New post! Vorkosigan reread! Lois McMaster Bujold! Warrior’s Apprentice! Chapter Eleven! Chapter Twelve! Miles Vorkosigan! Dendarii Mercenaries! Now read!
A week later, Miles is still in command as the Ariel nears a refinery in the asteroid belt, their planned rendezvous. As they draw closer, Miles begins to think there aren’t enough lights or activities for it to be still operating. Daum, who also doesn’t like the look of it, assures Miles that they sent the right recognition codes.
They receive a transmission from a Felician Colonel Fehun, and Daum relaxes at seeing the familiar face. Miles is also relieved at the prospect of fulfulling his contract and getting rid of his “prisoners”. The conversation with Fehun is frequently interrupted by static, and Miles suddenly notices that a small knick-knack on Fehun’s desk is switching position between shots. He cuts the transmission, telling them to pretend technical difficulties, and tells Daum that this is just a recording, that the refinery has already been captured and Pelians and Fehun suborned.
Miles realizes that it’s all over–they’d be captured, their cargo taken by the Pelians, the Barrayarans held for ransom. He wonders if he can arrange to be imprisoned on Beta rather than have to face his father. Auson looks similarly dismayed at having to explain his failure, but Daum and Thorne are asking him for orders.
My God, thought Miles, don’t they realize they’re free? And more wildly, with new rocketing hope—They followed me home, Dad. Can I keep them?
Thorne, experienced, knew the ship, soldiers, and equipment intimately, not with facile surface gloss but with true depth; more vital still, Thorne had forward momentum. Miles stood straight as he could and barked, “So, Trainee Thorne, you think you’re fit to command a warship, eh?”
Thorne came to a stiffer attention, chin raised eagerly. “Sir!”
Miles asks Thorne, as an exercise, how he would take the station, and Thorne suggests counter-ambushing and capturing the refinery from within. Miles, trying to sound knowledgeable, asks what they’d do about the other ships that are surely waiting nearby. Daum suggests arming the refinery with the maser scramblers they were smuggling. Miles reminds them that they can’t afford to squander personnel, and asks Thorne to convince him that it’s not “tactically premature” to capture the refinery. Thorne says that any ships out here will certainly be Oseran, since Pelians don’t have many, and with their knowledge of Oseran codes and procedures, they’ll have the advantage.
Miles authorizes Thorne to lead the assault; Thorne asks for “Commanders” Elena Bothari and Baz Jesek, and Miles agrees. Auson, arms still in casts, looks almost mutinous as the party moves out.
“May I point out, you’re still on the sick list, Trainee Auson.”
Auson waggled his arms. “I could’ve had these off day before yesterday, damn it.”
“May I also point out, that while I’ve promised Trainee Thorne a command, I have not said of what ship. An officer must be able to obey as well as command. To each his own test, to each his own reward. I’ll be watching you, too.”
“There’s only one ship.”
“You’re full of assumptions. A bad habit.”
“You’re full of—” Auson shut his mouth with a snap, and gave Miles a long, thoughtful stare.
Miles is disappointed to find that there is no space armour sufficiently small to fit him, and Bothari refuses to let him go in a mere pressure suit. The equipment is in good condition after the week of inspections; Bothari gives covert instructions to his daughter on how to use her equipment, and Miles reminds Elena that she’s supposedly there as an observer. Elena agrees, and thanks Miles for giving her the opportunity. Miles quietly asks Baz to look after her as well, and Baz replies that he’d “follow her anywhere”. Baz asks Miles if this “Commander” rank means anything, and Miles temporizes that it’s as real as the Dendarii themselves.
Baz’s eyebrows lifted. “And what does that mean?”
“Well . . . My fa—a person I knew once said that meaning is what you bring to things, not what you take from them. He was talking about Vor, as it happened.” Miles paused, then added, “Carry on, Commander Jesek.”
Baz’s eyes glinted amusement. He came to attention and returned Miles an ironic, deliberate salute. “Yes, sir—Admiral Naismith.”
Miles returns to the tactics room with Bothari, and monitors the transmissions along with Auson. Miles and Auson agree that they’d love to be heading for that battle right now. The communications officer puts up displays for the battle armour’s telemetry, and Miles tries to puzzle it out without making it too obvious. Auson shows him Elena’s display, and tells him how they can monitor the suit completely, even take control of it remotely if necessary. Auson says that feature is rarely used, and once he walked an unconscious man all the way back to the ship before discovering he’d lost his head.
The Ariel and the RG 132 are pulling into the dock; Miles wished he’d been able to contact Mayhew and let him on the plan, but they didn’t have any secure channels. Miles suddenly wonders if the enemy have any similar systems in their battle armour, and Auson says that some of the Pelians do. They can pick up enough to know the Dendarii are outnumbered about two to one. Miles asks if they can use the Oseran codes to hack into their battle armour. They can’t do anything too obvious, because the override can be turned off, but Miles thinks they can get away with it if they’re subtle.
They break into the Oserans’ system, and begin tinkering. They back up the waste systems on one, and throw the targeting systems slightly off on another, before deciding to wait until Thorne launches his attack. The Dendarii attack takes the defenders by surprise.
Miles hummed over his readouts. An enemy officer turned her head to look over her shoulder, calling orders to her platoon; Miles promptly locked the helmet in its position of maximum torsion, and the Oseran’s head perforce with it. He picked out another soldier, in a corridor his own people had not yet reached, and locked his suit’s built-in heavy-duty plasma arc into full-on. Fire flared wildly from the man’s hand at his surprised reflexive recoil, spraying floor, ceiling, and comrades.
