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Archive for October, 2011

Time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, two more chapters of The Warrior’s Apprentice, third book chronologically and first to feature the long-time protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan.  In these chapters, Miles gets off of Barrayar, out of himself, and into a few highly interesting situations, and this is just the beginning…

Chapter Five

At an underground customs port, a Betan customs officer obviously acquainted with Bothari needles him about what weapon he’s tried to smuggle through security this time.  Miles remembers him, Officer Timmons, from previous visits, and greets him more courteously.  Miles and Elena go through the security scanner first.  Miles hopes that Beta will prove more successful than Escobar, where their grave-hunting was fruitless, leaving Elena to conclude that her father had been telling the truth, and Miles to wonder to himself if her mother was actually still alive, and if he should ask his own mother about it.

Bothari’s attempt to pass through the scanner is less successful, and Miles seizes the opportunity to take Elena on a tour of the shuttleport while Bothari works out his security problems.  They browse the shops in the concourse, and Miles buys her ice cream (rather than a big fringed lizard pet, as he tempted to).  Elena talks about the freedom she sees around her, and Miles says it’s not all that it seems.  For instance, she can marry whoever she wants, but she would need a permit to have children.  Slightly uncomfortably he tells her about the Betan requirement for contraception implants, often combined with a hymen-cutting ceremony, and goes on about the various meanings of earrings to convey sexual availability in Betan culture.  Elena covers her ears selfconsciously, and Miles assures her that she can turn down any proposition and nobody will take offense to it.  He remembers his own teenage year on Beta.

He had been fifteen on his year-long school visit to Beta Colony, and he’d found himself for the first time in his life with what looked like unlimited possibilities for sexual intimacy. This illusion had crashed and burned very quickly, as he found the most fascinating girls already taken. The rest seemed about equally divided among good Samaritans, the kinky/curious, hermaphrodites, and boys.

He did not care to be an object of charity, and he found himself too Barrayaran for the last two categories, although Betan enough not to mind them for others. A short affair with a girl from the kinky/curious category was enough. Her fascination with the peculiarities of his body made him, in the end, more self-conscious than the most open revulsion he had experienced on Barrayar, with its fierce prejudice against deformity. Anyway, after finding his sexual parts disappointingly normal, the girl had drifted off.

The affair had ended, for Miles, in a terrifying black depression that had deepened for weeks, culminating at last late one night in the third, and most secret, time the Sergeant had saved his life. He had cut Bothari twice, in their silent struggle for the knife, exerting hysterical strength against the Sergeant’s frightened caution of breaking his bones. The tall man had finally achieved a grip that held him, and held him, until he broke down at last, weeping his self-hatred into the Sergeant’s bloodied breast until exhaustion finally stilled him. The man who’d carried him as a child, before he first walked at age four, then carried him like a child to bed. Bothari treated his own wounds, and never referred to the incident again.

Miles notices four Betans arguing quietly nearby, and begins eavesdropping shamelessly.  It seems that a man named Calhoun, who has salvage rights to an obsolescent ship, is trying to get a pilot named Arde Mayhew out of it, while a Betan security woman, a shuttleport administrator, and another pilot debate what to do about it.  The pilot says that Mayhew is almost obsolete himself because of his outdated implants, and behind on his dues anyway, but he understands Arde’s desire not to leave the last ship he can actually pilot, to go out in a blaze of glory if necessary.  The administrator warns Calhoun that he’ll be charged for any traffic disruption caused by debris if his ship blows up.  Miles, taken by Mayhew’s fellow-desperate-outcast status, begins to hatch a plan, and whispers to Elena to follow his lead.

“Ah, good, Miss Bothari, you’re here,” he said loudly, as if he had just arrived. He gathered her up and marched up to the group.

He knew he confused strangers as to his age. At first glance, his height led them to underestimate it. At second, his face, slightly dark from a tendency to heavy beard growth in spite of close shaving, and prematurely set from long intimacy with pain, led them to overestimate. He’d found he could tip the balance either way at will, by a simple change of mannerisms. He summoned ten generations of warriors to his back, and produced his most austere smile.

“Good afternoon, ladies, gentlemen,” he hailed them. Four stares greeted him, variously nonplused. His urbanity almost crumpled under the onslaught, but he held the line. “I was told one of you could tell me where to find Pilot Officer Arde Mayhew.”

He introduces himself, and says that he has to discharge a debt of honour to Mayhew.  They are dubious, but Miles insists that he can talk Mayhew out of his ship if they can get him up there.  The pilot, Van, admits that they don’t have any better ideas.
Van takes Miles up in a personnel shuttle, trying to persuade Mayhew to let Miles on board.  Mayhew responds belligerently, saying that he won’t let himself be boarded.  Van tries to calm him down, telling him that a Barrayaran Lord Vorkosigan is coming up, leaving Mayhew puzzled, since he doesn’t know any Barrayarans.  They connect to Mayhew’s ship, and Miles crosses over, uneasily in the zero gravity, and finds Mayhew in the Navigation & Communications Room.

Pilot Officer Mayhew?” he called softly, and pulled himself to the door. “My name is Miles Vorkosigan, and I’m looking for—looking for—” What the devil was he looking for? Oh, well. Wing it. “I’m looking for desperate men,” he finished in style.

Mayhew is sitting in the pilot’s chair with a bottle of greenish liquor, a toggle-switched device that is probably set up to blow the ship, and a needler gun.  Miles asks about the gun, and Mayhew says he bought it on Jackson’s Whole and never tried to bring it into Beta Colony, because they’d take it away from him.  Miles asks Mayhew how he got into the situation, and Mayhew offers him a story of bad luck and injustice.  He offers Miles his bottle, and Miles takes it, considers trying to dump it out, but then samples it out of curiosity.

He barely managed not to choke it into free fall, atomized. Thick, green herbal, sweet as syrup—he nearly gagged on the sweetness—perhaps 60% pure ethanol. But what was the rest of it? It burned down his esophagus, making him feel suddenly like an animated display of the digestive system, with all the different parts picked out in colored lights. Respectfully, he wiped the mouthpiece on his sleeve and handed the bottle to its owner, who tucked it back under his arm.

