A new month has rolled around, and as the fingers of many are turning to the mass production of words that is National Novel Writing Month, I’m taking a pass this year. Which is lucky for you, because it means that I can turn out some installments of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread this month instead. This week, we visit Chapters Seven and Eight of The Warrior’s Apprentice, second novel written, third chronologically (if, as I do, you omit Falling Free), and first to star the inimitable (or, at least, only imitable with great difficulty) Miles Naismith Vorkosigan.
Miles, Bothair and Mayhew arrive at the hotel room belonging to their Felician contact. Miles tells Mayhew to stop calling him “kid”, since he’s now Mayhew’s liege lord, trying to explain the concept in terms he’ll understand. Nettled by Bothari’s obvious disdain for his new fellow liegeman, Mayhew does his best.
Miles presses the buzzer, and they are greeted by Carle Daum, who is surprised at first by Miles’s stature. Miles and Mayhew sit down, Bothari preferring to stand, and Daum begins to ask them about their ship. Mayhew describes its low but steady acceleration; when Daum asks about its maneuverability, Miles cuts to the chase and says it probably won’t be able to evade the wormhole blockade. Daum is about to give up, discouraged, when Miles begins to outline his plan to camouflage the cargo instead.
Miles made a calculation, based on the Felician’s age and bearing, “Major Daum?”
The man twitched. Ah ha, thought Miles, nailed him on the first try. He compressed this internal crow to a suave smile.
“If you’re a Pelian spy, or an Oseran mercenary, I swear I’ll kill you—” Daum began. Bothari’s eyelids drooped, in a pose of deceptive calm.
“I’m not,” said Miles, “although it would be a great ploy, if I were. Load up you and your weapons, take you halfway, and make you get out and walk—I appreciate your need for caution.”
“What weapons?” said Daum, attempting belatedly to regain his cover.
Miles pretends to play along with Daum’s subterfuge, but says they should stop playing around, both being professionals and all. Daum leaps to the conclusion that Miles is a mercenary, and Mayhew suddenly believes he understands what Miles meant about looking for “desperate men”. Daum begins to believe, and asks Miles how many ships he has. Miles has to backpedal, claiming to be detached from his unit and on Beta for medical reasons, but open to a little independent venture while waiting to rendezvous with the rest of his outfit. Daum asks about his rank, and Miles is tempted to promote himself, but decides to leave it at “Mr. Naismith”. He tells Daum his outfit is the Dendarii Mercenaries, after a mountain range in the Vorkosigan District. Daum decides to take a chance with Miles and his crew, since further delay will be almost as risky as betrayal.
After leaving Daum, Bothari is unhappy with Miles’s insistence to go along, despite not trusting Mayhew’s competence, preferring a nice boring visit to Miles’s proposed excitement. Back at Mrs. Naismith’s, they find Elena incensed at a Betan holovid; Miles initially assumes it was pornography, but it turns out to be a historical film about the Escobar invasion, which Elena considers to be full of slander and inaccuracies. Miles remembers how his father had ended up in charge of the retreat from Escobar, which was considered exemplary by the Barrayarans.
“It’s—it’s . . .” Elena turned to Miles. “There isn’t any truth in it—is there?”
“Well,” said Miles, equable from years of practice in coming to terms with the Betan version of history, “some. But my mother says they never wore the blue uniforms until the war was practically over. And she swears up and down, privately, that she didn’t murder Admiral Vorrutyer, but she won’t say who did. Protests too much, I think. All my father will ever say about Vorrutyer is that he was a brilliant defensive strategist. I’ve never been quite sure what to make of that, since Vorrutyer was in charge of the offense. All my mother says about him is that he was a bit strange, which doesn’t sound too bad, until I reflect that she’s a Betan. They’ve never said a word against Prince Serg, and Father was on his staff and knew him, so I guess the Betan version of him is mainly a crock of war propaganda.”
Elena asks her father to bolster the Barrayaran view of events, since he was there. Bothari says he doesn’t remember Escobar, and Miles realizes that that probably explains the medical discharge, if he received a head wound, which Bothari doesn’t deny.
To divert Elena, he tells her that they have their cargo, and asks her to buy supplies for the trip, overriding her doubts by assuring her that she shouldn’t have any trouble, though encouraging her to search for bargains, to keep from eating up the remainder of his travel allowance. He lists the expected crew and passengers, and Elena instantly notices that she’s not on the list and takes Miles to task for it. Miles leaves it up to Bothari and his grandmother. Mrs. Naismith says Elena’s welcome to stay, but Elena pleads with Miles to tell her father to let her go. Mrs. Naismith, picking up her cue, suggests some possible activities for Elena’s stay on Beta, including desert-trekking with some of her hermaphrodite friends. Bothari is, Miles knows, particularly revolted by hermaphrodites, and, though furious, allows Elena to come along, then retreats to patrol the hallway.
