In chapter 1 of Diplomatic Immunity, Miles and Ekaterin were diverted from their galactic honeymoon by an urgent message from Gregor. In chapters 2 and 3, Bujold lays out the mystery and introduces the major players.
These chapters are laced with subtle allusions to earlier books in the series. Miles thinks his Vorkosigan House uniform boots are pointless this far from a horse, just like Cordelia did when she got her new uniform in Shards of Honor. References to Roic’s Armsman’s uniform feed into a brief discussion of hard-as-nails General Piotr. We also get reminders of Miles’s mostly-repaired hunchback, his status as the scion of the eleventh generation of Vorkosigans, and the chip he used to have on his vagus nerve that prevented nausea. If I had a nausea-preventing chip on my vagus nerve and I died, I would want the chip reinstalled as part of my cryo-revival. The Duronas went to a lot of trouble over Miles, I think they could have given him a chip.
For us, the story of Roic coming into the Vorkosigans’ service from the Hassadar police force as a result of conspicuous heroism involving a needler is a reminder. It was new information to readers when Diplomatic Immunity was first published in 2002; “Winterfair Gifts” didn’t come out until 2004. In addition to introducing Roic as something other than a display rack for bug butter, this is a subtle reminder of the characters killed by needlers in previous volumes—that would be Bothari and Miles. Bujold also reminds us of the destruction of Vorkosigan Vashnoi by the Cetagandans, which helps explain why Miles feels the conquest of Komarr was justified. This is also the reason the Barrayaran military is shepherding Komarran trade fleets around space; The Barrayaran fleet gets to practice maneuvering, its officers are exposed to galactic culture, and they have excuses to be anywhere a fight relevant to Barrayaran interests might break out.
So who did the Barrayarans send?
Admiral Eugin Vorpatril, one of the surviving Vorpatrils, served under Miles’s father at Escobar and was taken prisoner by the Escobarans during the retreat. That would be the retreat where the Escobarans attacked the Barrayarans with plasma mirrors and the Barrayarans used fire ships to temporarily plug the wormholes out of local space. Admiral Vorpatril feels strongly about not leaving men behind. Captain Brun, the Fleet Security Commander, is suspicious of foreigners, mutants and Komarrans. Senior Cargomaster Molino of the Komarran fleet consortium is eager to get his trade convoy back underway. And fleet legal officer Ensign Deslaurier is a teenager.
Miles is shocked.
I see Miles’s point here. Heading the legal department for a military fleet on an intergalactic trade mission is a big job. You want someone experienced, thoughtful, mature, and highly competent in that position. That’s what Miles’s lawyers were like, back when he had a fleet with a legal department.
But I also feel for Deslaurier. This is hard to take from MILES VORKOSIGAN, currently the youngest permanent Auditor in Barrayaran History at age approximately 32. And that’s just what Deslaurier knows about! If there’s anyone who should think twice about casting age-and-experience related aspersions on someone else’s rank, I would think it would be the man who declared himself an Admiral and took over a galactic mercenary fleet after being rejected from military school at age 17, and then re-took that fleet at age 22 and used it to run covert ops for his planetary government until his involuntary retirement shortly after his thirtieth birthday. The poor kettle doesn’t even know how black the pot is.
I don’t think the kid isn’t getting any respect from his commanders either, because it doesn’t look like Brun and Vorpatril asked him for advice while their crisis was in progress. In their view, trouble began with the disappearance of Lt. Solian, who provided onboard security for one of the ships in the Komarran convoy, the Idris. Brun assumed the lieutenant deserted because he was Komarran. Vorpatril was less certain. A few days after his disappearance, an alarming quantity of Solian’s blood was found in one of the docking bays being used by the joint Barrayaran/Komarran fleet. Assuming that Solian had been murdered, Vorpatril canceled leaves and ordered his fleet to stand off the station. The Komarran ship captains were slow to respond, and another officer, Ensign Corbeau, failed to report in as ordered. Two men were sent to retrieve Corbeau, and a struggle resulted. All three Barrayarans were arrested by Station security. Vorpatril and Brun reacted by sending a strike team armed with plasma arcs to “rescue” the detainees. Station security detained the strike team. Not unreasonably! As Miles puts it, “after we shot up the police station and set the habitat on fire, what did we do for an encore?” The answer in this case is that the Fleet stood down to await further orders, so, you know, small miracles. Remember when Miles’s troops set fire to a liquor store? I feel like there are some echoes of that situation here.
