Raudsepp has just finished processing Imola and his men, and tells Ivan he’s glad Lady Vorpatril is safe, though he swears he doesn’t know how they got onplanet.  Ivan tells him they’re locals, and fills him in on Imola and his dodgy business in smuggling, including the cryocorpse exporting; he emphasizes probably commendations for bringing him to justice, and happily leaves the case in Raudsepp’s lap, hopefully getting him off of the Arquas’ back.

Tej asks if they’re being arrested, and Allegre says that first priority is to get them to ImpMil for examination, with the biohazard risk; Ivan encourages him to get someone qualified to speak “old-high-medical” to Lady Moira for more information.  Tej’s parents and Byerly come up and encourage “Lady Vorpatril” to stay with her husband, presumably to keep her safe if the rest of them end up in trouble, but Tej chooses to interpret this as endorsement to stay with him period.  Shiv shakes Illyan’s hand and congratulates him on a well-played hand, and Illyan enigmatically tells him they’re not quite done with House Cordonah yet.

Allegre receives a call which apparently is announcing the Emperor’s imminent arrival, which he protests, but is apparently overruled.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, Gregor arrives in a groundcar with an escort of armsmen and ImpSec.  Gregor is genuinely happy to see Ivan and Tej rescued and safe.

His eye fell on Simon, watching this with his mouth gone wry.  “And Simon.  What the hell?”  The Why was I blindsided? look was very clear in the Emperor’s eye, which Ivan could only be grateful was not turned on him.  Yet.

Simon gave him a beleaguered head tilt.  “You know that long lunch appointment I made with you for tomorrow?”

“Yes…?”

“I should have made it for yesterday.”

Gregor then thanks General Allegre for his good work, and goes over to give his personal thanks to Colonel Otto, head of the engineers.  Otto asks Ivan about the Mycoborers that Star mentioned, and Ivan gives him a brief resumé before encouraging him to talk to Lady Moira for more details, and get someone from the Imperial Science Institute qualified to understand what she says.  The Mycoborers do seem to have potential, he notes, but more as a weapon than as a building tool just yet.

A Captain Roux, more mud-spattered than most of the engineers, arrives on a float-bike to speak to Otto; he says they’ve found the storm sewer’s outlet into the river.  It had been blocked up, but recently become unblocked; now what’s coming out is mud, at a prodigious rate of several cubic meters a second.  Allegre asks where that would be coming from, and Otto says they’ll find out soon enough, but right now they have more important things to figure out.

“Guy,” called Gregor, still staring.  “Has ImpSec HQ always been sort of…tilted up on one side?  Or is that an optical illusion?”

Allegre looked around; his gaze grew arrested.

Gregor went on, uncertainly, “I’d not seen it before from his angle of view.  Maybe it’s just more of Dono Vorrutyer’s subtle disproportions devised from his cracked theories on the psychology of architecture.”

Ivan wheeled around as well.  So did everyone else.  Simon, Alys cluching his arm, and Tej came over to Ivan’s side.

Ivan blinked.  He squinted.  Gregor wasn’t wrong; the left side of the ImpSec building did look slightly higher than the right.  Or…the right side lower than the left…?

In the courtyard of the building, cobblestones begin popping out of the ground, and then the front steps crack, twisting the huge bronze doors.  The building seems to be levelling out, but Otto observes that it’s just that both sides are now sinking.  ImpSec men begin to evacuate the building, to Allegre’s dismay; Illyan says that it’s probably those who grew up in earthquake country coming out first.  He tells him to commend the ones who stayed at their post–and promote the ones who were smart enough to leave.

Illyan watches, mesmerized, as the building continues to sink; it’s stable enough that it stays together, but it only takes a few minutes for the first storey to sink beneath the ground, and by the time it begins to slow, the third-storey windows are at ground level.

“Well,” said Gregor, in a choked voice.  “There’s…a surprise.”

A startling cackle broke from Simon’s lips.  He clapped a hand over his mouth, and managed in a more measured voice, “My God, I hope no one has been injured.”  Except then he cackled again, louder.  Lady Alys gripped his arm in worry.

Gregor finally lets his armsmen drag him away from the spectacle, and Lady Alys herds Ivan, Tej and a reluctant Illyan away home.

Comments

The two moments that hold this novel together, the ones that support the plot like tentpoles, are Ivan and Tej’s spur-of-the-moment wedding, and the sinking of ImpSec Headquarters.  Once you get here, it seems like most of the rest of the plot is leading up to it.  “How can I sink ImpSec HQ?” wonders the author.  This leads to the underground vault, which leads naturally to the Cetagandan connection…but it can’t be that direct, Ivan wouldn’t marry a Cetagandan, so let’s bring her in by way of Jackson’s Whole…  The Mycoborer fits into that as well, as the kind of thing a Cetagandan or a Jacksonian might get access to, a tool to loosen the earth just enough.  The bomb is also important, of course, but on a place like Barrayar it’s not that hard to find out lying around somewhere.  So there you have it.

Rish and Jet’s predicament, sadly, didn’t work as well for me.  They were lost and presumed in jeopardy, but there was nothing anyone could do about it, and we didn’t get to see it, just imagine it and then hear the details second-hand later.  If Rish had had any viewpoint scenes, then that would worked a lot better, but it was a little too late in the book to start them, I suppose.  Also, her character had started to fade into the background into the rest of the mass of Jewels and Arquas, after a promising early start.  But Byerly did get to be a little bit heroic, though by now his cover must surely be quite thoroughly blown, because how could they justify a supposed town clown doing something quite that heroic?

Ivan accounts well for himself, being sufficiently on top of things to be able to overwhelm Galeni, Captain Raudsepp, Guy Allegre, and Simon Illyan, which is not too shabby.  An uncharitable person might think that he’d been deliberately withholding information, but he did come into possession of most of it in the last little while; he just happens to be sufficiently respectable (as compared to, say, random Jacksonian in-laws) to be able to tell them all this and be believed.  But that’s the best thing for him to do in this situation, to get his information to the people best able to make use of it.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Despite any efforts ImpSec put forth, the events in Vorbarr Sultana are impossible to conceal–the dramatic rescue, the rumours of treasure and offworlder criminals and outright shenanigans, not to mention the sinking of ImpSec HQ.  The only thing they have managed to keep under wraps is the existence of the Mycoborer, which Ivan says is a good thing, because Barrayarans would likely react badly to the news that some alien fungus has been introduced willy-nilly into their ecosystem–Dismemberment of Mad Emperor Yuri badly.

After their release from ImpMil, the Arquas are moved into an apartment in Lady Alys’s building and kept there under guard and strictly sequestered.  Officially, they are “detained at the Emperor’s pleasure”, the only good point of which is that it keeps them from being summarily deported, yet.  They do receive some requests for media interviews, but the Baronne says that it would likely be a bad idea.

ImpSec HQ is still being evacuated of files and equipment, though Ivan wonders how they’re going to handle the evidence rooms in the lowest levels.  The sinking has slowed, but not yet stopped, the third floor now having disappeared underground.  Simon Illyan does keep his appointment to talk to the Emperor, though when he comes home he remarks on the unaccustomed levels of sarcasm that Gregor indulged himself in.  The contents of the bunker, meanwhile, have surpassed a tally of 1.1 billion marks.

“What,” said Pidge, peering over Ivan Xav’s shoulder, “is an Imperial Court of Inquiry“–she squinted–“most secret?”

“You could think of it as a subpoena,” said Ivan Xav.  “With fangs.  But it would be…be…”

“A charming understatement?” suggested Tej, peering over his other shoulder.

“No,” said Ivan Xav, in a distant tone, “not charming…”

He brings Tej to the Imperial Residence, and Byerly, Illyan and Lady Alys shepherd the rest of them.  The meeting is held in a subterranean lecture hall, in a part of the palace Ivan is unfamiliar with.  Gregor arrives as his staff are setting things up, and soon everyone is seated.