The next two days are very busy, requiring not only regular preparations for the ship, but also extras for the camouflage. They buy other things to hide their real cargo, as well as false bulkheads to conceal it and expensive, hard to obtain, mass detector jammers to keep scanners from picking the crates up. Miles hopes that Baz Jesek is qualified to set up the jammers, especially since he hasn’t shown up yet. Fees pile up for the ship, requiring Miles to spend his travel allowance, then cash in his, Elena and Bothari’s return tickets. He relies on Mayhew’s green bottle of liquor a lot.
At the end of two days he found himself teetering atop a dizzying financial structure compounded of truth, lies, credit, cash purchases, advances on advances, shortcuts, a tiny bit of blackmail, false advertising, and yet another mortgage on some more of his glow-in-the-dark farmland.
They load the supplies, including Daum’s cargo. Jesek shows up and is set to making last-minute hasty repairs to the ship. Finally, in the docking bay, ready to go, they are confronted with a “waldo handling fee”. Miles, Daum, and Mayhew have already exhausted their resources, even with a loan from Mrs. Naismith, so Miles has to prevail upon Bothari to pay for him, promising to reimburse him twofold. Bothari considers scuttling the whole endeavour right there, but loyally gives Miles his money. Miles thinks wistfully of the bankroll provided to military ship captains.
As they are preparing to leave orbit, a message is forward to them by traffic control. Lieutenant Croye, from the embassy, is calling to inform Miles that Baz Jesek is a deserter, and that they need to send him down to be taken into custody, and that Calhoun is at the embassy, complaining about something or other. Dismayed, Miles fakes a communications problem and disconnects, then tells Mayhew to leave orbit right away.
Miles starts to feel ill, and thinks at first that it’s merely the stress, then maybe some illness, then realizes what it is–the green liquor, which Mayhew calls “creme de meth”, catching up to him. Mayhew calls Bothari to come look after Miles, and Elena comes too.
“Well, at least he’ll stop bouncing off the walls, and give us all a break,” said Mayhew cheerfully. “I’ve never seen anybody overrev on that stuff the way he did.”
“Oh, was that liquor of yours a stimulant?” asked Elena. “I wondered why he didn’t fall asleep.”
“Couldn’t you tell?” chuckled Mayhew.
Miles twisted his head to take in Elena’s upside-down worried face, and smile in weak reassurance. Sparkly black and purple whirlpools clouded his vision.
Mayhew’s laughter faded. “My God,” he said hollowly, “you mean he’s like that all the time?”
More distorted tidbits of the Shards of Honour story coming to light–though the Betan version is probably not much more accurate, overall, than the official sanitized Barrayaran story, having both of them might allow you to get closer to the truth. Bothari’s true role is still mysterious to Miles and Elena, though. Again, reading this before Shards the first time, I imagine that I had no clue what revelations were to come…
Miles’s teetering pile of finances makes me think of a similar situation later, in Brothers In Arms, which makes his thoughts about how easy it would be, being on the Emperor’s payroll, quite ironic.
“Creme de meth”–clever. But what’s hilarious is Mayhew’s reaction to the fact that Miles is normally as hyperactive as creme de meth would make a regular person. Is there some medical source for Miles’s hyperactivity, something genetic, something to do with the treatments for his bone problems, something to do with the fact that it took him so long to be able to walk? (See the epilogue to Barrayar.) Whatever the source, it’s an inextricable part of his personality, and his dynamism is part of what makes him such an engaging viewpoint character. The failure at the exams seemed to bring him to a stop, but it didn’t take him long to start revving up in a different direction, did it?
Miles finishes welding up the fake bulkheads, and, after seven tries, Baz Jesek’s mass detector doesn’t register the cargo hidden behind it; Daum is pleased and relieved. Mayhew calls them up to the bridge where he plays them a message from a warning buoy set up by the Oseran mercenaries. It warns any incoming ships that they will need to submit to search for contraband, but it also says that any pilot officers will be held in custody until the ship concludes its business in local space. Daum says this is new, but at least it means that the war isn’t over yet. Miles decides that they will have to be “meek”.
