Posts Tagged ‘Vorrutyer’

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?”


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.


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.


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.

Read Full Post »

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?”


“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.


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.”


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…

Read Full Post »

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.”


“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.


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…

Read Full Post »

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.”


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?


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…

Read Full Post »

Aw, you know how this goes by now, right?  Another chapter of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, in the Vorkosigan Saga, author Lois McMaster Bujold.  Too tired to attempt wit right now, so let’s get right to it.

Chapter Eighteen

Ivan woke the next morning to an empty bed, again, a depopulated flat, and a note on the coffeemaker: ­Gone driving. T.  Which was better than no reassurance at all, but wouldn’t Love, T. have been a better closing salutation?  Not that he had ever ended any note to Tej with Love, I., so far, but then he hadn’t ever gone out and left her just some laconic, uninformative scrawl.

He has instant groats for breakfast, which makes him think of the impromptu wedding on Komarr, which makes him wonder if it’s too early to start drinking.  He calls Tej’s wristcom and leaves her a message, and when she doesn’t call back he walks down to the Arquas’ hotel.  There he is met by Shiv Arqua, who announces him as “Tej’s Barrayaran”, and invites him in for coffee with himself and the Baronne.  He asks after Tej, and Udine tells him that she’s gone out driving with her grandmother and brother Amiri; Ivan is slightly reassured at the less Jacksonian nature of his wife’s companions, but asks why they couldn’t have hired another driver.  Shiv says that Tej wanted to catch up with her favourite brother.

Ivan asks how long they’ll be staying on Barrayar; Udine says it will depend on whether their visas will be getting extended.  Ivan offers his mother’s help in finding a lawyer, only to be informed that Lady Alys has already offered.  He asks if they’d be planning to settle permanently on Barrayar, which is generally taken as a serious commitment; the Arquas are noncommittal, but Shiv says he likes to keep his options open, and has been pleasantly surprised by his experience of Barrayar.

Wondering how close the Arquas are to the end of their resources, Ivan considers who he could ask about it, then decides to try just asking Shiv about it; rather than considering this rude, the Jacksonians seem to consider it a canny question.  Shiv doesn’t really answer the question, though, merely talking about how much easier it is to get things done with a larger stake, and the dangers of consuming too much of one’s venture capital; Udine says their real goal is enough to make a credible attempt to retake their House.

Shiv says he’s not going to willingly go back down to the gutter he pulled himself up from before.  His determination reminds Ivan of Miles, and of General Count Piotr’s influence in shaping him that way; he wonders who wound Shiv and Udine up that way, but decides he’d rather not know.  He asks at what point they’ll just cut their losses and retire somewhere; Shiv reminds him that they do have two of his children hostage.  Ivan concludes that they must think that whatever’s hidden under that park is valuable enough to fund a retaking of House Cordonah.

He asks about Tej, whether she’d necessarily be going back with them; it’d be safer on Barrayar, and he’s grown rather fond of her.  Udine asks if he likes her well enough to leave his family and come with her, rather than asking her to do that for him; Shiv speculates on whether his Barrayaran military training and experience would be enough to make him useful.  Ivan says that he might be willing to go somewhere else with Tej…but probably not Jackson’s Whole.

Ivan said, “Look, I can support a wife here on Barrayar.  And I know my home ground.  On Jackson’s Whole, I’d be, what…destitute and disarmed.  Not to mention out of my depth.”

“As Tej has been, here?” Udine inquired sweetly.

Shiv gave him the eyebrow thing.  “A man should know himself, I suppose,” he said.  “Me, I’ve been face flat, sucking gutter slime, three times in my life, and had to start again each time from scratch.  I’m getting too old to enjoy shoveling that shit anymore, but I can’t say I don’t know how.”

This was not, Ivan sensed, a remark in Ivan’s favour, oblique though it sounded.

Ivan reminds Udine that she left her own home planet to be with Shiv; she points out that the Barrayarans were conquering it at the time, so she had little choice, but Shiv adds that it did turn out well in the end.  Ivan wonders if he dares to ask straight out whether they’re going to take Tej away with them, but doesn’t quite.  He wonders if he can offer them something, in a Jacksonian Deal; his monetary resources are probably insufficient, his blood is only really good on Barrayar, and his personal skills he’s already declined to lend them.

Udine bids him farewell, and he takes the hint, reiterating his desire for Tej to get in touch with him.  Shiv adds, confidentially, that they do have a certain scheme in mind which may give them the wherewithal to depart, obviously implying that they’ll be out of his hair sooner if Ivan doesn’t obstruct them.

Ivan wonders if the right thing might not be to hope–or work–for their deportation, which should get them off the planet soon enough.  Tej, as his wife, would of course have the right to stay.  All he has to do now is convince her that she wants to stay…which would be easier, of course, if he ever got to see her…

Tej pulls the rented groundcar into an underground garage.  Pearl had found it, underneath an innocuous office building across the street from ImpSec HQ, mostly vacant on evenings and weekends; unfortunately it’s on the opposite side from the park, where they’re convinced they’ve found the underground Cetagandan laboratory.  In fact, the ImpSec sub-basements themselves are only a couple of dozen meters from intersecting them, and Tej finds it incomprehensible that nobody noticed the lab when they were digging them.

Pearl leads Tej, Amiri and Moira to a storage room, which seems to be infrequently used; its contents do seem to be encouragingly dusty.  They shift a couple of shelves over to expose a bare patch of concrete floor, then they put on breath masks (apparently stolen from the jumpship they’d taken to Barrayar) while Amiri pours a ring of solvent on the floor to cut through it.  Once it’s done, they lift up the ring of concrete, revealing stones underneath, which Tej, Amiri and Pearl begin prying up, not without grumbling about having to do it by hand.  Amiri comments that he wishes they could have rented or bought a place, rather than using something public, but Pearl insists that it’s better to not have a data trail.

Amiri brings a box over to the hole, which he handles carefully; his grandmother insists that they’re harmless, only eating dirt, and as a trained doctor he should be careful enough to not get dirt on himself.  Tej reads the label on the box which describes them as experimental Mycoborers, patent pending, with stern warnings against removing them from GalacTech Company property; inside are a series of thin, 50-cm long sticks.  Moira decides they should start about eight meters down, since they’re already in a sub-basement, to get to the top level of the laboratory, but be prepared to go down underneath any obstacles they may find in the way; Amiri asks if they should do more than a one-meter diameter, since that might be too narrow to bring much out through, but Moira says that they can always modify it later.

Amiri gingerly trims and prepares one of the mycoborers and starts drilling a hole in the dirt.  Tej complains about the plan that has her spending time looking at engineering and plumbing supplies, but her grandmother insists it’s an essential cover to keep ImpSec from knowing how fast they’re actually progressing.  Pearl asks how they got these Mycoborers anyway; Moira denies having stolen it, but says that she’d renewed her acquaintance with a friend named Carlo who worked at GalacTech and bought them from him.  Amiri finishes his hole, puts the stick of mycoborer down it, then pours some ammonia on it to activate it.

“Nothing’s happening,” said Tej after a minute.

“I thought you said this would work fast,” said Pearl.

“It’s not instantaneous,” chided Grandmama.  “Macrobiological processes seldom are.”  She added after a while, as anything visible continued to not happen, “The Mycoborer was developed as a method of laying pipe without having to dig trenches; the genetic developer hopes it can be trained to build its own custom pipe as it goes, but that seems to lie in the future.  For the moment, they’re happy to have it proceed in a straight route with uniform diameter.”

Tej asks why it doesn’t just keep growing forever, and her grandmother says it’s designed to be choked off by the waste products as the ring grows, and failing that it has a suicide gene triggered by telomere loss, as well as ordinary senescence, and heat sterilization if all else fails.  She mentions offhandedly that it hasn’t technically been tested outside the laboratory yet, which fails to reassure her grandchildren; this was, apparently, part of the deal with Carlo, to give him reports on how it works.  She notes that if it runs into harder substances, like synthetics or igneous rocks, it will run into trouble, so they may have to reroute it then.

They finally begin to see something, which is nothing more than black goo bubbling up from the hole, but it seems to indicate that it’s actually working.  Moira says that it should be completely undetectable, since it won’t generate the kind of vibrations that other digging processes would; they will have to be careful and quiet when they go into the tunnels themselves, of course.  She says they should go for lunch, insisting that it’s safe enough to leave the Mycoborer to work; they move the concrete and shelves back to cover it up.

