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Chapter Fifteen

Miles watches from the floor as Benin’s squad arrest Naru, Kety and his retainers.  Kety pauses on the way out to congratulate “Lord Vorpatril” on his victory, confusing Ivan, but Miles decides it’s not worth it trying to correct him.  Ivan and Vorreedi come over to check on Miles; upon discovering Miles is only suffering from the shock-stick, Ivan hoists him to his feet and helps keep him upright.

Colonel Vorreedi looked him up and down. “I’ll let the ambassador do the protesting about that.” Vorreedi’s distant expression suggested he thought privately that the fellow with the shock-stick had stopped too soon. “Vorob’yev is going to need all the ammunition he can get. You have created the most extraordinary public incident of his career, I suspect.”

“Oh, Colonel,” sighed Miles. “I predict there’s going to b-be nothing p-public ’bout this incident. Wait ‘n see.”

Vorreedi tells Miles that Ivan has explained everything, and he’s still assimilating it.  Ivan complains about how Miles left him there and went off with no backup, and Miles explains that Ivan ­was his backup, and quite capably, too.  After Ivan awoke, Rian managed to get him in touch with Benin–who strolls over to join the conversation–and clue him in on what was happening.  Benin adds that he was already aware of odd occurrences around the Star Crèche, and so had orbital squads ready; Ivan says there’s three battle cruisers around Kety’s ship.  Ghem-General Chilian has been detained, not arrested, for questioning about his wife’s activities.  Miles glances over to where Pel and Nadina seem to be arranging for the float-chair with the Great Key locked inside to be conveyed directly to the Star Crèche.

Vorreedi asks Miles why he kept the incident secret, even from his own side.  Miles says that by the time he discovered the significance of the Great Key, it was too late.  He admits that he didn’t want to have the investigation taken away from him–he wanted to prove that he wasn’t just a cripple with a cushy job, but was actually capable.

Ghem-Colonel Benin slowly deciphered this outpouring. “You wanted to be a hero?”

“So badly you didn’t even care for which side?” Vorreedi added in some dismay.

Miles points out that he did do Barrayar a good turn in defusing Kety’s plot, even if his own personal survival had still been in jeopardy when the rescuers showed up.  Ivan says he should just sign up for Cetagandan Security then; Miles points out that he wasn’t serving Cetaganda as much as the haut, which Benin admits is a valid point.  Benin tells Miles that, nevertheless, Emperor Fletchir Giaja demands that Benin bring Miles to him immediately.  Ivan and Vorreedi may join him, as long as they remain quiet unless authorized to speak.  As they leave the room, Nadina and Pel murmur their approval of Benin, and agree that they should do something for him.  Miles notices that Benin seems ever so slightly smug about having been able to arrest his superior officer.

Miles ventured, “By the way, if I didn’t say it before, congratulations on cracking your very tricky murder case, General Benin.”

Benin blinked. “Colonel Benin,” he corrected.

“That’s what you think.”

Miles, Ivan and Vorreedi are escorted to a small, enclosed building in the Celestial Garden that even Vorreedi is not familiar with.  They cool their heels in an antechamber for an hour, attended by ghem guards and thus unwilling to talk too openly, after Benin goes off with Pel and Nadina.  When they are admitted into the next room, where they are forced to stand, they find Yenaro there as well, with his own attendant, looking like he hasn’t had a chance to change his clothes since they last saw him, and barely willing to acknowledge their presence.  Benin arrives, dismissing the rest of the guards, followed by Nadina, Pel and Rian, in float-chairs but unshielded, and then Emperor Fletchir Giaja himself.

Emperors per se did not unnerve Miles, though Yenaro swayed on his feet as though he were about to faint, and even Benin moved with the most rigid formality. Emperor Gregor had been raised along with Miles practically as his foster-brother; somewhere in the back of Miles’s mind the term emperor was coupled with such identifiers as somebody to play hide-and-seek with. In this context those hidden assumptions could be a psychosocial land mine. Eight planets, and older than my father, Miles reminded himself, trying to inculcate a proper deference to the illusion of power Imperial panoply sought to create. One chair at the head of the room rose from the floor to receive what Gregor would have sardonically dubbed The Imperial Ass. Miles bit his lip.

Miles restrains his impulse to babble and waits for the Emperor’s questions.  The Emperor asks him to explain his role in the affair; Miles says he was intended to be sacrificial lamb, but refused it.  When the Giaja wants elaboration, Miles glances at Rian for authorization, then tells the whole tale, conveniently also confessing to Vorreedi at the same time.  Miles says that after Ba Lura’s death he was in the position of having to prove a negative, that the Barrayarans had done nothing to the Great Key, so he had to find the real Key.  It was also clear he couldn’t trust Cetagandan Security, with the possible exception of Benin, who looked like he was also being set up as a sacrifice.  He compliments Benin on finding Yenaro before Kety did; Benin says that Yenaro and his carpet did a lot to support Ivan’s story.  Miles adds that Rian also refused her role, of accuser, by being willing to listening to Miles’s story and help him discover the truth, and says she was well-chosen as Handmaiden.

“That is hardly for you to judge, Barrayaran,” drawled the haut Fletchir Giaja, whether in amusement, or dangerously, Miles’s ear could not quite tell.

“Excuse me, but I didn’t exactly volunteer for this mission. I was suckered into it. My judgments have brought us all here, one way or another.”

Giaja looked faintly surprised, even a little nonplused, as if he’d never before had one of his gentle hints thrown back in his face.

The Emperor asks Miles about his encounters with Yenaro, and Miles describes them in detail; even Vorreedi is taken aback by the story of the asterzine carpet bomb.  Miles says that Yenaro was as much of an intended victim as Miles himself, and doesn’t have the nerve to be an actual traitor, which Yenaro doesn’t gainsay; he confirms Miles’s story when asked.  After a pause, Giaja instructs Benin to take Ivan and Vorreedi out and leave Miles and the three haut women.

When the others have left, the three haut women’s aspect changes from meek to confrontational as they move into a circle around the Emperor.  Pel notes Miles swaying on his feet and tells Giaja to provide him with a seat; the Emperor complies.  Giaja then tells the haut women that he hopes they see now why the Emperor is to be the only interface between the haut and the Empire, so that the haut-genome is insulated from the political affairs of the Empire.  Ghem, such as Naru, don’t fully comprehend the purposes of the haut.  Rian says that it was Kety’s treason that shook her faith in the haut the most, and now she thinks they might not be ready for the next step, the “winnowing and reaping” of competition.

Giaja says that the haut still have plenty of space to expand, into the realms of the servitor classes, before they need to expand into new territory.  The others agree that the Constellations haven’t been breeding as much as they should, trying to keep their economic positions, and should perhaps be forced to cross-breed more.  Miles pipes up an opinion about how they should be trying to do better than natural selection; he is stared into silence, and wonders why he has been allowed to witness this conversation at all.

Rian says she will convey Giaja’s veto to the Consorts, but the diversity issue, and the bottleneck of the single Key, need to be dealt with sooner than later.  Giaja asks whose idea it was to spill the Great Key’s contents all over the system, and Pel fingers Miles, who points out that he was hoping to salvage as much of the Key as he could, whether they survived or not.

“The best strategies run on rails like that,” Miles pointed out. “Live or die, you make your goal.” He shut up, as Fletchir Giaja’s stare hinted that perhaps outlander barbarians had better not make comments that could be construed as a slur on his late mother’s abilities, even when those abilities had been pitted against him.

Miles asks what will happen to the conspirators.  Naru will be executed; Kety will be offered retirement due to “ill health”, or else suicide.  The other governors will not be punished, but will find it difficult to obtain good posts in the future.  Vio will also be offered a choice between serving in the Garden as a ba, or else suicide, which they suspect she would prefer.  As for Rian and Miles himself, the Emperor says he will think further.

Benin returns to escort Miles back to his Barrayaran companions, and tells Vorreedi that while they can’t control what the Barrayarans report to their superiors, the Emperor hopes strongly that it won’t become “social gossip”.  The Barrayarans give their sworn words, which satisfied Benin.  In the embassy aircar, Miles wishes they could just go home, but there is one final day of the funeral ceremony, and he should see it through to the end.  Vorreedi has only one more question for him.

“What did you think you were doing, Vorkosigan?”

“I stopped the Cetagandan Empire from breaking up into eight aggressively expanding units. I derailed plans for a war by some of them with Barrayar. I survived an assassination attempt, and helped catch three high-ranking traitors. Admittedly, they weren’t our traitors, but still. Oh. And I solved a murder. That’s enough for one trip, I hope.”

Vorreedi then asks Miles if he’s really a special agent; Miles decides he’s not on the need-to-know list, and says that at least he succeeded like one…

Comments

Miles tries to be impressed by the Cetagandan Emperor, but, as he says, his upbringing is against him.  Despite everything else, he was raised in an Imperial Palace, and while he wants to prove himself outside of that context, he can’t help but feel that the powerful are people just like everyone else.  Even the haut can’t daunt him for long.  It’s amusing how irrepressible he is.

For some reason I remembered the scene between Fletchir Giaja and the haut women as having more than just the three of them, but I suppose the three of them are enough in this case.  We don’t need all nine to be escorted in.  Obviously Giaja is used to haut women, so even three of them isn’t enough to daunt him, since he is freakin’ Emperor, after all, and one presumes the pinnacle of haut development to date.  Also, he does have veto power of them, when they bother to consult him, at least.

The bit about the haut expanding into the space currently occupied by servitors was interesting.  Does that mean that their goal is to have the entire population of the Cetagandan Empire made up of haut?  I can see that being a hard sell, since it will result in a steady decline in the overall grandeur of the haut.  Or maybe there will still be ba to do all the actual dirty work, and if they still want ghem to do things like fight and demonstrate the value of various genes in an arena of competition…  They do plan things for the long term, though, even being as long-lived as they are.