Gregor begins by listing the various jurisdictions involved in the recent events–the Vorbarra District Count’s Court, the Barrayaran Military Service, and the Imperium as a whole; luckily, he is the one in charge of all of them, and so he proposes to bundle them all together into a Star Chamber.  He gives them a chance to decide whether they would prefer this or not; Pidge consults with her parents and grandmother on the matter, and advises them to refuse, giving them the longest time to fight their way through the various courts.  Ivan points out that Gregor is offering them a sizable chunk of his time now, and probably won’t make the time available to them later, and also that he’s wearing civilian clothing rather than military or House garb, which implies he’s likely to offer them a deal of some sort…as long as they don’t annoy him or waste his time.  After further consultation, Shiv announces that they are willing to abide by the Star Chamber’s rulings.

Another group is then admitted–Duv Galeni, Guy Allegre, Colonel Otto, Dr. Vaughn Weddel, and Allegre’s wife Susan, who is also Senior Administrator of the Imperial Science Institute.  After they have been settled, Gregor notes two possible ways of solving a dilemma–starting from the facts, or starting from the desired outcome–and that he will be trying some combination of the two.  He starts by asking Galeni for facts about the bunker being reported “cleared”, and the late Sgt. Abelard.

Galeni comes up to the front, and begins by telling them about Captain Geo Pharos, the ImpSec officer who signed off the inspection of the bunker, and his assistant, Sergeant Vlad Norman.  They were both killed a month after the inspection in a construction accident (which, Galeni notes for Otto’s benefit, resulted in the hanging of the construction boss whose slapdash workmanship had resulted in the mishap).  Galeni says that Norman and Pharos could have simply blown off the inspection entirely, confident that nothing would be found and under severe time pressure, or they could have been purposely trying to conceal the contents of the bunker in hopes of being able to exploit them themselves; he can find no definitive evidence either way.

Moving on to Abelard, Gregor notes that he talked to Aral Vorkosigan, who doesn’t recall ever sending anyone to blow up ImpSec while Vordarian’s men were in control, though he’s not sure that, in the chaos of the Pretendership, he would necessarily have been brought into the loop on such an operation.  Illyan suggests that Negri, despite already being dead, would have been perfectly capable of setting up some kind of posthumous order.  Galeni notes that Abelard’s record was exemplary before the Pretendership, but it’s still possible he might have sided with Vordarian.  He was a senior guard at ImpSec, and wasn’t noted as missing until after the end of the war.  Gregor asks Galeni for his personal feeling, and Galeni says he thinks Abelard was cut off from his fellows and left to find his own way to fight; he suggests finding Abelard’s old colleagues and interviewing them if they really want to find out more about the man.

Gregor then moves on to the bunker itself; he is interrupted by Pidge, who points out that according to Barrayaran law, there is a 10% finder’s fee due to those who find lost items, including historical artifacts confiscated by the government, and she wishes to file such a claim on behalf of House Cordonah.  She points out that without their efforts, the vault may never have been opened and its contents found at all.  Gregor says that he is aware of the precedent, and says they will get back to it.  Galeni says that he has put Professora Vorthys in charge of curating the historical documents from the vault, which have been removed to a secure location.

“Our best guess of the value of the rest of the items inventories and removed so far–as of this morning; I checked on the way here–is”–Galeni cleared his throat, unaccountably dry–“three point nine billion marks.”

Make that accountably dry, Ivan corrected his observation.  Gregor, who had hitched himself up on the edge of the comconsole table, nearly fell off it.  Shiv Arqua rubbed his forehead, his face screwing up like a man suffering from the sharpest twinge of existential pain in history.

“Almost four billion marks, Duv?” choked Gregor.  “Really?”

“So far.  We hope to have cleared the upper floor by the end of the week.  I have absolutely no idea what we’ll find on the lower one.”

“More of the same, as I recall,” murmured Lady ghem Estif.

Galeni notes that most of the contents of the vault are worth a lot more than they were when they were stored, and surely somebody else must have known they were there, but no other Cetagandan entrepreneurs ever came back for them.  Lady Moira says that’s probably because the ghem-lords who owned them were executed on their return to Eta Ceta in defeat.  Galeni tells Lady Moira he’d be gratified to speak to her later, if she can.

Gregor then calls Otto up to try to explain the suddenly subterranean nature of ImpSec HQ.  Otto puts up a three-dimensional display on the comconsole table, showing ImpSec HQ and neighbouring buildings, the nearby terrain, the bunker, and the storm sewer.  He says that Abelard may well have made his tunnel starting from the storm sewer, which may have left a weak point in the pipe.  He adds the Mycoborer tunnels, many of which he postulates having spread out in the area underneath the ImpSec sub-basements, and notes that the tunnel walls end up hard but brittle, weak in tension, and the force of the explosion doubtless caused them to crack.  The storm sewer pipe also blew out, and part of its drainage collapsed, so the water made its way into the tunnels instead, weakening the walls  and increasing the pressure.

When they dug down with the grav-lifters, Otto theorizes, the vibrations may have also helped unclog the storm sewer drain; what came running out would have been mud from the Mycoborer tunnels under ImpSec HQ, and the decrease in pressure would have caused the building to begin to settle into the space that the mud was vacating.  He says that the building shouldn’t sink too much further by this point.  Gregor thanks him for his cogent explanation; Otto says that what he wants to know is what’s going to happen with the Mycoborer remnants that are now washing downstream, and Gregor says that that’s what he brought Dr. Weddell here to answer.

Weddell begins by saying that they haven’t yet found any evidence of live Mycoborer cells downstream from the capital, though they have found remnants of the tunnel wall.  In addition, their tests with live cells in the laboratory indicate that they do not thrive in salt water.  Tej notes to Ivan that Weddell is another former Jacksonian; he says he and Gregor know, but not to mention it to anyone else.

“While I do strongly recommend we continue to monitor, it is my opinion that the Mycoborer is less a hazard than several other biological nightmares you Barrayarans have lived with for years, not excepting this planet’s own native ecosystem.  Preudence yes, panic no.  Add it to the list and go on, I’d say.”

Gregor eyed Weddel.  “Would you, personally, today, drink water taken from the river downstream of Vorbarr Sultana?”  In his present mood Gregor was not above personally testing that very question, Ivan suspected.  On Weddell, that was.  Did he have a liter bottle tucked away behind the podium?

“Yes,” said Weddell, steadily, “if it was first boiled to destroy all the eighteen other lethal pathogens usually present.  Normal local water treatment should protect your subjects.”

Gregor asks Dr. Allegre to check into Weddell’s claims about the water treatment, and she promises to do so.  Then he switches to wider Imperial concerns, pointing out that while Barrayar does not currently have significant interest in Jackson’s Whole, that could change if Cetaganda were to take an interest in the system; he speculates that House Prestene may in fact represent the beginning of some Cetagandan action aimed at a wormhole monopoly.  Shiv notes that that’s been tried before, to no success, but Gregor points out that Prestene has two of the five they’d need, and Baron Fell, traditionally the hardest to overcome, may not be around much longer.  In such a case, Barrayar might find it prudent to have an ally among the Jacksonian houses, and a secret one would be even better.

Gregor offers House Cordonah their ten percent, less expenses.  There was no loss of life, so there won’t be survivors’ pension in the tally, but he would wish to include expenses incurred in the unearthing and investigation of the vault, which Shiv agrees would be reasonably.  He also says they will need a new ImpSec building, which lights up Illyan’s eyes with excitement, and draws Allegre’s interest as well; they would also need to clean up the old building, and put some money aside in case there does prove to be Mycoborer contamination down the line.  He does, however, propose to give House Cordonah a free jumpship, which Byerly immediately realizes means Vormercier’s confiscated yacht; Gregor apologizes in advance for the questionable décor.  He also offers them their own personal ImpSec liaison, and one on the verge of familial ties to the Arquas, in the person of Byerly himself.  Allegre opines that Byerly seemed to be in need of a new challenge, which By protests, but only weakly.

Shiv and Udine retreat to the hallway to confer in semi-private, which they do at length; eventually they return and agree to Gregor’s Deal.  Gregor shakes their hands and wishes them luck.  Shiv asks for one personal favour, which is that he be allowed to personally inform Vigo Imola of the estimated valuation of the bunker’s contents; Gregor allows it.

Armsman in front and secretary trailing, Gregor paused on his way out to deal with whatever next crisis might be crowding his queue.  Because a three-planet empire delivered upset snakes by the basket-load to this man’s office, every damned morning.  Yeah–for all the talk of men coveting the emperor’s throne, Ivan had never yet heard anyone speak of coveting his desk.

