Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Diplomatic Immunity, Chapter 5

It’s been a little while since we’ve been reminded of just how brutal Barrayar can be. It’s working on its anti-mutant prejudices! People don’t make signs against the evil eye when they see Miles in the street anymore! But those prejudices are still very much in place, particularly, it seems, among the enlisted men serving as security forces aboard the Prince Xav. You have to be well-regarded by your commanders to get ship duty. There are a lot of different ways to earn someone’s regard. They aren’t all great.

Two important things happen in chapter five of Diplomatic Immunity—Miles interviews the Barrayarans in Quaddie custody and Ekaterin goes shopping.

Motivations for the raid have been much discussed in the comments. I don’t think that Admiral Vorpatril was in the throes of some sort of PTSD episode when he ordered the raid on the police station. I appreciate his commitment to the principle of not leaving men behind and I don’t see other significant similarities between this situation and Vorpatril’s experience as a POW at Escobar. Miles is full of ideas about where the blood on the docking bay floor could have come for, but Occam’s Razor suggests it came from Solian as he exsanguinated. Any rational observer would have to consider Solian’s murder as highly probable. I think that, despite their disagreement over the reasons for Solian’s disappearance, Vorpatril trusted his Fleet Security Commander more than his Fleet Legal Officer. That was a mistake, and it’s the kind of mistake people make. Given a straight-up choice between taking advice on a touchy situation from an Ensign who’s filling in for his immediate superior for the first time, or a Captain with years of experience, a lot of people would go with Brun. It would be a bad idea, but we might not notice until something caught fire.

The squad commander from the raid confirms the account Brun provided earlier and suggests that Barrayaran forces saw the Quaddies as the enemy, probably because they were conducting a raid on a Quaddie-controlled station and because they thought a Quaddie had murdered Solian. Miles’s interview with the service security men who went after Corbeau reveals an unfortunate degree of anti-mutant sentiment; They refer to Garnet Five in unambiguously dehumanizing terms. Like Vorpatril, these men were under the impression that Solian had been murdered by an unknown Quaddie, but there’s no reason to believe that they thought Garnet Five had done it, or that they believed themselves or Ensign Corbeau to be in any danger. The Imperial Military still has racist thugs.

Miles’s last interview is with Corbeau himself. Before this point, we knew that Corbeau saw the Minchenko Ballet, fell in love with Garnet Five, and failed to answer his wrist comm when Admiral Vorpatril cancelled leaves. Corbeau has requested asylum from the Union of Free Habitats. Now that Miles is in a cell with him, we can see that he is Sergyaran; There are a lot of different ways to be Barrayaran these days. Miles identifies him from his worm plague scars, which makes me wonder if worm plague survivors are discriminated against as suspected mutants. Mutant is a fungible term for Barrayarans—they use it like Stalin used kulak. The Barrayaran government doesn’t consider Corbeau a mutant; We know that they won’t allow people with treated mutations as jump pilots, and Corbeau has his implant.

Corbeau doesn’t want to criticize his superiors—it can hardly help his situation—but he’s aware of Brun’s prejudices against Komarrans and he can hardly have failed to have notice his comrades’ prejudices against Kommarans, mutants, and Quaddies, especially given their announcement on entering Garnet Five’s quarters—“All right, mutie-lover, this show’s over.” Corbeau’s statement damns his crew-mates, but doesn’t help him. Corbeau acknowledges that the security patrol was recognizable as fleet security. Miles acknowledges that this doesn’t rule out the possibility that they were exceeding their orders. But in fact, they were supposed to bring Corbeau back to the ship.

Corbeau attributes his own errors in judgment to having been just woken up—he was groggy. Miles wants to save a pilot—the Empire has invested heavily in Corbeau—and tries to suggest that Corbeau might have been drunk. If he would drop his asylum request, they might get him out of this situation pretty easily. But Corbeau is 23, and sees the remainder of his five year enlistment as forever. He doesn’t want to have anything more to do with Barrayaran prejudices. Miles tries to make a pitch for the power of progressive-minded men (it’s the Barrayaran military, so, you know, men) to make change by remaining engaged. I sympathize with both sides here. Only decent people can make a decent world! Trying to change violent bigots into decent people is both exhausting and potentially injurious. The conversation defines the problem that Corbeau presents for Miles, but doesn’t offer any solutions.

Ekaterin absented herself from these conversations to tour the station with Bel and perhaps do some shopping. Miles shocks me by making a joke about severed heads. Do the Vorkosigans really joke about that? In front of Cordelia? I’m more inclined to think that Miles tends to run his mouth in the absence of his mother’s moderating influence (and when he’s not undercover). Bel took Ekaterin to see all the best parts of Graf Station and swapped stories about Miles. Ekaterin bought a new jumpsuit—it sounds very practical and a little Victorian, with long buttoned sleeves. I don’t know if it has pockets. Ekaterin needs a new outfit that reflects Quaddie styles because SHE AND MILES ARE GOING TO THE MINCHENKO BALLET!!!!! WITH BEL AND NICOL AND GARNET FIVE!!!!! And that’s what we will be talking about next week.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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