They spend half a day in final preparations outside of the wormhole. Miles takes Mayhew aside for a discussion, to ask whether he’s willing to go through with it. He says he won’t order Mayhew to become a hostage, or leave him stranded there, and if Mayhew refuses, they’ll go back to Beta, even though Calhoun will likely repossess the ship and Miles will be much poorer.
“What if—” began Mayhew. He looked at Miles curiously. “What if they’d wanted, say, Sergeant Bothari instead of me? What would you have done then?”
“Oh, I’d go in,” said Miles automatically, then paused. The air hung empty, waiting for explanation. “That’s different. The Sergeant is—is my liegeman.”
“And I’m not?” asked Mayhew ironically. “The State Department will be relieved.”
There was a silence. “I’m your liegelord,” replied Miles at last, soberly. “What you are is a question only you can answer.”
Mayhew says he doesn’t know what he is, but he’ll make the jump. At the other side of the wormhole, he says it’s an interesting jump, but will never be popular. There is nobody to meet them, though, not for hours, before a ship approaches at a leisurely pace to board them. Miles torments himself with worst-case scenarios as he waits for the boarders. There are nine of them, all armed men, but Miles notices they seem a little “motley”, one of them maybe even drunk.
The captain of the boarders, Auson, asks who’s in charge, and obviously dismisses Miles as a threat when introduced. He orders his men to search them, and after that they continue to Nav/Com and the personal quarters, turning them upside down looking for anything valuable. They complain about not finding anything until they run across Miles’s grandfather’s dagger, an old Vorkosigan relic with gold decorations on the hilt. Auson takes it, gives it a once-over, then jams it in his belt. Miles protests, trying to keep within his Betan persona and not make Auson suspicious; the captain keeps the dagger anyway.
After the search, in the wardroom with five of his men, the captain demands all their off-planet currency, which is contraband. Reluctantly, they do so; the mercenaries are once again disappointed at the small haul, and Miles explains their strapped status. Three of the mercenaries go down to Engineering and fetch Baz and Elena back up; Auson brightens on seeing Elena. Elena proves to have a fair-sized bankroll in Betan dollars, which she says Cordelia gave her. Auson asks if the manifest is correct, and his soldiers confirm that the cargo they opened up seemed to match.
Auson considers Mayhew, asking him if he’s ready to go, annoyed when Mayhew looks to Miles for instructions, as Elena and Bothari had earlier. Auson decides that he’s tired of Betans, and he’ll let them keep Mayhew; he’ll take Elena instead. Elena asks Miles for help, and Miles tells Auson to choose another. He grabs Auson’s arm, and Auson easily lays Miles out on the floor. After watching for any more signs of resistance, he grabs Elena and starts to lead his soldiers out of the room.
Miles tells Bothari “Now!” and they move into action. Miles launches himself at the soldier he thought was drunk. Bothari throws a chair at a soldier with a nerve disruptor, Daum disarms one and tosses his stunner to Mayhew. Miles disables his man with a blow to the stomach while Bothari takes out a couple more soldiers. Elena breaks Auson’s nose and bears him down to the floor.
“That’s enough, Elena,” said Bothari, placing the bell-muzzle of a captured nerve disruptor against the man’s temple.
“No, Sergeant!” Miles cried. The yelling stopped abruptly, and Auson rolled fear-whitened eyes toward the gleaming weapon.
“I want to break his legs, too!” cried Elena angrily. “I want to break every bone in his body! I’ll Shorty him! When I’m done he’s going to be one meter tall!”
Bothari stuns Auson and the rest of the soldiers instead, then reminds Miles that there are still three more in the rest of the ship. Miles tells him and Daum to take care of them, but leave them alive, and take at least one conscious for him to question, then wonders to himself what he’s going to do with them now.
The part where they are trying to be meek beneath the bullying of Auson and his crew is almost painful to read, but at least the melee at the end is cathartic. Miles is now in a bit of a situation, though, with six people against twenty of the Oseran mercenaries. How will he get out of this one? Ah, that’s the fun part, in the next chapter. Auson does eventually get what he deserves, too. Seriously, these guys do give off the initial impression of being pretty much scum, especially when Auson decides to take Elena, but I guess they haven’t encountered too much resistance up to now.
First appearance of the grandfather’s dagger, which, as I recall, turns up a few times in the series, though I don’t remember specifics right now. And…not much else to say about this chapter. Unpleasant, then triumphant. And next chapter is, as Wallace Greenslade would say, where the story really starts.
And that’s it for another week. Tune in next week for the Dendarii Mercenary Recruitment Drive, as Miles decides to build them from the ground up. Well, so to speak. What could go wrong?