Miles asks Mayhew what he plans to do next, and Mayhew says he doesn’t have any plans.  He rhapsodizes over the joys of piloting, the experiences of hyperspace.  Miles, feeling oddly energizes the drink, upbraids Mayhew for his lack of foresight, not even having tried to make any demands in exchange for the ship.  Mayhew says that this ship, the last one he’d be able to pilot, is the only thing he wants, and he can only keep it as long as he keeps awake.  Miles says that then he needs to buy out the ship, but Mayhew says his finances fell through and Calhoun outbid him.  Miles continues to share the bottle with Mayhew, and soon an idea occurs to him–to buy the ship himself and hire Mayhew to pilot it.

He contacts Calhoun on the comm and offers him some prime Barrayaran real estate in exchange for the ship.  Calhoun is not attracted by the offer, but Miles points out that the alternative is Mayhew blowing up the ship.  Calhoun asks about the land, and Miles describes it as prime farmland, wooded and rainy, and owned absolutely by Miles in his own right, no liens on it or anything.  They negotiate on the price, and process the transaction over the comconsole.

Mayhew is less enthusiastic, since he says that no matter what, whenever he leaves the ship he’ll be taken by the Mental Health Bureau.  Miles comes up with another plan, having Mayhew swear fealty to him as liege lord, which will embroil the whole mess in Barrayaran law and Miles’s diplomatic immunity.  Mayhew isn’t quite sure what he’s getting into, but he decides it’s worth a try; Miles tries to make him understand that it is a serious relationship, with obligations on both sides.  Mayhew wonders if they’ll just take Miles too, but Miles says his own liege lord, Emperor Gregor, wouldn’t take kindly to that.  After the transaction is completed, Van returns to pilot the ship back to Beta.

Van says he didn’t realize Miles was so wealthy, and Miles admits that he really will have to scramble to cover that note, since he really doesn’t want to give up that land to someone like Calhoun.  His great-grandfather had lost a lot of the family fortune speculating in jewels, wiped out by offplanet imports of synthetics, and had to sell off a lot of land near Vorkosigan Surleau, and the remaining land, near Vorkosigan Vashnoi, was destroyed by the Cetagandans and left as a big radioactive crater.  Mayhew suddenly puts the pieces together and asks Miles if that radioactive land is what he just mortgaged to Calhoun; Miles confirms it, to his delight.

Back in the shuttleport, three groups converge on them.  The first is Bothari, ruffled-looking from what must have been a strip-seach, a Betan security man, a tearful Elena, and another Betan citizen with a bruise on his face.  The other two groups are led by the shuttleport administrator and the Betan security woman.  Mayhew goes down on his knees, and Miles commands Bothari to attend as Mayhew swears his oath of fealty to Miles.  The bruised Betan accuses Elena of assaulting him, while the security woman moves to arrest Mayhew.

“I beg your pardon, Officer Brownell,” Miles interrupted her smoothly. “Pilot Officer Mayhew is now my liegeman. As his liege commander, any charges against him must be addressed to me. It will then be my duty to determine their validity and issue the orders for the appropriate punishments. He has no rights but the right to accept challenge in single combat for certain categories of slander which are a bit complicated to go into now—” Obsolete, too, since dueling was outlawed by Imperial edict, but these Betans won’t know the difference—”So unless you happen to be carrying two pairs of swords and are prepared to, say, offer an insult to Pilot Officer Mayhew’s mother, you will simply have to—ah—contain yourself.”

The legality of Mayhew’s arrest as Miles’s vassal looks liable to turn into a morass of untested interplanetary law.  Elena’s assault is referred to the Barrayaran Embassy, which specializes in obfuscating these kinds of charges through endless red tape, satisfying the Betans that they are doing something while keeping the Barrayarans from actually being charged.

“Two hours,” muttered Bothari. “We’ve only been in this bloody place two bloody hours. . . .”

Comments

And now the book really starts to get going.  This is the first great achievement of Miles Vorkosigan, really, talking his way into a spaceship through a mixture of bravado, improvisation and determination.  And a shady radioactive land deal.  And Arde Mayhew is but the first to fall under his sway…  Though I suppose at this point he also has Elena and Bothari in his, um, entourage.

It’s never quite confirmed, by the way, but I am convinced (and perhaps Bujold has confirmed it extratextually) that this is the same Mayhew who gave Cordelia a lift off the planet at the end of Shards of Honour.  That would partially explain the blighting of his career, if it had ever become generally known.  But then, wouldn’t he have had a bit more of a reaction to “Barrayaran”?  Because presumably the news story of war hero Cordelia Naismith running off to marry a Barrayaran would have made a big splash, and the name “Vorkosigan” was one to conjure with…  Well, maybe Mayhew just never connected the dots.

How much experience did Miles have in zero-gee, I wonder?  He makes reference to how zero gravity always made him regret the last thing he ate, so this wasn’t the first time.  He hasn’t gotten to start cadet training, of course, so it couldn’t be that.  Did he get to go to orbiting ships with his father?  Was it during his prior trips to Beta?  Maybe they have some kind of zero-gee fun zone that he got to visit last time.

We don’t get many details on what exactly happened with Elena and the other Betan gentleman, but presumably he made what was, on Beta, a harmless proposition to her, and she, in her Barrayanness, perceived it as improper, rude, and outright horrible, and reacted as she would have had a Barrayaran made made such a proposition.  Which means she was unable to overcome her cultural conditioning long enough to internalize Miles’s earlier advice about just refusing politely.  She wants to escape from Barrayar, but she’s got a long way to go yet.

Chapter Six

Miles arrives at his grandmother Naismith’s apartment with Elena, Bothari and Mayhew, still full of energy while the others are tired.  Mayhew is packed off to sleep in a spare bedroom, while the rest have supper.  Mrs. Naismith is taken with Elena, who is shy at meeting Cordelia’s mother.  Miles wonders if Elena might eventually be willing to see him as a man and not just a Vor.  His grandmother asks him if he can help one of her neighbours–Mr. Hathaway, from the recycling centre–with a problem that seems to require a Barrayaran touch.

Hathaway turns out to have a Barrayaran squatter in the recycling centre, an enclosed, domed area full of assorted junk.  The Barrayaran refuses to go a proper Shelter, and instead insists of burning precious wood for fires.  As they find him, he is cooking a fish, but he pulls out a homemade but sharp knife as they draw near.  Miles and Bothari note the man’s knife stance as that of a trained soldier, Barrayaran indeed.  Hathaway addresses the man as “Baz”, introducing his visitors as Barrayarans after other conversational gambits fail, which gets Baz’s attention immediately.

