Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Falling Free, Chapters 5 and 6

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan reread!

When we left them last week, Claire, Tony, and Andy were hiding on Planet Rodeo, Silver was being interrogated, Leo was subtly encouraging rebellion, and Bannerji was loaded for bear. His choice of weapons does not bode well…

 

SUMMARY

Leo ducked out of Silver’s interrogation to deal with a problem with Pramod’s beam welder, and he feels terrible about it. He drops by the hospital to offer Silver what solace he can. She is a truly miserable Quaddie. The drugs made her vomit, and she was forced to give up a lot of information, including everything about her clandestine book discs. Van Atta refuses to believe that her pilot wasn’t in on the plot, which means she’ll never see him again, which will complicate the process of replacing the book discs. She wishes she were stronger, like the Red Ninja, from her lost book discs. She wishes Dr. Cay, the Cay project’s founder, was still alive. She thinks Claire and Tony would never have run away if he was still there. He was like a father to the Quaddies. When Van Atta arrived eleven months ago, they expected him to be like Dr. Cay.

Leo violates Dr. Yei’s directive about presenting the impression of unified authority and points out that Van Atta is a bad person. He can’t bring himself to describe the Quaddies’ status as slavery, but he acknowledges their situation is ripe for exploitation. Silver is worried about what will happen to Claire and Tony. Leo assures her that, as valuable GalacTech property, they will not be hurt. He anticipates some yelling, a return to the Habitat, and the resumption of normal life within a couple of weeks. He volunteers to go down to Rodeo Station with Van Atta to make sure everything’s alright. Silver is reassured, but wonders what will happen if someone even worse than Van Atta comes along.

Claire and Tony continue to struggle with the gravity and their disorientation downside. Frustrated with hauling the bag of gear, Tony suggests that they leave Andy’s dirty diapers behind. Claire is horrified that he would consider littering. They nearly get crushed by a robolift with a cargo crate. The cargo crate and its contents make a loud noise when dropped on the cargo bay floor, which alerts Bannerji to their location. He panics and almost shoots Claire with his gun. His wild effort to readjust his aim leads to him shooting Tony instead. Twice. Leo bursts on to the scene and is able to offer advice on who the medics should call (The Cay project’s Doctor, Dr. Minchenko, is on downside leave) and what painkillers should be safe. Van Atta, trailing behind, is furious and begins threatening Bannerji. Leo suggests he save his accusations for the investigation. Van Atta then turns his wrath on Claire, who he accuses of having put Tony up to it. Because she’s a girl. Van Atta is on the brink of escalating to physical abuse, and Claire is frightened. Leo tells Van Atta to lay off. When that doesn’t work, Leo punches him. Vice President of Operations Apmad interrupts them.

Apmad commandeers the base commander’s office to discuss the situation with Leo, Van Atta, Bannerji, the station administrator, and her financial advisor. The Cay Project is in a difficult situation because of changing tax policies in Orient IV, the empire Rodeo is a part of. The expenses of maintaining the Habitat and the Quaddies can no longer be written off as losses. They need to start making a profit. Apmad is stridently anti-mutant and disgusted by how far Dr. Cay took his experiments. She considers the creation of the Quaddies to be a deliberate act of genetic pollution. She’s dismayed by the level of disorder in the project that this near-escape incident implies.

Facing major losses in Rodeo as Orient IV moves to exploit the planetary resources that Galactech’s work has uncovered, Apmad is interested in proving the Quaddies’ economic viability as quickly as possible. The Quaddies are classified in the project inventory as post-fetal experimental tissue cultures. If the project proves unviable, they can be disposed of. Under GalacTech’s company guidelines, which are the only law in Rodeo space, the only requirement is that they be cremated. Although not illegal, Apmad agrees this would be morally repugnant. She suggests sterilizing them and moving them to a downside facility to live out their lives. However, she would prefer to see a financial return on GalacTech’s investments. This is Van Atta’s job. He takes this opportunity to suggest firing both Bannerji and Leo. Apmad puts Bannerji on unpaid leave for two weeks and enters a reprimand in his record. She reminds Van Atta that company policy is to avoid firing workers from Rodeo space because of the expense of transporting them home and the long wait time to replace them. Leo gets to keep his job, and Apmad reminds him how important it is that Van Atta achieve his goals.

Tony stays behind on Rodeo for medical treatment while Claire, Andy, Leo, and Van Atta head back to the Habitat. Claire is traumatized. Leo is dismayed at the precariousness of the Quaddies’ situation, but feels powerless. He’s saved a lot of lives in his career, and he can’t think of a way to save the Quaddies without giving up the power and position that makes him such a good quality control engineer. If not for him, who will take care of the space stations? Leo is in the process of resolving to be a dutiful welding teacher in the future, when they arrive back at the Habitat and Van Atta takes Andy away from Claire. Andy is going to the crèche. Van Atta revokes Claire’s right to her private quarters and sends her back to the dormitory with the other Quaddie women. He informs her that she will be removed from the reproduction roster. In the null gravity of the shuttle and the Orbital Habitat, Leo unfastens his seatbelt and falls into his future.

 

COMMENTARY

I see what you did there, Bujold. Everyone is falling.

Silver has had a horrible day. I’m really sorry she had to go through that, with the drugs and the vomiting and the loss of all her books. Claire’s day was even worse. She’s been terrified since before they left the Habitat, and Tony’s turn towards petty crime makes her even more uncertain about the future. And that’s before she and Andy nearly get crushed and Tony gets shot.

Leo is living the difference between feeling trapped and being trapped. He punched Van Atta! That was really cathartic and satisfying for me, although Leo regrets it almost immediately. His conversation with Silver is the more meaningful blow to Van Atta’s authority. Yei’s unified front has been an excellent tool in Van Atta’s personal pursuit of whatever he wants. Undermining that unification is a crucial task for this nascent revolution.

At this point, we’re up to our elbows (or up to a Quaddie’s upper elbows) in demonstrations of the injustice of the Quaddies’ condition as slaves. They don’t have privacy, they don’t have legal rights, they are legally categorized as objects, their feelings are policed. Sex and reproduction are work assignments. Van Atta’s abuse of Claire demonstrates the arbitrary power he wields over every aspect of her life. He takes her child, he takes her privacy, and he removes her from the reproduction roster. And here’s the thing—Claire would never have voluntarily given up Andy, but she didn’t like having private living quarters, and she didn’t want to have another baby (at least not right away and not with anyone but Tony). Van Atta rearranges Claire’s life to prove that he can, and she cannot. Regardless of what was encouraged by their psychosocial programming and what other Quaddie parents may or may not be doing, Claire, Tony, and Andy formed a nuclear family unit. They knew it was an act of rebellion from the start; They hid it from Yei. It was important enough to drive them to the greatest risk ever taken by Quaddies. Van Atta has to break it.

Apmad is a classic example of the worst thing that can happen to these characters. For the Quaddies, she’s merely the latest in a series. They were deliberately created without parents to advocate for them, in a place where GalacTech could deny them legal personhood, and then burdened with Van Atta. Leo and I are both side-eyeing her disgust with “genetic pollution.” What would the Quaddies be polluting?

There are two pieces of this section that will have implications for Miles Vorkosigan, centuries down the line. One is anti-mutant sentiment. Apmad is not Barryaran, but her attitude towards mutation certainly is. I’m not certain where Falling Free falls in relation to the Barryaran Time of Isolation, but this scene suggests that Barryar’s prejudices were driven by prevailing galactic beliefs at the time it lost contact. The second piece is the surprise inspection. These always look like so much fun when Miles does them. He frowns a few times and raises his eyebrows and people panic, and he wins. Leo is on the other side of this process. He has to carefully weigh all the possibilities in a confrontation that he’s not prepared for, and Apmad and Van Atta win. For now.

Next week we take on chapter 7, and the resistance picks up steam!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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