Also amused to hear him paraphrasing Cavilo’s advice about making sure all paths lead to victory, however unimpressed Fletchir Giaja is with it…

Chapter Sixteen

Ivan wakes Miles up the next morning, but Miles doesn’t want to get out of bed.  Ivan says it’s just his “post-mission sulks”, and comments on how attractive the shock-stick mark on the side of his face is.  While he forces Miles to get up, Ivan tells him that Benin is coming to pick him up so he can arrive an hour early for the cremation ceremony.  Miles racks his brain as to what the Cetagandans could have planned for him while Ivan helps him prepare.  Miles wonders if they want to arrest or kill him, and Ivan helpfully points out that they could easily give him some kind of untraceable poison or disease that would kill him months later.

In the lobby they find Mia Maz, who tells them that Vorob’yev will be down soon.  Miles is puzzled at her presence until she tells him that Vorob’yev asked her to marry him and she accepted.  Miles thinks that will solve the embassy’s female staff problem, at least.  She asks Miles about his mother and how she found Barrayaran society; Miles says that egalitarians seem to do fine when they end up as aristocrats.

Just as Vorob’yev appears, Benin arrives, sure enough, with the insignina of Ghem-General.  Vorob’yev asks what’s going on, and Benin says that the Emperor wishes Miles’s presence, but he will be returned.  Vorob’yev reluctantly accedes to the request, and Miles is led out to a large, non-military groundcar.

“May I ask what all this is about, ghem-General?” Miles inquired in turn.

Benin’s expression was almost . . . crocodilian. “I am instructed that explanations must wait until you arrive at the Celestial Garden. It will take only a few minutes of your time, nothing more. I first thought that you would like it, but upon mature reflection, I think you will hate it. Either way, you deserve it.”

“Take care your growing reputation for subtlety doesn’t go to your head, ghem-General,” Miles growled. Benin merely smiled.

Miles is brought to a small audience chamber where Fletchir Giaja sits, in his elaborate mourning robes, with three haut-bubbles in attendance.  A ba servitor brings a box to Benin, who hands it to the Emperor.

“Do you know what this is, Lord Vorkosigan?” Giaja asked.

Miles eyed the medallion of the Order of Merit on its colored ribbon, glittering on a bed of velvet. “Yes, sir. It is a lead weight, suitable for sinking small enemies. Are you going to sew me into a silk sack with it, before you throw me overboard?”

Giaja glanced up at Benin, who responded with a Didn’t I tell you so? shrug.

“Bend your neck, Lord Vorkosigan,” Giaja instructed him firmly. “Unaccustomed as you may be to doing so.”

He does, and Giaja puts the medal on him.  Miles tells the Emperor that he refuses the honour, but the Emperor says that he doesn’t, because of his “passion for recognition”, much like that of a ghem-lord.  Better than being likened to a ba, Miles decides, haut science projects that they are.  He says he won’t be able to wear it at home, and the Emperor says that’s fine, as long as he keeps quiet about how he earned it, apart from classified military reports.  Miles reluctantly agrees, beginning to wonder if these private chats arranged with the Emperor are designed to plant suspicions about him in Barrayaran minds.

Giaja summons him to walk on his left hand, but Miles turns to the haut-bubbles and asks to speak to lady Rian one last time.  Giaja allows it, leaving at his stately pace with one of the haut-bubbles, leaving two others behind.  One disappears to reveal Rian.

She floated closer, and raised one fine hand to touch his left cheek. It was the first time they had touched. But if she asked, Does it hurt?, he swore he’d bite her.

Rian was not a fool. “I have taken much from you,” she spoke quietly, “and given nothing.”

“It’s the haut way, is it not?” Miles said bitterly.

“It is the only way I know.”

She removes a coil of hair from her sleeve and presents it as a gift, the only thing she could think of.  Miles thinks to himself that her hair is one of the few things she truly owns.  He asks her what it symbolizes, and she admits she’s not sure.  He says he’ll keep it for memory, and asks if she’ll remember him.  She says that there is no danger she’ll forget him anytime soon, as he shall soon see.

Miles emerges in Giaja’s train into a dell with the Dowager Empress’s force-sphere-enclosed bier at the centre, surrounded by ghem, haut and delegates.  The Emperor strides right down the centre, past the consorts and remaining governors, Miles extremely conspicuous in his house blacks and Order of Merit, with his visibly bruised face.  The Emperor is probably sending some message to his governors, Miles decides, by granting him this place of honour.  The Barrayarans certainly seem to be confused and suspicious when they see him.  He spots Lord Yenaro, who seems by his garb to have been granted a position at the Celestial Garden–the absolute lowest, but still an honour, intended to keep him in line.

As they arrive at the centre, Miles becomes aware of hunger and grogginess, and tries to distract himself by calculating the total cost of all of the funeral ceremonies.  A force-bubbled Rian and her ba approach, proffering the Empress’s regalia, including the recovered Great Key, to the Emperor.  While Miles is wondering who will end up as empress, Giaja calls Rian back and Miles soon realizes that Rian herself is going to be the new Empress.  Miles isn’t certain how he feels about it, even though he has no idea what kind of actual relationship she and Giaja will actually have, apart from mingling their genomes to produce new Imperial children.  She must have known before the ceremony, and she hadn’t seemed unhappy at the prospect.

Giaja gives the orders, and the force-bubble with the Dowager Empress inside begins to glow with increasing brightness as the contents are incinerated.  Then a hole opens in the force-bubble above them, and another hole in the bier, and white fire shoots up into the sky.  The bubbles close again, the force-dome brightens, and the smaller bubble vanishes without even a mark on the grass.  The Emperor changes out of his white mourning robe into something more colourful, and the procession winds its way back out of the dell.  Giaja bids farewell to Miles and hopes they don’t meet again soon.

Ghem-General Benin, at Miles’s elbow, almost cracked an expression. Laughing? “Come, Lord Vorkosigan. I will escort you back to your delegation. Having given your ambassador my personal word to return you, I must personally—redeem it, as you Barrayarans say. A curious turn of phrase. Do you use it in the sense of a soul in a religion, or an object in a lottery?”

“Mm . . . more in a medical sense. As in the temporary donation of a vital organ.” Hearts and promises, all redeemed here today.

The Barrayarans are waiting for float-cars to take them to another buffet meal, but Miles implores Ivan to leave right away, especially when Ivan points out that all the ghem-ladies will be there.  Vorreedi asks Miles what that was all about, and Miles says it’s “high irony” on the part of the Emperor.  Mia Maz exclaims what a great honour it is, but Vorob’yev says that most Barrayarans will be highly dubious about it.  Miles asks if it can be a military secret; Ivan points out that thousands of people just saw it, and Miles says it’s Ivan’s fault for not bringing him enough coffee to properly wake him up.

Vorreedi’s brows twitched. “Yes . . .” he said. “What did you and the Cetagandans talk about last night, after Lord Vorpatril and I were excluded?”

“Nothing. They never asked me anything more.” Miles grinned blackly. “That’s the beauty of it, of course. Let’s see you prove a negative, Colonel. Just try. I want to watch.”

Back on the courier ship, Miles chews on a ration bar, while Ivan ceremoniously and mournfully disposes of the ghem-lady invitations that had been waiting for him at the embassy, asking why Miles is eating such bland food, wondering if his stomach is acting up again.  Ivan’s gaze falls on the Order of Merit and he offers to dispose of it too, but Miles snatches it away; Ivan says that proves it does mean something to him, and Miles says he bloody well earned it.  He mourns the fact that, if he ever gets into an actual military command, nobody will know about his actual experience, and he’ll have a hell of a time getting their respect.

Miles reflects that the haut-women may have had an easier time conquering Barrayar than the ghem-lords ever did.  Ivan wonders how much longer the haut-lords will actually be human, and Miles asks in return how long the haut-lords will still consider_them_ human.  Miles says that the Cetagandans will remain dangerous until they actually reach their goal, whatever it is, with the ghem kept around to provide variation, like wild seeds kept around just in case even when you have a monoculture.  The best bet is to keep punishing the ghem for their expansionism, and maybe they’ll give up.

Keeping one eye out for sudden moves from his cousin, Miles re-hung his medallion.

“You going to wear that? I dare you.”

“No. Not unless I have a need to be really obnoxious sometime.”

“Ivan.” Miles let his voice grow unexpectedly chill. “Why should the haut Fletchir Giaja decide he needed to be polite to me? Do you really think this is just for my father’s sake?” He ticked the medallion and set it spinning, and locked eyes with his cousin. “It’s not a trivial trinket. Think again about all the things this means. Bribery, sabotage, and real respect, all in one strange packet . . . we’re not done with each other yet, Giaja and I.”

Comments

A bit of an ominous line at the end, there…well, not quite at the end, but still.  Let me just reveal that there hasn’t really been that much more between Miles and Fletchir Giaja.  Miles has intersected with Cetagandans a few more times, but only indirectly (as in Ethan of Athos) or non-adversarially (as in Diplomatic Immunity).  So the next book doesn’t really contain the next phase of Miles’s cat-and-mouse game with the Emperor of Cetaganda.  Though (if you consider Memory, the next book written) it does contain the scene where he needs to be “really obnoxious”…  Can’t wait until we get there, but there’s still another four books or so until then, so you’ll just have to be patient (or, as always, read ahead on your own).

The actual last line is “Miles settled back with slitted eyes, and watched the shining circle spin like planets.”  It keeps making me think that the beginning of the first chapter should have been a sentence that mirrored it, something about watching planets spin like shining circles, except, you know, probably better.  I guess she decided to go for some nice banter between Ivan and Miles instead.  Can’t fault that.

