At the end of chapter 10, Bel Thorne went missing. This is an alarming turn of events. We know that Bel is highly trained, and has saved Miles’s life several times. Bel wouldn’t hesitate to step into the line of fire for Miles again, and in fact laid on Miles’s head when they were shot at by an unknown party with a riveter. Diplomatic Immunity has several characters whose abduction I think would not present much of a struggle for a trained operative. Bel is not one of them.
In short, this is very bad news.
You know what else is short? Time. Miles has four days to wrap this up if he’s going to be present at the birth of his first two children. And he would like to be. Ekaterin takes his concerns with wifely stoicism—she says they will discuss this in four days.
Miles sets aside his concerns about little Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia to focus on Bel, who is one of a host of missing persons Miles needs station security to locate as urgently as possible. Passengers Firka and Dubauer are also on the lam this morning. Chief Venn is inclined to assign Bel the lowest possible priority—he asks if Bel could have stayed the night with a friend, and implies that Bel might have been sleeping with Garnet Five—until Garnet Five arrives at Security Post One. She reports that she met Bel last night and the two of them saw Firka and tried to follow him. Firka knocked them out with an unknown aerosol, and Garnet Five woke up in a recycle bin. Bel was nowhere to be found. This raises the urgency of the search for Firka and the search for Bel while handily defusing the slur on Garnet Five’s reputation. Also, Firka seems curiously well-equipped.
One of the nifty things about mysteries is what they reveal about the ordinary workings of their settings. To understand how and why a victim was murdered or a crime was committed, you need to know how things are supposed to work, what’s ordinary and what’s out of the ordinary. So of course, I’m riveted by the recycle bin. This seems similar to the sort of dumpsters you see in alleys and behind businesses on Earth, which makes sense because dumpsters are one of those things that works well enough to be left alone—I can imagine improvements, but I can also imagine significant drawbacks to those improvements from the perspective of a person who has been knocked out with gas and stuffed in one. BUT BUT BUT this is Graf Station, and only part of it has gravity. How are people disposing of waste in the other parts? What are zero-gravity space dumpsters like? How are they handling this on the International Space Station? None of these questions are relevant to the plot, but there are days when I wish that, after crashing and burning in the Imperial Military Academy entrance examinations, Miles had pursued a career in public works so I could know the answers to all of these questions. Perhaps there is fanfic on that.
Miles attempts a fast penta interrogation and fails because Firka will not stop talking. Sometimes a person really needs to tell a story, and this is that person. His real name is Gupta. He has gills. He was created on Jackson’s Whole to be a genetically modified stage hand for a group of genetically modified underwater dancers. The troop was disbanded when the House that created it was taken over by House Ryoval a few years before Baron Ryoval was assassinated (by Mark, in case you had forgotten). Gupta, who goes by Guppy, found work transporting cargo, and was part of the crew of the ship that smuggled Dubauer to Komarr, and he’s the only survivor. Everyone else died of a disease that somehow produced a ton of heat and melted them. It’s like a nightmare horror story version of Ebola. It’s spread by direct contact, and I assume it’s a virus.
I like Miles as a former mercenary commander, intelligence agent, and high-powered space detective, but my brain is generating whole squads of alternative Mileses tonight. If he didn’t want to go into public works (and it would have been a huge benefit to the Vorkosigan’s District if he had, at least once they stopped letting 17-year-old Miles drive the snowplow) he could have considered public health. Miles likes to know more than everyone else, and to tell people what to do; I think he would have been good at the investigation side of public health, if perhaps a little tactless on the recommendations front. I have many questions about health facilities and public health issues on Graf Station. Miles is somewhat more focused on tracking Dubauer.
Guppy weathered his illness in his personal water tank, and is now seeking revenge. He bought passage on one of the ships in the Komarran convoy in order to stay close to Dubauer. He reported his concerns about Dubauer to Solian just before Solian disappeared, and synthesized Solian’s blood to keep Barrayaran security focused on searching for him. I think he’s very tired. By the time the Quaddies bring a dose of fast penta to the interrogation room, Guppy has debriefed himself more thoroughly than Miles ever could.
Bel Thorne is still missing.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.