Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapter 4 (part 2) and Chapter 5

Some enchanted evening, you may see a stranger / You may see a stranger across your distant cousin’s crowded temporary flat convenient to the nightlife in Solstice…

That happens shortly after Byerly walks through the door. Not in time to cut off his critique of Ivan’s activities last night—and I, for one, don’t think it’s fair to criticize Ivan for having been tied to a chair, or for talking to Dome Security. I share Ivan’s concerns about the inadequacy of By’s briefing. Byerly is charmingly stunned by Rish’s appearance. He says so! He says “My word” and “Mademoiselle, may I just say, a stunner seems redundant?” If he had brought takeout, as well as saying those things, I would forgive him all his previous transgressions since the parking garage incident. And that one would be on the table for negotiation. He didn’t bring food, but he has managed to turn himself from a slimy rat fink into kind of a cute fluffy pet-type rat. And Rish has a secret weapon—Rish and Tej both have very sensitive senses, and are learning a lot about Ivan and Byerly from smell. Rish can pick up changes in heart rate. She knows By isn’t faking his attraction. And we know he won’t be able to deceive her. In the interrogation that is to come, By may hedge, he may refuse to speak, and he may select information carefully, but all of those things will be apparent to Tej and Rish. He will be able to obscure information, but not to make it up. He can protect himself, but not deceive anyone. Except Ivan. By can still deceive Ivan if he chooses to.

Likewise, Ivan can deceive By if he chooses to. And he sort of does. Ivan has spent the last day being competent, suave, persuasive, and thoughtful. Now, suddenly, he is speaking with Bertie Wooster’s diction. I might be exaggerating there—he drops a “th,” which is something that Barrayarans do when speaking informally. Miles does it all the time. In this context, it strikes me as Ivan backing away from the responsibilities that come with an assumption of competence and trying to make himself look as though he needs help and will not be capable of providing any. But if that is Ivan’s goal, he’s going to undermine himself almost immediately by admitting that he learned some things from Morozov.

Information being of interest to all parties, Tej proposes that they deal for it. She and Rish will trade information for other information. By is game, and Ivan is there. The conversation reminds me of a game of bridge—there are four players in teams of two, players are bidding against each other by offering information just valuable enough to draw out other information, and I don’t really understand all the rules.

By gives nothing for what he can get from Ivan. He wants to know Tej’s name. Tej declares her name high stakes, so the interrogation begins with Ivan’s account of the previous evening. We were with Ivan the previous evening. We were with Ivan in Morozov’s office. We were with Tej when she looked Ivan up on the local equivalent of Wikipedia. We were with Rish and Tej while Ivan was sleeping. What the three of them have to say will mostly not be news to us, as readers. Byerly is the mystery man here. He hired the agents who broke into Tej and RIsh’s apartment last night. He hoped that doing this would ingratiate him to the parties he is surveilling for ImpSec. Tej deems this enough information to provide her name.

Tej’s name is long. It is Earth-inspired—her dad had a baby name book and some difficulty making decisions. It has the word “ghem” in it. Tej extracts more information from Ivan and By in return for information about her siblings. By has a younger sister on the South Continent and has been disinherited by his father, although he does not regard this as much loss. Byerly grows more interesting by the hour. Tej, who is also growing more interesting, is the second-youngest. Her family includes two brothers—one older and one younger. The older has been reported dead and the younger “got out a long time ago.” Tej is also fairly certain that her two older sisters left Jacksonian local space, one of them as Cordonah Station was being boarded by the Prestene Syndicate. Tej’s family took escape and evacuation drills seriously. Tej and Rish were not, as Byerly put it, “there at feeding time” and have been relying on news feeds for information since they left Cordonah Station.

Byerly’s next gambit delves into the relationship between Rish and Tej. Rish is about nine years older than Tej. Before the current crisis, most of Rish’s time went to dance practice and chores assigned by the Baronne, which is what Tej calls her mother. Finally, Ivan has met someone whose mother is more formidable than his own. Other than Miles. Rish demands a higher bid in exchange for more information about her status, and Ivan forces By to tell more of his story—he’s investigating some financial peculation involving outdated military goods slated for disposal. There’s a mention of Sergyar and Commodore Jole. I love Jole. He’s such a great guy. I haven’t pointed out yet that this book came out after Cryoburn but is set before it, so it was like having Aral resurrected for a tiny bit. He doesn’t actually appear in this book, but it was so nice to know that he was alive during it. Anyway, the party Byerly is surveilling, Theo Vormercier, is in a tight spot waiting for some goods to arrive.

I’ve been shamefully neglecting Ivan’s job. He’s ADC to Admiral Desplaines, who carries out military inspections with the support of a cadre of officers known as the Vor Horseman of the Apocalypse. In addition to being very entertaining—Miles’s family has such a talent for military inspections!—this is highly plot relevant. Byerly’s matter is of professional interest to Ivan, who is conversant in all the overlapping areas of fleet authority and interest involved. Indeed, the missing cargo is likely a result of a ship being delayed for inspections. Ivan is able to work out which one it is in relatively short order (it’s the Kanzian). Vormercier’s difficulties put him in the way of looking for a stopgap, and there was a large bounty offered on Tej and Rish. By wanted to make himself useful. Tej and RIsh aren’t certain why they would be so valuable. Having read ahead, I think I know, but Tej and Rish genuinely believe that most of their family are dead, so it doesn’t make sense to them.

Byerly’s information was valuable, so Rish confirms that she is a jeeves—a servant programmed to be fanatically loyal—but that the Baronne discontinued loyalty treatments “after that scare years back.” I’m not sure what scare that was; It was what triggered the evacuation drill Tej remembers as “a trip and a visit” when she was six. In addition to baby-sitting, Rish and the other Jewels acted as living sculptures for the Baronne’s parties and gathered information from her guests. Rish told Ivan earlier that she is grateful for her existence and pleased with her appearance, and the jeeves programming throws that statement into doubt. Maybe she is, but maybe she’s programmed. Rish is a woman of mystery.

By departs because he has other places to be. Ivan is not, honestly, all that interested in intergalactic affairs. He takes the conversation in a more personal direction. Tej tells him about wanting to be a dancer, like the Jewels. She got too curvy when puberty hit, and her sister said she just wanted the attention. Ivan thinks she just wanted to dance. This is a very Miles-ish moment for Ivan; He sees Tej as a unique person full of potential, with every right to pursue her ambitions. If both of them have it, it’s probably more Cordelia-ish than Miles-ish. It’s a lovely family trait.

Despite the brevity of the Komarran night and his temporary flat supplying an excess of nightlife, Ivan is on time for work the next morning. He thinks of his job as sorting snakes. He puts the ImpSec Komarr report on his interview with Dome Security in File Three, with the non-venomous garden snakes.

Next week—Ivan brings more food, and a crash course in Barrayaran history!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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