Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Diplomatic Immunity, Chapter 16

Last week, Miles found himself locked on the Idris along with an assortment of local authorities and Barrayaran medics, and the renegade Ba. The Ba has a bioweapon that I have decided to call the Plague. I realize that it is not actually the plague as we know it in Earth history—y. Pestis does not melt flesh—I just need a name for it, because Miles has it. We have two Plague victims with active infections now—Miles and Bel—and Miles seems gravely concerned about Ensign Corbeau’s safety.

How did Corbeau get in here? The Ba demanded a pilot. Corbeau is a pilot. The Quaddies sent Corbeau. Per the Ba’s request, Corbeau was sent naked. This is just as undignified as it sounds—Corbeau essentially performs his own cavity search at the Ba’s instructions. I’m not quite sure how Corbeau got roped into this job, but it was sufficiently voluntary or rewarding that he proposed ways to assist Graf Station authorities in the process; He blinks the ship’s lights in pre-arranged codes to send them messages. Miles is impressed by him. I am too. Miles notes the worm scars on Corbeau’s body, and wonders how he came by such a terrible case of worm plague. He speculates a bit about childhood bullying. We’re never going to know enough about Corbeau to know if this is true, but he is certainly stoic and resourceful—qualities that make him a bit like Ekaterin.

Ekaterin herself in in the command center aboard the Prince Xav with Admiral Vorpatril. The Queen of Keeping it Together, she takes Miles’s news about being infected constructively, though not precisely calmly. She’s emotional and overwhelmed, and emergencies just make her more determined. She reminds him that he made a career out of rescuing hostages, and recommends that he get to work on rescuing himself. She supports this project by acting as Miles’s liaison to the Prince Xav’s command staff; Miles needs to be reminded to explain sometimes. And then she gets him off the comm so he can work. He’s got a countdown clock set to an unknown point when Plague symptoms start.

Corbeau is a secret hero, Miles is a hostage rescue specialist and the Ba is… flailing. The Ba has killed four people that Miles knows of, and more on the Star Creche’s child ship, but the murders were incidental to the Ba’s plot, which is centered around kidnapping. The Ba got stuck on Graf Station for an unexpectedly long time, which undermined the plan. The Haut children in the replicators in the Idris’s cargo bay don’t matter much to the Ba, but their genes do. The Ba has collected a tissue sample from each of them. Miles assumes that the Ba has the ability to re-create this set of fetuses elsewhere. I honestly can’t remember the Ba’s plot, which will be explained in the next few chapters, so I can’t remember what resources the Ba has arranged in advance. But I think this implies that the Ba has had a lot of time to put together the plan, and a lot of resources to create the embryos from tissue samples and implant them in uterine replicators.

Any plot involving the kidnapping of thousands of infants must inevitably involve a great deal of resources in order en ensure their care. I believe that if the Ba had begun trying to staff a facility to care for over a thousand newborns, some evidence of it might have emerged in Miles’s efforts to find information. If all the Ba wanted was the tissue samples, there might have been a way to gather those and get off the Creche ship without killing anyone or dealing with an inconveniently large and cumbersome cargo. The Ba doesn’t seem to have been short on resources, at least at the beginning. But now, they Ba has created a public scene, and then aggravated that scene by engineering a hostage crisis, making demands, and, oh yeah, putting a bomb with a dead-man switch in an unknown location on Graf Station. Theoretically, this is all in aid of the Ba’s escape. In reality, it all complicates the Ba’s effort to go quietly to ground in an undisclosed location with all the Cetagandan babies meant for one whole world. Plus bonus, Miles and Roic stage a raid on Nav and Comms (I really want to call this the Bridge) to destroy the sample case and rescue Corbeau. Miles just manages not to vomit on him.

Meanwhile, the Cetagandan Empire is mobilizing for war out near Marilac, a Barrayaran ally that Miles helped rescue from Cetagandan imperialist domination back in his younger days, and the Prince Xav has been ordered to leave Graf Station and rendezvous with the Barrayaran fleet there. Of all the Barrayaran agents locked on all the cargo ships just off all the space stations, the Ba got spectacularly unlucky to draw this one. There is exactly one person in the Galactic Nexus who can put all of this together and prevent a war, and his medical staff is almost certain they can postpone his death for a few days while he works on it.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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