Ivan prepares a splendid meal waiting for Tej’s return, but unfortunately she’s over two hours late, and Byerly and Rish return with her; Rish and By are arguing about his repeated attempts to plant bugs on her.  Tej apologizes for being late, but evades his questions about what she was doing, and Ivan’s invitation to dinner is countered by Rish telling her to come back to the hotel so she doesn’t have to be interrogated.  Ivan asks Tej when she’ll be back, and she says she doesn’t know; Rish says that she, at least, is going to stay at the hotel.

Ivan is left with By, not impressed at his apparent loss of suavity; By says that he may have overplayed his hand, trying to question her subtly during sex, and now she’s cut him off.  He’s getting increasingly maddened by the Arquas’ efforts to keep him out of the way all the time, and ImpSec apparently has no spare resources; they’re all busy preparing for Gregor and Laisa’s trip to Komarr, plus other conferences and conventions around town, but promise vaguely to give him something in a week or two.  So it’s just him, against a bunch of Arquas who know what he is already, and all of his ploys are failing.

Ivan suggests he maybe talk to Simon, and fills By in on what he’s seen betwen Illyan and Shiv Arqua, and the other bits he’s pieced together.  He concludes that Simon and Shiv might be colluding on something, and it may have something to do with something valuable hidden underneath ImpSec.

“If Simon Illyan is up to something, we shouldn’t bump his elbow,” By declared firmly.

“I’m…not so sure.”

By’s eyes narrowed.  “I thought he was just playing befuddled.”

So, By had spotted that.  Good on By.  “He does do that.  He’s got half of Vorbarr Sultana believing he’s as addled as an egg, and my mother his caretaker.  And the people they report to….  But sometimes he…shorts out, just a little.  You can tell when it’s real, because it’s the only time he tries to hide it.”

He eventually convinces By to go talk to Illyan, but only if Ivan comes with him; Ivan makes him help eat the desiccated supper first, though.


Ivan must be getting desperate.  He’s beginning to be afraid of losing Tej–whether he’s actually admitted he’s in love with her or not–and so he’s driven to things like talking to her parents, and, by the end of the chapter, actually trying to talk to Illyan about what’s going on.  Drifting along with the flow is apparently not being enough, and he’s having trouble winning Tej over because he can’t get a moment alone to talk to her.  Byerly is having similar problems with Rish, which are a little more professional and a little less romantic, but still a little bit.

Meanwhile, the Arquas are actually starting to do something.  I don’t know if their plan is to accomplish the entire heist (if you can call it that, since it’s not clear they’re technically stealing from anyone) before their visas expire, but they’re certainly putting things in motion now.  Plus, they have this time window, apparently, where everyone at ImpSec is busy doing other things.  They can’t have planned that, but I’m sure that they’re aware of it and taking advantage.  I wonder how they did find it out, though–through Simon Illyan, or some other channel?  Surely ImpSec won’t advertise its undermannedness too strongly, but if these are all public events, it might be possible to work it out.

The Mycoborers…untested, autonomous digging organisms (some kind of fungus, I gather, from the name), let loose underneath Vorbarr Sultana?  Yeah, there’s no way that could go wrong.  Especially digging tunnels beneath a big building.  I’m like, Oh, right, that’s how that happens…

Next chapter, next week, Ivan talks to Simon Illyan, and it looks like he even gets to talk to Tej.  Plus, the Arquas may find something unexpected underground.

Read Full Post »

Good evening, or morning, or noon, or dusk, or locked-in-a-metal-box-with-no-sunlight; it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that spot on your dial for the relentless and impenetrable charming and witty summarization and commentary on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, which is, in many ways, a saga about the Vorkosigans.  One of the ways in which it’s not a saga about the Vorkosigans is the way in which the book I’m in the middle of, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, is about a Vorpatril instead of a Vorkosigan, but he’s a Vorpatril with close ties to the Vorkosigans, so I suppose that’s all right.  This week I trudge through Chapter Sixteen, which has one of those tedious dinner parties in it.

Chapter Sixteen

In the lift tube up to Mamere’s apartment, Tej tells Ivan that she hasn’t managed to tell them about Simon yet; Ivan wonders what they were talking about all that time, but it’s too late by now.  The doors open for them, and Tej steps forward to introduce her family to Alys and Simon Illyan, though she just refers to him as her “stepfather-in-law, Imperial Service, retired”.  The Baron, at least, seems startled by his name, but shakes his hand heartily and refers to his memory chip; Illyan tells that how it was removed upon his retirement.  On their way inside, Illyan confides to Ivan that he was touched at being referred to as a “stepfather”; it’s not that he really wants to be married to Lady Alys, but he’s getting tired of being introduced as an “um”.

Tej’s ancestors are reunited with her siblings, and Byerly as well, who Ivan notes always seems somewhat diffident around Illyan, though he twits Ivan about the sheer quantity of his new in-laws.  Illyan seems to be taking charge of Baron Shiv Arqua, Lady Alys of the Baronne Udine and her mother, both of them covertly watching the “youngsters”.  Ivan tries to figure out the dynamic among the Jewels and the Baron’s full children, which doesn’t seem to fit into the “acknowledged bastards” status they’d have on Barrayar.

He overhears part of the conversation between Illyan and Shiv, the Baron talking about how Prestene’s takeover must have been an inside job, that a trusted subordinate must have betrayed them.  Illyan commiserates, saying that’s how his memory chip was sabotaged, explaining that his retirement was forced by its removal, not the other way around.

The dining room is opened, and they are all seated, Ivan unfortunately separated from his wife, between Star and the Baroness; Ivan quickly discerns that Ma Kosti has been appropriated as cook for the evening.  Lady Alys begins by asking Lady Moira ghem Estif about her stay on Earth, Ivan being urged to volunteer comments on his own visit there, though of course leaving out the inappropriately exciting parts.  Lady Moira had apparently mostly spent her time there doing genetics work, rather than just being a retiree.

Star, who’s a bit tipsy, asks if her mother’s conception was planned by her Constellation, but Lady Moira says that ghem-haut breeding is not nearly as tightly controlled, in hopes of serendipity.  She was never romantically attached to her husband, but she was able to do a small part in helping replace the son that he lost–a story unfamiliar to most of those present.  Apparently the General’s son had a Barrayaran lover, and they were together in Vorkosigan Vashnoi when it was destroyed, though they didn’t find that out until after they’d already retreated to Komarr.  They’d stayed on Komarr because of the General’s acquisition of a number of voting shares, but Lady Moira herself had never become a citizen, and in fact still doesn’t have any citizenship of her own.

The conversation then breaks up into a female side (mostly concerned with various types of breeding technology) and a male side (more military-focused), with Ivan somewhat separated from the latter, as much as he wishes to hear the one-upmanship contest between Illyan and the Baron.  Dessert is Ma Kosti’s trademark maple bug-butter ambrosia, which Ivan declines to mention to anyone present.  Afterwards, Illyan invites Shiv into his study, a rare honour, accompanied by a rare Vorkosigan brandy; he shoos Ivan out, despite Ivan’s desire to work something out with his father-in-law.  Byerly asks after the two men shortly thereafter, and Ivan indicates the study; he asks By if he thinks that Shiv is trying to pull some hustle on Illyan.

By shrugged.  “Well, of course.  Arqua has to be hustling every possibility he sees, right about now.  Trying to get support for his House in exile, in the interest of making it not in exile.  It was less clear”–By hestitated–“why Simon seemed to be hustling him back.  Even more subtly, note.  Unless it was just habit, I suppose.”

“That’s a disturbing thought.  The two of them, hustling each other.”

“Yeah.  It was…rather like watching two women trying to make each other pregnant.”

Ivan asks By if Rish has outed him yet, and By admits he doesn’t know.  He hadn’t planned, when he revealed his real job to Rish, that the two of them should come to Barrayar.  He asks Ivan to find out, and Ivan complains that he hasn’t even had a chance to talk to his wife.  They are interrupted by Pidge joining them, complimenting Ivan on his mother’s hospitality, and also turning the topic to Simon Illyan, noting his non-Vor name and asking why he’s only a captain.  Ivan explains about how Illyan’s predecessor never took a rank about captain either, though the current head, Guy Allegre, was already a general before he was appointed.

