Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Falling Free, Chapter 4

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan reread!

At the end of chapter 3, Claire, Tony, and Andy were stowed away on a shuttle heading not for the nearest space station as they had planned, but for the planet Rodeo. Silver, distracting the pilot and expanding her collection of book discs, was unable to alert them to the schedule change. This week, things go badly for everyone…

 

SUMMARY

Chapter 4 opens with Claire, Tony, and Andy in the cargo bay of the shuttle, and their growing realization that something has gone wrong. Claire is afraid and wants to give up. Andy is confused by gravity and alarmed when he lets go of Claire and hits the floor. Tony is angry about the mistake with the shuttle schedule and concerned that Andy’s crying will alert the shuttle crew, but totally committed to the plan. He doesn’t think they will get another chance to escape. They need to find another shuttle to hide on to get to the space station. Conversation between the ground crew and the pilots reveals that schedules have been shuffled around because the Vice President of Operations has arrived to inspect the Cay Project a week ahead of schedule. She likes surprises. Tony and Claire sneak off the shuttle to find another one. Claire struggles to carry the baby while crawling three-handed. Tony struggles with their luggage. They both struggle with the stairs. They hide in a jumble of mechanical equipment. Claire feels dirty and desperate.

Meanwhile, back on the Orbital Habitat, Leo is looking for Tony. He’s supposed to be leading a work crew in welding together a new addition to the Habitat. Tony isn’t answering his page. Van Atta wants the welding demonstration to look smooth and efficient, even if repairs have to be made later. Tony is the best welder Leo has, but, since he’s not around, Leo appoints another Quaddie, Pramod, to take his place. Leo pages Dr. Yei to ask after his missing welder, but she reaches him first. She’s looking for Claire, who is scheduled to demonstrate zero-G child care techniques to start off the VP’s tour. Leo points out to Yei that Tony has seemed depressed lately, not his usual cheerful self. Yei acknowledges that Claire was upset about the new reproduction assignment. Realizing that “reproduction assignment” means “having a baby,” Leo blows up at her, pointing out that she has swallowed her own propaganda, “Were you born inhuman, or did you grow so by degrees—M.S., M.D., Ph.D.…”

Yei criticizes Leo for being a romantic. She reminds him that Tony and Claire were assigned to each other by the same system that gave them their new assignments, and denies responsibility for the schedule change. She asserts that her advice is being disregarded. Leo realizes that Yei is suffering from an acute case of Van Atta. Leo suggests that Yei get one of the other Quaddie mothers to perform the child-care demonstration, and placates Yei by asking her to let him know if she finds Tony and Claire (and Andy) before he does. Then he rings off to do a little covert investigating in hydroponics.

Silver is planting red peppers and trying not to worry about her friends. Silver is gravely concerned about the dangers Claire, Tony, and Andy are facing—mostly gravity—and about giving away their escape. She considers hiding when Leo comes into the hydroponics lab, but the rustling of the foliage gives away her location before she can try it. Leo asks a series of increasingly pointed questions about when Silver last saw her friends. She dodges with half-truths until Leo pulls out the emotional stops by suggesting that he’s worried they formed a suicide pact and slipped out an airlock. This is Silver’s limit; She’s about to put his mind at ease when their conversation is interrupted by Yei and Van Atta. Yei also almost convinces Silver to tell her where Claire and Tony went, by telling her that friends don’t let friends get hurt.

Silver is about to tell Leo and Yei everything she knows when Van Atta interrupts with a stream of profanity against Silver and the VP of Ops, insisting he doesn’t have time for this. He can’t stand around watching his psychiatrist negotiate with Quaddies all day. Silver abruptly realizes that her infatuation with Van Atta has disappeared and she doesn’t have to tell him anything. Secure in the knowledge that she’s valuable GalacTech property and can’t be physically harmed, she retreats into silence. Van Atta talks Yei into off-label use of an anesthetic to approximate fast-penta interrogation. He insists that they have to act because if the VP of Ops finds out that three Quaddies are missing, she’ll know that three Quaddies are missing. Silver tries to threaten Van Atta by telling him that if he makes her talk, their relationship is over, but she’s hit a wall—Van Atta doesn’t care.

