[Hearty greeting]! [Summary of facts: 1. Lois McMaster Bujold, Author; 2. Vorkosigan Saga, Series; 3. The Warrior’s Apprentice, novel; 4. Chapters, 4a. Fifteen, 4b. Sixteen]. [Reiteration of weekly nature of post]. [Abjuration of further ado].
Miles spends time practicing tactical patterns on Triumph‘s computer instead of sleeping; Elena wanders in and joins him. Miles teachers her a few patterns, which she takes to easily, and Miles wonders how Ivan Vorpatril can go to the Academy and not Elena. Elena asks if he’s serious about breaking the blockade, and Miles says that their fast courier hasn’t shown up yet, so they’ll have to keep trying at least to break a path through.
This was just the sort of thing he would have been taught how to do at the Imperial Service Academy, he thought with an inward sigh. There was probably a book on it. He wished he had a copy; he was getting mortally tired of having to re-invent the wheel every fifteen minutes. Although it was just barely possible there was no way for three small warships and a battered freighter to take out an entire mercenary fleet.
Miles is just working up the courage to make a move on Elena when Auson contacts him, telling him that Ky Tung is back, on some kind of passenger ship, wanting to talk. When Miles contacts him, Tung asks if the job offer is still open.
They rendezvous in two shuttles. Miles wonders how he can prove that Tung and his men are loyal, and Tung says he’ll have to take it on trust. Miles says he cannot give Tung back his ship, just one of the stolen Pelian ships, and a staff officer position; he’ll have to work with Auson and Thorne, and get paid in millifenigs. Miles asks Tung why he really returned, and Tung says that Oser violated his contract, refusing to give Tung another ship, and publicly humiliated him, and Miles’s force is the only one capable of doing Oser any inconvenience. Tung says he brought all of his crew, including his pilot officer, but excluding his communications officer, who is actually a spy for the Barrayarans.
“B—” choked Miles, and swallowed the rest. Ye gods. Had he been recognized? If the man was one of Captain Illyan’s agents, almost certainly. And what the devil had the man made of the recent events, seen from the Oseran point of view? Miles could kiss goodbye any hope of keeping his late adventures secret from his father, then.
In the end, his stomach queasy, and not wishing to get a reputation for space sickness, Miles accepts Tung’s offer, ruefully accepting the rank of Admiral that seems to have stuck to him.
The Ariel, which had been sent with Bel Thorne, Baz Jesek and Arde Mayhew to deliver the Betan weapons to Felice, and return with the fast courier, is five days late in returning. Bel smugly promises a surprise in the docking bay, and when Miles arrives, they unload a mixed bag of personnel, soldiers and civilians.
There was a group of a dozen or so black-uniformed Kshatryan Imperial mercenaries who formed their own tight little island in the sea of color; on closer look, their uniforms, though clean and mended, were not all complete. Odd buttons, shiny seats and elbows, lop-worn boot heels—they were long, long from their distant home, it seemed. Miles’s temporary fascination with them was shattered at the appearance of two dozen Cetagandan ghem-fighters, variously dressed, but all with full formal face paint freshly applied, looking like an array of Chinese temple demons. Bothari swore, and clapped his hand to his plasma arc at the sight of them. Miles motioned him to parade rest.
Freighter and passenger liner tech uniforms, a white-skinned, white-haired man in a feathered g-string—Miles, taking in the polished bandolier and plasma rifle he also bore, was not inclined to smile—a dark-haired woman in her thirties of almost supernatural beauty, engrossed with directing a crew of four techs—she glanced toward him, then frankly stared, a very odd look on her face. He stood a little straighter. Not a mutant, ma’am, he thought irritably. When the flex tube emptied at last, perhaps a hundred people stood before him in the docking bay. Miles’s head whirled.
Baz introduces them as Dendarii recruits; he admits he wasn’t actually tasked to recruit, but he applied some “forward momentum” to help solve their personnel problems. Most of them were just galactics trapped in Felice by the blockade, and Baz accepted anyone who didn’t look too hopeless with a weapon. Miles asks about the Cetagandans, and is assured that they know about the Barrayaran connection–the Dendarii Mountains were an infamous site in the Cetagandan invasion–but they need a ride out of the system. Most of the recruits have hired on under the condition that they be discharged outside of Tau Verde.