Ivan notes that Illyan did rate a vice-admiral’s pay, though; Pidge asks how much that is, exactly, and Ivan declines to tell her.  She then asks about Illyan’s personal wealth, and is surprised when they don’t know; By notes that Illyan lived a fairly frugal lifestyle and didn’t seem to have any vices to fritter away his money on.  Ivan recalls to himself a revelation shared with Illyan when they were drunk a couple of years earlier.

Through a progression of subject that were soon a blur in Ivan’s mind, they had somehow got on to just what Illyan did and did not recall or miss from his memory chip, at which point Ivan had learned just where the largest and most arcane pornography collection on Barrayar had been secreted…

It’s not as if I acquired most of it on purpose, Illyan had protested.  But the damned chip didn’t allow me to delete anything, whether I picked it up inadvertently or in a moment of bad mood or bad judgement or bad company, and then I was stuck with it forever.  Or in the line of work, oh, God, those were the worst.  Do you have any idea how many truly appalling surveillance vids I had to review in forty years…?

There were some things, Ivan reflected, that no man should know about another, not even or perhaps especially his um-stepfather.

Pidge insists that Illyan’s career must have lent itself to some sort of “personal acquisition”, especially for a man as clever as him.  Ivan realizes that she has a point, but he still believes that Illyan didn’t have time for any vices; his passion was ImpSec, and his drug was adrenaline.  He has to admit, though, that he doesn’t know whether or not it bothers Illyan that Mamere is so much richer than him, whether he’s satisfied with his retirement pay.

Ivan doesn’t get a chance to talk with Tej before the party breaks up–Simon and Shiv emerging from the office at last, seeming to have come to some understanding, and Alys, Moira, and Udine having ascended to using each other’s first names.  Illyan expresses to Tej a certain admiration for her father and his turn for salesmanship.

Tej has been trying to avoid Ivan all evening, with her thoughts whirling around buried Cetagandan treasure, though she’s relieved that her father seems to have come off well enough in his initial meeting with Simon Illyan, despite her failing to brief him about Illyan earlier.  As they prepare for bed, she keeps chat to a minimum, and makes it clear she’s too exhausted for any bedplay.  Ivan gets up to ask Rish if she’s spilled the beans about Byerly yet; she says she hasn’t, except of course to her family.

Ivan asks Tej if she thinks her father is trying to suborn Illyan; she quarrels with his choice of words, insisting that “suborn” implies something treasonous or evil, and her father would never do that.  Ivan says that’s good, because anyway Illyan’s loyalty has been tested enough times that he wouldn’t fall for something like that anyway.  Ivan asks her what’s going on, and she tells him she can’t tell him until she knows whether he’s in it with the rest of them or not; privately she thinks that he’s likely to want to claim the whole treasure for Barrayar anyway.  Ivan says that married couples shouldn’t keep secrets; Tej says he keeps secrets from her all the time, as part of his job, and Ivan says that’s different.  Tej says that he does talk in his sleep sometimes, though.

“I talk in my sleep?  About classified…”

“It’s kind of hard to tell.”  Tej composed her mouth into Ivan Xav’s accent and cadences, and recited, “‘Don’t eat that avocado, Admiral, it’s gone blue.  The blue ones have shifty eyes.'”

Returning to the previous subject, Ivan says there’s no need to keep it from him if it’s benign; Tej, in her exhaustion, let’s slip that there’s a thing that they’re looking for, and Ivan realizes it must be something to help reclaim their House.  He doesn’t have a problem with that, but it concerns him that it’s something they’re looking for on Barrayar; Tej refuses to “play fast-penta” with him any more, though Ivan mentions that it’s actually a kind of party game, “Fast-penta or dare”.

“Barrayarans are strange.”

“Yes,” Ivan Xav agreed with a pensive sigh, then seemed to belatedly decide this might be considered a slur on his homeworld and revised it hastily, “No! Not as strange as Jacksonians, anyway.  Or Cetagandans.”

Tej says that it’s not just the House, it’s also Erik and Topaz, prisoners of Prestene, Erik maybe even unrevivably dead.  Ivan wonders that they want to try to retrieve them, then, if Topaz is just a Jewel, not really one of Shiv’s children at all, but Tej said that he never seemed to make that distinction with them, treating them all as his own.  Tej asks about Ivan’s own relationship with Illyan, and Ivan says that it happened so late in his life that he hardly knows how to think of his as any kind of father figure.  He stutters through a list of classified incidents that he can’t tell her about, before she gets annoyed and shuts him up.


What is it about the dinner party chapters that they never end up being as much fun as I think they should?  This isn’t as bad as the disastrous one in A Civil Campaign, though at least that one served as a solid transition point to advance the plot.  I guess this one does start the thing that goes on between Shiv Arqua and Simon Illyan, the nebulous thing that I’m not sure is ever precisely cleared up.  (Probably it is, I just can’t recall right now if it comes out at the end or not.)  And, as you can tell, it just doesn’t seem to be very quotable.

I also don’t recall if Lady Moira’s tale of her stepson’s death in Vorkosigan Vashnoi is relevant to anything, or just illustrative in some way.  It has enough space dedicated to it that it seems like it should be relevant.  Do we find out exactly who the stepson’s lover was, for instance?  Does it had something to do with the finding of the Cetagandan cache?  Something else I don’t remember.

I’m never quite sure how homophobic Barrayaran society is supposed to be.  We don’t get that many gay characters, and the societal expectations do tend to be highly heteronormative.  Aral did have his affair with Ges Vorrutyer, which Vordarian tries to use to disrupt his marriage, so one gets the impression that it is at least frowned upon.  (Not by Cordelia, of course.)  And then there’s Byerly Vorrutyer, too.  Maybe it’s just that queer-bashing is mostly pre-empted in lout society by mutie-bashing.  (Though maybe they consider it just another form of mutation…)

And, finally, at the end of the chapter we get the start of the real rift between Ivan and Tej.  Which I suppose is inevitable in your standard romance plotline–they have to have the misunderstanding so they can reconcile later.  And it does make sense in the context of the treasure-heist plot that is going to be taking over the second half of the book.  But it is, none the less, somewhat frustrating, and another part of why I don’t like this book as much.

I checked ahead, and there are twenty-five chapters in the book, plus an epilogue, so probably no more than, say, ten weeks left in the book.  More than halfway, which is almost a little surprising.  But that means I’m on the downward slope, I suppose.  Another chapter next week, probably…

Read Full Post »

Can you keep a secret?  It’s well known than three people can keep a secret, if two are dead, though perhaps this is less obvious than it seems, because sometimes secrets will come out anyway.  Even if all three are dead, because there is, after all, Google.  It’s no secret, then, that tonight I am posting another entry in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that special series of blog posts dedicated to review and appreciation of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, featuring the exploits of a certain Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  This week we continue on into Chapter Fourteen of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, where Miles has only a small role, since we’re focusing on his cousin Ivan Vorpatril and his current, temporary(?) wife, Tej, whose Jacksonian family has unexpectedly turned up mostly alive…

Chapter Fourteen

As they are escorted into the waiting room, Ivan notes that the room is guarded, and they’ve been sequestered from other travelers; not yet officially detained, but that area isn’t too far away, which he refrains from mentioning to Tej and Rish.  Mahon, the Customs & Immigration officer, gets them past the guards, and Tej hurries towards her family; Mahon notes quietly to Ivan that the names these people were travelling under didn’t match any of the names that Tej referred to them by.  ImpSec Lieutenant Zumboti, who has accompanied them as well, loosens his stunner in its holster just in case.

Nobody in the room seems to unlimbering weapons; Tej’s father barely makes it to his feet before she tackle-hugs him, and Ivan has to turn away from the naked emotion on his face.  Rish somersaults to the feet of the Baronne before being raised up for a hug as well.  After that, the rest of the family mob closes in.  Ivan tries to identify Tej’s other family members; he picks out the sisters, Pidge and Star, both with red-brown skin, Pidge with matching hair and Star with dark hair.  The Jewels are mostly easier to identify, being colour-coded; the two young men left over turned out to be Amiri and Onyx.  Onyx’s skin is dark like the Baron’s, but patchy in places, apparently because of a disguise implanted on Escobar; Tej hugs olive-skinned Amiri, who rejoices over having found her alive, since they heard nothing about them for months.  Tej then bows to her Cetagandan grandmother, whose hair seems to have been cut alarmingly short.