“Ivan.”  Gregor’s mouth twisted.  “Captain and Lady Vorpatril.  I want to see you tomorrow.  My secretary will call with your appointment.”

Comments

Why is this the first mention we are getting of Guy Allegre’s wife?  At least, I don’t recall her ever being mentioned before, not in any of the books since Allegre was first introduced (I believe) in Memory.  It’s not clear whether she is the Senior Administrator or merely a Senior Administrator, which may be a significant difference.  This being Barrayar, it’s possible that the odds of a woman rising to being actually in charge of a major Imperial institution, even in something so namby-pamby as science, are fairly low.  It’s actually impressive, though now I wonder if her husband’s influence has helped.  (Or maybe he married her after she rose to that position.  Not impossible.)

It is kind of nice, I suppose, to have a few people brought in who we weren’t already familiar with.  I mean, for our historical experts we have Duv Galeni and Professora Vorthys, who we’re well familiar with by now.  For our scientific expert we have Vaughn Weddell a.k.a. Hugh Canaba, though he is delightful as always on the subject of the Barrayaran ecosystem.  Makes me think he might drink a lot of distilled water.  (Where is Enrique Borgos these days, I wonder?  Still on Barrayar, married to Martya?  I don’t know if we ever find that out…maybe a mention in CryoBurn somewhere…)  Anyway, having Otto there as a bona fide expert but not a personal acquaintance of Miles and Ivan is at least a bit refreshing.  Susan Allegre would be good too if she had anything to do in this scene, which she really doesn’t.

The Cordonahs do get at least a portion of the loot, as part of the deal.  If we take that as, say, eight billion marks total, of which they get 10%, or 800 million…minus however much it costs to build a new ImpSec headquarters, among other things.  How much is real estate and construction on Barrayar?  I don’t have a good feeling for it, but I suppose they should get away with at least half of that 10%.  Which is a far cry from 85%, if Vigo had played straight with them (6.8 billion?), but better than nothing.

I had vaguely heard the term Star Chamber before, so I looked it up on Wikipedia just now.  Apparently, in Tudor and Stuart England, it was a sort of nasty high court that could basically do whatever it wanted, and ended up being used for disposting of people that the Crown just didn’t like.  Luckily, with Gregor, we have an enlightened ruler who would never do that.  I wonder how these people would have fared under one of the less nice emperors of the past?


Two chapters left, or one chapter and an epilogue.  Will that take me one week, or two?  It’s too soon to tell, but if I’m taking Remembrance Day off, I suppose there’s a chance I may spend some of that time working on the next blog post, so I wouldn’t rule it out.  So you just might get lucky again…

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The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, leaves are appearing back on the trees…in the Southern Hemisphere, at least.  Possibly.  Somewhere.  Up here in the north, though things are getting colder and deader and darker.  So put some warmth and life and light back into your existence with a fresh new dose of Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  (Note: the Vorkosigan Saga Reread does not actually provide warmth, light, or life.  Some restrictions may apply.  Not for internal use.  The Vorkosigan Saga provided by Lois McMaster Bujold, sold separately, batteries not included.)  For your age, height, weight, and brain mass, we recommend, this week, a single chapter of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, administered visually (or aurally, for those of you with screen readers and stuff).

Chapter Twenty-Two

After Tej recovers from the shock of the explosion, she launches herself back out into the tunnel in search of Rish and Jet, Ivan calling after her.  She goes around two of the kinks in the tunnel, the floor sloping downwards, before she is brought up short finding the tunnel before her flooded; the water level reaches the ceiling ahead.  She’s contemplating trying to go through it when Ivan catches up to her and grabs her arm; instead she tosses her cold light into it, and is dismayed to see how quickly its light becomes invisible in the murky water as it sinks.

Lady Moira joins them, out of breath, and puts on her force field, but Ivan tells her it’ll probably short out in the water and then she’ll drown; reluctantly she concedes that he’s right.  Ivan points out that the water is still rising, and says that they’ll need to return to the lab; Lady Moira says the first-dug sections of tunnel might well have collapsed, though the newer ones should be flexible.  They speculate uncomfortably about Rish and Jet’s possible fate before going silent.

Ivan says that Abelard’s bomb was mostly deteriorated after all, just not enough; it would likely have been intended to blow up the entire city block, and ImpSec HQ with it.  He says he’d looked Abelard up, and he had been an ImpSec man under Negri, but had disappeared during Vordarian’s Pretendership; it’s not clear which side he would have been trying to blow up ImpSec for, since both sides held the building during the conflict.

They reach the lab to find Imola sitting on the floor moaning, Shiv having likely just punched him; they tell him the situation, and Ivan says it’s hard to tell if the waters will reach the lab or not, since it will depend on if there are lower Mycoborer tunnels, and when it stops raining.  Shiv checks the door, and says that Amiri’s cuts should make it possible to put the door back in so that it’ll be held in place by the water pressure.

Ivan says that ImpSec will surely have noticed them by now, and it won’t take them long to find the access in the parking garage.  But they realize that nobody knows they’re actually in there except for Star and Imola’s men; Ivan says that he’s on leave, so they won’t miss him for several days yet.  He grabs wristcoms from Imola and his men, but can’t get a signal through; he grumbles that his own wristcom would probably have been able to manage it.

“Simon will figure it out,” said Tej, trying to inject a note of confidence as she followed him back inside.  “Wouldn’t he?”

“Simon,” said Ivan Xav, rather through his teeth, “for some reason–you might know why, Shiv–is under the impression that you all haven’t even started to tunnel yet.  Let alone arrived at your goal.  All the Arqua suddenly disappearing off the face of Barrayar…might have more than one hypothesis to account it.  In Simon’s twisty mind.”

“And you, too? Without a word?” said Amiri.

“I’ve been kidnapped before,” said Ivan Xav.  “You would be amazed how many memories tonight is bringing back to me.  All of them unpleasant.”

While Tej is trying to decide whether to take Ivan’s hand for reassurance, he takes hers instead.  They return to the topic of Rish and Jet, but can’t come to any more reassuring conclusions.  Ivan asks if they can use the Mycoborer, but Lady Moira says it uses up too much oxygen, and Amiri says that they left it back at the entrance anyway.  They check their inventory of cold lights; most of them only have one or two extras, though Ivan has a couple of dozen, and keeps a few concealed just in case.  Udine concludes that they may have to ration them once their current batch begins to dim.

Pidge asks about water supplies, and Lady Moira says that it’s possible she could a way to filter the water outside into something drinkable; their food supplies, though, are back at the entrance too.  Then there’s the air supplies to be considered, which is fairly generous but not infinite; they consider the logistics of disposting of Imola and his men’s drain on oxygen.  Some suggest getting rid of them now, some balk at it, and Imola cravenly suggests they get rid of his men and keep him alive; Shiv and Udine rule that there will be no killings just yet, despite the temptation.  Ivan points out to him that at least they’re not likely to last long enough to resort to eating each other yet.

They try to take it easy, to conserve their energy and oxygen, poking desultorily through the treasures that were previously so riveting.  They are all alarmed when Pearl pops open a bottle that explodes, spraying a burning liquid over her; Ivan keeps his head and tackles her to the ground and rolls over with her to put out the flames.  Meanwhile, Imola takes advantage of their distraction to toss a bundle of papers onto the fire and run out the door; Ivan grabs an empty bin and smothers the fire with it.

Ivan Xav drew a long breath, and–goodness, he _could_ yell.  “Could you people stop trying to come up with novel ways to kill me for just one hour?  Or maybe the rest of the night?  I would so like that.  Just the rest of the night.  Just sit down.  Just stop doing anything.  Sit down and wait sensibly.  Earth, water, air, fire–you’re running out of elements, here!”

Amiri looked very impressed by this ringing baritone rant.  Grandmama…looked less impressed, if perhaps sympathetic.  Rising from Pearl’s side and helping her up, she observed, “In some Old Earth mythologies there was imagined to be a fifth element–metal, as I recall.”

Ivan Xav said through his teeth, “That was a rhetorical remark, not a bloody suggestion.”