Miles’s last scene with Rian is fairly touching, especially her gift of hair.  We already know how special their hair is, from the scene with Nadina refusing to let them cut it.  Did Rian actually cut out a lock of hair, or did she just pull out a few strands?  Perhaps they were caught in her comb that morning or something.  Assuming they haven’t bred for hair that doesn’t need to be combed, or have split ends, or even come out except on purpose.  (And now I’m picturing Rapunzel as a haut-lady.  Wonder if that’s a popular folk-tale in Cetaganda?)  (And do you say “in Cetaganda”?  You can’t say “on Cetaganda”, since it’s not an actual planet, but is “the Cetagandan Empire” the same as “Cetaganda”?  I suppose it must be, but it still sounds wrong to me.)

Mia Maz is one of those people that should have turned up at some point on Barrayar, unless Vorob’yev has just never come home at the same time as Miles.  Did he not, say, warrant an invitation to Gregor’s wedding in A Civil Campaign?  I realize that we can’t always bring back every single character in later books, but a surprise once in a while could be nice.  Ah, well.  For all I know, she and Vorob’yev split up three years later, or Vorob’yev got assassinated or something.

Overall Comments

I promised I’d do this, didn’t I?  Okay, what was it that I wanted to say again?  (“Take notes”?  What’s that?)

Well, obviously the book takes a nice deep look into Cetagandan culture, or, as I’ve said over and over again, haut culture.  In other books, it was just the ghem military we saw; here we see a little more ghem, the young dissolute idlers, but we see a lot of haut, or least of the women.  Bujold is no stranger to in-depth cultural examinations–the Cordelia books are really showing the view of an outside on Barrayar, for instance, and of course we get to see the quaddies both in Falling Free and later in Diplomatic Immunity–but this book manages to be both that and a murder mystery.

After the last couple of books with the Dendarii, having Miles in his Barrayaran role, and with Ivan as his foil, shakes things up a bit.  Again, taking things in publication order, it’s really Brothers In Arms that’s the first real Ivan-and-Miles-Show, but this is a worthy companion to that one.  And this book was written between Mirror Dance and Memory, both containing large doses of character development on Barrayar, so it’s kind of a departure from those as well.  Anyway, Ivan works well as a counterweight, holding back Miles’s exuberance and impulsiveness, or at least trying to, and pointing out the possible flaws in any plan.  And yet, in a pinch, he will come through–he led the rescue effort in this book, didn’t he?  (I also can’t forget him tackling Vordrozda at the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice.)  Also, he makes a good decoy/damsel in distress.  Gregor had this sort of role in The Vor Game, actually, but less cautious and more fey…

I’m still amazed at Vorreedi and Vorob’yev’s forbearance.  Perhaps it’s that Miles and Ivan were actually sort of visiting diplomats, there not because of their military rank but because of their bloodlines, so they weren’t technically under the command of anyone at the embassy…or were they?  Maybe I’m just remembering the idiot on Earth in Brothers In Arms, who I recall as being much less accommodating.


That’s all I can come up with for now, so next I get a week off, and then it’s on to Ethan of Athos, the first book to not actually contain any Vorkosigans.  But it does have Elli Quinn in it (who you may remember from The Warrior’s Apprentice), plus definite plot links to Cetaganda itself, so I decided to include it this time.  The one-year anniversary of this blog will come during the two-week interval, by the way, so that’s something, I suppose.  Until then, keep on reading!  Forward momentum!

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Hello, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the reread devoted to the Vorkosigan Saga.  Too obvious?  Well, if you don’t know what the Vorkosigan Saga is, then…this is probably the wrong place to start, you want to go back to the beginning of this blog and read the whole thing through, though preferably you should buy all the original books by Lois McMaster Bujold first, and read them in some order or other.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  Okay?  All up to speed?  Good, then let’s move on to Chapters Nine and Ten of Cetaganda, in which we see inside the Star Crèche, almost get blown up, and see the infamous kitten tree.  Intrigued?  Then read on!

Chapter Nine

The ba leads Miles through the Celestial Garden, past such biological wonders as tiny peacocks and spherical cats.  He keeps quiet, certain that he’s being monitored.  When they arrive at an opaque white bubble, the ba leaves, and Miles cautiously makes a general inquiry, since he has no idea if it’s really Rian inside or not.  It is, though, and she formally offers him a short tour, because of his interest in genetic matters.  Miles, who agrees that he is always looking for ways to fix his physical issues, is pleased that she is being circumspect, though disappointed that they can’t pretend to be having a love affair instead.

Shortly they reach a building which Miles soon notices has sealed windows and door-locks, as is proper for a biocontainment facility.  They enter, and Miles finds a fairly functional setup inside, almost deserted because of the funeral ceremonies.  The Star Crèche symbol is prominent.  Without ceremony, Rian deactivates her force bubble and stands up.

Her ebony hair today was bound up in thick loops, tumbling no farther than her waist. Her pure white robes were only calf-length, two simple layers comfortably draped over a white bodysuit that covered her from neck to white-slippered toe. More woman, less icon, and yet . . . Miles had hoped repeated exposure to her beauty might build up an immunity in him to the mind-numbing effect of her. Obviously, he would need more exposure than this. Lots more. Lots and lots and—stop it. Don’t be more of a idiot than you have to be.

She informs Miles that they can talk here, as he sits self-consciously in a chair across from her.  Miles asks if she will get in trouble with Security for bringing him there; she says that all they can do is ask the Emperor to reprimand her.  Miles asks her to be brief, before he gets in trouble with Security himself.  She tells him that she knows who the traitor is now–Slyke Giaja.  He had visited the Star Crèche the day previous and asked to see the Empress’s regalia, which he inspected carefully before he left.  She sees this as evidence that he knows about the substitution.  Miles wonders if he knows they know it’s a decoy, since he didn’t ask for a demonstration.

He speculates on what the traitors’ plan would be, if they would just wait for the funeral to end and see the Key exposed as a fake.  That would suffice to make Cetaganda angry at Barrayar, but if they desire open conflict, they need to make Barrayar angry at Cetaganda as well.  He wonders what story the Ba Lura had intended to give them, and wished they’d found out.

Miles brings up the possibility of one of the consorts being a traitor, but Rian considers this unthinkable, though she has trouble explaining why.  The consorts are haut women, not haut men, and as such not involved in the men’s affairs.  The traitorous governor is not only acting against the Emperor–as might be expected–but against the haut, which cannot be condoned.  Rian tells Miles that the consorts are appointed for life by the Celestial Lady, and he wonders to himself if they can trust any of them or not.  The Empress surely didn’t want her plot to fragment the haut quite this soon, but now her plan is being used to further someone else’s short-term goals.

“I believe your Celestial Lady’s plans have fractured at their weak spot. The emperor protects the haut-women’s control of the haut-genome; in turn you lend him legitimacy. A mutual support in both your interests. The satrap governors have no such motive. You can’t give power away and keep it simultaneously.”

Miles tells Rian that Barrayar doesn’t want Slyke Giaja (or whoever) to succeed, but neither do they want the Empress’s plan to succeed.  He offers his help, but only if she abandons the Empress’s plan.  He proposes to sneak onto Slyke’s ship, retrieve the Great Key and possibly swap it with the decoy.  Then the problem goes away, since none of the governors will want to incriminate themselves.  He suggests posing as the servitor of a consort or ghem-lady with access to Slyke’s ship, since Rian herself rarely leaves the capital.  He briefly considers passing the matter over to Cetagandan Security, but doesn’t think he can count on them not having been penetrated by Slyke’s spies.  Rian asks Miles how he could possibly disguise himself, and Miles suggests he pretend to be a ba, which would be a good disguise precisely because it seems so unthinkable.

They are interrupted then by a comconsole call from a Cetagandan security officer in face paint.  Rian tells the officer, Ghem-Colonel Millisor, that she deliberately made herself unavailable, as it isn’t a good time, as Miles checks that he isn’t in range of the vid pickup.  He eavesdrops shamelessly on the conversation.

“I used the emergency override. I’ve been trying to reach you for some time. My apologies, Haut, for intruding upon your mourning for the Celestial Lady, but she would have been the first to wish it. We have succeeded in tracking the lost L-X-10-Terran-C to Jackson’s Whole. I need the authorization of the Star Crèche to pursue out of the Empire with all due force. I had understood that the recovery of the L-X-10-Terran-C was one of our late Lady’s highest priorities. After the field tests she was considering it as an addition to the haut-genome itself.”

Rian agrees that the matter is important, and uses the Great Seal to give him the authorization he needs.  After she signs off, Miles asks what that was all about, and Rian tells him it is nothing but old haut-genome business.  Miles nonetheless files it away to relay to Simon Illyan when he gets back, because he’s going to need all the help he can get.

He presses Rian for solid details on the plan, telling her they need to set up the meeting ahead of time.  He suggests that she find the woman to get him aboard Slyke’s ship, and send her to meet him at the Bioesthetics Exhibit the next afternoon.  Rian is uneasy at the swift timeline, but Miles points out that they’re not yet certain about Slyke, and they need some slip time in case they need to choose another target.  Miles asks how they can find the Great Key, and Rian says she may be able to find a sensor to detect its old technology.  Miles is happy that they are taking action at last, though he suppresses an impulse to implore her to run away with him.  She, unfortunately, has shown no sign that she even notices his crush on her.

He asks her about Benin, who she hasn’t talked to yet; he tells her the story he’d given to Benin, so it’ll match up with hers.  They also come up with a story for Miles’s current visit, based largely on Slyke Giaja’s, mentioning Miles’s interest in correcting physical disabilities.  He is unable to stop himself from babbling about how his problems are not genetic in origin; he can’t gauge her response.

They exited into a cool and luminous artificial dusk. A few pale stars shone in the apparently boundless dark blue hemisphere above. Sitting in a row on a bench across the entry walk from the Star Crèche were Mia Maz, Ambassador Vorob’yev, and ghem-Colonel Benin, apparently chatting amiably. They all looked up at Miles’s appearance, and Vorob’yev’s and Benin’s smiles, at least, seemed to grow a shade less amiable. Miles almost turned around to flee back inside.