Mahon asks Ivan if these are really all his relatives, and Ivan is forced to admit that they are, in fact, his in-laws.  He notes that not all of the family are there–Erik, Topaz and Ruby are missing.  He senses a certain edginess under their mood and wonders if it’s related to the missing family members.  Tej pulls Ivan over to introduce to her parents and grandmother.

In a voice gone breathless and shy, Tej said, “Dada, Baronne, Grandmother–this is my Barrayaran husband, Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril.”  As if she had several other husbands of various planetary origins tucked away somewhere…?  “He’s not a lord of anything, though.”

None of them seem that happy to meet Ivan; the Baron said they’d heard of him from Lily Durona, but it didn’t make much sense.  Tej says that the wedding did get them out of trouble, and she’ll explain later.  Ivan, sensing that the Baron isn’t too happy with him, greets them politely, even remembering the proper address to a Cetagandan haut-lady.  He asks how he can help them, and the Baron says that they should find out.

He calls Pidge (a.k.a. Sophia Arqua) over and introduces her to Mahon as their lawyer; she admits that while she’s practiced law elsewhere, she’s not fully qualified for Barrayaran law, but she’s studied up on it quickly in the last couple of weeks.  She says the question seems to be whether they are representatives of House Cordonah, and thus due diplomatic courtesy, or Houseless refugees, and thus due assistance.  Mahon isn’t sure about this, but all Lieutenant Zumboti says is that he doesn’t see them as a threat to the Imperium, so it’s not really his place to interfere; Ivan thinks this is pretty disingenuous of him.  Mahon mutters about only having two hours left in his shift, but allows himself to be led off by Pidge to work things out.

The Baron asks about Rish’s companion, and Rish introduces Byerly to them as her “um, friend”; they’re none too sure about him either, being a Vor, and a natural birth, but Rish vouches for his friendliness.

Tej asks about the newsvids she saw, which claimed to have shown their bodies, but the Baronne said those were fakes, and ended up making it harder for the Prestenes to announce their escape.  Rish asks about the missing members; the Baronne says that Ruby is under Baron Fell’s protection, but Topaz is still hostage, and Erik is dead, and it’s unknown if he’s cryo-revivable or not.  Rish asked if they’d gotten out after Star’s group, but the Baronne said they were held hostage for weeks before their escape.  Tej asks about her grandmother’s hair, and Lady ghem Estif said she sold it, on Earth, at auction, for a considerable sum.

“That was a pretty amazing sacrifice, for a haut woman,” Ivan offered, this seeming a less fraught topic.  “I once met some of the ladies of the Star Crèche itself, on Eta Ceta, some years ago.  Their never-cut hair was a major status-marker.”

Lady ghem Estif’s expression went rather opaqie.  “It is long,” she stated, “since I left the Star Crèche.”  She hesitated, looking at Ivan more sharply.  “Do the Consorts speak with Outlanders, now?”

“It was a special, um, event.  What was your clan, that is, your haut constellation of origin, before you married the ghem general?”

“Rond.”  Lady ghem Estif delivered the flat monosyllable without emotion.  The Rond were one of the mid-grade Cetagandan Constellations, though that was like saying “one of the mid-grade billionaires”.  But she regarded Ivan with the faintest new spark of…less disapproval.  As though he might be trainable, with the right program of exercises and rewards.

Mahon returns with an offer that, if Ivan will pledge for them as a relative, he can take custody of them as asylum applicants, with a two-week limited visa while their case is reviewed.  He mentions with disapproval the obvious falsities of most of the identification they’d provided, but he does admit their mitigating circumstances; he does, at least, have forms for this contingency.  They will also have to post a bond, for all nine of them, with a potential group discount; Ivan, sensing he’s not going to get out of this on time for work, calls to let them know he’ll be late.  A mere three and a half hours later, the process is completed, Ivan has sworn to be responsible for a number of things he privately things he has no control over, with the Jacksonians watching the process in interest.  Then they leave the shuttleport in a rented ground-van into morning rush hour.

Ivan takes them to a hotel, a utilitarian place not far from Ivan’s apartment, then says he has to go to work; he leaves Tej with the admonition to “not let them do anything”, and she says they’d probably like to just sleep.  Rish manages to part with By as well, and a few minutes later picks a bug from under her collar, tells it “Nice try” and ditches it.  Their rooms all adjoin onto a central lounge, and after depositing their luggage they all sit down to listen to Tej and Rish’s tale.

None of them are that impressed by Tej’s marriage to Ivan, even as a ploy, critiquing it severely, saying she should have held out for more; her father isn’t pleased that she turned down to many suitors just to end up with a Barrayaran (though, she admits, he never tried to push her towards anyone she didn’t like).  The Baronne asks if she knew of his high-level connections, and Tej admits she didn’t know until afterwards.  The Baronne is very interested in his proximity to the throne (or, as Tej corrects her, “camp stool”), but Rish says that apparently Ivan’s claim is tenuous, and Tej’s grandmother discourages them from trying to pursue it.

“Still, he’s in their military,” said Star.  “He can’t be totally clueless, in a crunch.  Maybe we could use him in our Security.  Our new Security, when we set it up.”

“Or in Administration,” said Pidge.  “You say he’s a kind of secretary?”

“Or in Hospitality,” said Jet, with a snigger.  “How well does he strip?”

Tej glowered at him.

The Baronne dismisses his career as make-work to keep him out of trouble, though Tej insists that he works hard, and his boss says he has a talent for spotting hidden political stakes (or was it snakes?).  The Baronne wonders about the Deal that Desplains made to get this “princeling” in his charge, which must have been a social coup for him; she asks if Tej has thought of the best way to exploit her relationship with Ivan.

Tej tells her about the plan to smuggle them out to Escobar; Star says she’d prefer to take out the bounty hunters more directly, as she’d dealt with those that House Prestene had sicced on her.  Tej tries to explain the divorce matter which had delayed their departure; her father tells her not to worry about it when they leave, though if she prefers they could certainly kill Ivan for her, a suggestion that Tej hotly protests.  Star wonders why Ivan didn’t just let the hunters kill her, if he was so eager for a divorce; Tej feels helpless to explain it to them, though she tries to tell them that Barrayar is a more complicated world than they think, a sentiment that only her grandmother seems to agree with.

Star grumbles about having had to leave their weapons behind, and offers to go scrounge up a new arsenal, which Tej tries to discourage her from, mindful of Ivan’s admonition.  Rish notes that ImpSec is likely keeping watch on them, and can protect them more ably right now; the Baron agrees and encourages them all to get some sleep.  Tej and Rish bid her parents farewell again, making plans to get together for supper, before they head back to Ivan’s flat.

In the hallway, Pidge grumbles to them that this detour has been costly and time-consuming, and Tej isn’t doing her part in their efforts to retake the House; she should be making a genetic alliance for them.  Tej protests that her father would never make her do that, and Pidge says that they don’t have as many options any more, and she should just suck it up and do it anyway.  Tej bids her farewell uncomfortably; she was so happy just a little while ago to see her family again, but now she’s unhappy again.


The ending of Chapter Thirteen made me keep reading halfway into this chapter, through the reunion with the family.  The second half of the chapter, though, I found somewhat unpleasant, and did not make me at all fond of any of Tej’s family, particular her sisters.  It’s also like, boom, here’s another ten-odd characters introduced all at once; we had some background on them before, admittedly, but now they’re all actually here, and of course they probably all want to talk (except Tej’s brother, who doesn’t seem to say much, nor do the Jewels), but that’s a nightmare for a reader.

I know that one can go through all sorts of personal changes, but fall back into the old patterns when you’re back with people who knew you before, because it’s easier that way.  Tej has become markedly less Jacksonian through her married life, mainly because she’s living in a much less Jacksonian place, a place where people are sometimes kind without expecting something in return, which is apparently an alien concept on Jackson’s Whole.  Which is probably why the purest Jacksonians are so intensely unlikeable.  Which must make Tej a bit of a white sheep in her family, the spoiled baby who didn’t have to learn the hard “truths” about the way the world works.  Her biggest ally right now seems to be her grandmother, the former haut who has a little more experience of non-Jacksonian worlds than the others, and she can’t be expected to be too sympathetic to the Barrayaran way of doing things.

By the end of the chapter I was heartily rooting for Tej to just go tell her family to stuff it and leave her on Barrayar.  She hasn’t reconciled herself to staying married to Ivan quite yet, but she’s certainly feeling distanced from her family; still, she’s just gotten them back, so she’s not ready to break ties with them.  Now she gets to be stuck between two worlds, growing more and more miserable due to her lack of actually telling either Ivan or her family what’s wrong.  Not sure if Rish is nearly as conflicted, probably just a little, since she was more Jacksonian than Tej in the first place; By is perhaps a little more Jacksonian than Ivan, so she’s not pulled quite so far off-center.