Tej grabs him frantically, assuring herself that he’s alright, and he hugs her back fiercely.  Shiv and Udine come to check on the situation, and Shiv wonders if he should go chase after Imola; Ivan says either he’ll come back on his own, or he’ll drown himself trying to swim to safety.  Shiv compliments Ivan on his quick reactions, and Ivan explains about his service training, and training accidents.  Lady Moira says the stuff was originally some sort of scent, and wasn’t supposed to react like that; she admonishes anyone from opening anything without her checking it first, and Ivan suggests they don’t open anything at all.

Things quiet down, and when Lady Moira goes back downstairs, Ivan and Tej join her; Tej hasn’t seen it yet, and Ivan wanted to bring along some extra light.  When Lady Moira begins looking around, Ivan asks if he can help, but she says she’s just searching for old memories; Ivan and Tej sit down on some crates and snuggle.  Lady Moira announces she’s found some filter, so they can drink, but Ivan points out that then they’ll have to pee, and they joke about peeing into priceless vases and bowls.

“What did you do the last time you were stuck in a hole like this?  To pass the time?”

“It wasn’t a hole like this.  It was a lot darker.  And smaller.  And wetter.  Though air was not an issue.  This is practically a palace, bu comparison.”

“Still.”

“Well.  First there was a lot of screaming.  And pounding on the walls.  And more screaming.”

“I don’t think that would help, here.”

“It didn’t help there, either.  Screaming back at death doesn’t help.  Pounding on the walls until your hands bleed…doesn’t help.”

It was finally Miles who came to help, even if his idea of helping was having them hide right back in that hole again, but he’s kind of not available right now, being offplanet and all.  Tej asked what he did after the pounding and screaming, and Ivan admitted that he started singing old scout songs, the original versions and then the dirty ones, until he ran out, and was still alone.  He says he wishes that she was safe in bed instead of with him, and she says she wishes he wasn’t there either; he admits that it’s not like there’s a limit to wishes, so they might as well wish both of them safe.  But she’s glad to be there to comfort him.

Tentatively, Ivan says he wants to ask her a question, and when Tej asks what it is, he asks her if she’ll stay with him for the rest of his life.  She laughs and points out that it might not be that long, then admits that the last thing she’d planned to ask him for, as part of the bet that she won, was to stay with him when her family left the planet; Ivan is cheered to hear that.  She reflects that while Ivan may seem to good to be true, she’s not going to give him up just because it appeared to come too easily, especially when she seems to be in love with him.  She tells him that what she likes best about him is that he’s nice and makes her laugh, which is a lot, given the circumstances.  They reminisce over how they met, their first conversation, and then how Rish shot him with  stunner, at which they are both struck by Rish’s absence; Tej says she was thinking of his first rule of picking up girls: “she laughs, you live.”

After a while, driven by the call of nature, they head back upstairs, where the Arquas have set up several plastic bins, some for the purposes of filtering drinking water (which they are drinking out of priceless glassware Ivan recognizes as having belonged to Count Pierre Vorrutyer), and some as camp toilets.  Imola has apparently returned, pants soaked, and the water has reached the wall of the bunker; Ivan, Shiv and Amiri put the door slab back in place in time to keep the water from more than trickling in.

Ivan reflects that Shiv is doing a good job of keeping his family under control during the crisis, but he supposes that it’s only to be expected that someone who must have faced Aral Vorkosigan in space combat would be less daunted by their current situation.  Thinking of Uncle Aral reminds him to treat their prisoners well, so they wake up Imola’s men and let them see to their biological needs; he does let Shiv talk him into having them and Imola stunned back to sleep.

Out of boredom, the younger women begin to look through the old clothing stored in the bunker and start playing dress-up in old Cetagandan and Barrayaran court wear; Ivan and Amiri are convinced to model some of the old military uniforms as well.  In this process Pearl dislodges a peice of jewelry which Lady Moira recognizes as an old brooch of hers.  The fading of the cold lights puts a damper on this, and people begin to settle down for sleep; Ivan snuggles with Tej, and suspects that he’s too keyed up to fall asleep, but…

They are awakened by loud vibrations from above, and crack some more cold lights; Ivan says that either they’re being bombed from space, or somebody’s using a grav-lifter to lift a bunch of dirt over their heads.  If it is a grav-lifter, Ivan encourages them to stay out of the middle of the room, against the walls, and possibly even downstairs, though the sound stops before anybody tries that.  It starts and stops several times over the next hour, getting closer, until finally a hole is cut in the ceiling and lifted out and glorious light and fresh air begins to enter the room.  The door slab falls out into the tunnel, from which the water has apparently receded.

A soldier rappels into the room, landing on a pile of boxes and falling over; the bunker’s inhabitants lose no time in making it clear to him that they’re all unarmed.  Another soldier follows, and then, improbably, Byerly Vorrutyer; Ivan steps forward to welcome him.

Comments

Oh, yeah, it was raining when they got there, wasn’t it?  So I guess that explains the storm sewer flooding.  Because weather needs to be used properly in books–it can’t just happen, it has to be important somehow.  It can be used to set mood, of course, or to contrast by being ironically sunny when something horrible has just happened.  But it’s always good if a bunch of rain can actually lead to a flood of some sort.

There’s a number of lines of dialogue in this chapter which are, more than likely, assigned more or less randomly to one of the Jewels.  Though maybe there aren’t as many of them in the cavern as I thought–Rish and Jet being missing, and when they’re bedding down Pearl and Emerald are mentioned as “the remaining Jewels”.  Morozov lists six when they’re first introduced, and later we find out that Ruby and Topaz are still on Jackson’s Whole, and yet somehow with only two they still seem completely interchangeable.  Too many characters, not enough time to give them all actual characteristics unless they’re extremely broad.  Too bad, really.

Ivan and Tej do finally get some time together, alone, with her family members nearby but at least subdued enough to not get in their way.  And so finally they reconcile, or at least make it plain that they’re happy to stay together.  They hadn’t really been split apart, but they hadn’t managed to communicate to each other that they wanted to stay together, rather than their original plan.  Looks like Count Falco knew what he was doing after all, didn’t he?

Now they all get to face the consequences of their actions.  After all, presumably this kind of surreptitious tunneling has got to be illegal somehow, some kind of zoning violation or trespassing or something.  Or possibly not; Barrayar isn’t quite as red-tapey as some other galactic worlds, allowing for more human latitude in judgements.  (I’ll bet that Count Falco could have given them their divorce if he’d really wanted to, no matter how the legitimate grounds are specified.)  But maybe finding all this stuff inside the supposedly empty vault will mitigate their situation somewhat.  Whether the Arquas get to keep any of it is unclear, but maybe there is some kind of weird salvage law.

Good thing the tunnel’s not flooded anymore; the water must have flowed down somewhere.  Hopefully Rish and Jet will turn up, because I’m pretty sure it’s not the kind of book where they’d kill off a character like Rish.  Maybe in some kind of noble sacrifice, but that still would probably spoil the mood.  Anyway, with any luck the flooding and the explosion and the tunneling won’t have completely undermined ImpSec HQ or anything.  It would be a shame for such a majestic example of modern architecture to just start sinking into the ground, after all.

It’s possible that, the first time through, I was actually expecting Miles to turn up to rescue them, what with Ivan having invoked his name, but I guess that would have been a little bit lame.  As it is, Ivan still doesn’t contribute anything to their actual rescue, but I guess if Byerly did that would probably be alright; he’s been shoved into the background for a few chapters now.


That felt like the book’s climax right there–well, the climax of the romantic plotline, at least.  Three more chapters, presumably of denouement, and the epilogue.  Well, there is one major event still to occur, but I can’t decide if it’s actually climactic or not.  More in the nature of a punchline, really.  Until next week, then…

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I am so productive this week!  I knew Wednesday was going to be busy, so I got my blog post done early!  Well, at least the summary part, which is why I’m writing this part right now.  Which, I suppose, should contain the usual information about how this is the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, about Lois McMaster Bujold’s books, and the current one, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is her most recent novel but not latest chronologically.  Up to Chapter Twenty-One this week, in which events come to a head.