Benin notes that Miles has been given an unusual privilege, and Miles burbles on about how the haut-lady was nice enough to deal with his questions, even if the answers didn’t give him any hope of using Cetagandan techniques to avoid further surgeries.  Neither Benin and Vorob’yev seems quite satisfied with Miles’s account of himself, and Benin ushers them toward the dome exit.  They stop briefly for an arresting performance by luminous frogs tuned to sing in chords before leaving the dome.

Miles and Benin have a little conversation about taxes, and how Cetagandan citizens are taxed less than Barrayarans.  As the air-car departs, Miles thinks of the actual size of the Cetagandan Empire, and wonders if the Great Key will really suffice to change it.

Comments

Miles also seems to be thinking now of how exactly he’s going to account for all this to Simon Illyan when he gets home.  I don’t think we actually get to see that, because Memory was the next book written, and apparently this incident on Eta Ceta wasn’t part of Bujold’s timeline until now, so there are no coy references to it otherwise.  Well, unless you count the conversation with Millisor, which leads to the whole plot of Ethan of Athos, but I don’t believe in that book it ever really came up how Miles had discovered that information.  Since that’s the next book, I guess we’ll be finding out relatively soon…

Miles’s most intimate moment yet with Rian…which is not saying that much.  Just the two of them (and that ba cleaning up in the background), her bubble down, talking about emotionally-charged topics…  Pity she doesn’t slow the slightest interest in him.
At least we now know who the bad guy is!  It’s Slyke Giaja, no doubt about it!  Definitely not that Ilsum Kety guy, or Este Rond, or anyone else.  Good thing that Rian is such a canny detective, able to take all her piece of evidence and put it together.  Shouldn’t be too long now before they have him on the ropes!

Chapter Ten

Miles pleads with Ivan to help him out, because Lord Vorreedi has come with them to the Bioesthetics Exhibit, rather than Mia Maz as Miles had hoped.  He tells Ivan that he may need a distraction so he can make a break for it, possibly telling Vorreedi that Miles is with a lady, or introducing Vorreedi to some of his ghem-lady friends, but Ivan doesn’t think that will work.

“So use your initiative!”

“I don’t have initiative. Ifollow orders, thank you. It’s much safer.”

“Fine. I order you to use your initiative.”

Ivan breathed a bad word, by way of editorial. “I’m going to regret this, I know I am.”

Miles tells Ivan that it wlil be over soon in a few hours, one way or another.  Ivan reminds him of the time, when they were children, that they found an old hovertank in a guerrilla weapons cache and knocked over a barn with it.  Miles protests that the situations are nothing alike.  Vorreedi rejoins them then from talking with the security people, and they enter the hall.

The competition here is for women only; Miles asks if the haut-women compete, but Vorreedi says that no ghem-ladies would ever win in that case.  The first exhibit they see, of coloured fish swimming in patterns, is that of a twelve-year-old girl, and even black orchids and blue roses are routine; another girl tows behind her a tiny unicorn on a leash.  A flowered vine begins to climb up Ivan’s leg, until a ghem-lady rescues him from it and goes off in search of other escapees.

Next they come across a tree covered in fruit with kittens in them.  Ivan tries to rescue one, but when he removes the fruit pod, the kitten dies; Miles shows him how the kitten was joined to the plant, and Vorreedi offers to surreptitiously dispose of it.  Ivan is ready to leave the whole affair, but Miles asks him to stay until he can meet his contact.  From a balcony, they spot Lord Yenaro further down.  Miles notes that his presence could be a coincidence, that this exhibit is right up his alley, but he and Ivan agree it’s probably more than that.  They wait a little longer, and then a middle-aged ghem-lady approaches and flashes Miles a ring with the Star Crèche symbol on it.  She asks him to meet her at the west entrance in half an hour.

Vorreedi returns a few minutes later, and says that they’ve spotted a known professional (professional killer, in this case) on the perimeter, and he’s going to check it out.  Ivan tells him about Yenaro, and Vorreedi dismisses him as a mere annoyance, probably harmless, before leaving to deal with the professional.  Miles is counting down the minutes when they are interrupted by Lady Arvin and Lady Benello, who ooze in on either side of Ivan and each try to woo him into joining them.  Ivan temporizes, unwilling to offend either of them, and Lady Benello begins to turn her attentions to Miles instead.  Miles protests that he has to go soon, but Benello persuades him to come see her sister’s exhibit, at least, and the four of them head down to the lower levels, while Miles wrestles with the question of Rian the unattainable vs. Benello the available.

Lady Arvin turned in at a small circular open space screened by trees in tubs. Their leaves were glossy and jewel-like, but they were merely a frame for the display in the center. The display was a little baffling, artistically. It seemed to consist of three lengths of thick brocade, in subtle hues, spiraling loosely around each other from the top of a man-high pole to trail on the carpet below. The dense circular carpet echoed the greens of the bordering trees, in a complex abstract pattern.

Lord Yenaro is sitting nearby, and tells Lady Benello that her sister, Veda, has stepped away briefly and he agreed to look after it for her.  Benello says that the smell of the fabric, perfume changing to suit the mood of the wearer, is the real point, and tells Yenaro that Veda should really have made it into a dress.  Yenaro invites them to come closer and experience it, and Ivan and Miles sniff dubiously, not quite daring to step closer, wondering where the trap is.

Miles notes an odd, acrid underscent, just as Yenaro comes forward with a pitcher, and suddenly he recognizes it.  He yells to Ivan not to let Yenaro spill it, and Ivan grabs it away from him.  Miles takes the pitcher from Ivan and asks Ivan to smell the carpet, carefully; the ladies are mystified, since the carpet isn’t even part of the exhibit.  Ivan recognizes the carpet’s scent as asterzine, and Miles recognizes the scent from the pitcher as well.  Ivan picks a few threads from the carpet and they drag Yenaro off into a secluded corner.  There, they demonstrate by setting the carpet threads down on the marble floor and telling Yenaro to add a couple of drops from the pitcher; the result is a small explosion.  Miles tells him that the whole carpet would have gone up in a blast big enough to destroy the dome, including the Barrayarans and Yenaro.

Miles tries to persuade Yenaro that whatever trick he thought he was playing on them, “the haut-governor” was trying to use him to dispose of the Barrayarans, and himself.  Yenaro says it was supposed to just give off alcoholic vapours to get them all drunk.  Miles also gets him to confirm that the ‘Autumn Leaves’ sculpture had been deliberate, though it was only supposed to shock, not burn.  They sit Yenaro down, and Miles tells him that this is part of a treason plot against the Cetagandan Emperor, and he’s a pawn, like the Ba Lura, and just as disposable.  Yenaro would have been set up as an incompetent assassin, with a blood-feud between his clan and those of the victims, and bad blood with Barrayar.

Yenaro says he didn’t like them that much, but he really want to kill them.  He’d been promised a post, as Imperial Perfumer, which he thinks he would have been good at.

Miles rose. “Good day, Lord Yenaro, and a better one than you were destined to have, I think. I may have used up a year’s supply this afternoon already, but wish me luck. I have a little date with Prince Slyke now.”

“Good luck,” Yenaro said doubtfully.

Miles paused. “It was Prince Slyke, was it not?”

“No! I was talking about Governor the haut Ilsum Kety!”

Miles tries to reconcile this with Rian’s story.  He can’t decide whether Kety had sent Slyke to the Star Crèche, or Slyke had used Kety to manipulate Yenaro.  Just then, Vorreedi appears around the corner, relieved at having found Miles and Ivan at last.  Miles introduces Yenaro to Vorreedi; Vorreedi tells Yenaro that he just happened to meet up with a man who, apparently, was tasked with making sure Yenaro didn’t leave the dome alive.  When Yenaro doesn’t volunteer any information in response, Vorreedi tells him that he’s got ten minutes until the fast-penta wears off.  Yenaro leaves hastily.

Miles asks Vorreedi if it was true, and Vorreedi confirms it.  He wonders, given Yenaro’s interest in Miles, if it’s more important to Barrayaran interest than it seems, though Miles quickly denies having been so angry at Yenaro to have hired the assassin himself.  He does encourage Vorreedi to try to follow the link to whoever hired the assassin, calling it a hunch.  As they leave the dome, Miles spots his contact-lady, and asks to speak to her; Vorreedi insists on coming along.

“Pardon me, milady. I just wanted to let you know that I will not be able to accept your invitation to visit, uh, this afternoon. Please convey my deepest regrets to your mistress.” Would she, and the haut Rian, interpret this as intended, as Abort, abort abort!? Miles could only pray so. “But if she can arrange instead a visit to the man’s cousin, I think that would be most educational.”

Comments

So maybe it’s not Slyke after all?  Huh!  Well, the first suspect is almost never the correct one, right?  Though Ilsum Kety is really not a big surprise.  A big surprise would have been, I don’t know, the old guy Miles ruled out almost at once.  Though I guess there is still a potential co-conspirator with a float-chair out there.  Anyway, it looks like between Yenaro’s revelation and Miles talking to the ghem-lady he’s decided in favour of Kety over Slyke, or at least wants Rian to consider him as a potential suspect as well, I suppose.  It’s hard to tell exactly what he’s getting at with his circumlocutions.

I guess Vorreedi doesn’t take Miles’s wanderings as a serious issue yet, or he wouldn’t have let him and Ivan unattended so many times.  Is he technically Miles’s superior on this mission?  Let’s hope he ends up better than the ones in The Vor Game.  The assassin is an actual sub-ghem, by the way, though we don’t get to see him, so he still doesn’t count as an actual civilian.