When Miles steps forward, Baz accuses him of not being Barrayaran; Miles says he’s half-Betan.  He asks Baz if he needs help getting home, which Baz refuses.  Hathaway asks Baz where he got the fish, and Baz tells him it was from a fountain; Hathaway is revolted, saying that’s part of the zoo exhibits, and he can get free food anytime he wants if he just goes to a Shelter and gets himself an identity card.  Miles offers to share Mayhew’s bottle of green liquor with Baz; Baz offers Miles some fish, and after seeing Hathaway’s revulsion at the idea, Miles accepts.  He refuses on Bothari’s behalf, saying he’s on duty; Baz realizes this means he’s a bodyguard, and so Miles is probably Vor.

Miles says that Beta must be a hard place to live homeless in, and Baz agrees; Miles suggests Baz go to the Barrayaran Embassy and see if they can get him a ride home, and Baz refuses, vehemently.  He says he’ll find some work soon, and find somewhere else to ship off to.

The pieces were falling into place. “Baz doesn’t want to register anywhere,” Miles explained to Hathaway, coolly didactic. “Up until now, Baz is something I thought impossible on Beta Colony. He’s a man who isn’t here. He’s passed across the information network without a blip. He never arrived—never passed through Customs, and I’ll bet that was one hell of a neat trick—as far as the computers are concerned, has not eaten, or slept, or purchased—or Registered, or been Carded—and he would rather starve than do so.”

“For pity’s sake, why?” asked Hathaway.

“Deserter,” commented Bothari laconically from above. “I’ve seen the look.”

Baz springs to his feet, accusing Miles of being Service Security, but Miles says he’s “nobody” too, just not as good at it.  Miles correctly guesses that Baz was a Lieutenant, and Baz admits that his defection was “in the heat”, technically.  Miles finds it hard to comprehend why someone would leave the service he wants to badly to get into.  He tells Hathaway that the penalty for this back on Barrayar is quartering–not being given lodging, as Hathaway assumes, but being torn into four pieces.

Baz tells Miles to go away, if he’s not Security, but Miles says that he’s probably drawn attention to Baz just by meeting with him, and feels that this is a disservice.  Baz wonders what Miles has done to get Imperial Security after him, but Miles keeps quiet, not wanting him to know how important Miles really is.  He asks about Baz’s full name (Baz Jesek), skills, and upon discovering he was an engineer on jump ships, asks if he knows about RG freighters.  Miles says he’s getting a crew together to make a run with his ship; Baz says he’s in if it goes somewhere that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Barrayar.

“My lord,” Bothari’s voice was edged with agitation, “you’re not considering harboring this deserter?”

“Well . . .” Miles voice was mild. “Technically, I don’t know he’s a deserter. I’ve merely heard some allegations.”

“He admitted it.”

“Bravado, perhaps. Inverted snobbery.”

Bothari warns him about the fate of Lord Vorloupulous; when Hathaway asks for details, Miles tells him the story.  When Emperor Dorca Vorbarra was centralizing the government, he forbade the Counts to have private armies, so Lord Vorloupulous hired 2000 “cooks”, armed them with butcher’s knives, and send them to attack his enemies.  He was judged to have violated the spirit of the law while keeping its letter, which is what Bothari is warning Miles about, and sentenced to death by exposure.  Luckily for him, the Cetagandans attacked, and Vorbarra suspended his sentence to help fight, and Vorloupolous died in the war.

Miles offers Baz a berth on Mayhew’s ship, if he can keep himself hidden for two more days and then turn up at the shuttleport, telling Baz to call him “Mr. Naismith”.  Miles, Bothari and Hathaway withdraw, and Baz himself ghosts off toward another exit.

Miles became conscious of a profound frown from Sergeant Bothari. He smiled wryly, and kicked over a control casing from some junked industrial robot, lying skeletally athwart a mound of other rubble. “Would you have had me turn him in?” he asked softly. “But you’re Service to the bone, I suppose you would. So would my father, I guess—he’s so all-fired stringent about the law, no matter how ghastly the consequences.”

Bothari grew still. “Not—always, my lord.” He retreated into a suddenly neutral silence.

That night, at his grandmother’s, Miles stays up late, not yet sleepy; Elena comes upon him after a late-night bathroom trip and asks what he’s doing.  He is searching for a cargo on his grandmother’s comconsole, and thinks he’s found one.  It’s a shipment of “agricultural equipment” bound for a country named Felice, on the planet of Tau Verde IV.  It promises to be profitable, which is good, because he’s underestimated the costs of running his ship, and it’s ready to ship immediately.

Elena wonders why it hasn’t been snapped up already, what the catch is.  Miles tells her that Felice is involved in a planetary war, and so the “equipment” is likely weapons, and there’s a mercenary fleet blockading the wormhole.  There’s a man escorting the cargo, another tip-off, and Miles plans to meet with him the next day.

Comments

I’ve always had a soft spot for the story of the charismatic leader who recruits a band of misfits and welds them into a team.  (Not that that’s always enough to guarantee anything, but it’s a good start.)  So Baz Jesek becomes the next of Miles’s intrepid band, with his potentially intriguing and mysterious history and hopes of redemption.

It’s kind of a shame, in a way, that the actual arrival at Miles’s grandmother at the beginning of the chapter is so truncated.  The transition seems a bit awkward, from having dinner (and mooning over Elena) to the introduction of the neighbour and suddenly going with him to meet his mysterious Barrayaran squatter.  It almost would have been better to start the chapter at the recycling centre, and then backfill to fill in what happened with Mrs. Naismith.  After all, visiting her was the ostensible purpose for the trip to Beta Colony, but she kind of gets left by the wayside.  I guess to Miles it was never the real reason for the trip, and with the callousness of the young he just leaves the poor old lady in the lurch.  Inconsiderate clod.

Also, another intriguing hint at Bothari’s own mysterious (to Miles, at least, and anyone who hasn’t read the Cordelia books) past.  Does Miles unwittingly disarm Bothari’s righteous anger at the selfishness of the deserter by reminding him of his father’s own mercy at Bothari’s crimes?  Seems like it.