I’m sure I’ll do another chapter next week, no reason not to…and still not feeling the pull to go faster than that.  Don’t all reread blogs do that as time goes on?  I mean, Leigh Butler’s Read of Ice and Fire has certainly slowed down, right?  So it’s okay for me to do it too.  So, next week then.


Read Full Post »

You’re driving, and it’s dark, and you’re on the edge of the city.  And you took a turn back there, you don’t know if it was the right turn, but you took the turn anyway, and you just kept going in that direction.  And eventually it starts to get light, and you see before a new post from the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, and everything is right with the world.  Because once again you can immerse yourself in Lois McMaster Bujold’s series of books about the Vorkosigans and their friends, in particular Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which we’re up to Chapter Thirteen of at this point, at which point the plot seems to take a left turn…

Chapter Thirteen

Back in Ivan’s apartment, Tej paces around the living room, fuming over how Count Falco ruined their plans, when she thought it was all arranged.  Ivan admits he may have made a mistake trying to deal with someone who knew his mother, when total strangers would probably have just rubber-stamped them.

Rish asks them if they have any chance of providing them with grounds for divorce, and they go down the list; she asks Ivan if he could pretend to have a mutation, and Ivan says if he did, it’d go on the public record and ruin his sex life forever.  She suggests adultery, but Tej says the only other man she knows on the planet is Byerly, and Rish vetoes him; Miles, Gregor and Illyan are just out of the question.  Tej suggests that Ivan sleep with Byerly, which Rish allows might be all right, but Ivan refuses categorically.  Tej suggests he look up an old girlfriend or something, but he laments that most of them are married, and he’s just not up to dealing with jealous husbands anymore.

Rish sat back.  “What else was there?  Oh yes, abuse.”

“I am not beating Tej.”  Ivan Xav glowered at Rish.  “You, I’m less and less sure about.”

Rish snickered.  “You couldn’t lay a hand on me if you tried, natural-boy.”

Ivan Xav sighed, avoiding conceding the point.  “Besides, it’d get me in so much trouble with so many people–after Mamere, Uncle Aral, and Aunt Cordelia–and Simon–there’d be Miles and Ekaterin and all the Koudelka girls lining up to deal with the remains–and their mother–and Gregor, and Desplains–God, there wouldn’t me enough left of me to carry to court in a bucket.  Hell, a teacup.”

Rish says that Tej could beat him up, and she protests she’d rather just kiss him.  Rish urges her to try, and she tries punching him in the stomach, a tiny poke that he barely feels; she says she really doesn’t want to, and anyway it would hurt her hand.  Rish then points out that desertion was one of the grounds for divorce, and they could solve that by just having Tej go offplanet and leave Ivan.  Ivan says that the problem with that is that there’s a certain number of years before they can declare the abandonment, and that’d leave him hanging, unable to remarry or even get betrothed.  Tej admits that would leave him in the lurch, though secretly the thought of him falling in love with someone else makes her unhappy; Ivan admits that it would spike his mother’s guns for a few years about urging him on other women, though it might still adversely affect his sex life.

With no better plan, they decide to sleep on it; Ivan reflects that while Miles is already trying to bull his way through problems, he himself prefers to just leave them in hopes that a solution will arise.  Rish points out that he will eventually die of old age, unless he crashes his car first.
For the next few days Ivan occupies himself at work during the days while Tej works on learning languages and cooking, and Rish goes out with Byerly at night; sometimes, unfortunately, he’s still there in the morning.  One morning By shares some gossip he’s heard from Tatya Vorbretten’s brother, Jon Vorkeres, to the effect that Lady Alys is upset that Ivan’s wife’s Cetagandan blood will keep his children out of the line of Imperial succession.  Ivan is cheered by this news, since he never wanted the throne anyways, and this way his children will be safer, though Byerly points out that children weren’t likely part of the plan anyway.

One afternoon, with no cooking lessons, Tej brings out some ankle-bells she’s acquired and encourages Rish to do some dance practice.  While they’re clearing furniture out of the way, she asks Rish about By, if there’s more to their relationship than sex.  Rish says he tends to hide what he’s really thinking, especially around his family, few of whom he can stand, his cousin Count Dono being a rare exception.  She notes that By pretends to be drunker than he is a lot of the time, to put people off their guard, but she’s noticed that when he’s really drunk his speech actually gets very precise.  Once, in such a state, he told her that the reason he left home was when his father started to believe a vicious rumour that he was molesting his sister; Tej speculates that this might be what motivates him to try discovering the truth behind the rumours as a profession.

Tej casually brings up the possibility of staying on Barrayar, if this whole divorce thing doesn’t work out.  Rish says it’s more interesting than she would have thought, but she doesn’t want to stay there forever; she misses her fellow Jewels.  As they start the dancing–Tej taking the simpler part, in the center and mostly keeping rhythm–Rish assures her that she won’t leave Tej behind there.

Ivan is returning home with dinner and encounters By in the lobby, so they head up together.  Ivan asks By if he thinks Rish is in love with him or anything, because he doesn’t want Rish to get all heartbroken if By gets reassigned; By assures him he’s on the case until they go to Escobar.  Ivan broaches the possibility that Rish might move in with him, and By is noncommittal about the idea.  Ivan says he could make Rish happy just by getting her off the coach, and By says that he doesn’t think Rish will ever be happy without the other Jewels.  He’s watched some recordings of their performances, and he thinks that there’s some kind of kinesthetic feedback going on between them that sustains their spirits.

“But Rish alone is…starving isn’t the word.  I don’t know what is.”  By had forgotten to be smarmy, as his eyes narrowed in memory and thought.

“So what’s the difference?”

By’s hand reached out and closed, as if trying to grasp something elusive.  “Rish with the Jewels looks like a woman with a beating heart.  Rish in exile looks like…a woman with a muscle in her chest that pumps blood.”

Ivan isn’t quite sure what By is on about, so drops the subject.  They arrive at the apartment to find the dance practice session in progress.  Ivan is struck by Tej’s beauty as she dances joyfully; Rish switches to doing showy cartwheels as she spots By, and Tej brings the music to a close.  Rish heads off to shower as Ivan dragoons By into helping move the furniture back into place.

All right, Ivan supposed he was slow.  He’d been told so often enough by his assorted relatives, colleagues, and so-called friends.  But it wasn’t until tripping over the ankle bells on the way back from the lav in the night, and wrapping himself around a warm, squirmy, sleeping Tej, that the thought crossed his mind like a bright, evasive–unhelpful–shooting star.

So…how does a fellow ask his own wife to marry him…?

Ivan awakens Tej at three in the morning after a call from a customs officer at the shuttleport.  Apparently some traveler, supposedly an Escobaran named Dr. Dolbraco Dax, who was detained because of some irregularities, informed them that “Madame Tejaswini Arqua Vorpatril” could identify him.  Tej leaps out of bed, exclaiming that that’s Amiri’s cover identity; Ivan points out that it could also be a clever and well-informed bounty hunter, though the shuttleport is a little bit well-guarded for a kidnap attempt.  Tej wonders how Amiri had found her, if it is actually him; Ivan says that it might have gotten to Lily Durona by way of Miles and Mark, though he wouldn’t put it past Mark to mess it up just to screw with him.  In any event, he’s alerted his ImpSec guards in case it is bounty hunters.

They drive hastily to the civilian shuttleport (eternally under construction, it seems), where Ivan’s military ID gets them through outer security and to the customs office; Byerly and Rish arrive at around the same time.  They have arranged for Tej to have a look through the monitors, where there are three men and six women in a waiting room.  Tej is elated to see not only her brother, but her parents, and “Star and Pidge and Em and Pearl”, and even her Cetagandan grandmother.  She yanks the custom man off his feet and demands to be taken to see them.


The middle part of the chapter seems to be mostly concerned with Rish and Byerly’s burgeoning relationship, the sparks of honesty they are finding in each other, Rish finding out why By left home and By exploring Rish’s link with her Jewel-siblings.  This would be the B romance, I guess, though neither of them admits that there’s any love involved, not yet, at any rate.  If Rish is tied to the Jewels, then By is going to have to deal with them too, if he wants to stay in her life.