Chapter Twenty-One

Ivan realizes that his usual nightmares of being trapped underground had somehow managed to omit a vital component–potential biohazards, and unexploded bombs, though that almost seems redundant; he can’t even blame Miles for getting into this mess, either.  He’s not particularly disappointed to find the vault less empty than Illyan had implied, but he wishes he’d known it was a former Cetagandan bio-lab; they just cut a hole into the wall, too, breaking any containment it may have retained.  He watches Amiri help his grandmother into the vault, and the rest of the Arquas follow; Ivan realizes he can’t hold his breath until Tej comes back out, so he cautiously ducks in after them.

The place is about eighty square meters, though with stairs going down further, and it’s cluttered with all sorts of crates and boxes, stacked all over the place, with only a light coating of dust.  Lady Moira removes her filter mask, as do most of the others, except for Ivan and Amiri; she says they should be able to talk now, at a reasonable volume.  It occurs to Ivan belatedly that he lost his wager with Tej.

Emerald finds a heavy box that rattles encouragingly, but rather than gold, it only contains a bunch of old knives.  Ivan takes a look at them, and realizes that it is, in fact, a complete set of Time-of-Isolation seal daggers, one for each Count; Tej asks him what they’re worth, and Ivan tells her several million marks, before he thinks to downplay their value.  Jet opens another crate of electronics and other things, and even Lady Moira can’t identify them as more than artwork, or perhaps a weapon.  Ivan checks another box and finds paper, which proves to contain correspondence from “Xav” to “Yuri”, almost certainly Prince Xav and Emperor Yuri; he tucks a letter into his jacket when Shiv asks what he found, this time remembering to downplay.  Pearl finds some cases which do prove to contain gold; Ivan tells them that they’re worth more on the collector’s market than their weight in gold, and says they’ll be worth more if sold slowly, so as not to flood the market, and Shiv approves of his advice.

Shiv tells them all that while it’s fun to open their presents, they should move things out first, and examine them later at more leisure in a safer location.  He notices Star there, who should have been guarding the entrance, but wanted to see the vault; he sends her back to the entrance, and sends Jet and Rish to clean up the mess in the tunnel, reminding them all to carry something with them on each trip.  Udine says that they will waste some trips if they carry out things which prove to be worthless; Shiv says that if there’s another level below, they’ll need more than one night to get it all; they can leave some people behind to sort through it during the day.

Lady Moira finds her old biotainer girdle in a cupboard, and puts it back on, delighted that it still fits; she activates it, and it generates a translucent oval force-field.  Ivan is initially alarmed that it might have a detectable electronic signature, but Moira reassures him that it won’t be detectable inside the vault; then he realizes that it reminds him of the haut-lady force bubbles he recalls from Eta Ceta.  Moira said she never approved of the new fashion of attaching them to float chairs, which deprived them of their original purpose in favour of just making them a status symbol.

Udine tells Tej and Ivan to start hauling, and they do, though Ivan starts to wonder if he’s doing the right thing; after all, his goals are not the same as the Arquas’.  Once he’s back at the entrance he might be able to get access to his wristcom, and then he’ll really have to make a decision.  Amiri asks if they should be carrying them all the way or just passing them along, and Shiv says they should be passing them along, once they’re spaced equally.  Amiri steps through, then steps back, with his arms over his head, for some reason; it becomes clear as a stranger steps through with a stunner trained on Amiri.  Pearl is similarly herded back through by two more men with stunners.

Ivan doesn’t think they’re ImpSec, though they are wearing some sort of uniform; he asks Tej, who says she recognizes Ser Imola, the smuggler her father hired to take the goods offplanet.  Shiv chides Imola for his timing, pointing out that it would have been better to move against them tomorrow night, after they’d emptied the vault.  Imola says that this way, he caught them off guard, and they may come back and empty the vault themselves; Shiv, glancing at their weapons and wristcoms, says that they’ll have company if they do that.  Imola greets a seething Udine and asks if she knows what the going rate is for House Prestene members right now; Udine says that 15% of this cargo would easily outweigh that.  Tej tells Ivan that Imola cryo-freezes people to smuggle them off-planet.

Lady Moira steps out unsteadily from the stairwell, and Imola’s goons aren’t sure what to make of her; Amiri tells them that she’s probably not even on House Prestene’s list.  Imola belatedly recognizes her as the Cetagandan mother-in-law, but by then she’s wandered in among them; she activates her force-belt and scatters Imola’s men, pinning Imola himself against the wall.  Ivan launches himself for the man who’s taken his stunner, who tries to shoot Ivan with it and is surprised when nothing comes out, since it’s bio-keyed to Ivan himself.

Ivan pushed himself up, breathing, well, not too hard–it was more the adrenaline than the exertion–to find Tej looking down at him with vast approval.  The metal bar gripped in her hand was redundant to need, but might have proven a very well-chosen accessory to a Vor lady’s evening garb.  He grinned back in sudden exhilaration.  His filter mask had been torn off in the struggle; he didn’t bother to try to reaffix it.

“And you said you were just a desk pilot,” murmured Tej.

“But it’s a Barrayaran desk,” he murmured back, and scrambled to his feet.

Imola’s other man has also been overpowered, and Imola still pinned by the force shield; Lady Moira deactivates the shield and Em and Amiri push him against the wall.  Udine grabs him and asks where her other children are, the ones he should have passed on the way in, playing bad-cop to Shiv’s good-cop (relatively); Imola says they only captured one of them, a tall girl, and that they put her in the van, adding reluctantly that he has four more men set up to take out any stragglers.  This leaves Jet and Rish unaccounted for, and their exit blocked.

“Oh,” said Shiv sadly.  “I imagine all we have to do is sit down and wait a bit.  Ivan Xav’s stepda will be along.  To collect on his bet.”  He added after a tight-jawed moment, “Dammit.  We were so close.”

“Who the hell is Ivan Xav?” said Imola, clearly bewildered by these additions to the play list.  “Or his stepda?”

Ivan hunkered down in front of the man.  “I am,” he told Imola, with false geniality.  “My stepda used to run that big building”–not being quite sure how the lab was turned in relation to ImpSec HQ, or which side the erratic Mycoborer had put them in on, Ivan made his wave vague but generally upward–“full of humourless men whom everybody but you has gone to great pains to not attract.  But that’s all right.  I’m sure you’ll be getting to know them really well, really soon.  And vice versa.”

Imola only seems to grasp that he may have run afoul of ImpSec, and offers a belated alliance to Shiv.  Just then a shockwave blasts through the corridor and knocks Ivan off his feet; Ivan identifies it as Sergeant Abelard’s time bomb going off at last.

Comments

One does sometimes forget Ivan’s physical capability, though I always remember his being the first to bring down Vorwhatshisname in the Council of Counts at the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Though he does also get to be a hostage in Cetaganda and Brothers In Arms, so there is that to offset it, I guess.  One suspects the Jacksonians are also equipped for a bit of rough-and-tumble, particularly the Jewels, but it’s nice of them to let Ivan take care of a few after all.  After all, Barrayarans have this reputation galactically for being violent warriors, which is not completely unearned…

Kudos also to Lady Moira ghem Estif, badass Cetagandan grandmother extraordinaire, taking out thugs with her “shield bash” attack.  It wasn’t clear that the shields were in any way an offensive weapon; I don’t recall anyone physically encountering one in Cetaganda, the closest being the scene where the one would-be consort was hemmed in and herded along by a bunch of shields.  Maybe these, being the older model, are somewhat different.

So Imola shows up here to be the bad guy, the supposed ally turning on the Arquas, to turn them in for the reward, and maybe pick up the loot for himself too.  It’s a little disappointing to have our only real antagonist here be someone who was just introduced in the previous chapter.  It would have been nice for him to have had more of a presence in the book, a little buildup, foreshadowing of his betrayal, something.  I mean, the mostly nameless Cetagandans trying to kill Admiral Naismith in Brothers In Arms had more buildup.  Or somebody from House Prestene itself would have been good too.  They’re just bogeymen in the shadows, just the ones who put out the bounties so a bunch of interchangeable mooks can pop up from time to time to take potshots at Tej and the rest of the Arquas.  Heck, having the Vormerciers show up would have been better.  I was half expecting it all the way through the book, convinced that they couldn’t have been dealt with so summarily at the beginning.  Just another of the disappointments in this book, alas.