Having absorbed the Barrayaran version events, Miles changes to civvies to meet with the authorities on Graf Station. The Quaddies have built a thriving state in the asteroid belt they escaped to back in Falling Free. Graf Station is the oldest part of it, and one of the few that offers facilities for downsiders—people with legs. Quaddie government is a democracy with the work gang as its primary unit. They aren’t pleased with the Barrayarans. They’ve chosen to have their first meeting with Miles and his entourage (Roic and Ekaterin) in a zero-gee section of the station; It’s a sign that they’re feeling salty. I’m reminded of Silver’s penchant for not bothering to orient herself to right-side-up when talking to downsiders. The Quaddies have sent Senior Sealer Greenlaw to negotiate with Miles for the release of the Barrayaran troops and as much of a diplomatic relationship between the Union of Free Habitats and Barrayar as can be salvaged. They’ve provided her with an impressive and intimidating security crew.
They’ve also sent Assistant Portmaster BEL THORNE.
Bel was last seen in Mirror Dance, ending a distinguished career with the Dendarii Free Mercenary Company by choosing to accept Mark’s attempt to imitate Miles in a bid to inflict some damage on the Jacksonian clone trade. Miles practically twists himself into a pretzel trying to find a way to have a conversation without blowing Bel’s cover.
PLEASE NOTE: Long-time readers of this reread will recall that we have already had more than one long conversation about appropriate pronouns for Bel. Bujold uses “it.” For reasons that are my own, I try to avoid using pronouns for Bel at all, and when I have no choice, I use the singular plural—they/them/their. I do not dictate what pronouns others use for Bel, and I am not offended by those who conform to Bujold’s styling by using it. Those interested in my reasoning are welcome to search the comments on Bel’s previous appearances in The Warrior’s Apprentice, The Vor Game, “Labyrinth,” Brothers in Arms, and Mirror Dance. I will not be discussing my pronoun choices again.
BACK TO BUSINESS
Miles assures the Quaddie authorities—Sealer Greenlaw and Bel are accompanied by Crew Chief Venn of Graf Station Security and Boss Watts from Downsider Relations—of his credentials and asks for their perspective on the situation. From the Quaddie point of view, the incident sprang from Barrayaran troops’ assault of Garnet Five, a premier dancer in the Minchenko Memorial zero-gee ballet. Ensign Corbeau was in Garnet Five’s quarters when his comrades went looking for him, and one of her arms was broken in the resulting altercation. I hardly know where to look here—this is vital information about the situation in which the fleet has become entangled, and also there’s QUADDIE BALLET!!!! My mini-unicorn and I would like two tickets, please!
Once upon a time, all Quaddie dancing was a form of occupational training, all their songs were educational, and they weren’t allowed to have flute-toots because the noise was annoying to downsiders on the space station where they were enslaved. Silver was the first Quaddie to sound a note on a real musical instrument, when Madame Minchenko, wife of one of the doctors who helped the Quaddies escape GalacTech, showed her how to play the violin. That scene made me cry. WHICH MINCHENKO IS THE BALLET A MEMORIAL FOR? I really hope it’s at least partly her. And how dare Barrayaran forces attack a dancer! That’s senseless vandalism! Corbeau is requesting asylum from the Union of Free Habitats. The Quaddies are not currently inclined to view his application with much sympathy.
The Quaddies inform Miles that they have looked for Lt Solian and he is not on their station. They believe the blood came from a Barrayaran or Komarran ship docked nearby. Miles arranges to inspect the crime scene, and to have Bel accompany him on a private flight around Graf Station to get there. Join me next week for their teeny tiny little Dendarii reunion!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.