Tej’s reluctance to end the marriage and leave Barrayar is growing, especially since she’s not that eager to take any of the measures that might actually allow the divorce.  Admittedly, most of them wouldn’t be a great thing to do to a friend, let alone a lover, but she’s also growing more willing to stay on the planet.  Most people are making her fairly welcome, anyway, being solicitous of her welfare and wanting to help her fit in.  And now Ivan himself is beginning to think that staying with Tej might not be a bad thing after all.  I seem to recall that neither of them actually manages to communicate any of this to their spouse for some few chapters yet, though.

And then…well.  We’ve spent a dozen chapters now being pretty sure that while Tej has survived, and maybe a few of her siblings, most of her family, especially including her parents, are dead as a doornail, expired and gone to meet their maker, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisibule.  And then, at the end of this chapter, it’s like, surprise!  Your parents are totally alive!  And you don’t need to try to sneak off to Escobar after all, because everybody just came to visit you!  So this is the point where the plot takes a left turn, from being a story of the offworlder woman coming to love Barrayar, to…being what it becomes after this point.  Tej’s big tragedy is totally nullified (well, I think there may be still one or two of her relatives who died, but not as many as she thought), and I feel a little cheated as a result.  That’s my biggest problem with the book right there, I think, and why it will probably never be one of my favourites.

So, stay tuned next week for the beginning of the madcap caper plotline that begins not too long after Tej’s family arrives on Barrayar.  Guess I’ll see if it strikes me any better the second time through…


Read Full Post »

I made up my mind, and I started writing; I typed until the blog post was done that day.  I made my way through an entire chapter, but where was I going without ever knowing the way?  Here I am, most of the way through the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, with only one more book (CryoBurn) before I’m caught up with the series, so unless Lois McMaster Bujold manages to come out with another one in the next…let’s see, fourteen more chapters in this book, one a week at my current pace…then one more book, probably about the same size…  Yeah, I don’t think the publishing industry moves that fast, even if she announces today that she’s finished another one.  Anyway, Chapter Thirteen awaits.

Chapter Twelve

Ivan’s birthday continues with a dinner out at a restaurant where Tej is surprised how mild a reaction the diners have to Rish’s appearance; Rish says that according to Byerly she goes so far beyond “mutation” to be in a completely different category…as long as she stays clear of proles.  Tej is also surprised that they are joining two others there, who Ivan introduces as Duv Galeni and his wife Delia.  After they order, Tej asks the two of them–Duv having a noticeably Komarran accent, to her ears–how they met Ivan.  Delia says she’s the daughter of Commodore Koudelka–the one who smuggled the baby Ivan out of the capital–and Ivan asks about her sisters, more potential female company for Tej.  Martya is with Enrique in Vorkosigan’s District, Olivia with Count Dono Vorrutyer, and Kareen on Escobar with Mark.  Galeni merely mentions that Ivan was assigned to him at the embassy on Earth while he was stationed there.

After some conversation about Rish and Tej’s travels and travails, Tej comes to the conclusion that Galeni’s another ImpSec man, which he admits, Delia adding that he’s even head of the Komarran Affairs division.  He and Ivan do seem to actually be friends, though, and Tej senses that Duv and Delia are judging whether she’s good enough for him.  She decides that’s sweet, and realizes that she doesn’t have any friends who would care about Ivan’s worthiness, except for her scattered family.  Duv and Delia are amused by the story of how Ivan and Tej ended up married, and Galeni mentions Ivan’s previous kidnapping on Earth, hidden in a pumping chamber and threatened with drowning.

“Is your claustrophobia better now?” Delia asked Ivan Xav, more in a tone of curiosity than concern.

Ivan Xav gritted his teeth.  “I do not have claustrophobia.  Thank you very much, Delia.  There’s nothing irrational about it…about me.”

“But Miles said–”

“I have an allergy to total strangers trying to kill me, is all.  One that Miles shares, I might point out.”

Delia points out that Miles almost seems to like it, and Ivan joins her in poking fun at Lord Auditor Coz.

After dinner, Galeni presents them with a book-disc, as a combination wedding and birthday present.  It turns out to be a new Barrayaran history, which Galeni modestly admits he contributed several chapters to, as history is one of his hobbies.  Ivan tells Tej that Galeni was an actual professor when he quit to join the Imperial Service; Galeni notes that at least his tendency to “scholastic prolixity” has mostly been eliminated by writing ImpSec reports.  Tej accepts the gift, though with private reservations because she’s not planning to stay on Barrayar for too much longer.  The Galenis leave promptly, having two young children at home, and Ivan expresses pity for Galeni’s domestic constraints, though he admits it probably suits him.

After they get home Tej asks Rish about Byerly.  Rish says that he’s interesting, which Tej considers faint praise.

“Byerly…I’ve never encountered anyone whose mouth and whose hands seemed to be telling two such different stories.  …  The mouth ripples on amusingly enough, though most of what comes out is camouflage and the rest is lies–not so much to me, though.  But the hands…  The hands are strangely shy, until suddenly they turn eloquent.  And then their candor could make you weep.  A woman might fall in love with the hands. Though only if the woman were nearly as foolish as my little even-sister–which, luckily, doesn’t seem to be possible.”

On the last day of Ivan’s leave, he tours them around Vorbarr Sultana, in the process of which he discovers that Tej and Rish can’t drive; it wasn’t necessary, or that advisable, on Jackson’s Whole, so they never learned.  Ivan responds by signing them up for driving lessons while he’s at work; the instructor cheerfully informs them that learning on Vorbarr Sultana will acquaint them with the worst traffic conditions the planet has to offer.  Rish begs off due to sensory overload, but Tej perseveres and earns herself a learner’s permit; she does wound one pillar on her first evening out, but Ivan assures her later that groundcars are packed with safety features so she shouldn’t worry too much, and anyway, this is just a rental.

They make it back otherwise unscathed, and Tej exults over her success; Ivan tells her about his own scariest driving experience, when his Uncle Aral showed him a few lightflyer tricks, mostly, Ivan thinks, to shake up his new security men.  He encourages her to go on to lightflyers once she’s mastered the groundcar, since there’s lots of places on the planet still where the roads are hardly adequate; unfortunately, Uncle Aral is too busy on Sergyar these days to give her the special course.  Next, upon finding out that neither Tej and Rish can cook worth much, he sends them to apprentice under Ma Kosti; she’s initially dubious of Rish, but Rish wins her over by demonstrating her discrimination of smell and taste.

Rish begins to complain about having to sleep on the couch, and Ivan encourages her to look for a small apartment in his building, or he could look for a larger one; Rish reminds him that they’ll be leaving soon, and points out that, if ImpSec could call them at any time, they should hurry up and get this quickie divorce.  Ivan says they’ll have to fly up to Vorpatril’s District when Count Falco is presiding in person, and he should be able to work it out for them; they shouldn’t even need a lawyer.  Rish points out that if he’s dispensing justice for a whole district, or even a sizable chunk of it, they may need to confirm that they can fit into his schedule.  Ivan finally gives and checks, only the discover that Count is booked up for months, and he’d rather not ask to be seen sooner as a favour, because Count Falco has a nasty habit of collecting on his favours.  He did get on the waiting list, though, in case there’s a cancellation sooner.

“Your protection won’t be withdrawn till you’re safe on Escobar, anyway, regardless of when we do this divorce deal.”

Rish nodded.  Tej felt…odd.

They were going to Escobar, in theory, to take up a new life under new identities.  Lady Vorpatril was certainly a new identity, enjoying a safety that didn’t rely on obscurity…  No.  Stick to the plan.  Without the plan, they had no anchor at all; it was the last lifeline her parents had thrown to her, as they went down with their House.

Ivan buys them their own copy of Great House, and invites Byerly over to play with them; he discovers that Morozov’s tactic works, as he learns a lot about Tej and Rish’s upbringing as they play.  He also learns the truth behind the “even-sister” and “odd-sister” that Tej and Rish call each other.  Tej says that the Jewels were mostly created based on the Baronne’s genome, and they ended up being interleaved with Tej’s full siblings, like even and odd numbers.  Ivan is somewhat flabbergasted by the realization that Rish is actually his sister-in-law.