Don’t quite remember what comes next, though I do remember the end result of all this Mycoboring and exploding, so I guess I’ll have to read another chapter and see what happens.  Until next week, then…

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Good evening and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, is the kind of thing you might be expecting me to say.  You might also expect me to mention how this is devoted to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, which is a series of books about Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  In fact, you’re probably even expecting me to say something about how I’m currently going through the book Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which is mostly concerned with Miles’s cousin Ivan Vorpatril, and how I only did one chapter again, and that we’re only a few chapters from the end, or something.  Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not going to say anything like that, even though it’s all true.

Chapter Twenty

The next morning Tej drives Star and her father into a newer part of Vorbarr Sultana; they drop Star off in front of a pipe-laying firm, but Shiv takes Tej down the street, to meet with a man he knows; he says they’re running short of time, their visa extension not looking promising, and they may need to resort to hiring outsiders for help.  After a couple of blocks they arrive at the office of a storage and shipping firm named “Imola & Kovaks”, where Shiv asks to be announced as “Selby”.  Soon they are ushered into an office where a middle-aged man seems momentarily astonished to see Shiv, and greets him effusively once they are alone, exclaiming that he thought Shiv was dead.

Shiv asks after his friend’s name, and is told Vigo Imola; he introduces Tej to Vigo by name as his daughter, which hasn’t happened before on any of these trips.  She asks where they know each other from, and Shiv tells her that “Vigo” was a liaison officer from their days in the Selby Fleet; those came to an end when they had the contract for defending Komarr from the Barrayarans.  Vigo asks about the news of the Prestene takeover, which Shiv confirms, promising to tell him about it later.  He asks about Vigo’s shipping business, and Vigo admits that they do a bit of less legitimate shipping, if the price is right, and it’s not too risky.  Vigo mentions the possibility of shipping live cargo, though he admits that they generally do it cryofrozen to minimize the risk; there is a legitimate line in shipping tourists back home, and sometimes they take less legitimate frozen deportees offworld as well.

“It was my son-in-law’s idea, to give credit where it’s due.  My daughter married this Barrayaran boy, some years after the annexation.  I wasn’t thrilled at first, but he’s come along.  Junior partner.  He’s the Kovaks.  Our medical contact is his brother.”

“Glad to hear you’re keeping it in the family.  That’s…almost always safer.”  Another brief grimace of a smile.

“Heh, daughters getting married–that’s a crap shoot to make the old days look sensible.  You don’t know what they’ll drag in.  My other one married this Komarran fellow, who is completely useless, but at least lives five jumps away.  You folks’ve got the right idea out in the Whole, Shiv–pre-vetted contracts, money and considerations up front.”

“Oh, well….”  Dada did not follow this up, to Tej’s relief.

Shiv asks about vans and loading crews, for this weekend, with private storage; he proposes that they leave the van in the underground garage overnight and just drive it away in the morning, though he will want someone there to supervise unloading, and they might need two nights.  Tej pictures them bucket-brigading the loot down the tunnel, and supposes they’ll have to leave bulkier items behind.  After they’ve unloaded the stuff, they can arrange offworld shipping later, since he’s not sure precisely where they’ll want it sent yet, but definitely out of the Empire.  They dicker over price, Vigo preferring a flat fee up front and an additional percentage later once they know the value of the items; Shiv isn’t completely happy, but agrees to the deal.

Vigo asks where this garage is, and is dismayed to discover how close it is to ImpSec HQ; Shiv assures him that they are being discreet, and that vehicles are more thoroughly scanned going in than going out.  Vigo still worries about getting involved with anything to do with ImpSec, but Shiv assures him that it’s strictly commercial.  The business tied up, Vigo asks after the rest of the family, Shiv’s wife and her dance troupe; Shiv doesn’t confirm that they’re looking to take their House back, but he doesn’t deny it.

They return to the car and wait for Star to return; Tej notes that her father wasn’t completely straight with Vigo, and asks if he trusts him or not.  Shiv says that there are always limits to trust, and fast-penta makes it less smart to tell someone everything; he reassures her that soon enough they’ll all be back home, though Tej wonders how hard it will be to restore House Cordonah, and how much it will have changed.

He talks about how Tej was made from a mostly unmodified combination of his and Udine’s genes–which Tej already knows, having been called the “control child” often enough; he says he’d wanted to get her a special marriage contract, and then asks her about her relationship with Ivan Xav.  Tej says that she’s happy enough it, and it sounds like Count Falco won’t let her get out of it anyway; Shiv muses that if they don’t realize that Tej accepts it, he can maybe include it as part of a deal with them, and Tej wonders if the prospect will help sway even Simon Illyan.

It was plain that the strange, reserved man wanted some better relations with his stepson than he had yet been able to construct, if only to please his high Vor lady.  And more: Simon liked Ivan Xav in his own right–in his own quietly awkward way–though Ivan Xav didn’t seem to see it.  The late great Captain Illyan had been superb with security, it was said; maybe not so deft with family.  He’d evidently never had one before, in all his long adult life, or was that only…his long adult career?  But surely the man couldn’t be compromising his peculiar Barrayaran honour just to secure his stepson’s marriage.  Simon was a mystery; how could you tell what he was thinking?

She asks if he’s already made a deal with Simon Illyan, and Shiv says it’s more like a bet, which Tej says is worse.  First, he’d bet them that they couldn’t map out the bunker underneath ImpSec’s nose; now they’re in Round Two, the tunneling, which the Mycoborer is helping them get a jump on, and Shiv thinks that they won’t need any more rounds than that.

Tej wonders if Simon thinks that he needs to get Ivan settled so that he can pursue marriage with Lady Alys, and it he thus thinks that sending Ivan offworld would be ideal solution.  After all, with Gregor having his own sons, Ivan isn’t much in need as a spare heir.  Her father says that he wants to give her what she wants, but he doesn’t know what that is yet; she says she doesn’t either.  She reminds herself that she should try to do what’s best to help her clan, especially if it doesn’t do any real harm.

As Star returns and Tej starts driving off, she tells them about Ivan’s plan to get some personal leave and join them; Stars grumbles about it, and Shiv says they’ll just have to occupy him the way they have with Byerly.

On Ivan’s first day off, he manages to invite himself along with Tej, overcoming her evasions, and she gives in and takes him down to the hotel.  Unfortunately, he ends up being maneuvered into becoming a second driver, chauffeuring a set of Arquas which does not include his wife, and meeting Byerly and Emerald for lunch.  Between all the diversions, he doesn’t end meeting up with Tej again until bedtime–when he finds her dressing to go out again.  He fails to lure her into bed, and she tells him she might have to leave if her family’s visa extension doesn’t come through; he reminds her that, as Lady Vorpatril, she doesn’t have to, but this doesn’t seem to reassure her any.

He tells her they need to talk right now, though she continues to pretend she doesn’t know what about; he tells her that he knows about the bunker, and how they mapped it out.  He says that, according to Simon, it was cleared out decades ago; she refuses to believe, insisting that her grandmother would have known, and eventually makes him a bet.  They will check out the bunker, and if it’s empty, she’ll do whatever he wants, and if it’s not, then he’ll do whatever she wants–which would including helping carry things out, and not talking about it to anyone else.  Ivan hesitates, wondering if he’s really willing to bet on Simon Illyan being right, but eventually agrees to the bet.

They drive over to the site, though Tej makes Ivan park several blocks away just to be safe, which nettles him when he discovers their destination is an actual garage; Tej notices that Ser Imola’s van is parked there, as agreed.  She knocks on the utility room door and is pulled in by Star, who is not happy to find Ivan with her; she even says she’d like to stun him, but they want to avoid using energy weapons.  Star says everyone else is already in the tunnel, and they’re not likely to wait for stragglers before going ahead.  Ivan is not happy at the prospect of going into the tunnel.

“Wait, we’re going down there?”

“Yes?”

“Underground?”

“Most tunnels are underground.  Oh, no, Ivan Xav–I forgot about your claustrophobia thing.  Why didn’t you say something?  I’m sorry!”

“I do not have a claustrophobia thing.  I have a perfectly rational dislike of being locked up in small, dark, wet spaces by people trying to kill me.”