The kitten tree is always one of the most memorable scenes, and images, in the entire book.  I like Miles’s description of Ivan as someone who is just as set on liberating kittens as he is on chasing women, and it reminds me of that scene in A Civil Campaign, with the kitten on the breakfast tray.  I was never quite clear on whether the fruits “just weren’t ripe” yet, if the kittens would eventually be released or not.  Compelling, and a little grotesque.  And very Cetagandan.  On the other hand, I had completely forgotten Yenaro’s final “prank” attempt…

Poor Miles, he could have gotten lucky with Lady Benello, though of course he would have felt guilty about it (for betraying Rian, perhaps?), and it came at a fairly bad time, too.  Probably wouldn’t have worked out any better than the fetish girl on Beta Colony, either.


Into the second half of the book now, only six chapters left, so the action should be speeding up fairly shortly, I think.  So until next week…

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Happy 10th of April, everyone, or should I say, April the 10th be with you?  No?  Well, most of you are probably seeing this on the 11th, or later, so never mind.  Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, my attempt to do some justice and attract some well-deserved attention to the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, particularly her science fictional masterwork wherein she follows the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family.  This week we continue another couple chapters further into Cetaganda, chronologically earlier than some novels published before it, covering Chapters Five and Six, where the true plot of the book at last emerges.  Or should that be, already?

Chapter Five

Miles and Ivan arrive at Yenaro’s party by groundcar.  They confirm their comlinks are both working, and the driver tells them they have three units of backup nearby just in case, and a medic in a lightflyer forty-five seconds away.  Yenaro’s mansion exhibits clear signs of aristocratic decay, apparently left to Yenaro without the money to keep it up.  Miles notes that the ‘Autumn Leaves’ sculpture was Yenaro’s first, which he finds odd, and he wonders what they’ll find checking into the actual workers who put it together.  Miles, in his fanciest dress blacks, has the Great Key with him, and has had it in his pocket all day, through a tour of the city and a classical dance performance, but so far no contact from Rian.

On one level, Miles was growing extremely sorry he had not taken the local ImpSec subordinates into his confidence on the very first day. But if he had, he would no longer be in charge of this little problem; the decisions would all have been hiked to higher levels, out of his control. The ice is thin. I don’t want anyone heavier than me walking on it just yet.

Yenaro greets them after they enter, and takes them to a shabbily but comfortably decorated room with a dozen other young ghems, more male than female, some of them with daringly unpainted faces.  Incense burning nearby is apparently one of Yenaro’s own blends, incorporating a relaxant.  Miles evinces an interest in seeing Yenaro’s laboratory, Ivan staying behind to strike up an acquaintance with two beautiful ghem-women.  Another ghem-woman asking after a perfume she’d commissioned from Yenaro accompanies them.  The lab is in a different building, across the garden, and Miles sees money spent on the lab rather than on the main house.  The ingredients are all organized, and Yenaro says he can’t bear other people mucking with his system; Miles mentally contrasts this with the “hands are to be hired” attitude toward ‘Autumn Leaves’.  Someone else, who Miles dubs ‘Lord X’, must have supplied the expertise there, and possibly knowledge of Miles’s vulnerabilities as well.

Fact One about Lord X: he had access to Cetagandan Security’s most detailed reports on Barrayarans of military or political significance . . . and their sons. Fact Two: he had a subtle mind. Fact Three . . . there was no fact three. Yet.

They return to find Ivan snuggling with the two women.  Yenaro offers him a special beverage, putting Miles on the alert for poison, but Yenaro and other ghem-lords drink the “zlati ale” as well, and Ivan seems to enjoy his drink.  Ivan shoos Miles away, and Miles turns his efforts to questioning the other ghem-lords, who are eager enough to talk about themselves.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of substance to any of them, locked in place with small horizons until they may happen to inherit something.

Excusing himself from the group, he finds a slightly older woman watching him; she smiles at him, comes forward, and asks if he’d like to walk in the garden with her.  Her smile fades as they leave the house, and she leads him to a gate where a robed ba is waiting to escort him.  Miles pointedly calls in on his comlink to let them know he’s “walking with a lady”.  Miles and the ba cross a ravine onto another neglected estate, over a pond on a footbridge and into a wooded pavilion, where a haut-lady sphere waits.

Haut-lady Rian tells Miles she’s contacted him as promised for her “thing”, and Miles tells her he knows it’s the Great Key.  He takes it out and she asks for it back, but Miles holds on to it, asking for information on how it came to be in his possession in the first place.  He asks why Ba Lura had it on the space station in the first station; it couldn’t have been just theft, since there were surely more valuable artifacts available among the late Empress’s regalia.  He asks Rian if Ba Lura was planning to blackmail her, and if she had it murdered, which Rian hotly denies.  She says that Ba Lura would not have been selling it, so Miles presses her for more information.  Rian says she doesn’t know who Ba Lura would have been bringing it to, and that she and the ba had had a disagreement.

Miles goes back to the beginning, telling the incident of the “man” with the false hair arriving at the airlock, and then of Miles seeing the same face on the dead ba.  Rian tells Miles that she had found it missing that day, but she hadn’t used it for a couple of days before that.  She’d seen Ba Lura the evening before, but could have come and gone at any time after that, and had refused to see her until the next morning.  Then, it had confessed entering the wrong docking bay and losing it to the Barrayarans (after being attacked by six soldiers), and Miles swiftly asks who, in orbit, had been the intended recipient, which Rian refuses to answer.  The Barrayarans had supposedly insulted the Celestial Lady and then tossed the ba out, where it returned home in shame.

Miles asks why the ba, if it were going to kill itself in shame, would have done so publicly, advertising its shame.  Miles reiterates that there weren’t six Barrayaran soldiers, no slurs on the Celestial Lady, and the ba gave up its prize far too easily for such a degree of public shame.  Rian asks for the Key back, but Miles says he still doesn’t understand who is trying to drag Barrayar into this Cetagandan issue, and why.  He wants confirmation of her and her identity–he wants to see her through the force-bubble.  She accedes to his condition, and makes her bubble transparent.

“Oh,” said Miles, in a very small voice.

She sat in a float-chair, clothed from slender neck to ankle in flowing robes of shining white, a dozen shimmering textures lying one atop another. Her hair glinted ebony, masses of it that poured down across her shoulders, past her lap, to coil around her feet. When she stood, it would trail on the floor like a banner. Her enormous eyes were an ice blue of such arctic purity as to make Lady Gelle’s eyes look like mud-puddles. Skin . . . Miles felt he had never seen skin before, just blotched bags people wore around themselves to keep from leaking. This perfect ivory surface . . . his hands ached with the desire to touch it, just once, and die. Her lips were warm, as if roses pulsed with blood. . . .

How old was she? Twenty? Forty? This was a haut-woman. Who could tell? Who could care? Men of the old religion had worshipped on their knees icons far less glorious, in beaten silver and hammered gold. Miles was on his knees now, and could not remember how he’d come to be there.

Miles instantly knows that he has fallen hopelessly in love with this unattainable woman, and without another word he lays the Great Key at her feet.

Comments

I left out most of the somewhat snide remarks Miles had made to himself about Rian up to this point, about how she was probably an “old battleaxe” or some such.  Apparently not, then.  It does seem that a certain amount of the haut (and ghem) genetic development, in the female line, at least, is aimed at  sheer physical beauty, according to standards universal enough that a Barrayaran is ensnared by them.  One wonders why they bother, unless, as Mia Maz might postulate, the ability to inspire devotion in men is just part of their power base.  I’d theorize that haut males would have bred resistance to haut women, except that it’s the women who control the genome, isn’t it?

Looking at the idle rich ghem-lords makes me wonder again about the Cetagandan commoners.  There must be some, right, just like there are many Barrayarans who aren’t Vor.  There must be billions of them, in fact, but we never get to see them.  On this visit, of course, the foreigners are somewhat circumscribed, but one wonders if Vorob’yev or even Mia Maz has any more contact with them.  How do they fit in with the breeding plans of the Empire?  Do the haut and ghem genes ever percolate down to them?  How oppressed are they, anyway?

The mention of Yenaro’s capabilities with his perfumes makes Miles think that he could easily get a position with some corporation.  Sadly, Yenaro probably never will, since “work” is something for the plebes, though he does seem to have a little cottage industry producing perfumes for his peers, at least.  Assuming that they pay for them; it’s not clear that the ghem-lady who is fetching her perfume has paid for it, though maybe she did in advance, or maybe worrying about money is another one of those plebe things.  Of course, perhaps Yenaro is getting money from another, more sinister source…

Chapter Six

Rian picks up the Great Key and inserts a ring worn around her neck into the bird pattern at the end of the seal.  Nothing happens, and she accuses Miles of having tampered with it, since it should have opened.  Miles protests that he had done nothing, and says there are three possibilities–it was broken by someone else, it was reprogrammed, or it was replaced with a duplicate.  Rian’s reaction leads Miles to think the last theory is the most plausible to her.  Miles wonders if this substitute was supposed to have been sent back to Barrayar after being planted with him, but he can’t quite figure it out.

“Milady, talk to me. If it’s a duplicate, it’s obviously a very good duplicate. You now have it, to turn over at the ceremony. So what if it doesn’t work? Who’s going to check the function of some obsolete piece of electronics?”

“The Great Key is not obsolete. We used it every day.”

Miles says they have until the end of the funeral ceremonies, at least, to find the real one, or recreate it from backup.  He can see that Rian is beginning to despair and think that Ba Lura had the right idea.  She says there is no backup of the data on the Great Key, that its indispensability is a matter of control.  Miles asks for an explanation, and Rian tells him that the Great Key contains the index to the Cetagandan gene banks; without it, it would take a generation to physically re-examine each sample and recover the information.

