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…
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. . . .”
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.
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.
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…