Good morning, class. Today in our VOR 201 class, Intermediate Vorkosigan Studies, we’re going to look at some episodes in the early history of Miles Vorkosigan. Please open your copies of The Warrior’s Apprentice to Chapters Nine and Ten, and follow along with me. No talking, there at the back; there will be questions at the end of the lecture. Now, let’s begin.
After the fight, Miles realizes that Baz Jesek hadn’t taken part, and sees him standing against a wall. He orders Elena and Mayhew out into the corridor, hoping he can snap Baz out of his funk. Miles tells Baz that now they have to take the Oserans’ ship, before they find out what happened to the shuttle. He tells Baz that he’s the logical one to capture the engineering section, so he’s going to send Baz in with Elena, while Bothari and Daum go to Nav/Com and Miles and Mayhew stun everyone else they can.
Jesek shook his head. “I can’t,” he whispered.
“Look, you’re not the only one who’s terrified. I’m scared witless.”
Jesek’s mouth twisted. “You don’t look scared. You didn’t even look scared when that mercenary pig decked you. You just looked pissed.”
“That’s because I’ve got forward momentum. There’s no virtue in it. It’s just a balancing act. I don’t dare stop.”
The engineer shook his head again, helplessly, and spoke through his teeth. “I can’t. I’ve tried.”
Miles decides to try swearing Baz, which will be more complicated because Baz is technically already sworn to the Emperor as a soldier, and walks him through a highly modified oath, managing to omit Miles’s real name and titles.
Bothari and Daum return with the pilot officer as a prisoner. Miles tells Baz to get Elena and Daum and haul the unconscious prisoners to the empty cargo hold and then get out their own concealed weapons. Miles asks the pilot nicely for the recognition codes, but the pilot is unimpressed and refuses to talk, knowing they can’t risk killing him. Miles takes Bothari aside and asks if they can risk going without the codes, but Bothari says they should try to get them. Bothari says he knows how to break a pilot, and Miles, with misgivings, gives him leave to try. Bothari takes Miles’s dagger and asks Miles and Mayhew to hold the pilot’s arms. He smiles disquietingly, then begins to pry out an implant on one of the pilot’s temples. The pilot is just beginning to get worried when Bothari rips the implant out out of his head. Mayhew is violently ill.
Bothari puts his dagger to another implant on the pilot’s forehead, and the pilot begins telling them everything he knows. Miles listens carefully, not wanting to have done this horrific deed for nothing. Once he begins to repeat himself, they all board the shuttle. Mayhew assures Miles that he can fly it, and asks Miles if he knew what Bothari was going to do. Miles says that as Bothari’s liegeman he is responsible for his actions, no matter what they are.
They approach the ship, a small Illyrican warship named the Ariel. They dock without incident, and Bothari heads out first, stunning one crewman almost immediately. Miles tells Elena to keep Baz moving, and they split up, leaving Miles with Mayhew. Mayhew is about to try to blast a door open with his plasma arc when Miles discovers that it isn’t locked; Mayhew leaps in with a war cry to find an empty storage room, and Miles debates with him whether or not war cries are appropriate when attacking from surprise. On the next level up, they find a dormitory and stun three sleeping women, who Miles realizes are likely crew, and he wonders if Elena would have been all right with the Oserans after all.
Out in the hallway, another mercenary comes around the corner, and grapples with Miles for his weapon before being stunned by Mayhew. Miles, dizzy from the nimbus of the blast, discovers the mercenary to be a Betan hermaphrodite. They check a dozen more rooms, finding no more crew, before reaching Nav/Com and finding Bothari and Daum in charge. They count up the stunned mercenaries, eleven in all, which seems to be all the remaining complement of the ship. Miles insists on taking them prisoner over Bothari’s objections, not wanting any more blood on his hands.