Miles rises to his feet, steeling himself to resist her beauty, and insists that, outlander or no, he’s involved in the problem now.  He tells her she needs an ally, since she seems to be out of her depth, and doesn’t seem to want to involve local security.  He asks he how she thinks he could possibly make matters any worse.  She begins to speak, then stops.   Miles reminds her that if Ba Lura was murdered, it was obviously done by someone with a dark sense of humour to leave the body in the rotunda.

Yes. Look past the surface. See me, not this joke of a body. . . . “And I am the one person on Eta Ceta you know didn’t do it. It’s the only certainty we share, so far. I claim a right to know who’s doing this to us. And the only chance in hell I have to figure out who, is to know exactly why.”

Still she sat silent.

“I already know enough to destroy you,” Miles added earnestly. “Tell me enough to save you!”

Rian tells him that the Dowager Empress disagreed with her son the Emperor about the gene bank.  The Emperor wanted to keep it centralized, under his control, while the Empress wanted it dispersed, and backed up, for safety.  The Emperor prevailed, until the Empress began to reach the end of her life, and she decided to put her plan into action.  She had made eight copies of the gene bank–one for each satrap governor.  The Great Key itself had not been duplicated yet–“control” again–when she died, leaving Rian and Ba Lura as executors of her plan.  They were left without instructions for the duplication, and the original creation of the key had demanded much of the Empire’s resources.  Ba Lura’s only plan was to enlist one of the satrap governors for help, which Rian herself thought too risky.

Miles interrupts to ask what would happen to the empire if each governor had their own copy of the gene bank.  Rian says that each satrap would, in effect, be its own copy of the Cetagandan Empire–the Empire would have divided, like a cell, according to the Empress’s plan.  Miles’s mind boggles at the chaos of war, civil and otherwise, that would erupt in this situation.  He asks if the Emperor would consider her actions treasonous.  Rian replies that she was merely following the Empress’s orders, but the satrap governors have all committed treason, having already received their gene banks.  Each of them has been told he is the only one to have received the bank, to encourage secrecy.

“Do you know—I have to ask this.” I’m just not sure I want to hear the answer. “Do you know to which of the eight satrap governors Ba Lura was trying to take the Great Key for duplication, when it ran into us?”

“No,” she said.

“Ah,” Miles exhaled in pure satisfaction. “Now, now I know why I was set up. And why the ba died.”

Miles says that Ba Lura must have taken the actual Great Key to one of the governors, received the copy in return, and then deliberately planted the copy with the Barrayarans, though perhaps not as it had expected to.  Then the governor arranged for Ba Lura’s death, silencing the only remaining witness, and planning to get a head start on his new gene bank after the funeral is over.  Meanwhile, Barrayar gets the blame for the loss of the Great Key.  Only Miles’s odd actions have kept this plan from coming to fruition.  He asks Rian if she can verify it by examining the key, but she points out that she suspects Barrayar is fully capable of producing this nonfunctional duplicate, so Miles will have to find the real copy to prove his innocence.

“It seems that is just what I must discover, milady, to, to clear my name. To redeem my honor in your eyes.” The intrinsic fascination of an intellectual puzzle had brought him to this interview. He’d thought curiosity was his strongest driving force, till suddenly his whole personality had become engaged. It was like being under—no, like becoming an avalanche. “If I can discover this, will you . . .” what? Look favorably upon his suit? Despise him for an outlander barbarian all the same? “. . . let me see you again?”

He asks Rian if they can set up a better means to communicate.  She offers him a comlink that she uses to communicate with her servitors, but when pressed she admits she doesn’t know how secure it is, and Miles suspects that Cetagandan security would make short work of it.  He tells her to be careful, that whoever killed Ba Lura wouldn’t balk at targeting Rian herself, so she should conceal her possession of the fake Key, since Miles is obviously not following the script.  He asks her to find out more about Ba Lura’s activities over the days before its death, and she tells him she will be in contact.  She opaques her force bubble, and Miles returns to Yenaro’s house.

The party is still going on, some new faces, and many intoxicated by some means or another.  Yenaro asks Miles where he’s been, and Miles tells him about taking a walk with a lady.  Yenaro says that Ivan has been with the two ghem-ladies for a long time, which seems to puzzle him.  Miles accepts a drink from Yenaro, reassessing the ghem-ladies in comparison to haut Rian; they come off much the worse, and Miles hopes this effect on his perception isn’t permanent.  Miles and Yenaro kill time with idle chit-chat until Ivan finally appears from upstairs, descending quickly to rejoin Miles.  He whispers that he thinks he’s been poisoned, though not seriously enough for the medic in the lightflyer, and insists they leave before Yenaro goes upstairs.  He refuses to tell Miles more until they’re in the car.

In the groundcar, Ivan tells Miles that Yenaro seemed to have spiked his drink with an anti-aphrodisiac, probably hoping to humiliate him with the ghem-ladies, and he’s now more willing to believe Miles’s conspiracy theories.  Ivan was forced to invent a tale about how Barrayarans pride themselves on self-control, and must satisfy their ladies before themselves.  It took much time and effort, but Ivan was able to satisfy them and leave them asleep but happy.  Ivan doesn’t want to tell ImpSec, but he does want a medical scan to reassure himself that the effect isn’t permanent.  Miles reassures him that it was probably in the zlati ale, which Yenaro drank himself, so it’ll probably metabolize.  Miles wonders if it’s just Yenaro playing these tricks, or if there’s someone else behind him, like Ba Lura’s murderer.

Ivan asks if Miles has gotten rid of the Great Key, and Miles says he has, but there’s still unfinished business, which is verging from security concerns into diplomatic ones.  Which he’s not sure he trusts to someone in charge of a local ImpSec office.  Still, he doesn’t know how long he’ll be able to continue without backup.

In his room, Miles avoids looking at his body as he strips off his somewhat soiled uniform.  He assures himself that as a Barrayaran Vor, he’s practically a ghem-lord, and it’s not unknown for ghem-lords to be assigned haut wives, for great deeds.  Like saving the Empire–always one of his goals, he just never thought it would be the Cetagandan Empire…  Unfortunately, for the Emperor to reward him, he has to foil the Dowager Empress’s plan, but carrying it out is more likely to help win Rian’s affections.  Either way, he needs to find Lord X, one of eight choices, which don’t seem like good odds.

Comments

The Empress’s plan to fission the Empire does seem more than a little destabilizing, though Rian, at least, doesn’t seem to think that’s her problem.  Not much of a giveaway that Miles’s goal is, in the end, to stop that from happening, because otherwise the expansion of the Cetagandan Empire might have come to dominate the rest of the series.  Spoiler alert–it didn’t.  Maybe it’s just “status quo bias”, but the Barrayarans would probably rather the Cetagandan Empire remained stable.  Unless, of course, it were guaranteed to become weaker in the process, I suppose…  But I don’t think that Gregor, Aral and Illyan are quite that cold-blooded, luckily.

So does Miles turn out to be, after all, the best person to handle this delicate affair?  The only one who wouldn’t have divested themselves of the thing in the first place (as Ivan probably would have), leading to the unprovable assertion “We don’t have it!” when challenged…or sent it back to Barrayar, as Miles suspects the ImpSec types would have?  The only one to risk everything to try to keep someone else’s Empire stable?  Because Miles does believe that honour does apply to enemies as well, something not every Barrayaran would admit.  Bujold does manage to convince us, first that Miles’s curiosity is engaged, and his unwillingness to give up his pet intelligence project, until he sees the greater implications.  Maybe he should trust his fellow countrymen a little more, but I suspect he wouldn’t trust Ungari, or Overholt, with the Key, and certainly not Metzov, and since Vorreedi is an unknown quantity, he’s forced to rely on Ivan, who at least has familial bonds, and a certain amount of friendship, to make him inclinced to help Miles, at least to a point…

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Next week, on the exciting 17th of April, it will doubtless be time, unfortunately, for us to be introduced to eight potential suspects at once.  Oy vey, that’ll be fun to summarize.  I may have to use bullet points or something.  We’ll see if I’ve reached the point (on, what, my fourth or fifth read of the book) where I can actually remember who the bad guy(s) is/are.  I’ll try not to give it away, unless I’m pretty sure I’m wrong…

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, as we enter a whole new era, by which I mean a new omnibus.  This one is, for some reason, called Miles, Mystery and Mayhem, and it looks like it contains Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos, and “Labyrinth”, only two of which actually have Miles in them, but I suppose they all have mystery and mayhem to a greater or lesser degree.  The first of them, Cetaganda, probably contains a fair bit more mystery than mayhem, depending on how you define them, of course.  It comes fairly late in publication order, later even than The Vor Game, and I think is the last one published that was out of chronological order–that is, the last one to come chronologically before any other already-published novels.  So she hasn’t done that in a while, but I suspect that, given the large gap before Cryoburn, we wouldn’t mind something filling that in at some point…

I am amused to note that at the beginning of Miles, Mystery and Mayhem electronic copy (I don’t have a paper copy to check, alas) there is a nice little wormhole map of Barrayar and some of its environs, including Komarr, Pol, The Hegen Hub, Vervain, Aslund…  Yes, that’s right, this is the map that actually should have been in The Vor Game, a.k.a. Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Omnibus.  Oops.  Anyway, that’s enough ado, so on I shall proceed to cover the events of the first two chapters of Cetaganda

Chapter One

Lieutenants Miles Vorkosigan and Ivan Vorpatril are in a small personnel pod being piloted from a Barrayaran courier vessel toward a station orbiting the Cetagandan homeworld, Eta Ceta IV.  Miles compares the many lights on the planet below to the comparative sparseness of population on Barrayar, as he compares Ivan’s stature and handsomeness  to his own stunted figure.

Barrayaran Imperial Security didn’t pay him to be pretty, thank God, they paid him to be smart. Still, the morbid thought did creep in that he had been sent along on this upcoming circus to stand next to Ivan and make him look good. ImpSec certainly hadn’t given him any more interesting missions, unless you could call Security Chief Illyan’s last curt “. . . and stay out of trouble!” a secret assignment.