Miles examines his new recruits’ dossiers, especially the beautiful dark-haired woman. Her name is Elena Visconti, she used to fight for Escobar, and she was discharged for medical reasons after the Barrayaran invasion…around the same time as Bothari. Surely not, he thinks…she lists herself as unmarried, with no dependents, but the resemblance to Elena Bothari is tantalizing, even if he can’t figure out how Visconti and Bothari would have gotten together. He decides to try to bring them back together innocently, and see what happens.
After running an officers’ meeting the next day to try to brainstorm ways to break the blockade, Miles returns to his quarters to see what can be done to fit all seven of them on the fast courier, trying to convince himself that if necessary he can leave behind Elli Quinn, and possibly Baz Jesek to save him from Barrayaran desertion charges. Elena and Bothari are with him; Elena tells him she’s set up physical training for the new recruits, and urges Miles himself to come, despite his protests about his stomach.
Visconti arrives, and Miles’s cheerful welcome dies when he sees the needler pistol in her hand. She addresses Bothari, sure now that she recognizes him; Bothari, incredibly, lets his weapon fall. She tells Miles about his “bodyguard”–an ex-Barrayaran soldier, Admiral Vorrutyer’s chief torturer and rapist, helping to supply pregnant women for Prince Serg’s benefit. The Escobaran government let the war criminals go in the peace settlement, but she urges Miles to arrest Bothari.
“I don’t—it’s not—” began Miles. He turned to Bothari, his eyes imploring denial—make it not be true—”Sergeant?”
The explosion of words had spattered over Bothari like acid. His face was furrowed with pain, brow creased with an effort of—memory? His eyes went from his daughter to Miles to the Escobaran, and a sigh went out of him. A man descending forever into hell, vouchsafed one glimpse of paradise, might have such a look on his face. “Lady . . .” he whispered. “You are still beautiful.”
Visconti shoots Bothari, who collapses against the wall, before Miles and Elena can restrain her. Bothari coughs up blood from the internal wounds of the tiny needles, and dies. Elena begins to put a stranglehold on Visconti, and Miles tells her to stop, that this might be her mother. Visconti examines her, disdainfully, calling her “that one’s spawn”, and wonders aloud if Miles is another such “experimental fetus”.
Mayhew opens the door, sees Bothari, and runs for a medtech. Visconti apologizes for executing the criminal in front of Miles, who thinks to himself that it was suicide, he couldn’t have been caught off-guard without acceding to it willingly.
He looked up at her across a vast gulf, one meter wide. “I don’t mock you. But—until I was four, almost five years old, I couldn’t walk, only crawl. I spent a lot of time looking at people’s knees. But if there was ever a parade, or something to see, I had the best view of anybody because I watched it from on top the Sergeant’s shoulder.”
Visconti spits on Bothari’s corpse, and Miles’s rage is forestalled by the medtech’s arrival, asking what happened.
His mouth was stiff; he made it move by force of will. “An accident. He was cleaning the weapons. The needler was set on auto rapid-fire.” Two true statements out of three.
Miles asks about the cryo-chambers; they’re all in use, says the medtech, but she can dump one if necessary, preferably the ones with the least chance of recovery, there being two worse than Bothari. Miles considers it for a moment, then says not to bother, that Bothari hates the cold.
Elena was turning around and around between the dead and the living, like a creature newly caged discovering that cold iron sears the flesh. “Mother?” she said at last, in a tiny voice not at all like her own.
“You keep away from me,” the Escobaran woman snarled at her, low-voiced and pale. “Far away.” She gave her a look of loathing, contemptuous as a slap, and stalked out.
Mayhew leads Elena out of the room, leaving Miles to ask Bothari’s dead body what he should do now.
Again, without the knowledge of Shards of Honour, this would be a vast surprise, though not without a certain amount of foreshadowing throughout this book as well. Having read Shards, you can see the trouble building as Miles makes his plans for the happy reunion. You feel bad on Elena’s behalf, but you can’t blame Visconti (can’t call her Elena too, can I?) for her behaviour. It’s hard for a victim to give their torturer the benefit of the doubt for their claims of redemption. I do recall that there is some mention of rapprochement between mother and daughter later in the series. I don’t think that Visconti stays with the Dendarii, and I imagine she realizes how uncomfortable it would be for her after that point; even if she thinks that Miles approved her action by claiming it was an accident, she would probably be uneasy around Elena.
