Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Diplomatic Immunity, Chapters 13-15

Last week, Miles set the Quaddie authorities looking for “Dubauer,” the renegade Ba, and Bel, who appears to have been abducted at least twice in a single evening. This week, Miles is reducing his distractions by locking himself and a number of major players in the local government aboard the Idris with all of Dubauer’s uterine replicators.

Dubauer and Bel were, it turns out, seen returning to the Idris late the previous night, explaining to the duty guard that Dubauer wanted to carry out some kind of important maintenance on the cargo hold full of “exotic animal fetuses.” They suggested that the guard should keep this quiet, lest the other passengers get jealous. And then the guard went home and went to bed and didn’t see the many, many announcements that Bel was missing until afternoon.

Miles is, understandably, gravely worried about Bel’s safety in the presence of a rogue Ba equipped with a bioweapon that melts flesh. In fact, he’s worried about everyone’s safety. The Quaddie authorities are also concerned—they worry that Guppy might still be contagious. If this is the case, Miles helpfully points out, the station and the Union of Free Habitats are already both doomed; Guppy has been roaming Graf Station touching things, shooting at people, and carrying out abductions for days. Miles persuades Sealer Greenlaw to accept an infusion of unarmed Barrayaran medics to study Guppy and work out what they can about the bioweapon. He also persuades Quaddie security to look for Dubauer and stun him on sight.

Up until now, the situation has been relatively stable. The Barrayaran threat was contained. The Quaddies were negotiating with Miles to settle for damages and release the troops and convoy. When Miles and the Quaddie authorities arrive in the docking bay to inspect Dubauer’s cargo, the Quaddie guard is playing jacks on the floor. I’m pretty sure this is a callback to Falling Free. It’s also a reminder of how dramatically Guppy’s information has changed the situation.

At some point in the process of checking out Dubauer’s floating baby factory and searching the Idris for clues, Miles comes to believe that Bel is still on board. I forget exactly which point because I’m distracted by the dramatic scene in which Miles finds Bel, glassy-eyed, unresponsive, and sealed in a bod pod. For those of you who may have forgotten, bod pods are primitive life-saving equipment used to protect people from decompression. You get inside, seal the pod, and wait for rescue. So in other words, the Ba got Bel sick and then left Bel sealed in a ziplock bag.

Miles’s best effort to be optimistic here consists of hoping that some of the unresponsiveness can be attributed to the Ba pumping Bel full of hypnotic drugs.

On a spectrum in which use of personal protective equipment and adherence to disease control procedures falls between the Enterprise crew in “The Naked Time” (in which characters stopped just short of shoving contaminated material up their own noses) and Doctors Without Borders, Miles falls surprisingly close to Doctors Without Borders. I attribute this to Cordelia’s influence, because we know that the Barrayaran military isn’t really good at protecting their warfighters from biological and chemical hazards. Notable examples include Aral’s youthful exposure to substances that he fears will impact his fertility, and General Metzov’s response to a toxic chemical spill in The Vor Game. The popular assumption among the troops is that they will die too young to suffer from the long-term risks of exposure to environmental hazards.

In addition to managing locomotion and patient care while wearing ill-fitting PPE, Miles rigs a second bod pod to vent the first one into to limit possible airborne contagion. It’s not perfect, but last we knew the bioweapon wasn’t airborne so it’s probably good enough. Miles also uses information from Guppy’s medical history to design a course of therapy to slow progression of the disease—he immerses Bel in ice water. It reminds him of Ivan. Look at Ivan, being useful and saving Miles’s friend despite not being anywhere near this book! Ivan is such a great guy. This scene also confirms what I said last week about how it would have been interesting if Miles had gone into public health. I would love to see him teaching elementary school students to sneeze into their elbows.

While he’s shoving Bel into an ice bath, Miles muses about how Bel represents a missed sexual opportunity from his youth and they should have slept together while they were both young and hot.

  1. I hate horny Miles. Bel is dangerously febrile, Miles! Focus!
  2. At this point in the series, Miles is approximately 33. That’s . . . still kinda young.
  3. When Bel and Miles first met, Miles was 17, and convinced that he could pass for older through the strategic deployment of a five o’clock shadow because pain lines made him prematurely wrinkly. Bel was . . . Not 17. Possibly, Bel was 33! That would be a normal age for an executive officer in a lot of militaries. It’s not the dawn of decrepitude.
  4. Bel is considering settling permanently on Graf Station to start a family with Nichol, so now is hardly the time for nostalgic sexy thoughts.

Indeed, it’s not the time for any thoughts; It’s time for action. The hunt for the missing Ba is going nowhere—The video monitoring systems don’t show the Ba leaving the Idris. Miles walks a suspicious spacesuit back into an airlock using the remote controls and it’s empty. Plus bonus, the controls that allowed him to do that were coated in corrosive goo that also contains the bioweapon, so now Miles is infected. I’m really impressed that the Cetagandans managed to engineer an infectious agent that can survive prolongs suspension in corrosive goo. Those people are really dangerous. By this time, the Barrayaran medical team that Miles has brought on board understands how the bioweapon works. They have some ideas about possible treatments. They can’t permanently stop the progression of the disease.

(Also I can’t help but notice how hard the Quaddies work to avoid calling Bel and Dubauer “It.” A few Quaddies do it once, and then use phrasings that seem intended to avoid the need for pronouns. At least, they look like the kind of sentences I write when I’m trying to avoid pronouns. I’m so glad to not be the only person in the Galactic Nexus who’s uncomfortable with that.)

While Miles is dealing with his shredded gloves and impending medical crisis, the Ba, who is still on board, takes over Nav and Com. The Ba seals off parts of the ship, effectively taking Sealer Greenlaw and Venn hostage. Then it calls Graf Station and starts making demands.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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