On the other hand, maybe Ivan had been sent along to stand next to Miles and make him sound good. Miles brightened slightly at the thought.

They are there to attend the funeral of the haut-lady Dowager Empress, and they speculate idly whether her death was natural.  Miles points out that she was a generation older than his grandfather, after all, and if it were at all suspicious, likely Illyan would have kept them home.  And if the Emperor had died instead, then they’d be in some defensive outpost hoping the Cetagandan war of succession didn’t spill over.  As it is, they’re just there to pay their respects and report on the event for Illyan later.  All the haut-lord satrap governors are going to attend.

“If any two governors come, I suppose the rest have to show up, just to keep an eye on each other.” Ivan’s brows rose. “Should be quite a show. Ceremony as Art. Hell, the Cetagandans make blowing your nose an art. Just so they can sneer at you if you get the moves wrong. One-upmanship to the nth power.”

“It’s the one thing that convinces me that the Cetagandan haut-lords are still human, after all that genetic tinkering.”

Ivan grimaced. “Mutants on purpose are mutants still.” He glanced down at his cousin’s suddenly stiff form, cleared his throat, and tried to find something interesting to look at out the canopy.

“You’re so diplomatic, Ivan,” said Miles through a tight smile. “Try not to start a war single . . . mouthed, eh?”

The pod is piloted into their assigned docking station, and Ivan and Miles unbuckle and head for the airlock.  As it opens, a man hurtles inside, white-haired but with no facial hair.  As he reached for a pocket of his uniform vest, Miles shouts “Weapon!” and Ivan launches himself at the man.  The man pulls a nerve disrupter from his trouser pocket, but Ivan dislodges it, and it ricochets throughout the cabin before Miles snatches it.  Ivan gets him in an armlock, and Miles pulls the object out of his vest pocket, an odd wand somewhat like a shock stick.  The man cries out in dismay as Miles takes it, continuing to struggle.

The intruder shook off Ivan’s grip and recoiled to the hatchway. There came one of those odd pauses that sometimes occur in close combat, everyone gulping for breath in the rush of adrenaline. The old man stared at Miles with the rod in his fist; his expression altered from fright to—was that grimace a flash of triumph? Surely not. Demented inspiration?

The man ducks back through the airlock, and kicks Ivan back into the pod when he tries to follow.  By the time they emerge from the pod, he’s disappeared out of the docking bay.  Miles tells Ivan the man had a desperate look to him, even before he drew a weapon.  They look around and realize that nobody else is there, Barrayaran or Cetagandan, and wonder where their welcoming committee is.  Miles points out two surveillance cameras ripped from their moorings, so it looks like the man wasn’t any kind of official emissary.  They speculate on whether he wanted to pod for an escape, or if he was after Miles, and wonder where station security is.  Ivan notes that the man must have been in disguise, since the hair that came loose during the struggle has an obvious adhesive at one end, and Miles wonders if station security has cleared personnel out of the station to try to hunt down a fugitive.

The pilot tells them that flight control has stated quite forcefully that they are in the wrong dock, and orders them to leave the station and wait for instructions, even though he’s sure he docked at the coordinates he was given.  They reboard the pod and the pilot undocks.  He asks if he should report the incident to station security, and Miles tells him to wait until they ask, since it’s not their job to do the Cetagandans’ work for them.  Ivan is dubious, but Miles says the competency of Cetagandan station security is doubtless something Illyan would be interested in.  Miles examines the items they captured.  The nerve disrupter is civilian make, not military, high quality but not decorated, meant to be concealed.

The short rod was odder still. Embedded in its transparent casing was a violent glitter, looking decorative; Miles was sure microscopic examination would reveal fine dense circuitry. One end of the device was plain, the other covered with a seal which was itself locked in place.

“This looks like it’s meant to be inserted in something,” he said to Ivan, turning the rod in the light.

“Maybe it’s a dildo.” Ivan smirked.

Miles snorted. “With the ghem-lords, who can say? But no, I don’t think so.” The indented seal on the end-cap was in the shape of some clawed and dangerous-looking bird. Deep within the incised figure gleamed metallic lines, the circuit-connections. Somewhere somebody owned the mate, a raised screaming bird-pattern full of complex encodes which would release the cover, revealing . . . what? Another pattern of encodes? A key for a key . . . It was all extraordinarily elegant. Miles smiled in sheer fascination.

Ivan asks if he’s going to give it back, and Miles says he will if they ask for it, otherwise he’ll keep it as a souvenir.  Or give it to Illyan, whose cryptographers could probably spend a long time picking it apart.  To placate Ivan, Miles gives him the nerve disrupter.  They receive new docking instructions, and end up two rows up from their original dock.  They debark again, a little more hesitantly this time.  They are met by Lord Vorob’yev, the Barrayaran ambassador, with four Barrayaran guards, and two Cetagandan station officials.  Miles is taken aback by the lack of Cetagandan security he was expecting, and realizes they didn’t connect their pod to the fugitive below.

They give a coded diplomatic disk to Vorob’yev and declare their six pieces of luggage, but don’t mention their more recent acquisitions.  One of the Cetagandans takes their luggage off, no doubt to be searched, but Vorob’yev tells them not to worry, it will be returned, eventually.  Miles tells Vorob’yev their trip was uneventful, but comments that they were redirected to a different docking port at first, and Vorob’yev says this is just a particularly ornate runaround to put the Barrayarans in their place.  They go to Vorob’yev’s diplomatic shuttle, leaving their Cetagandan escort outside, and relax in Vorob’yev’s lounge with a glass of wine.

Miles debates on whether to tell Vorob’yev about the incident, as Ivan silently urges him, but he tries to consider possibilities.  The Cetagandans could be stringing them along waiting for them to incriminate themselves, or they may just not have caught up with the fugitive yet.  Their luggage arrives as they finish their wine, and as Vorob’yev goes to deal with it, Ivan asks Miles what he’s up to.  Miles isn’t sure, off-balance because the Cetagandans failed to respond as he thought they would.  He tells Ivan they should be reporting to Lord Vorreedi, who’s in charge of ImpSec at the embassy.  Miles doesn’t look forward to having this little mystery taken out of his hands, though.

Vorob’yev returns and tells them they are welcome that evening to attend a reception at the Marilacan Embassy, which he heartily recommends.  Ivan asks about clothing, and Vorob’yev recommends they stick to uniforms, which will help keep them from running afoul of the complex Cetagandan language of clothes.  The shuttle undocks from the station, and Miles concludes that the fugitive must have eluded the Cetagandans, and nobody else knows of their little prizes.

Miles kept his hand down, and did not touch the concealed lump in his tunic. Whatever the device was, that fellow knew Miles had it. And he could surely find out who Miles was. I have a string on you, now. If I let it play out, something must surely climb back up it to my hand, right? This could shape up into a nice little exercise in intelligence/counter-intelligence, better than maneuvers because it was real. No proctor with a list of answers lurked on the fringes recording all his mistakes for later analysis in excruciating detail. A practice-piece. At some stage of development an officer had to stop following orders and start generating them. And Miles wanted that promotion to ImpSec captain, oh yes. Might he somehow persuade Vorreedi to let him play with the puzzle despite his diplomatic duties?

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I never remember Vorob’yev’s name, though now I wonder how I could forget it with its awkward (from the Anglophone standpoint) apostrophe in the middle.  Apologies to my friend Anna Korra’ti if she happens to be reading this, but I’ve never been sure about the usage of apostrophes in fantasy names, so I’m obscurely troubled when I find them in real-world names too.  I find it a little puzzling, since from what little I know of Russian, the apostrophe is often used to represent the glottalization of a consonant…but so is the “y”, so are they really both needed?  Not sure.  In any case, it’s awkward to type.

Earlier I think I mentioned Cetaganda as one of the “planet” books, but I guess that’s not strictly true.  Cetaganda isn’t a planet, it’s an empire, and each of the planets (as we see later) is Something Ceta, where Something tends to be a Greek letter.  Where this actually comes from is unclear, since it’s not an astronomical thing, or at least not an Earth-centered one.  The constellation of Cetus, the whale, is well known for the star Tau Ceti, among the nearest sunlike stars, but Tau Ceti appears on the Nexus map and is not part of Cetaganda; there’s a completely different Tau Ceta which is one of the Cetagandan worlds.  Anyway, it’s clear where the “Ceta” comes from, but what about the “ganda”?  It’s a mystery, I guess.

I can understand Ivan’s frustration with Miles’s refusal to offload the mystery onto their superiors, though it’s entirely in character for Miles not to want to.  Here he is on a completely non-Dendarii mission, which he doesn’t want to be just boring and diplomatic, and this thing drops right into his lap; of course he wants to explore it.  One can already see him burning through another superior or two, like ImpSec Captain Lord Vorreedi…

Reading chronologically, it’s almost a little frustrating to see Miles with no Dendarii.  First we see him in The Warrior’s Apprentice, at the end of which he’s forced to leave the Dendarii behind, and then in The Vor Game he is reunited with them and assigned as a liaison.  And now we have Cetaganda, where (spoiler alert) the Dendarii never appear.  Again, this was written chronologically out of order, as Bujold filled in a time gap, and explained some of the events in her (very early) novel Ethan of Athos, and by that point she’d already written several Dendarii stories.  She never really did a straight Dendarii novel, if there really was such a thing, and one presumes she was never really that interested in that kind of story, so there’s lots of gaps in the timeline.