Ivan insists he’ll be okay, and refuses Tej’s offer to let him stay behind and operate the pulley.  They remove all their electronic devices, and shoes, and leave them in the tunnel vestibule; Ivan isn’t happy about it, but he complies, though he does bring extra cold lights with him.  Star gives them filter masks and gloves, explaining that Mycoborer spores might be harmful to their skin or lungs; Ivan complains about them using that kind of thing on Barrayar in the first place.

They move into the tunnel, where Ivan is careful to avoid touching walls as much as possible.  They come across Sgt. Abelard and his backpack, which is still sitting in the tunnel; Ivan inspects it, and recoils from the contents of the backpack.

“I do not have claustrophobia,” he…well, it was still a whisper, but it had a lot of snarl in it.  It seemed he actually did possess emotional range beyond peeved.  “I do, however, have a quite active unexploded bombs phobia.  This could be–anything.  Unstable, for example.  Are you people insane?”

“It can’t be too unstable,” said Star, unsympathetically.  “It didn’t go off when it fell in here, and it didn’t go off when pidge tripped over it and kicked it a bit ago.  I wouldn’t play with it, mind, but it’s not going to do anything spontaneous, I don’t think.”

The pass a water pipe that the tunnel splits around, and Ivan mutters about the proximity of water in the tunnel as well.  Finally they reach a widened area at the end of the tunnel, dead-ended against a wall.  Tej’s parents are not happy to see Ivan either, but Tej promises that he’s with her.  Amiri is attaching a suction cup to the wall where a large oval has been cut, and he and Jet lift it out before tossing in some cold lights.  He peers through and reports that he can see “Marvelous things!”

Comments

I almost wish Vigo had turned up a little sooner, because he seems like a bit of a last-minute addition to the cast, considering his importance to the climax in the next chapter.  Even if he’d been mentioned to somebody…  Well, anyway, it looks like Shiv goofed in bringing him in on it, but I suppose his choices were limited, and his time rushed.  I’m not sure if he had a good reason to bring Tej along to the meeting, either, except to give us a viewpoint character at the scene.  But, eh, whatever.

I think one of my biggest problems with the Arquas is the sheer size of the clan.  Too many characters, and most of them introduced in much too close proximity.  Shiv, Udine and Moira get a few scenes, but somehow Star and Pidge are fairly two-dimensional, and I have trouble keeping them straight; Amiri is mostly distinguished by his not wanting to be there; and out of the Jewels (excluding Rish, of course) only Jet gets to have even the rudiments of a distinctive character.  Maybe we do need this number of warm bodies to pull off the heist, but it’s just too many people to keep track of.

They hadn’t cleaned up that backpack yet, with its potential explosives in it?  You’d have thought they’d have wanted to do something with it, at the very least trying to determine if it was still dangerous.  Of course, if it was, they’d want to move it, but it would probably be too risky, whereas if it wasn’t, they wouldn’t really need to do anything to it.  So it just sits there, giving only Ivan (apparently) any heebie-jeebies.  I do like his characterization of his not-claustrophobia, though.  Wonder if he’ll end up trapped in a cramped, dark wet space by people trying to kill him again anytime soon?


 

You almost got two chapters this week–I read them, at least–but my stamina for actually writing them up failed.  It is getting into the exciting part, anyway.  Five more chapters plus epilogue, in any case, and after that on to the final book, CryoBurn.  (Because, of course, I’m doing them in chronological order, not publication…)

Somebody expressed interest in whatever I may be doing next.  I confess, I’m not really sure what I’m doing after I finish the series, but I expect that it will not, at least for a while, be a reread blog.  This one was fun, at least from time to time, but it’s become more of an effort as time goes on, and I’m not sure I can think of any other series that I know well enough, that haven’t already been done by somebody else, that I can muster the same level of enthusiasm for.  So unless I can get tor.com or somebody to pay me for it, this will probably be it.

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And if you’ll look to your right, you’ll see a lovely specimen of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  It is, of course, merely a small part of the Vorkosigan Saga itself, based upon a single chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  No, it is mostly about Ivan Vorpatril, but I assure you there are Vorkosigans in it as well.  Would you care to take a closer look?  Go ahead…

Chapter Nineteen

Ivan drives By over to his mother’s apartment, where they find Simon alone, Alys having gone to help host a dinner for the galactic diplomats; Ivan’s just glad that he and Simon weren’t there as “native Barrayaran décor”.  Illyan just says “You two again” and then dismisses the maidservant; he asks what they’re up to, and eventually Ian asks right outwhat he knows about what the Arquas are doing.

Simon’s eyes crinkled, just slightly.  “I can’t guess, Ivan.  What do you two know?”

“That they think there’s something under there, probably Cetagandan and probably dating back to the Occupation, and Shiv and Udine Arqua think it’s valuable enough to fund their attempt to retake their House, which has got to be a high-end hobby.  How the hell they think they can extract whatever it is right under ImpSec’s collective nose, not to mention get it out of the Empire, defeats me.  But I think not you.  Want to give me a clue?”

Simon murmured something under his breath that might have been, But you’re so much more amusing without one; Ivan didn’t ask him to repeat it.

Illyan tries to turn the conversation into a more philosophical one about the nature of knowledge, but Ivan tries hard to keep him on the concrete, complaining that he’s tired and his wife isn’t talking to him anymore.  By straight up asks Illyan if he’s made a deal with Shiv Arqua, and Illyan says that it was really more of a bet–and one he can’t lose.

He then tells them about the Arquas’ goal, a Cetagandan bunker built under the current site of ImpSec.  He says that they knew about it at the time, but it was marked cleared when they excavated the foundation; it’s less clear whether they know about it now, since sometimes records are lost, or knowledge is lost when the people who know it die or retire.  Illyan doesn’t think there’s many people in ImpSec now who were involved the original documents, and while he thinks he was one of them, he doesn’t have any specific memories of it left.  Illyan’s intention was always for the park to be used for the site of the new ImpSec building, and the bunker would be examined more fully in the process of excavating its foundations, but the new building never happened.

Ivan asks if Illyan was really going to let them do all this work searching for an empty vault; Illyan said the stakes didn’t seem high enough to get too heavily involved.  He wanted to see how far they got before ImpSec noticed, as a bit of a test for the current staff.  Ivan pointed out that Illyan was interfering himself, lulling their suspicions when he benignly observed the mapping dance; Illyan says he just wanted to speed things along, and anyway his presence shouldn’t have lulled their suspicions, a flaw he’ll bring to Allegre’s attention.  He says he doesn’t think they’ll be able to overcome the problems with trying to tunnel around the ImpSec HQ building, or digging down from above.  In the event that they do make it all the way to the vault, he hopes to be able to make some sort of longer-term deal with the Arquas with the aim of improving the situation between Barrayar and Jackson’s Whole.

“House Fell has always been dangerous, but determinedly independent.  Morozov believes that House Prestene has strong Cetagandan contacts–and it now controls two out of the five wormholes in a possible first move on a monopoly.  The loss of House Cordonah was originally judged to make little difference on that count, as they were thought to be technically neutral but with personal ties to the Cetagandans through the Baronne.  Having now met Moira ghem Estif, I am…rethinking that.”

Ivan points out that he doesn’t think the Arquas are likely to end up anybody’s puppet; Illyan said they’d settle for an ally, or even a safe house on Jackson’s Whole.  Ivan warns Illyan that he doesn’t think Udine Arqua should be neglected in his evaluation, since he’s seen the two of them together and has the impression that they work together sort of like Aral and Cordelia Vorkosigan; Illyan is interested in this observation.  He notes that Shiv seemed not to notice the fact that Illyan himself had no actual bargaining power on behalf of the Empire.

By asks if this is just a test for a potential ally, and Illyan asks if they noticed one other thing about what he’s told them.  Ivan thinks back, and recalls the wording that the vault was “marked cleared”; Illyan agrees that nobody seems to know now whether it is cleared or not, but he’s asked Duv Galeni to look into it in his spare time.  By asks if he should be reporting this, and Illyan unhelpfully leaves it entirely up to him.  He doesn’t think there’s much urgency, because the Arquas can’t have had much time to line up the kind of supplies he needs, and they’d also have to solve the problem of what to do with the dirt they dig out of the tunnel; they’ll probably need to get their visas extended or they won’t have time to carry the operation through.

Shortly thereafter, Illyan eases them out the door; By says to Ivan that at least he seems to be on top of it, nothing addled about him at all.  Ivan is more worried about what this scenario is likely to do to him and Tej–whether they’ll end up on opposing sides.  By asks Ivan to drop him off at home; on the drive, he starts asking ivan for relationship advice, noting that he’s had a lot of girlfriends, even though Ivan points out that a lot of them were just women he was assigned to escort for social occasions.

“You know,” and somehow, probably because of the damned rain, Ivan’s mouth went off on its own: “I’ve always wondered why nobody ever notices that lots and lots of girlfriends entail lots and lots of breakups.”  Enough to learn all the road signs by heart, yeah.

By’s eyes opened; his brows climbed.  “Huh.  You never seemed to point up that part.”

“No.”

Most of the trouble seemed to come from angling for a high Vor wedding, even from the married women, and he reflects that he sure doesn’t have that problem with Tej–being married is much more relaxing.  By says that at least he shouldn’t have trouble parting with Tej; Ivan refrains from strangling him long enough to drop him off at his flat.

He spends the next two days trying to catch up with Tej; she gets home very late, and then his shift the next day runs long, so he misses dinner, and Tej is still “out driving”.  The next day he invites her and her family out for dinner, but enough the Arquas show up to derail any plans for a personal conversation, and by the time they get home it doesn’t happen then either, with Rish back sleeping on their couch.  And the next day he oversleeps and has to rush off to work.

Tej, Amiri, Jet and Moira investigate the results of three days of Mycoboring.  The tunnels are not particularly straight, or uniform in width, despite the claims of Carlo from Galactech.  They head into the tunnel with stern admonishments to stay quiet, and wearing fuzzy slippers, which feel odd on the rubbery floor of the tunnel.  The tunnels are mostly wide enough for them all to stand up (except possibly Moira), but sometimes they narrow so they all have to stoop, and they curve wildly and unpredictably, with little side-offshoots from time to time.

Jet points out one spot on the wall of the tunnel to Tej, and she almost screams when she sees a skeletal foot, but she keeps her cool, refusing to give her odd-brother the satisfaction.  He pulls out a knife and begins digging a hole in the wall of the tunnel, saying that if they want to investigate they have to do it now, before the wall hardens; Tej doesn’t see why they have to investigate at all.  After Jet digs through the wall he announces that there’s an open space on the other side, which Tej says is probably another tunnel.  Jet widens the opening and then slithers through, telling Tej she should come see this.

The space beyond the hole looks like part of another tunnel, with some bent timber supports holding it up, but it looked like the rest of it collapsed not too far away.  There’s still a tattered backpack strapped to the skeleton, and a few bits of metal, including ImpSec collar pins and a necklace with what look like nametags on it, reading “Ssgt. Abelard, V.”  As Jet begins to open the backpack, Tej realizes that it must be a bomb; it looks like a gray lumpy mass with wires and electronics connected to it.

Amiri comes to join them, though he complains that Jet should have just left the foot alone.  He examines the body and says it probably died sometime twenty to forty years earlier; he’s dismayed at the sight of the bomb, and Jet’s suggestion that they should try to take a sample of it.  Amiri asks Grandmama if the explosive’s likely to have deteriorated; she says some do, and some become unstable.  Tej votes that they leave it alone for a later trip; they leave the collapsed tunnel, but Amiri wonders where “Abelard” was heading.

When they emerge, Moira is annoyed with them, for having made such a mess, and insists they clean up all the dirt and cover up the hole; she’s not impressed by their finding a dead Barrayaran.  She and Tej leave the boys to the work and head back to the entrance; she explains that the Mycoborers encountered some kind of sewer pipe and split in all directions, so they started a new batch going.  Tej asks her grandmother about the stability of their tunnel; she reassures Tej that a circular pipe is as secure as two arches, though she admits the Mycoborers’ product is far from that regular.

That evening, Tej is back in the apartment, and at the same time as Ivan, even; she wanders around restlessly, peering into Ivan’s drawer of miscellaneous junk, and asking if he has some kind of ID necklace.  Ivan tells her they’re called “dog tags”, though he’s not sure why; he has some, with his black fatigues, which he hasn’t worn in a while.  He adds that they’re generally only worn when going into a dangerous situation, to help with posthumous identification; radio transmitter tags have been suggested, but they don’t want to risk making them detectable by the enemy too.  Tej mentions that she saw one day, claiming that it was on the floor of a parking garage, and shows it to him; Ivan says it’s an old style, and says he could look it up at Ops and see about returning it.  Tej says she might want to keep it, and Ivan says he could give her his old lieutenant’s tags.

Then she asks about old plastic explosives, from twenty years ago or so; Ivan says he did take a course, back at the Academy, and is startled to realize that that was almost twenty years ago.  He encourages her to just call a bomb squad if she sees anything that looks like explosives.

“Is that what you’d do?”

“Of course!  Well, except for that old guerrilla cache Miles and Elena and I found up in the Dendarii Mountains when we were kids.  But we were being very stupid kids, as everyone from Uncle Aral on down explained, very memorably, after the–never mind that now.  Anyway, the point is, people can still find old, dangerous stuff lying around on this planet, and civilians shouldn’t fool with it.”  Untangling himself from this digression, Ivan finally got back to the important question, which was, “Why do you ask?”

“No reason,” Tej said airily.

Right.  Avocados probably did shifty better than Tej.  It was most un-Jacksonian of her.

Ivan decides that he’s going to take some personal leave, no matter what ImpSec might think about it, and he tells her he wants to spend more time with her family while they’re on the planet.  Tej says she doesn’t want to interfere with his career, and Ivan insists they can do without him for a few days.  Tej immediately suggests they have sex, which Ivan senses is probably a diversion, but he’s willing to go along with it.

This means she likes me, right? some awkward young Ivan who still lived at the bottom his brain urged, just before the physiologically induced lights-out.

Surly old Ivan could only think, Ivan, you idiot.

And not one Ivan on the whole pathetic committee had yet been able to muster aloud the only question that mattered.  Tej, will you stay?

Comments

So now we know what’s up with Shiv Arqua and Simon Illyan, though Illyan does have a few of his facts wrong.  He doesn’t know about the Mycoborers, so he expects them to be somewhat further behind on the tunnel than they are; on the other hand, he seems to be open to the possibility that they will succeed after all.  I find it a little amusing that he’s deliberately staying as neutral as he can with relation to ImpSec, which I imagine would annoy a lot of ImpSec people if they knew.  I imagine they presume him to retain a certain loyalty to his alma mater, after all; some of them may believe him fuddled, but some of them, at least, must know the truth.  He does believe that there’s nothing that can go wrong, though, which may be a little bit naive.

Illyan’s statement about lots of breakups may or may not be true; after all, it seems that a person who dates a lot of different people is perhaps more likely to do so because they’re deliberately trying not to form emotional attachments to any of their dates.  They would be more likely to be the one to break things off and move on to their next conquest.  Of course, maybe I’m just thinking of the TV sitcom caricature of these people, the Barney Stinsons and Joey Tribbianis, just in it for the sex.  Someone who isn’t quite so sociopathic about it could end up getting repeatedly hurt, but I wouldn’t have put Ivan into that category.  I guess, on some level, it did make an impact.  Was it just the “high Vor weddings” he was trying to avoid?  Would he have been okay with any of his previous romances proposing a quickie instant-groats affair?  Not to mention that he did propose to a couple of the Koudelka sisters back in Memory

And in the tunnel, we find a little cavity with a dead soldier and some explosives.  From 20-40 years ago…  Vordarian’s Pretendership falls in that range somewhere, doesn’t it?  Say, about 35 years earlier?  And the tunnel is going from the parking garage on one side of ImpSec HQ to the park on other side?  So that would be about where one might be tunneling if one wanted to blow up ImpSec HQ itself, wouldn’t it?  Anyway, I get the feeling that those explosives and Ssgt. (Staff Sergeant?) Abelard has some relevance to what I remember of the climax…


Which looks like it’s only a couple of chapters away now.  Tej and Ivan are talking to each other again, the Arquas seem to be close to getting what they want, and there’s only half a dozen chapters left.  Yay, things are picking up…

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