Miles goes down to engineering to find Elena bandaging up a burn on Baz’s arm. She describes the combat–they stunned two right away, Baz charged a mercenary who had a plasma arc, which is how he got burned, while Elena was grappling with the fourth. Miles, a little jealous, starts to describe a better strategy, but relents at Baz’s crestfallen expression and says he might not have thought of it either in the heat of battle. Baz asks Miles quietly how he knew he was ready to face combat, and Miles replies glibly that he just knew–part of being Vor. Miles instructs Baz to figure out the ship’s systems and help Elena get the prisoners to the brig.
Miles goes back to the shuttle to retrieve the pilot, and finds him floating in zero-gee. Miles realizes suddenly that the pilot is in bad shape, just before the pilot starts to convulse. Miles cuts him loose and drags him into the ship; abandoning the pilot’s weight in gravity, he runs for sickbay and a stretcher. He orders Bothari to try to find the medtech and meet him back at the shuttle. When Bothari arrives, he says the medtech was too heavily stunned to rouse, and that the pilot is already dead anyway, likely having had a stroke from the damage when the implant was ripped out. Miles finds a cryochamber to preserve the body in hopes of later revival, but it’s in pieces, in mid-repair.
Bothari asks to go supervise the prisoners; before he goes, Miles asks for the pilot’s implant, and Bothari gives it to him.
Bothari frowned a little, watching his face. “One casualty is not bad for an operation of this nature, my lord,” he offered. “His life saved many, and not just on our side.”
“Ah,” said Miles, dry and cold. “I’ll keep that in mind, when I come to explain to my father how it was we happened to torture a prisoner to death.”
After Bothari leaves, Miles washes the pilot’s face.
He drew his dagger and trimmed the trailing wires from the silver button, and pressed it carefully back into place on the pilot officer’s temple. After, until Daum came looking for him with some request for orders, he stood and meditated on the still, waxen features of the thing they’d made. But reason seemed to run backwards, conclusions swallowed in premises, and premises in silence, until in the end only silence and the unanswerable object remained.
I bet there are some teenagers would love to have a highly capable soldier at their beck and call. Some might even like to have a psychotic killer. I don’t know how much Miles knew about Bothari’s well-hidden propensities, but his smile at torturing the pilot probably gave him an indication. He didn’t do the act himself, but he sanctioned it, and he’s feeling the weight of that responsibility, maybe more than if he’d killed the man himself–certainly more than if he’d done it in the heat of combat. His reluctance to take more lives, and thus lose sympathy in the reader’s eyes, shapes a lot of the plot to come. In many ways, Miles seems so competent and even mature that one forgets his youth. Is this really a “coming of age” story, then? To some extent, certainly. Cast out of his prior certainties, he has to find a new balance within himself.
Also, Miles has now sworn another liegeman, sort of. It’s almost seeming like this is his only trick, but luckily he’ll come up with a new one soon. It does work, anyway, giving Baz a little more confidence, if nothing else.
You know, in some ways “Forward Momentum” might have been a better title for the book–it’s certainly a central metaphor. “The Warrior’s Apprentice” really doesn’t describe the book very well. Who the hell is Miles supposed to be apprenticing to, after all?
Miles prods a broken-armed Captain Auson into sickbay, armed with a nerve disrupter. Auson’s first officer, the hermaphrodite Lieutenant Thorne, is there having a wound sealed, with Bothari looking on. Thorne asks who they are, and Miles responds with enigmatic silence.
The prisoners are being troublesome–both groups, the one on Ariel and the one from Mayhew’s ship, are trying assiduously to escape whenever not actually stunned. Miles knows that the situation is unstable, but still balks at killing all the Oserans, and keeping them stunned for too long isn’t good for them either.
He probes Thorne, asking about the Oserans. Thorne says that there’s no command structure, every Captain-Owner being equal, and Auson says that he owns the contracts for everyone on the ship. Miles taunts them with being “a sorry excuse for soldiers”. Auson grumbles that he just wanted some action, which nettles Thorne.