Who are the seven for the fast courier? Miles himself, Elena, Bothari, Mayhew, Baz, Elli Quinn…who am I missing? Had he added Elena Visconti to his plan by this point, in advance of himself? I’m sure he’s leaving Thorne, Auson, Tung and the rest of the Oserans behind, not to mention the Felicians.
Tung’s defection comes as a bit of a surprise, but I guess it’s just Oser’s diplomatic nature coming to the fore. We do meet Oser this book, as I recall, though I recall him more from The Vor Game.
Five more references to his stomach, this time mostly associated with pain or nausea. Nice the way she manages to sneak them in, until you begin to wonder if there’s something more to it than just indigestion and stress…
Miles begins to cry three days later, at night. His stomach hurts constantly, and he stops eating much. Elena isn’t doing too much better. Miles stop contributing much at Dendarii staff meetings, and he snarls at Mayhew when he attempts to warn Miles about leaving them out to dry. Miles returns to his cabin, throws up, not for the first time, resolves to do something, then collapses into sleep.
He is very slowly getting himself dressed when Elena comes in, exclaiming over how messy his cabin is now that he no longer has a batman to keep it tidy. Miles half-jokingly suggests he take on Mayhew instead. Miles has been keeping Bothari’s coffin in his room, rather than the cold morgue. Elena tells him how things are falling apart without him, everybody working too hard and arguing with each other. Miles says he doesn’t know what good he is–everyone else does something real except him.
Elena says that Miles never doubted Visconti’s accusations, and Miles says he knew Bothari better than she did. Elena remembers how excited she used to get for rare visits from her father, or summers when he was at Vorkosigan Surleau all the time, and now she discovers all the time he was a monster. Miles tries to persuade her that he was trying to make himself better, and Elena says she’s more worried about turning out a monster herself. Miles tries to reassure her that she’ll be her own person, and Elena says that’s rich, coming from him, flower of the Vor. Miles begins to babble about how the earlier generations weigh down heavily on him.
“Elena, I love you, I’ve always loved you—” She leaped like a startled deer; he gasped and flung his arms around her. “No, listen! I love you, I don’t know what the Sergeant was but I loved him too, and whatever of him is in you I honor with all my heart, I don’t know what is truth and I don’t give a damn anymore, we’ll make our own like he did, he did a bloody good job I think, I can’t live without my Bothari, marry me!” He spent the last of his air shouting the last two words, and had to pause for a long inhalation.
Elena says she’s worried about her own genetic risks now, and about what Miles’s family will think. Miles says he doesn’t care, but Elena refuses to go back to Barrayar. Miles offers half-heartedly to live with her somewhere else, but Elena says that he’ll go back when it’s his turn to be Count Vorkosigan. Miles says he’ll give it up to his heir, Ivan Vorpatril, instead, and Elena tells him how Ivan used to try to grope her when they were alone. She tells Miles that she does love him, but she has to be something on her own, not just an annex to Miles. She admits she has promised herself to Baz, and admonishes Miles when he asks her to break her word. She shames him into coming to the staff meeting, then retreats.
The meeting, to plan the blockade-breaking, starts with the animosity between various representatives that has been growing over the past week, and General Halify watches in dismay. Pet plans are brought up yet again and shot down–piracy, hit-and-run tactics, raiding the Pelian capital. Miles speaks up, comparing their ideas to a chess player who can’t play until he’s cleared most of the pieces off the board. Then he has an idea, but is drowned out when he tries to describe it. He throws his grandfather’s dagger up, to land, ringing, in the middle of the table, then gets up on the table to retrieve it, this time with everyone’s undivided attention.
Miles yanked the dagger out, resheathed it, and strode up and down the tabletop. His leg brace had developed an annoying click recently, which he’d meant to have Baz fix; now it was loud in the silence. Locking attention, like a whisper. Good. A click, a club on the head, whatever worked was fine by him. It was time to get their attention.