Chapter Two

Miles dawdles about getting dressed for the reception, trying to figure out whether he should carry the rod with him or leave it in the room.  Ivan chides him for his slowness and says that maybe it’s a practical joke designed to drive Miles crazy.  Miles makes a quick sketch of the symbol on the end on a plastic flimsy and leaves the rod in his dresser, telling Ivan that since they don’t have a lead-lined box, it doesn’t really matter where they hide it.  Ivan says they have one in the embassy, but Miles says that since Vorreedi is out of town, trying to deal with some Barrayaran merchant ship impounded at a jump station, he’s reluctant to tell anyone else at the embassy about it.

Ivan once again tells Miles to finish getting ready.  Miles puts his leg braces on under his uniform trousers, lamenting the fact that he hasn’t had his bones replaced with plastic yet.  They join Vorob’yev in the foyer and head over to the Marilacan embassy, which he tells them is “neutral but non-secured territory”.  There won’t be any haut-lords there, but there may be some minor ghem-lords.  Vorob’yev notes that Marilac has been accepting much “aid” from Cetaganda, thinking that that will keep them safe.

“The Marilacans aren’t paying sufficient attention to their own wormhole nexus maps,” Vorob’yev went on. “They imagine they are at a natural border. But if Marilac were directly held by Cetaganda, the next jump would bring them to Zoave Twilight, with all its cross-routes, and a whole new region for Cetagandan expansion. Marilac is in exactly the same relationship to the Zoave Twilight crossings as Vervain is to the Hegen Hub, and we all know what happened there.” Vorob’yev’s lips twisted in irony. “But Marilac has no interested neighbor to mount a rescue as your father did for Vervain, Lord Vorkosigan. And provocative incidents can be manufactured so easily.”

Miles is worried briefly that Vorob’yev is alluding to Miles’s own experiences in the Hegen Hub, but concludes that he has no way of knowing of Miles’s involvement.  They discuss the way that the ghem-generals are subdued by the failure in Vervain, and Ghem-General Estanis having committed suicide, even though he may have some help along the way.

“Thirty-two stab wounds in the back, worst case of suicide they ever saw?” murmured Ivan, clearly fascinated by the gossip.

“Exactly, my lord.” Vorob’yev’s eyes narrowed in dry amusement. “But the ghem-commanders’ loose and shifting relationship to the assorted secret haut-lord factions lends an unusual degree of deniability to their operations. The Vervain invasion is now officially described as an unauthorized misadventure. The erring officers have been corrected, thank you.”

“What do they call the Cetagandan invasion of Barrayar in my grandfather’s time?” Miles asked. “A reconnaissance in force?”

Vorob’yev tells them that ImpSec has been informed of his suspicions about Marilac, but so far it’s just a theory.  He asks them to keep an ear open for interesting gossip and information, and relay it to Vorreedi when he returns, while trying to not to give away too much in return.  Their car drives into the Marilacan embassy’s garage and into a foyer, then the lobby where the reception is taking place.

The center of the lobby was occupied by a large multi-media sculpture, real, not a projection. Trickling water cascaded down a fountain reminiscent of a little mountain, complete with impressionistic mountain-paths one could actually walk upon. Colored flakes swirled in the air around the mini-maze, making delicate tunnels. From their green color Miles guessed they were meant to represent Earth tree leaves even before he drew close enough to make out the realistic details of their shapes. The colors slowly began to change, from twenty different greens to brilliant yellows, golds, reds and black-reds. As they swirled they almost seemed to form fleeting patterns, like human faces and bodies, to a background of tinkling like wind chimes. So was it meant to be faces and music, or was it just tricking his brain into projecting meaningful patterns onto randomness? The subtle uncertainty attracted him.

The Marilacan ambassador, Bernaux, tells them that the sculpture, called ‘Autumn Leaves’, is a gift from a local ghem-lord.  After being introduced to Bernaux, they are set loose to mingle, though Miles wishes he could listen in on Vorob’yev and Bernaux’s conversation.  Miles and Ivan separate, and Miles watches ‘Autumn Leaves’ cycle through to a cold, bleak winter.  He doesn’t see any hairless faces that could be their mysterious fugitive, but he watches as Ivan quickly corrals himself a ghem-lady.  Miles considers the difference between himself and Ivan, how Ivan can bounce back from rejections until he finds an acceptance, while Miles takes them personally and spends his time brooding instead.

Ivan, Miles and the ghem-lady are soon joined by a ghem-lord who is introduced as Yenaro, who turns out to be the sculptor who created ‘Autumn Leaves’.  The ghem-lady, Gelle, introduces the Barrayarans to Yenaro, who tells Miles that they have a connection–his grandfather as the ghem-general who commanded the Barrayaran invasion (not “reconaissance”) that Miles’s grandfather Piotr repulsed.  Miles points out that General Yenaro was only the last of the five commanders, and received more than his due share of blame as a result.

Gelle asks Yenaro about the “banal” sculpture in the lobby, which Yenaro says is only a practice piece, but the Marilacans are happy enough with it.  He prefers to create scents, himself, putting down Gelle’s own scent in the process.  He also tells her how Ivan is a biological body-birth, which Gelle apparently finds faintly off-putting, deploring Yenaro’s obnoxiousness and taking her leave.

Yenaro tells them that they should experience the sculpture from the inside.  Miles agrees, but is then called over by Vorob’yev, though he promises to return.  Vorob’yev introduces him to an attractive, slightly older woman named Mia Maz, from the Vervani Embassy.  Maz specializes in women’s etiquette, and has apparently been trying for some time to convince Vorob’yev that he needs a women’s expert as well.  Vorob’yev protests that he hasn’t one with the experience, and Miles suggests that Maz could take on an apprentice.  Vorob’yev excuses himself, and Maz expresses her gratitude to Miles for his father’s help against the Cetagandan invasion attempt.

Miles asks Maz if the ghem-ladies are really that different, and Maz insists they are, though she admits the Barrayarans have more in common with the ghem-lords than many other cultures do.  The haut-lords and ladies, on the other hand, are entirely different, each sex with its own area of power and control, though mysterious to outsiders.  Miles takes a chance and shows her the sketch of the bird-logo from the rod, asking her if she recognizes it.  Maz says that it looks like a personal seal, rather than a family, but it lacks the decorative cartouches which have been in vogue for three generations so it must be an old one.

Ivan reappears with Yenaro, turning his charms on Mia Maz, and insisting that Miles take a turn passing through the sculpture as Ivan has just done.  Miles reluctantly takes leave of Maz and lets Yenaro escort him inside.  Miles asks for technical details, and Yenaro says that the floating flakes are driven by magnetism, not gravity, but it emerges that it was really put together by technicians, with Yenaro as the designer.  Yenaro and Miles get into a discussion on whether design is sufficient, or if physical work is equally of value, and Yenaro invites Miles to a private gathering at his home two nights hence, which Miles decides to accept.

They enter the sculpture, and Miles is interested enough until he realizes that he can feel burning sensation in his legs–something about the magnetism is heating up his leg braces, and he frantically peels them off, leaving burns on his legs and hands.  Yenaro calls for help, and Miles finds he’s drawn the attention of most of the attendees.  Miles concludes that the magnetic fields used by the sculpture had a bad effect on the metal of the braces, like shoving them in a microwave.

Bernaux asks if he wants to go visit the embassy infirmary, but Miles says he’d rather go home.  Yenaro, distraught, insists that the sculpture be destroyed, though Bernaux temporizes that they may settle for just doing a thorough safety check.  Ivan and Vorob’yev escort Miles to the Barrayaran groundcar and head back to their embassy.  They discuss whether this was more than an accident–the field would have been harmless to anyone not wearing a lot of metal, but it seems like it would have taken too much lead time.  Their departure had been scheduled two weeks ago, the reception invitation came three days ago, and the sculpture had only been installed the day before.

Vorob’yev thought it over. “I think I must agree with you, Lord Vorpatril. Shall we put it down as an unfortunate accident, then?”

“Provisionally,” said Miles. That was no accident. I was set up. Me, personally. You know there’s a war on when the opening salvo arrives.

Except that, usually, one knew why a war had been declared. It was all very well to swear not to be blindsided again, but who was the enemy here?

Lord Yenaro, I bet you throw a fascinating party. I wouldn’t miss it for worlds.

Comments

Second bizarre incident, check.  No suspicious deaths, yet–the Dowager Empress’s doesn’t count, I don’t think–but definitely a mystery looming.  We have nowhere near enough information about anything yet, but what’s going on is definitely very Cetagandan, if nothing else.  Or “Byzantine”, if you prefer.  I don’t recall yet if Cetaganda is really a hotbed of intrigue, but I suspect that it is, with haut-lords plotting and ghem-lords carrying out their schemes, or something like that.

One thing I don’t recall us ever seeing is regular, everyday Cetagandans.  We see the lords and ladies, and a few police-types, but what about the Cetagandan civilians?  Are they oppressed, or fairly free?  The fact that they still live in a monarchy implies something closer to the former, since the Cetagandans seem a little more paranoid, if more technologically sophisticated, than Barrayarans.  Or are there any civilians?  Is everyone either ghem or haut?  I suspect not–after all, we see a lot of Barrayaran Lords, but there are still regular people out there too, in the cities as well as the backwoods.

More than a few references to past Cetagandan adventures–Mia Maz and her thanks from Vervain–and future ones, with Vorob’yev’s discussion of Marilac’s relationship with the Cetagandans.  From books already published, by this point, so this is more backfilling, like the links to Ethan of Athos I mentioned earlier (though they don’t come up until much later).

Yenaro is so obviously a rebellious youngster, like a teenager, emotionally, an artist working with scents as a way of annoying his no-doubt militaristic ghem-lord father.  This is probably why we haven’t had nearly as much trouble with the Cetagandans in a while, if the up-and-coming generation are this kind of “retro-avant” spoiled dilettantes.


So, two chapters in, we can see that Cetaganda is shaping up to be a mystery, of a sort, though what kind is not quite clear.  We have an implicit promise from the author that things will be explained if we read to the end, though, so please join me next week as I continue to do so.

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