Following the interrogation, Van Atta calls Shuttleport Security on Rodeo to report the escape of three experimental subjects. Security Chief Bannerji is new to his post, and has heard wild stories of genetic experiments on the Orbital Habitat. He asks if the experimental subjects look human. Van Atta assures him they don’t, and that security will have no trouble recognizing them. Bannerji calls for backup, and signs out stunners for himself and his team. After careful consideration of Van Atta’s agitation and his description of the escapees, Bannerji also arms himself with his unregistered personal pistol.

 

COMMENTARY

If someone had asked me which Quaddies would try to escape after the first time I read chapters one and two of this book, I would never have picked Tony and Claire. They’re the kind of good children adults like to point to as role models—the Orbital Habitat’s Homecoming Queen and Most Likely to Succeed. The Cay Project has been nicer to them than it has to almost anyone else. They got picked to be among the first to have a baby. Dr. Yei wants them to be happy.

But nicer is not the same as nice. The reproduction assignment was indisputably a crisis, but it’s not the first or the only indignity Claire and Tony have been subjected to. Back in chapter one, Van Atta tried to use Tony as a practical joke on Leo. Claire was forced to give up a job she loved for the Mommy Track she had no choice about getting on. They found a way to deal with Yei’s regime of censorship, constant observation, and rules that attempted to govern their emotional reactions. As a reward, The Cay Project has completely disregarded their feelings and ambitions.

Tony’s escape plan has several holes in it, even without the schedule change for the shuttle. For one thing, I can’t imagine any employer other than GalacTech will have access to spacesuits customized for the four-handed. Tony and Claire might be able to find work, but not in the kind of demanding environments the Quaddies were created and trained for. They’ll be competing with humans for lower-paying jobs inside space stations and on shuttles and jump ships, and their Cay Project educational credentials are likely to be regarded with suspicion. While escape is preferable to ongoing captivity, uncoordinated individual action does not seem like a path to the Quaddies’ best possible future.

Leo is full of surprises. His interrogation of Silver is sensitive and clever, trading on the minimal relationship he has with SIlver and his knowledge of her psychosocial conditioning. Yei doesn’t do so badly herself. Her approach to Silver is more authoritarian, but offers the trappings of personal agency. Silver is too naive to realize that she has even less experience with agency than she does with gravity. Fortunately, Van Atta is there to point this out by screaming misogynistic insults.

In chapter 3, Silver showed us how the Quaddies deal with the parental controls on their media access. In this scene, she runs through the rest of the current range of Quaddie resistance techniques. She starts with a series of half-truths in response to Leo’s questions, and progresses to lying when he suggests that Claire and Tony were upset about their reproduction assignment. “I’d love to have a baby,” she says, “There’s no pleasing some people.” Silver knows exactly how Tony and Claire feel, and we know from chapter 2 that she would rather have a cat. SIlver has a lot of secrets to protect, and I wish she had more dirt on Van Atta.

On the surface, Yei is nicer than Van Atta. She’s a calmer presence, and Silver finds her less frightening than him, but Yei doesn’t care about her either. When Yei snaps at Van Atta she criticizes him for teaching her subjects anti-social behavior and not for his sexual abuse of Silver and other Quaddie women. Apparently, GalacTech doesn’t have a company policy forbidding employees from screwing their capital equipment.

Leo’s rebellion is growing alongside Silver’s. He has progressed from consternation, to yelling, to quietly encouraging Silver. She has thought of Leo as being simple and forthright, but is starting to realize that he can manipulate the human authorities. I would have liked to see Leo get an earlier start on this, but I will concede that it’s very difficult to support a rebellion if you can’t confirm that one exists. It’s hard to act for the greater good when you act alone.

Security Chief Bannerji’s choice to pick up his firearm is not well-explained. The obvious benefit to a stunner is that your security team can just shoot everyone and sort things out later. I can understand why Bannerji might doubt his stunner’s stopping power, but that’s not part of his thought process. Instead, he thinks about how stunners allow the company to avoid lawsuits. Bujold seems to be suggesting that he picks up his pistol because it increases the chances of litigation.

 

Tune in next week for chapter 5—Bannerji fires his pistol, and we meet the VP of Ops!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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