Finally, we have the only slightly awkward insertion of the entertaining story of Lord Vorloupolous and his 2000 cooks.  I had missed before, I think, that Bothari mentions it not to warn Miles against building up his own private army (which is, of course, Vorloupolous’s real crime), but to warn Miles that Barrayaran law apparently has ample precedent for prosecuting those who violate the spirit of the law while adhering to its letter.  Because, of course, there’s a vey real reason for Bujold to mention the law against private armies early in the book…


Oh boy, it’s really getting good now.  We’re getting to see Miles in his element, improvising in the face of danger and talking people into stuff.  Like his mother, he’s got a bit of the “fountain of honour” thing going for him, or, as he tells Baz Jesek, “a fondness for giving second chances”.  Mainly because he wants a second chance himself, and so he empathizes with them, and wants to help them out in a way he wishes somebody could help him.  There’s also a lot of “not realizing what he’s getting into”, but that may be as much of a teenager thing as a Miles Vorkosigan thing.

Anyway, two more chapters in another week, and that’s when the story really starts.  See you all then…

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It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to summarize another couple of chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread tonight!  This week we cover Chapters Three and Four of The Warrior’s Apprentice, in which the plot doesn’t quite start yet, though some of the subplots begin nibbling at their threads.

Chapter Three

Miles is awakened before dawn the next morning by a servant calling him “Lord Vorkosigan”.  At first wondering why he’s being addressed by his father’s title, he suddenly realizes what must have happened.  He goes down to the library to find his father and the family physician, who confirm that Count Piotr has died, peacefully in his sleep.

Miles’s own vision blurred, and he brushed the foolish water from his eyes with the back of his hand in a brusque, angry swipe. “God damn it,” he choked numbly. He had never felt smaller.

His father focused on him uncertainly. “I—” he began. “He’s been hanging by a thread for months, you know that . . .”

And I cut that thread yesterday, Miles thought miserably. I’m sorry. . . . But he said only, “Yes, sir.”

Piotr Vorkosigan’s funeral is a huge, three-day state affair.  Miles is surprised to find so many of his grandfather’s contemporaries still alive, to disapprove of Miles and offer interminable stories of people long dead.  After the interment, Vorkosigan House fills up with guests, family and the curious.  Once Ivan Vorpatril arrives, fresh from passing his candidacy exams, Miles decides to hide out upstairs in hopes of avoiding him.  He grabs some flowers and a bottle of wine and knocks on Elena’s door.

Miles knocked on the carved wood door. “Who’s there?” Elena’s voice floated through faintly. He tried the enamel-patterned knob, found it unlocked, and snaked a hand waving the flowers around the door. Her voice added, “Oh, come in, Miles.”

He bobbed around the door, lean in black, and grinned tentatively. She was sitting in an antique chair by her window. “How did you know it was me?” Miles asked.

“Well, it was either you or—nobody brings me flowers on their knees.” Her eye lingered a moment on the doorknob, unconsciously revealing the height scale used for her deduction.

Miles promptly dropped to his knees and quick-marched across the rug, to present his offering with a flourish. “Voila!” he cried, surprising a laugh from her. His legs protested this abuse by going into painful cramping spasms. “Ah . . .” He cleared his throat, and added in a much smaller voice, “Do you suppose you could help me up? These damn grav-crutches . . .”

Miles laments the small size of Elena’s room, but she says she likes it; it has a window on the street, and it’s larger than her father’s room.  She examines the flowers, and asks Miles where he got them, admonishing him for stealing from his grandfather.  Then she grows pensive, and when asked, she says that she never put flowers on her mother’s grave; when Miles suggests an impromptu expedition, she admits that she doesn’t even know where it is.  She could never get an answer from her father, or even a clear answer to how she died.  Miles comes up with a plan for locating her mother’s grave without having to ask anyone.

“How?”

He grinned, swinging to his feet. “I’m not going to say. You’d go all wobbly on me, like that time we went spelunking down at Vorkosigan Surleau and found the old guerilla weapons cache. You’ll never get another chance in your life to drive one of those old tanks, you know.”

She made doubtful noises. Apparently her memory of the incident was vivid and awful, even though she had avoided being caught in the landslide. But she followed.

They go down to the library, and Miles tells the guard outside to “rattle the door” if somebody comes.  Once inside, Elena says the guard will leap to the wrong conclusion, which Miles says is what he wants.  Instead, he goes to the secure comconsole and starts it up; Koudelka had given him access during his studying, and Miles is gambling that he hadn’t taken it away yet, which it turns out he hasn’t.  He starts with Bothari’s service record, back around the time Elena was born, just after he quit.  He discovers Bothari’s medical discharge, which neither of them knew about, and finds out that the preceding year is sealed top-secret, flagged by Illyan himself.

He goes further back, finding that Bothari used to be Ges Vorrutyer’s batman, and seeing the bizarre punishment records from that period–heavy punishments for minor infractions, and nothing at all for more disturbing ones.  His early career is clearer, full of commendations.  Miles examines his recruitment record, and Elena asks if it has her grandparents’ names on it.  Miles finds Bothari’s mother’s name, Marusia, but sees that father is listed as “unknown”; he lies and tells Elena that it’s Konstantine, like her father, because bastardy is still stigmatized on Barrayar.  Another social wedge between him and Elena, Miles thinks.

Miles starts looking for her birth records instead, and has no luck until he tries ImpMil.  He finds his own birth record, with Dr. Vaagen’s name on it, then a secret research project with Aral’s name on it beside Vaagen’s.  He can’t get access to it, but it’s not flagged like Bothari’s record, so he tries one of Aral’s old access codes, which he’s pretty sure he knows most of, and finds out about the uterine replicators and how they came back from Escobar.  They were sent to orphanages once they came back, and Miles concludes they are the children of men killed in combat.  Elena asks where there mothers are, then.  Then she sees that one of them has her own birthdate, and was released to Aral’s custody.  In an effort to confirm the identity, Elena bares one foot and Miles scans it; it matches with the baby’s footprint.  Elena wonders if this means she’s some kind of clone or genetic experiment, but Miles reassures her that it just means her mother died at Escobar.  Miles jokes that this also makes her his sister, since they may have shared a replicator.

Just then, the door rattles.  Miles shuts down the comconsole, and they take up “necking” position, kissing briefly before the door opens and the lights come on.  Miles sees not only Koudelka, who he would expect, but also Aral and Bothari.

Captain Koudelka looked suffused, a slight upward curl escaping from one corner of his mouth as if from enormous inward pressure. He glanced sideways at his companions, and tamped it out. The Sergeant’s craggy face was icy. The Count was darkening rapidly.

Miles finally found something to do with all the air he’d taken in. “All right,” he said in a firm didactic tone, “Now, after ‘Grant me this boon,’ on the next line you say, ‘With all my heart; and much it joys me too, to see you are become so penitent.'” He glanced up most impenitently at his father. “Good evening, sir. Are we taking up your space? We can go practice elsewhere . . .”

“Yes, let’s,” Elena squeaked, picking up her cue with alacrity. She produced a rather inane smile for the three adults as Miles towed her safely past. Captain Koudelka returned the smile with all his heart. The Count somehow managed to smile at her and frown menacingly at Miles at the same time. The Sergeant’s frown was democratically universal. The duty guard’s smirk broadened to a muffled snicker as they fled down the hall.

Elena doesn’t think much of his invention, and when Miles protests that it was an orderly withdrawal, she points out that one of her stockings is hanging over his shoulder.  Now, she says, she’ll get a lecture, and probably sent back to the country; she goes into her room, beginning to cry, and shuts the door.  Miles says they’ll get it figured out, but she just tells him to go away.

Comments

I first read this book before the Cordelia books, though admittedly I don’t remember much of this part of the book sticking with me from that first readthrough.  It’s a pity, because the unraveling of Bothari’s past is a major subplot.  Considering that Shards of Honour did come out first, Bujold must have expected that a few people would know what Miles and Elena could have discovered, and may have breathed a sigh of relief when they didn’t find it.  (Or disappointment, depending.)

I also tended to forget that Count Piotr died so early in this book.  For some reason I always used to think that he died between this book and “The Mountains of Mourning”, or before Warriors Apprentice entirely.

I’m usually rooting for Miles to win Elena by this part, even when I know that she never falls for him.  I don’t know if she feels anything more than sisterly affection for him at this point, which I can imagine would be highly frustrating to him.

Do we hear more details about the tank story later in the series?  Or in this book, even?  I can’t remember; I guess I’ll have to wait and find out.

Chapter Four

Miles encounters his mother, who asks after Aral; Miles says he saw him with Koudelka and Bothari in the library.  Cordelia says that Admiral Hessman and Count Vordrozda just arrived together, a bad pair to be plotting, and she wants to intercept Aral before he gets too drunk and too blunt.  She says Vordrozda has been buttering up Gregor for months, and Miles hopes that Gregor has enough sense not to fall for it.  She tells Miles that Alys Vorpatril is looking for Aral; in lieu of an actual father, Alys wants Aral to brace Ivan for “swiving” the servant girls.  She laments that Barrayarans don’t have the Betan sense to “tie their children’s tubes” and let them loose to work things out on their own.

Miles goes in search of food to take up to his room for a strategic withdrawal, but is found by Ivan as he’s filling up a napkin.  Ivan is dressed in his cadet’s uniform, with a bulge underneath proving to be a bottle of wine.  Ivan asks Miles if they can retreat from the company, and while Miles includes Ivan in the company he’s like to retreat from, he agrees to take Ivan up to his room, if he brings another bottle.

Ivan tells Miles he saw him break his legs, and tells him he’s the lucky one, not having to start his training, having his time free to do with what he wants.  Miles gulps down the wine, envying Ivan his lack of freedom.  Ivan asks if Count Aral is likely to come up, and Miles allows that it might be possible.

Ivan swirled his wine in the bottom of his cup. “I’ve always had the feeling he doesn’t like me,” he added glumly.

“Oh, he doesn’t mind you,” said Miles, taking pity. “At least as you appear on his horizon at all. Although I think I was fourteen before I found out that Ivan wasn’t your middle name.” Miles cut himself off. That-idiot-Ivan was beginning a lifetime of Imperial service tomorrow. Lucky-Miles was emphatically not.

There is a knock on the door, which Miles says is probably his father; he tells Ivan that he’s supposed to salute superior officers, not hide from them.  Aral enters and asks Miles how he made Elena cry, then notices Ivan, saying that he’d hoped to avoid running into him.  Miles tells him that Ivan was commiserating with him about his injuries, which appeases his father slightly.

Count Vorkosigan sighed again, and addressed Ivan in a tone of gentle, rhetorical complaint. “Going on fifty years of military and political service, and what am I? A boogey-man, used to frighten boys into good behavior—like the Baba Yaga, who only eats the bad little children.” He spread his arms, and added sardonically, “Boo. Consider yourself chastized, and take yourself off. Go, boy.”

Aral tells Ivan to stop saluting him, since he’s not an officer yet, and is about to get after him for wearing his uniform when Ivan flees.  It takes Aral a moment to remember his earlier point, then he tells Miles that he hopes Miles isn’t “trying Betan sexual philosophy” on Elena.

“Why not?” said Miles suddenly. Count Vorkosigan raised his eyebrows. “I mean,” Miles explained quickly, “why should she be so—so constrained? She gets duenna’d to death. She could be anything. She’s bright, and she’s, she’s good-looking, and she could break me in half—why shouldn’t she get a better education, for instance? The Sergeant isn’t planning any higher education for her at all. Everything he’s saved is for dowry. And he never lets her go anyplace. She’d get more out of travel—hell, she’d appreciate it a thousand times more than any other girl I know.” He paused, a little breathless.

Aral agrees with Miles, in principle, but says that Elena means the world to her father, and Aral and Cordelia owe Bothari a huge debt, more than they can ever repay.  Miles wonders how they can owe him so much, and nothing to her.  Aral also mentions that right now it is a delicate time, and he can’t afford to have any scandal, real or perceived, in his household.  Miles muses briefly on his own uselessness, and wonders if he can do something for Elena, like help find her mother’s grave, likely on Escobar…and then he hits on a plan.  He begins by asking after Grandmother Naismith, Cordelia’s mother, who lives on Beta Colony…and the most direct route to Beta Colony goes through Escobar.

Before he can bring it up, his father asks if he would consider a trip to Beta Colony to visit his grandmother.  Miles says this is a great idea, and asks if he can bring Elena.  She’ll be safe enough with her own father as chaperone.  Aral isn’t sure that Bothari will agree to it if Miles asks him.  Miles says that he’ll get his mother to ask instead, which Aral considers devious.  Aral admits that the trip plan was actually Cordelia’s, but he agrees that having Miles offplanet for a little while might be a good idea.  He turns to go, saying he has to deal with Vordrozda.

“Your work comes first, of course, sir. I understand that.”

Count Vorkosigan paused, and gave him a peculiar look. “Then you understand nothing. My work has been a blight on you from the very beginning. I’m sorry, sorry it made such a mess for you—”

Mess of you, thought Miles. Say what you really mean, damn it.

“—I never meant it to be so.” A nod, and he withdrew.

Apologizing to me again, thought Miles miserably. For me. He keeps telling me I’m all right—and then apologizing. Inconsistent, Father.

He shuffled back and forth across the room again, and his pain burst into speech. He flung his words against the deaf door, “I’ll make you take back that apology! I am all right, damn it! I’ll make you see it. I’ll stuff you so full of pride in me there’ll be no room left for your precious guilt! I swear by my word as Vorkosigan. I swear it, Father,” his voice fell to a whisper, “Grandfather. Somehow, I don’t know how . . .”

Comments

Count Vordrozda, along with the aforementioned Admiral Hessman…yes, this is the plot in the background, which his father is so concerned about.  Miles himself is likely not paying as much attention to it as he could, more concerned with his own future, or lack thereof, and Elena.  And that’s all the real hints we get until much closer to the end, as I recall.  I still think that it’s perhaps not handled as confidently as Bujold could pull off in later books, but I’ll give her some leeway on this one.  The main story of the book takes place off of Barrayar, so this part is still mostly prologue, and the bit at the end mostly epilogue.  (Yes, I know there’s a real epilogue as well.  What else would you call it?  Framing story?  Not quite that either…)

Our first real glimpse of the grown-up Ivan, last to appear of the three babies born in Cordelia’s Honour.  Not promising, to start with, at least–not much more than a foil for Miles, a role he reprises in Cetaganda and Brothers In Arms; he doesn’t really come into his own until A Civil Campaign.  I’m pretty I didn’t like him that much on the first read through the series, either, until much later.

It’s probably a bit unfair of Aral to chastise Miles as if he was just looking to have sleep with Elena and then dump her, like Ivan might have.  Miles is perfectly earnest in his affection, and if she was willing, would likely marry her as quickly as he could.  He’s not looking for an endless succession of sex partners, but his One True Love, and he thinks he’s found her already.  It’s probably a good thing for her that she doesn’t buy into it, but it’s a little heartbreaking for Miles…

But anyway, after this the real plot of the book can finally start.  First stop, a trip to Escobar, to look for Elena’s mother’s grave, and then yeah, maybe we’ll spend some time on Beta Colony too.  Visiting Miles’s grandmother.  Bo-ring.  Doesn’t sound like much is going to happen there, is it?


Next week, Miles arrives on Beta Colony, for some reason, and the plot thickens.  Come back next Tuesday for the next exciting installment!

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Today we move into the first chapter of The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first novel to feature Miles Vorkosigan as the viewpoint character, but far from the last.  The Warrior’s Apprentice was also the first one I read, though for some reason it took me years to get around to reading any of the others.  Ah, well, eventually I came to my senses, or my tastes matured, or something.

While Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan is and was an admirable character, by the end of Barrayar she was passing the torch to her son.  That’s because, as we all know, once one becomes a parent one’s life is over, and one never does anything interesting ever again, because one must spend the rest of one’s life after that catering to the needs of one’s offspring, until they are ready to fly the coop and become independent, never looking back.  Or maybe that’s just me.

Chapter One

Miles Vorkosigan waits with a group of other young men, clad in shorts and shoes, as a non-commissioned officer gives them instructions about the race they are about to take part in, the physical part of the candidacy exams for the Barrayaran Military.  The course consists of an obstacle course followed by a race, and they will run in pairs.  The candidates have already gone through the written and oral exams, and most of them seem to be looking forward to the easy physical part, but Miles, less than five feet tall with a crooked spine and brittle bones, is not as eager.

The noncom summons Miles up as “Kosigan”, stripping off the “Vor” as a sign of social equality, to run beside another recruit, Kostolitz.  Kostolitz looks at him curiously, asking about the metal brace Miles wears on his left leg, which Miles says is just to help keep him from breaking the bones before they’re finished growing, at which point they’ll be replaced with synthetics.  Miles briefly explains his medical problems to Kostolitz, telling him that the minimum height rule was waived in this case pending his test results.

Kostolitz’s curiosity temporarily appeased, Miles assesses the obstacle course, noting the high wall that is the first obstacle, which he may have to avoid, though he may gain ground crawling under the laser fire.  He doesn’t expect to do well on the shorter races, but on the endurance events his heightened pain tolerance should make up the difference.  Kostolitz asks if he expects to pass the physicals, and Miles says that he petitioned to have his written and physical scores averaged, so that overall he passes, since he’s extremely confident about his performance on the written exams.

As they are called up to race, Kostolitz grumbles that he won’t know how to pace himself properly with Miles for a partner.  Bothari is watching from the starting line.  There is an argument going on between the noncom, the testing officers, and the proctors, the upshot of which is that the noncom comes over to tell Miles to take off his leg brace.  Miles considers protesting, but decides his obedience is also being tested, so he complies, asking only to give it to Bothari.  Miles takes off his brace and gives it to Bothari, grateful at least for the absence of its weight.  They exchange a quick set of coded glances, Bothari urging caution on the obstacle course.  Kostolitz, seeing Bothari’s livery, figures out who Miles is.

“So, that’s who you are,” he said, with a jealous awe. “No wonder you got a deal on the tests.”

Miles smiled tightly at the implied insult. The tension crawled up his back. He groped for some suitably scathing retort, but they were being motioned to the starting mark.

Kostolitz’s deductive faculty crunched on, it seemed, for he added sardonically, “And so that’s why the Lord Regent never made the bid for the Imperium!”

The proctor starts them off at that moment, Miles following after Kostolitz, seething at the implication.  He overtakes Kostolitz on the way up the wall, and at the top ponders whether to climb down or jump.  Kostolitz taunts him about being scared of heights and jumps himself.  Miles ends up jumping, and knows it for a mistake while he’s falling; sure enough, he breaks both legs upon landing.  Furious with himself, Miles waits for Bothari to come for him.

Miles returns to Vorkosigan House the next day after discharge from the hospital using “anti-gravity crutches” that are hidden inside his clothing, though Miles would have preferred something more like Captain Koudelka’s sword-stick.  Bothari picks up a coin off the sidewalk, and Miles needles him about his determination to save up for his daughter Elena’s dowry.

“You’ve been pinching tenth-marks for Elena as long as I can remember. Dowries went out with the horse cavalry, for God’s sake. Even the Vor marry without them these days. This isn’t the Time of Isolation.” Miles made his mockery gentle in tone, carefully fitted to Bothari’s obsession. Bothari, after all, had always treated Miles’s ridiculous craze seriously.

“I mean her to have everything right and proper.”

“You ought to have enough saved up to buy Gregor Vorbarra by now,” said Miles, thinking of the hundreds of small economies his bodyguard had practiced before him, over the years, for the sake of his daughter’s dowry.

“Shouldn’t joke about the Emperor.” Bothari depressed this random stab at humor firmly, as it deserved. Miles sighed and began to work his way cautiously up the steps, legs stiff in their plastic immobilizers.

Miles is tired, having spent most of the night staying up talking to the surgeon who was reassembling his shattered leg bones under local anaesthesia.  He’s been keeping up a good front, but is longing to be able to let it slide for a little while.  The first relative he sees inside the house is his mother, Lady Cordelia, who gives him an unjudgemental hug.  She says she hasn’t told Count Piotr yet, leaving that to Miles at his request.  Bothari recommends Miles take the lift tube instead of stairs, and Miles accedes with bad grace.  Cordelia warns him to take the Count on his own terms, crotchety as he is.

They meet up with Elena Bothari herself coming out of the Count’s rooms.

For the thousandth time Miles wondered how such an ugly man could have produced such a beautiful daughter. Every one of his features was echoed in her face, but richly transmuted. At eighteen she was tall, like her father, fully six feet to his six-and-a-half; but while he was whipcord lean and tense, she was slim and vibrant. His nose a beak, hers an elegant aquiline profile; his face too narrow, hers with the air of some perfectly-bred aristocratic sight-hound, a borzoi or a greyhound. Perhaps it was the eyes that made the difference; hers were dark and lustrous, alert, but without his constantly shifting, unsmiling watchfulness. Or the hair; his greying, clipped in his habitual military burr, hers long, dark, straight-shining. A gargoyle and a saint, by the same sculptor, facing each other across some ancient cathedral portal.

Miles hopes to himself that Bothari doesn’t settle Elena’s dowry too soon.  Elena says that it’s been awful with the Count, pretending not to know, acting as if everything’s normal, seeing the Count’s hopes for his grandson so high.  She is relieved when Miles says she can go, and he enters the room with some trepidation.

Comments

Every time I read this chapter I keep telling Miles, Don’t jump, don’t jump, don’t jump, and dammit if he doesn’t jump every time anyway, just to spite me.  I suppose it’s a sign that Miles isn’t as perfect and self-controlled as he’d like to be.  Kostolitz was, of course, probably hoping to provoke something like that, to throw his competitor off his stride, if not necessarily disqualify him.  At least he gets put in his place later.  But it is really a bit depressing, and life-changing, which is always a sign that your life is being written by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Most of the events of this book hinge on Miles’s failure to qualify for the Barrayaran military, so it’s kind of inevitable, but just once I’d like to see him succeed.

Seeing the name “Kosigan” always makes me think of the Soviet Premier Kosygin, so I suppose the Vorkosigans are kind of Slavic in heritage.  It’s disorienting, though, to see the name like that.  As Bujold points out, it’s meant to be more egalitarian, but considering that the Vor competitors still have their liveried men watching over the race, it may be only superficial.  An open secret, not too hard to prize out.  Perhaps in the actual training, if the liveried men aren’t there, things get to be more equal, but I suspect it’s still a slow process.

Chapter Two

Count Piotr invites Miles to sit down, and wonders aloud if he’s become confused about the day.  Miles sits, and lets Bothari put his broken legs on a stool; Piotr notices them and asks what Miles did.  Miles tells him, succinctly.  After a silence, Count Piotr says that it’s all because of Aral and Cordelia and their “creeping democratism”, daring to make a Vor lord’s son have to “qualify” for the military.  Miles waits for the Count to argue himself around, which he does, ruminating on shopkeeper’s sons who became great soldiers.  The Count asks if the test was fairly administered, grasping at straws, but Miles says it was all fair, that the fault was his own.

The old man twisted his lips in sour negation. His hand closed angrily, and opened hopelessly. “In the old days no one would have dared question your right . . .”

“In the old days the cost of my incompetence would have been paid in other men’s lives. This is more efficient, I believe.” Miles’s voice was flat.

“Well . . .” The old man stared unseeingly out the window. “Well—times change. Barrayar has changed. It underwent a world of change between the time I was ten and the time I was twenty. And another between the time I was twenty and forty. Nothing was the same . . . And another between the time I was forty and eighty. This weak, degenerate generation—even their sins are watered down. The old pirates of my father’s day could have eaten them all for breakfast and digested their bones before lunch . . . Do you know, I shall be the first Count Vorkosigan to die in bed in nine generations?” He paused, gaze still fixed, and whispered half to himself, “God, I’ve grown weary of change. The very thought of enduring another new world dismays me. Dismays me.”

Piotr excuses Miles’s failure, saying that the soltoxin attack wasn’t his fault, that he’s certainly tried his best.  In discomfort, Miles takes his leave; his grandfather asks him his plans, and he says he’ll just be a “town clown” and epicure.  The Count approves absently, though normally he hates “drones” of the nobility.

Miles sat hunched in a battered armchair in a small private parlor overlooking the street side of the great old mansion, feet up, eyes closed. It was a seldom used room; there was a good chance of being left alone to brood in peace. He had never come to a more complete halt, a drained blankness numb even to pain. So much passion expended for nothing—a lifetime of nothing stretching endlessly into the future—because of a split second’s stupid, angry self-consciousness. . . .