He tells them that they can’t beat the Oserans straight up, but their real mission is just to remove their power from the system. The weak link there is their relationship with the Pelians, and Miles proposes striking at it by going after their payroll.
First, they send some former Oserans to pick up the payroll directly, just ahead of the real Oserans. They slug it out with the Pelian ship guarding the next shipment, settling for blowing it up when the Oserans themselves approach. After that, Miles is forced to use his ace in the hole, sending a message to the Barrayaran spy signed with the Vorkosigan seal to get an inside line on the Oserans; the spy surreptitiously microwaves the next shipment into ash.
He sends Baz, Visconti, and other techs to sneak into the Pelian capital and intercept the next digital transfer. Meanwhile, he plans an attack on the next payroll shipment of Betan dollars before the Oserans can pick it up.
His space armour modified by Baz to fit him perfectly, he suits up along with Elena and the other assault teams. Seeing Elena’s bleak face, he warns her that he can tell she’s thinking of suicide, but she shuts him out. They have made sure to disconnect the remote overrides in the Oseran armour, after using against the Oserans themselves earlier.
As they are moving towards the shuttle, he is suddenly struck by a painful cramp, and begins to throw up inside his spacesuit. Alarmed by his odd telemetry, one of the mercenaries opens his faceplate, to discover Miles’s vomit is almost pure blood. They take off his armour, and Elena hovers anxiously over him. He orders her to take charge; she says she can’t do it.
“Liege-lady. You can. You must. I’ll be with you.” He writhed, gripped by some sadistic giant. “You are true Vor, not I. . . . Must have been changelings, back there in those replicators.” He gave her a death’s-head grin. “Forward momentum—”
She rose then, determination crowding out the hot terror in her face, the ice that had run like water transmuted to marble.
As the medtechs put him onto a float pallet and take him away, he hears Elena urging them to win the battle for Admiral Naismith, and wonders how he manages to make so many heroes without becoming one himself. Soon he is sedated into unconsciousness.
The first part of the chapter is one of the harder sections to read, as it’s never fun to see the normally manic Miles sunk into depression. Not without reason, of course–it never is–but I still want to shake him and get him moving again. That’s practically what Elena does, coming in as someone who is suffering as much as Miles is, in her own way, and yet someone who knows him well enough to be able to prod him out of himself again.
Miles’s unrequited love for her is finally dealt with, perhaps not as gently as it might have been. You can’t blame her for her feelings about Barrayar, which has never treated her particularly kindly, barring her from so many opportunities on account of her sex, not to mention her father’s own betrayal, as she sees it. Her father was insane, her mother despised him… Miles is the only thing that could really tie her to the planet, but she wisely sees that she couldn’t bear to actually be married to him. Does she return to the planet at any time before “Winterfair Gifts”? Probably not. Perhaps, if Miles had asked her before they left Barrayar, before he gave her the opportunity to blossom, she might have settled for him, and they could have been unhappy together. It is better for both of them in the long run, but you always gotta root for the guy, don’t you?
Great ending to the chapter, the stomach foreshadowing coming to a head, as Miles pays the price for neglecting his own health. In a spectacular fashion, too. I can’t help but noticing that this also cleverly gets the author out of having to write another space battle/spaceship boarding scene. I’m sure that wasn’t the main goal or anything, but considering that she can now replace that tension with the suspense of what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-Miles, it’s a reasonable exchange anyway. You can’t do the same kind of scene in a book too many times anyway.
Also–“Forward momentum”, once in each chapter. I keep expecting to run across some reference to Ms. Bujold saying that that was her originally suggested title, but the publishers picked this one instead. Must be just me, I guess.
I think we’re getting close to the climax now. Actually, I’m not quite sure where to put the climax of the book–maybe the blood-vomiting scene is it, or the death of Bothari, or maybe it’s yet to come. (Yes, there is a major scene of conflict left to come in the book, but to me it feels too close to the end, and not tied closely enough to the main plot, to be the real climax of the book.) There’s twenty-one chapters in total, plus an epilogue, so three more weeks should do it. Then maybe I’ll take a weeks or two off for Christmas… I should still be here next week, though.