I have you now. The certainty reverberated like a bell in Miles’s mind. His idle dreams of revenge upon the mercenary captain vaporized in the heat of a new and more breathtaking inspiration. His eye nailed Auson, and he rapped out sharply, “How long has it been since your last General Fleet Inspection?”
Auson looked as if it had belatedly occurred to him that he ought to be limiting this conversation to names, ranks, and serial numbers, but Thorne replied, “A year and a half.”
Miles swore, with feeling, and raised his chin aggressively. “I don’t think I can take any more of this. You’re going to have one now.”
Auson says he can’t figure Miles out; he was sure that Miles was a smuggler, and still is. Miles says what he’s smuggling is “military advisors”. He begins the inspection right there in sickbay, showing up some discrepancies in inventory of narcotics, then going on to malfunctioning equipment. There is no shortage of that, so Miles leaves the cryochamber for last, pointing out that the pilot is dead now because of its condition (and deflecting Thorne’s query for more details on the death). He orders the medtech to get the room in order, then leaves with Auson and Thorne.
In the hallway, with the two Oserans out of earshot, Bothari asks him what he thinks he’s doing. Miles says he’s going to act like they’re some mercenary super-outfit, and keep the Oserans busy cleaning up their act, to salve their pride at being so easily defeated, and asks Bothari where to dig up more dirt. Bothari suggests the crew quarters, but doesn’t think Miles’s plan will work.
Bothari takes the lead at inspecting the crew quarters, finding ample evidence of the crew’s vices, both openly known and concealed. Thorne’s quarters are actually passable, and Auson’s mostly show signs of laziness. Next, at the arsenal, Miles takes a supposedly uncharged plasma arc and shows its lethality by aiming it just past Auson’s head.
Before the inspection of engineering, Miles takes Baz aside and tells him he’s Commander Baz Jesek of the Dendarii Free Mercenaries. He encourages Baz to act like his most annoying instructor at the Academy, let them answer his questions and not the other way around, and generally terrorize them. Miles finds some cigar butts for Baz to chew to get into character.
Miles assembles the Ariel‘s entire crew in the briefing room, and gives them a lecture about the Dendarii Free Mercenaries–who don’t advertise their existence, and recruit selectively. He says that he’d rather be rid of them, but one of his officers (strongly implied to be Elena) has asked for him to give the Oserans another chance, so he’s taken their contracts from Captain Auson. This announcement causes some unrest, quickly quelled by Bothari bringing his nerve disrupter to bear.
Miles says that they are now all recruit-trainees, but he assures them that everyone starts at the bottom, even himself, and promotions can be swift; any of them could be captain in a few weeks. Thus he hopes to set the former low-ranking crew against the former officers. When asked his own rank, he simply asks them to call him “Mr. Naismith”, but says that he’ll shoot anyone who disobeys his orders. Trainee Quinn asks for a copy of the Dendarii regulations, and Miles says they’ll have some tomorrow, realizing that he’ll have to come up with them from somewhere. Then the crew start asking about medical and retirement plans, and other practical questions, and he promises them a brochure later, though he says that being alive is all the “fringe benefit” they get for the moment.
He tells them to see “Commander Elena” for their assignments, and dismisses them. As they leave, he realizes that many of them have the same kind of hunger in their eyes that he saw in Baz and Mayhew’s.
He takes Bothari aside and asks for his Barrayaran Imperial Service regulations book, which he proposes to chop down for the Dendarii regs. Bothari reminds him that those are the old regs, and that Lord Aral and the General Staff took two years to update them, but Miles is confident that he can do it faster than a committee. Elena comes and asks him what she should do with the trainees, and he tells her to get them to demonstrate their fighting skills on each other, occupying them for a couple of days, and then generally tire them out. Bothari can run them through weapons drills, and Baz will get the engineering section to peak performance. Anything to keep them too tired to think too hard. Mayhew is running his RG freighter solo.