Elena clears her throat from behind him, and Miles rouses himself, making an effort not to bring her down.  She asks how it went with the Count, and Miles says that he can get away with a lot as the only grandson.  Elena mentions that the Count had been considering allowing Miles his patronymic, whatever that meant, and Miles tells the story about how the Count had refused his name for Miles when they found out about the fetal damage.  Elena says she’s sorry he washed out, and Miles tells her that he wishes she could have taken his physicals.  Elena says that as a woman she couldn’t even take the tests, not like on Beta, where Cordelia had been a Captain.  But her father is such a conservative that she’ll probably never even get the chance to go off-planet.  Elena tells Miles that he’s started talking about arranging her marriage.  She wonders why Bothari never talks about her mother, like he used to.

They head down for lunch; at the top of the stairs, Miles climbs onto the railing and begins to slide down, to Elena’s dismay.  She chases him down the stairs, and at the bottom he tumbles off into the frantic grip of his father, Aral Vorkosigan, who has just arrived with Koudelka.  Aral asks Koudelka to look into some budget figures of Admiral Hessman, wondering what he’s trying to hide in them, as they follow Miles in for lunch.

Later that night, Miles sits propped up in bed, unable to muster the energy to change into nightclothes, pondering how he seems to have set off Bothari thinking about Elena’s marriage.  He wishes he could be the husband, but he fits the role of the clichéd deformed villain in Barrayaran drama better.  He considers asking for his father to ask as go-between for Bothari, but at seventeen he’s too young to marry anyway, and he has few prospects for the income to support his wife.  And he’s not sure he wishes that for Elena anyway–bound to a deformed dwarf, with nothing more but a increasingly meaningless title to his name.  Not that his situation would be any better off of Barrayar, where the Vor are roundly ignored.

Aral knocks and Miles allows him in.  Aral sits down and asks Miles what is plans are now; Miles says that he never bothered to make any other plans.  Aral offers to tell Miles what his written scores were, against all tradition, but Miles declines, not wanting to know.  Aral says that they’d never have let him try if they didn’t think he had a chance of success.  He says that at least Miles’s mother won’t be disappointed, never being a fan of a Barrayaran military and its “hired killers”.  Aral had wondered if Miles had it in him to kill like that.

“To kill a man, it helps if you can first take away his face. A neat mental trick. Handy for a soldier. I’m not sure you have the narrowness of vision required. You can’t help seeing all around. You’re like your mother, you always have that clear view of the back of your own head.”

Aral had lost that narrowness himself, which is why he went into politics, and was part of the blame for Miles’s condition.  Miles ventures to ask if that was why he didn’t try for the Imperium; Aral grows angry and asks who has been saying that.  Aral says that he swore an oath to Ezar Vorbarra, he carried it through, and that’s the end of it; then he apologizes to Miles for having hit his hot button.

“Surely Gregor can’t suspect you of ambition. You’ve done more for him than anyone, right through Vordarian’s Pretendership, the Third Cetagandan War, the Komarr Revolt—he wouldn’t even be here today—”

Lord Vorkosigan grimaced. “Gregor is in a rather tender state of mind at the moment. Just come to full power—and by my oath, it is real power—and itching, after sixteen years of being governed by what he refers to privately as ‘the old geezers,’ to try its limits. I have no wish to set myself up as a target.”

Returning to the original topic, Aral says that he could ask Emperor Gregor to admit him to the military by Imperial fiat; Miles says that he couldn’t bear to do that after failing the tests, it would smack of political favoritism.  Aral suggests he looks into the other side of Counthood, the political side, perhaps law…over Miles’s protests, he says that he could deputize for the Count in the district with a little training.  Miles asks his father if he’s worried about his health, which Aral denies, but Miles wonders if there’s something to the Gregor situation which he’s not mentioning.

After his father leaves, Miles takes a couple of painkillers to help him sleep, briefly considering taking the whole bottle, but deciding that it’s better to keep fighting.

Comments

Somewhat of a depressing chapter, consisting mostly of Miles trying to pick up the shattered pieces of his life (only seventeen year old, eh?–I guess there’s a lot of teen angst going on here, however little Miles tends to seem like a teenager otherwise).  The rest is dedicated to introducing, or reintroducing, various plot elements and characters.  I’m sure that the things that Aral talks about–Admiral Hessman’s budget, the suspicions about Aral wanting the Imperium, and Gregor’s attempt to assert his independence–come back into things toward the end of the book.

The Elena situation is more central to the book, with Miles’s conflicting emotions, Bothari’s protectiveness, and Elena’s need for a less straitened existence than she can look forward to on Barrayar.  Still, the book’s plot seems to have barely started yet.  In general, throughout the series, my favourite sequences are those set on Barrayar, but I guess I’d have to leave out the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice–I’m thinking more about the scenes from Mirror Dance, Memory, and of course A Civil Campaign.  At this point, a lot of it looks just like random tossing out of names and information, especially since it takes a long time before anything comes of it.

Also, the Elena conversation in Chapter Two has Miles asking Elena if she’s just come up from Vorkosigan Surleau…but he already saw her in the previous chapter.  If this an authorial goof, or was this just Miles making conversation, asking about something that he wondered about before but didn’t have time to ask?  Yet he didn’t even think about it in Chapter One…I had the impression from that scene that Elena lived in Vorkosigan House and was a regular attendant on Count Piotr.  Not as tight as Bujold’s later books, perhaps.

I remember Vordarian’s Pretendership well enough, of course, but the Third Cetagandan War?  The Komarr Revolt?  I don’t know if I recall those.  Obviously the one where Aral got the “Butcher of Komarr” sobriquet is before Gregor’s birth, so this must be a later one.  Is it, perhaps, Ser Galen’s revolt?  If so, we’ll find out more about it in Brothers In Arms.  Perhaps the Third Cetagandan War is mentioned somewhere else, too–Ethan of Athos, or Cetaganda, or The Vor Game, I’m not sure.


A bit slow-starting, but I suppose I should remember that this was the world’s first introduction to the character of Miles Vorkosigan, and that he wasn’t yet quite as fully formed as he would be later.  It’ll pick up soon enough, though, and in general Miles is a more engaging character than Cordelia, so he does help carry the story along, as long as he’s not too morose…

Next installment in another week, if all goes well.  Looks like 22 chapters in this book, so ten more weeks to go.  Just in time for Christmas, perhaps?  I’m skipping NaNoWriMo this year, so no fear that that will slow me down, at least.

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