Once Tej gets her actual driver’s license, Ivan encourages her to take other courses, noting that they have universities, colleges, and tech schools in Vorbarr Sultana; Tej is somewhat daunted by this, never having actually had to decide for herself what to learn.  Ivan says that might also be a way for her to meet new people, and tries to think of other women to introduce her too–Tatya Vorbretten or Tattie Vorsmythe, perhaps, or he could try asking his mother…  He’s interrupted by a call, and returns, a little unsettled, to tell her that they’ve got an opening at Count Falco’s court next week; Rish think it’ll be good to get that out of the way, but Tej is not nearly as eager anymore.

Taking the day off leaves them with a long weekend, so Ivan takes Tej out to the Vorpatril District, leaving Rish to spend some time with Byerly.  The district is on the northeastern coast, and in the wintry weather is fairly deserted, though Tej is not bothered by it, Jackson’s Whole being a fairly cold planet.  Ivan finds an inn near the summer resort town of Bonsanklar, where they spend a cozy day before having to head to New Evias, the district capital.

Ivan tries to clarify, for Tej, just who is supposed to be called “Lord” what.  In addition to the regular rules–Count VorX’s firstborn is Lord VorX, and the other children are Lord/Lady FirstName–Ivan notes that children of the younger siblings are just called “VorX”, no Lord or Lady, with Vor as an honorific, so By can properly just be called “Vorrutyer”.  But there are other VorX titles, like Ivan himself, who do inherit the title, and may have acquired it for a variety of reasons–Ivan’s grandfather married a princess, for instance.

“Those are the correct formal titles.  Then we come to casual conversation.  Falco, or Aral, would be Falco or Aral to their close friends and cronies, wives, and what-not.  But I’d never call ’em that; it would be Count Falco or Count Aral, sort of like Uncle Aral.  Informal but not so familiar or intimate, y’see?  And also useful when there are a bunch of people with the same last name in the conversation, to keep straight which is which.  So my mother gets called Lady Alys a lot, because there’s another Lady Vorpatril in town, Falcon’s daughter-in-law, as well as his Countess Vorpatril.  Er, and you, now.”

He advises Tej, who doesn’t know Falco, to call him “sir” or “Count Vorpatril”, and adds that they should stick to the formal usage while they’re in court.

They enter New Evias, the lightflyer’s piloting taken over by traffic control, which is pretty good but isn’t always good at gentle landings.  The Count’s court is in a musty pre-Isolation building, which satisfied Tej with its obvious authenticity.  They bump into the Count in the hall, and he greets them jovially; Ivan introduces Tej, who the Count says he’s already heard about from Alys.  Count Falco says his wife wants to hear about the wedding, and reminds them that a courtesy visit is in order next time they’re down in the capital; Ivan reminds him of the intentionally temporary nature of the marriage, and the Count acknowledges this before heading off for the courtroom.

After a brief wait, they are called into the chamber for the hearing.  The Count is attended by his clerk and a guard, with a female lawyer still clearing up from the previous case.  They are directed to sit at separate tables, with their respective counsels, but Ivan says they don’t need lawyers, and Tej says they’d rather sit together.  The clerk announces the case, stumbling over “Lady Vorpatril”, and the lawyer decides to stay and watch.  Ivan and Tej come forward hesitantly when summoned, while the clerk reads out the details of the case.

Count Falco asks them what grounds they have for dissolution of the marriage; Ivan states that the marriage was intended as temporary from the start.  Falco notes that they took a permanent oath, though, and has Ivan recite it to be certain; Tej asks what grounds there normally are for dissolution.  Falco asks if either of them has a hidden mutation; Tej says she was certified gene-clean at birth, Ivan says he’s fine, and Falco notes that the Vorbretten case set a predent for ignoring her Cetagandan heritage too, and in any case Ivan was aware of it.  Falco asks about adultery; Ivan protests there’s hardly been time, and they both deny any such thing took place.  Nonsupport?  Tej says that Ivan provides her with ample food, clothing, shelter, etc.  Abuse?  They both indignant deny beating the other, or restricting their freedom.

“So, we must cross of abuse, as well.  What about denial of marital rights?”

“Sir?” said Tej.  “What does that mean, in Barrayaran?”

Falco smiled.  “When was the last time you had sex?” he clarified.

“Oh!  This morning, sir.”  Tej thought for a moment, then volunteered, “It was really good.”

Two snickers sounded from the back of the room.  Ivan did not deign to turn his head.

Next Falco asks about “denial of children”; Ivan reiterates that this is a temporary marriage, though Tej notes that her mother sold eggs for capital when she was younger, and she herself could certainly provide some, which takes the Barrayarans in the room aback.  Falco says that he’s run out of reasons; Tej says that Ivan promised her a divorce, but Falco says that breach of promise applies to the promise to marry.  He asks if either of them has a financial claim, which they deny.

“Now, that is interesting.  And nearly unique, if I may say so.”  Falco sat back, sighing. At length, his tapping fingers stilled. He drew a breath.  “It is the ruling of this Count’s Court that the respondents, Lord Ivan Xav Vorpatril and Lady Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua Vorpatril, have no grounds for the dissolution of their respective, freely spoken marital oaths.  Your petition is denied.  Case closed.”

Ivan sputters that he can’t do that; Falco says that he does that every day, listen to petitions and make judgements, and there’s always something new under the sun.  He then adds some personal words, admonishing Ivan from “playing fast and loose” with solemn oaths in his jurisdiction; if they do acquire some grounds, they can try him again, but not until at least half a year has elapsed.  He shoos them out and reminds them that they owe him and the Countess a visit.  Ivan and Tej are gently ushered out in bewilderment.

The door closed on the babble, although it opened again in a moment to emit the lawyer, papers and files stacked in her arms.

She twisted around her stack and reached into her case to extract a card, which she handed to Ivan.  “My number, Captain.”

Ivan took it in numb fingers.  “Is this…if we want legal advice?”

“No, love, it’s for if you ever want a date.”  She trod away up the hall, laughing.


So I guess that the no-fault divorce is not enshrined in law on Barrayar, or at any event Count Falco doesn’t believe in it.  Is there some special temporary oath that Ivan could have used?  Probably not, Barrayar being what it was.  Why would Ivan think that this would work, then?  It also makes me wonder what precise grounds Ekaterin would have used in trying to divorce Tien; she could have used the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, but she probably wouldn’t have unless she was desperate, because of Nikki.  Nonsupport, with him taking her money and then losing it?  Psychological abuse?  Denial of children, or would that not work because they did have one?  I’m sure the Ekaterin who got up the nerve to leave him in the first place would have come up with some way to do it.

I was never clear on whether Duv Galeni and Miles were actually friends–in Memory, at least, they had some dicey moments–but I suppose it’s not out of the question that Ivan and Galeni got on somewhat better.  The dinner had more of those tellings-of-past-events, but it did elide the Ser Galen matter, a.k.a. Galeni’s actual involvement in the matters on Earth.  It does also sound like Martya is still with Enrique, though not necessarily married, the way Delia and Olivia are.

The Rish and Byerly thing definitely seems to be on.  Interesting that Rish can sense the hidden, sensitive By inside by watching his hands.  He’s got a lot of practice concealing his true self, possibly even from himself, through his years of undercover work, but Rish seems to be getting at the layer beneath.  Does he keep up his facade even when they’re alone, I wonder?  Or does he get to relax it just a little bit?  I can’t recall at the moment, but I wonder if his cover is going to hold up until the end of the book…

So the whole divorce thing didn’t come off…so what’s next for our still-married protagonists?  Will she run off to Escobar and abandon her husband, or stay and learn to love Barrayar?  What did happen to the rest of her family?  Tune in next week, for another chapter and stuff.

Read Full Post »

Prepare yourself for the ultimate in science fiction reread blogs–the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  Thrill to the summarized action and choice quoted dialogue!  Exult in the thoughtful and insightful comments!  (Yuk.  Who writes this stuff?)  This week we surge another chapter into Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, getting all the way through Chapter Eleven, in which things are burned and people stay out far too late.

Chapter Eleven

They stay in for the entire day after the visit with Gregor, limiting explorations to the comconsole and ordering out for food.  Only the next day does Ivan discover that the women’s desire to stay in has more to do with a distaste for traveling in his two-seater groundcar, so he proposes renting a larger model.  They begin planning on some excursions around the city, but are interrupted by a door chime.