“My lord,” said the Sergeant sternly, “there are twenty of them and four of us. At the end of the week, who do you think is going to be tireder?” He slipped into vehemence. “My first responsibility is your hide, damn it!”
“I’m thinking of my hide, believe me! And you can best cover my hide by going out there and making them believe I’m a mercenary commander.”
“You’re not a commander, you’re a bloody holovid director,” muttered Bothari.
Miles’s editing job on the regs takes all night, as he cuts out Barrayar-specific ceremonies, obsolete weaponry, and anything else he can. He begins to realize that the essence of the regulations seems to be geared towards organization, getting everything necessary to the right place at the right time, and remembers his grandfather’s stories about the importance of good quartermasters. He spends the next day trying to be seen everywhere, conveying grudging acceptance where necessary and stern disapproval otherwise.
They hold a funeral for the pilot that afternoon, which Miles turns into a general inspection as well, though Auson gives the actual ceremony. Retreating to the captain’s quarters afterwards, he asks Elena if the crew seems to be buying it, particularly with his youth. She says that Daum seems to be convinced that Miles was on Beta Colony for a secret rejuvenation treatment, which is widely believed in though utterly nonexistent, and so is much older than he looks. Bel Thorne seems to have a crush on Miles, and Elena told Baz Jesek that Miles is the exiled and disinherited son of a Barrayaran Count.
He grinned in spite of himself. “Baz is a romantic.”
“He’s an exile himself, isn’t he?” she asked quietly. “Father doesn’t like him, but he won’t say why . . .” She looked at him expectantly.
“I won’t either, then. It’s—it’s not my business.”
“But he’s your liegeman now.”
“All right, so it is my business. I just wish it weren’t. But Baz will have to tell you himself.”
She smiled at him. “I knew you’d say that.” Oddly, the non-answer seemed to content her.
Elena says that she’s getting the more skilled of her combat students training the more hapless, which Miles approves. She is quite happy to be doing things that she never thought she’d ever get to, brushing off Miles’s apologies for demanding so much of her. Miles reminds her that this is all a hoax, but Elena tells him that Miles himself is holding it up. Then she begins asking when he last slept, or ate, and when he can’t answer, and starts to become less focused and hyper, she leaves and returns soon with her father. Bothari gives him some scotch and then puts him to bed.
“Can’t sleep. Too much to do. Got to keep them moving. Wonder if I can fake a brochure? I suppose death-gild is nothing but a primitive form of life insurance, at that. Elena can’t possibly be right about Thorne. Hope to God my father never finds out about this—Sergeant, you won’t . . . ? I thought of a docking drill with the RG 132 . . .” His protests trailed off to a mumble, and he rolled over and slept dreamlessly for sixteen hours.
Miles begins to put flesh onto the fancy of the Dendarii Mercenaries that he started a couple of chapters ago. Lacking the physical strength to keep the crew at bay, he turns his persuasive powers against them, to great effect. I summarized a lot of the brilliant dialogue, but it’s well worth reading for itself. I love it when the crew start asking for the regs and employment details, showing that they’re buying into his idea and catching Miles completely unprepared. Perhaps the best scenes in the book, at any rate.
This chapter, and the one before, are the real beginning of the Baz-Elena relationship, starting with their being teamed in the assault on engineering, and Baz’s conspicuous bravery there. Her discussion with Miles shows that she’s becoming curious about his past; reminds me a lot of Droushnakovi first asking questions about Koudelka in _Barrayar_. Also the beginning of Bel Thorne’s crush on Miles, which takes a little while longer to pay off… And the first appearance of Elli Quinn, even if she doesn’t get a first name yet–hi, Elli!
It’s hard to stop after these chapters–I actually just went ahead and read Chapter Eleven, and I was all like, “Oh, yeah!”
That’s all for this week, class. I hope to see you all back here next week, though if you read ahead at home, I won’t take off marks.