Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapters 20-24

Welcome back to the reread! It’s been two weeks—roughly, I didn’t count—since our last blog post. I hope everyone had multiple brilliant holidays, and that no one found Ivan being stuck in a bunker with his in-laws excessively relevant to their celebrations. And for those of you who are just tuning in, this is the week when Ivan gets stuck in a bunker with his in-laws!

The last blog post left Ivan at a perilous point: He made promises to Tej without knowing what he was promising. This is because he so desperately wants her in his life. I think Tej is good for Ivan, but of course, her family isn’t good for her—they’re quite dysfunctional—and she’s very much under their influence these days what with all the driving, the lectures from her sisters about what she should be willing to do, and her Da’s offers to have Ivan assassinated. She’s handling all of this better than I would.

That’s not the same as saying she’s handling it well. In her defense, every good option I can think of involves having a family that respects one’s personal boundaries.

I don’t think Ivan’s promises matter much to most of the Arquas. They had a plan, a tunnel, and a transport contractor before Ivan agreed to become involved. But it does mean that Ivan—who is on leave from Ops—is there when the Arquas finally penetrate the bunker and find their buried treasure. He’s also there when they are attacked by their faithless transport contractor, and when stunner fire sets off the unexploded ordinance that the unfortunate Sgt. Abelard was carrying when he disappeared during Vordarian’s Pretendership. The explosion damages some nearby water pipes and collapses the tunnel.

There are worse things that can happen to a person than being trapped in a bunker full of buried treasure. The Cetagandans pulled together an interesting and highly portable collection of items of historical and material value before they were forced to leave Barrayar, and some of the time underground is spent looking at stuff. There’s a complete set of seal daggers, and a great deal of correspondence between Prince Xav and Yuri the Not-Yet-Mad. The worst part is the uncertainty—what happened to the people who aren’t in the bunker? Is rescue coming? If not, will everyone suffocate or drown? Ivan’s presence means they have a lot of cold lights—he stuffed his pockets before he entered the tunnel.

There’s time here, and there’s a need for distraction from present circumstances, so Ivan and Tej finally talk. Earlier in the book, Tej said that Ivan valued his comforts. It’s still true. And while in some contexts, a focus on one’s own comfort can be obsessive or selfish, Ivan values his comfort in a better way. He values it more than power. He has all the money he needs to assure it, so he doesn’t need more. Ivan sees Tej as one of his comforts, and so he wants her to be happy and to want to be with him. If Tej rejected Ivan he would deal with it because he wants to be wanted, not to force anything from anyone—Ivan expects that other people value their comfort too, and he respects that.

Unlike the unfortunate Sgt. Abelard, Ivan and Co. are all rescued. I had some difficulty keeping track of who went into the bunker, who left, when they left, and where they went. But someone got help, and no one drowned in a tunnel or anything (although some of them had a very uncomfortable time) and everyone’s going to be alright. And there is SO. MUCH. EXCAVATION EQUIPMENT. When the Ghem Estif/Arqua family emerges back into the sunlight, the park across from ImpSec HQ is FULL of equipment, and military engineers, and experts, and we are in the midst of a virtual (and very non-sexual) orgy of Barrayaran modernity—military expertise and its applications in peacetime contexts. My sincerest congratulations to Emperor Gregor, who took time out of his day to come and watch. This is surely a sign of the progress he has fought for as Emperor. And it’s why he’s on hand when ImpSec HQ starts to sink into the ground.

I failed to discuss the squashed gargoyles on the sides of the building when Ivan brought them up a few chapters back. That was a mistake. They were much loved by the people of Vorbarr Sultana who gave them nicknames and personalities. THEY WERE IN A KID’S CARTOON. It was short-lived, but still. And I’m using the past tense because now they are gone. From view, anyway. They’re still there—ImpSec HQ is intact and undamaged! They’re just underground now. Illyan whoops and hollers while ImpSec’s analysts desert their posts to climb to ground level. He really hated that building. And because Bujold is a thoughtful author with some family connections in engineering failure analysis, the physics of this all appear to be completely plausible. There’s a cleverly animated PowerPoint presentation and everything.

Continuing in the spirit of Barrayaran modernity, the sinking of ImpSec leads to a really big meeting. Gregor calls on a wide range of experts from the ImpMil, ImpSec, and the Imperial Science Institute. Their reports are hilariously dry. I especially appreciate Dr. Weddell’s report on the safety of Vorbarr Sultana’s drinking water in the aftermath of the release of the mycoborer into the municipal water supply.

What with one thing and another, Gregor offers the Arquas an unarmed jumpship and part of the proceeds from the bunker if they will go away. The Arquas accept as an alternative to paying damages for the sinking of ImpSec, and because it’s what they wanted to do anyway. Their goals have always been on Jackson’s Whole. Byerly gets to be Gregor’s personal liason with House Cordonah, which means that my hopes of a deathless—or, at least, very interesting—romance between him and Rish get to live on. What happens to Ivan and Tej? Tune in next week to find out.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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