Ivan reassures the women that whoever made it up here will have been cleared, but he’s less than pleased to see that the visitor is Byerly Vorrutyer.  Reluctantly, and not without déjà vu, he lets Byerly in, though he says it’s not the best place to try to avoid Lady Alys.  By said that it’s already too late for that; he was arrested as soon as he got off the shuttle, mostly as a cover to take him to his debriefing.  He admits that he had spent the shuttle trip in the company of two of his co-agents, call girls from Vormercier’s party yacht, nothing much to do (besides writing reports) for eight days…

“What’s a call girl?” asked Tej, her brows crimping in puzzlement.

“Uh…” Ivan sought a translation.  “Like a Betan licensed practical sexuality therapist, only without the licensed and the therapy parts.”

Tej says it sounds like a risky profession, and By says that since they were also informers, he was anxious to get them out of danger in time.  He’s been officially cleared after his supposed interrogation, but left looking foolish, which is good for his cover.  Privately, he was commended and promoted for his efforts…and then demoted again for having gotten Ivan involved, which was the most annoying way they could have done that.
Tej asks how By had become a spy; By says some of them come in from the regular Imperial Service, and some of them recruited as civilian experts.  He himself was neither–he’d turned his hand to dissolution when he first arrived in the capital, and one of his fellow rogues turned out to be undercover ImpSec, who found By a useful helper until he decided to secretly recruit him.

Ivan asks what his mother said, and By says that she was mostly there to get his side of the events on Komarr.  He says they need to get their cover story for that event straight before they start telling too many uncleared people about it.  Mostly they can just take out the part about the Vormerciers, and cast it as a whirlwind romance turned into an impromptu wedding (with By as a spur-of-the-moment witness) because of the threat of deportation.  It’s probably too late to cover up Tej and Rish’s identities, so they can just pose as refugees of a Jacksonian palace coup, which will at explain them well enough to Barrayarans at large.  Tej points out the length of the list they’ve already told the real story, but Ivan assures her that none of them are likely to spill their secrets.

By then invites Rish out for a dinner date; he’s supposed to go out and say rude things about both ImpSec and Theo Vormercier, and he thinks that Rish’s appearance will help him be noticed while he does so.  It’ll also help them get used to her, and he can show her a side of Barrayar that stodgy old Ivan wouldn’t.  Rish accepts the invitation, and while Ivan is initially worried about letting her out of his site, the prospect of an evening alone with his wife is also appealing, so he only gives By a token warning.

Tej and Rish ask if By is bisexual, or what; Ivan says he has no idea.  Tej and Rish mention the various scents they’d smelled on him that first night on Komarr, which Rish think settle the issue firmly, implying he’d had a very busy two days at least.  Ivan doesn’t want to talk about it, and tells Rish that By will surely be keeping her under surveillance on their “date”; she doesn’t see a problem with this, and enlists Tej to help her pick out an outfit.  Ivan is left with the worrying notion that By might actually have been told to use Rish as bait…

They are back late that night, and Ivan waits up to let Rish back in, to Tej’s bemusement; the next night she is back even later, after another date to watch dancers, and the night after that she calls to let them know she won’t be back at all.  That is the night before Ivan’s birthday, which Tej has become intensely curious about.  They wake up and get dressed early, Ivan in his uniform, and drive to a nearby place; all Tej knows about what’s going to happen is something about burning a lock of hair for his dead father.

Municipal guardsmen are keeping people away from the spot, apparently, though Ivan is expected and welcome.  He points out the plaque as the spot where his father died, according to his mother–right before her eyes.  Christos arrives with Lady Alys and Simon Illyan shortly thereafter; Ivan’s mother wishes him a happy birthday, which Illyan notes is half of the traditional “three score and ten”.  Tej recalls what she’s heard about the so-called War of Vordarian’s Pretendership, which seems unreal when she thinks that she’s eaten pastries with Gregor, and that Padma Vorpatril’s death was barely a footnote.

Lady Alys welcomes Tej, who is self-conscious in the new knowledge that she actually _saw_ her husband being killed.  She tells Tej about the Barrayaran memorial service, noting it isn’t always performed this regularly.  Christos has set up a brazier, and Lady Alys fills it with scented wood and bark; she and Ivan add their previously-prepared hair clippings.

Lady Alys nodded to the plaque.  “This is where my husband was shot down by Vordarian’s security forces.  Nerve disruptors–poor Padma never had a chance.  I’ll never forget the smell…burning hair, among other things.  This ceremony always brings that back.”  She grimaced.  “Ivan was born not an hour later.”

“Where was his uterine replicator?” Tej asked.

Three faces turned toward hers; Lady Alys’s twisted in a wry humour.  She touched her stomach.  “Here, dear.”

Tej gasped in new and unexpected horror.  “You mean Ivan Xav was a body birth?”

Lady Alys assures her it was quite normal for Barrayar at the time, and Ivan was particularly large and two weeks late, which he protests was not his fault.  Her rescuers had taken her to an abandoned building to give birth, with Sergeant Bothari as midwife, and she had to bite on a dirty rag to keep from screaming out.  Ivan is older now than Padma was then, and Alys only as old as Tej herself; Tej suddenly realizes why Lady Alys is so welcoming to someone else who’s lost members of their family.  Illyan asks where he was at the time, and Lady Alys tells him he was smuggling out Admiral Kanzian.

Lady Alys asks Tej if she wishes to contribute some hair as well; surprised to be asked, she allows Lady Alys to clip off a lock of hair and add it.  Ivan lights the wood chips and they watch it burn; as the smell of burning hair grows pungent, Lady Alys tells the story, of how her husband panicked after she went into labour and insisted on going to find someone to help with the birth.  He was picked up by Vordarian’s men, fast-penta’ed and brought back to pick her up.  Alys says she always blamed him for his cowardice in fleeing from the birth, more than his bravery in attempting to fight back once she was taken.  Ivan changes the subject to how Koudelka got them out of the city in a grocery van.

Alys tells Tej she’d decided that, once Ivan was married, she’d leave the ceremony to him and his wife, because she feels like thirty-five years is enough mourning to do; and she’s tired of the memories and the emotions that go with them.  Ivan says he didn’t realize that; it was just something they did, every year, from when he was very young, and he’d looked forward to going to the nearby bakery after it was done.  The fire burns out, and Christos cleans up the remnants and stores the brazier away.

Alys invites them back to her flat for breakfast, which they accept.  On the drive Tej says that it must have been a morbid way to celebrate his birthday every year, and he says that they also tended to throw elaborate parties later in the day, until he became too old for them.  When he entered the Imperial Service Academy, it felt like the end of childhood, but he’s not sure how mature some of the new ensigns are these days.  What the ceremony did teach him was how unwise it was to get involved in politics, since it left him without a father.  His mother hadn’t brought up some of those details before, though, and he wonders why, if it was such a bad memory, she’d had the plaque intalled in the first place, and why she hadn’t stopped years ago.  Tej suggests that she may have just been waiting for the next generation to start.


I never did it myself, but I recall that, regularly, idiot junior high students would put some hair into a Bunsen burner because they’d heard that it stank.  And it did, every time.  (As did sulfur, ditto, so perhaps I got the two smells mixed up.)  So I’d imagine that they would want some scent added to the wood to try to offset it.  And I imagine it worked about as well as such things usually do.  I thought that nerve disrupters did their damage directly to nerve tissue, though, so I wouldn’t have thought they’d actually burn anyone’s hair, but maybe there’s some kind of induction heating effect or something.  Or maybe hair was burning for a different reason.

This chapter is another kind of story retelling, though, encapsulating a couple of chapters of Barrayar; though Tej of course is mostly ignorant of the events, it still gets repetitious to those of us who have read that book.  That is one of the problems of later books in the series, especially one that’s trying to keep the books independent–there’s so much to sum up.  I was noticing it already in Memory, but at least this book gets to skip a lot of the events which are only about Miles.  Still, Alys, Ivan and Illyan between them have a fair amount of history to recall.

The backstory of Byerly, on the other hand, is almost too little, but it does explain how he ended up working for ImpSec and how he manages to maintain his cover, by getting arrested and “interrogated”.  I’m not sure why bringing Ivan into things got him into such trouble, though; was it just Lady Alys throwing her weight around, or would any high Vor have been just as bad?  Ivan’s clearance level is pretty high, considering all the stuff Miles got him involved in (thinking again of Memory here), so I’d think it would be better than somebody who was less in the know.

Another week, another chapter.  Next week, another one?  No promises of two, unless I find myself with a lot of extra time or something.  Like if I suddenly gain the mutant ability to go without sleep, perhaps.  Until then, keep those books in the air!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »