Years ago when Miles was a newly minted ensign, he found a corpse in a drain. At the time, and for a short time after, the corpse was almost glamorous. Miles risked his own life to find out why he died. And he hadn’t really died for anything. He was a homesick soldier with some hidden cookies.
Last week, Tien Vorsoisson died. His death, Miles will point out, wasn’t at all mysterious. Miles was right there. He saw the whole thing. Tien forgot to check his breath mask and drowned in Komarr’s unbreathable atmosphere. He was a sad, sick man desperate to control a situation that he was also desperate to ignore. No one got any cookies.
Ekaterin didn’t make Tien what he was. She didn’t control him. She could not cure him. And now that he’s gone, her life is a kind of dramatic inverse of “Aftermaths.” In that story, a salvage crew finds corpses in space, identifies them, and prepares them for burial. In this one, the corpse has been removed and Ekaterin prepares to deal with the rest of her life. She’s done some planning in advance, but Tien’s death leaves her with a set of resources and liabilities she was not expecting. Passage home to Barrayar is a death benefit that Ekaterin can draw on for herself and Nikki. Freed from Tien’s interference and desperate to secure treatment for Nikki while she still has health benefits, she schedules an appointment at Komarr’s best clinic. Miles offers advice for dealing with Tien’s creditors. Miles also has a tech fix Ekaterin’s door lock and inquire about any other needed household repairs, and he orders lunch. He’s quite useful, our Miles.
Miles and Ekaterin compare childhoods over lunch, a result of Miles’s curiosity about Ekaterin’s incredible reserve. She reports that she learned to under-react in an effort to deal with her brother’s harassment. Miles offers an account of his own childhood with Bothari by way of comparison. Bujold is reminding us of precious deaths here—Bothari taught Miles to deal with tragedy and go on. I hope Miles is referring to Elena Bothari there, because as I recall, Miles spent the weeks after Konstantin Bothari’s death in a fugue state in his quarters while his staff flailed to come up with a battle plan. Elena did a lot of emotional heavy lifting to get Miles back in working order. I can see why Miles hasn’t chosen to offer those details in the moment—they aren’t helpful to Ekaterin’s efforts to put her life back in order. I think it’s instructive to compare Miles’s version of reeling in response to an unexpected loss to Ekaterin’s version. There’s no wrong way to grieve. Some people are naturally more skilled at keeping it together than others. Ekaterin:1, Miles: 0.
Ekaterin filches an apricot tart for Nikki out of the takeout that Miles ordered for lunch. This demonstrates that Nikki is at the forefront of Ekaterin’s thoughts, and that he has shockingly sophisticated taste in dessert pastries for a nine-year-old. I definitely would not have been interested in an apricot tart—flaky or otherwise—at that age. Tarts are just pie with one crust missing, and apricots are the flavor of boredom. Nikki has been at a friend’s house since last night, and did not know that his mom was planning to leave his dad. It’s possible that he won’t know for quite some time—there’s no point stressing a kid out about a divorce that won’t be happening because of his father’s murder. I think Nikki is one of the most engaging characters in this book and A Civil Campaign, and at this moment I’m convinced that it’s not because he’s nine. I remain grateful that Bujold found somewhere else for Nikki to be during these difficult chapters. I do not know how one politely requests that the parents of your child’s school friend extend a sleepover while keeping information from your child about his father’s tragic death. Ekaterin is the only character tactful enough to pull it off. I wish we had gotten to read it.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the accident on the soletta array continues. Tuomonen’s office conducts fast penta interrogations of all of Terraforming’s actual employees, and ImpSec unleashes their best forensic accountant. He seems highly skilled. Miles asks him to track Waste Heat’s equipment as well as its money. Tuomonen conducts a fast penta interrogation of Ekaterin to find out what—if anything—she knew about her husband’s crimes. She didn’t know much. The truth that fast penta reveals in this case is not any evidence that Ekaterin has been concealing but the tremendous weight that the problems of life with Tien have placed on her. Miles also learns that he’s in love with Ekaterin, but we knew that already.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.