Miles looks for Elena, finds her in combat, and tries to help her out, but her opponent is a Pelian in armour he can’t access. He finds an Oseran drawing a bead on her, and spikes the man with his entire medkit at once, allowing Baz to come to Elena’s aid. Auson pulls Miles’s attention away when he exclaims at the sudden appearance of a large Oseran warship behind them.
Miles moves forward from capturing ships to capturing…well, not quite battle stations, but a station, at least. I suppose that Thorne can’t have been that happy under Auson, among the Oserans. Or maybe it’s just that crush it has on Miles. Anyway, it’s quite eager to prove itself, which Miles takes clear advantage of. Note that, with hermaphrodites, Galactic Standard, a.k.a. English, seems to just use the vanilla third-person inanimate as a gender-neutral pronoun. Sometimes it does get a little confusing…
Lots of stuff in this chapter. More “forward momentum”…Elena getting another chance at combat…Elena and Baz drawing closer together…Baz actually calling Miles “Admiral”. The high point, of course, has to be the armour hackage, which one presumes is a fairly original idea with Miles, or nobody would ever have that kind of remote control built into their suits. Maybe they were just in a unusual position, knowing the Oseran security codes, but still, seems like a weakness that Miles himself would want to close off for his own troops now that he knows about it…
And then the enemy reinforcements arrive at the end. All the better to pull you into the next chapter…
Miles curses himself for not realizing that the full-feedback battle armour implied that the Oserans had a ship nearby to monitor it as well. Auson says that it’s Ky Tung, a snobby Earther with a pocket dreadnought; he’s asking them to surrender, which Miles isn’t eager to consider, since Thorne is almost finished taking over the refinery. Miles decides they should try to ram Tung’s ship, which incenses Auson, who doesn’t want “his” ship used for such a medieval purpose.
The communications officer calls their attention to the fact that Mayhew has started the RG 132 moving–despite its glacial acceleration, it does mass a lot more than the pocket dreadnought. Tung takes too long to discern its intention, and belatedly starts to rotate the dreadnought into a position where it can thrust away, getting one shot off at the freighter.
Then, almost in slow motion, with a kind of crazy majesty, the RG 132 lumbered into the warship—and kept going. The dreadnought was nudged into the huge smeltery. Projecting equipment and surface housings snapped and spun off in all directions.
Action calling for reaction, after an aching moment the smeltery heaved back. A wave of motion passed down its adjoining structures, like a giant’s game of crack-the-whip. Smashed edges of the dreadnought were caught up on the smeltery, thoroughly entangled. Gaudy chemical fires gouted here and there into the vacuum.
The RG 132 drifted off. Miles stood before the tactics room screen and stared in stunned fascination as half the freighter’s outer hull delaminated and peeled into space.
Thorne and his commandos board the crippled dreadnought and capture its crew. Only then can they spare attention for the RG 132. When Mayhew comes on board the refinery, brushing off Baz’s compliments on his ramming action, he is distraught over the fact that his Necklin rods, essential for jump and machined to exacting tolerance, are now bent. While the refinery can be set up to fix the ship’s hull, the rods themselves would have to be specially commissioned, and cost much more than the ship itself originally had. Miles asks Mayhew why he did it, rather than just surrendering; Mayhew says he could see they were in trouble, and it seemed the kind of thing a proper armsman should do.
Thorne and Auson find them, and Thorne reports on casualties. The Dendarii have suffered two dead and five wounded, including Elli Quinn, whose face has been ruined by a severe plasma burn.
“The enemy’s total personnel were 60 from the Triumph, Captain Tung’s ship—twenty commandos, the rest technical support—and 86 Pelians of whom 40 were military personnel and the rest techs sent to restart the refinery. Twelve dead, 26 injured moderate-to-severe, and a dozen or so minor injuries.
“Equipment losses, two suits of space armor damaged beyond repair, five repairable. And the damages to the RG 132, I guess—” Thorne glanced up through the plexiports; Mayhew sighed mournfully.
“We captured, in addition to the refinery itself and the Triumph, two Pelian inner-system personnel carriers, ten station shuttles, eight two-man personal flitters, and those two empty ore tows hanging out beyond the crew’s quarters. Uh—one Pelian armed courier appears to have—uh—gotten away.” Thorne’s litany trailed off; the lieutenant appeared to be watching Miles’s face anxiously for his reaction to this last bit of news.
On the bright side, Thorne says, they also freed 23 Felician prisoners, which could help their personnel problems. Major Daum has, unfortunately, been unable to get in touch with his superiors.
Ky Tung is being marched past them when he sees Auson and Thorne. He is surprised to see them alive, and then realizes that happened when he sees that they’re armed.
“I might have known. Oser was right to keep you two clowns as far away from the real combat as possible. Only the comedy team of Auson and Thorne could have captured themselves.”
Seeing Auson and Thorne united in their dislike of Tung, Miles seizes the moment and rewards them both–Thorne with captaincy of the Ariel, and Auson with command of Triumph. As Tung is led away, with orders to be sedated, Miles wonders if he can make use of him as well, since Tung does have thirty years of experience. He sends Auson to get his casts removed.
An engineering tech, Mynova, asks about their combat bonus and their pay schedule. Miles says it will be monthly, even as he wonders where the money will come from if they’re still there in a month.
Thorne asks about the counterattack, which there is bound to be after the escaped courier. Miles asks for suggestions, and Thorne begins to detail them; Miles realizes he isn’t tracking well, and says they’ll have a meeting later to discuss them.
Miles’s head spun. The jumbled geometries of the refinery, its ups and downs chosen, apparently, at random, did nothing to decrease his sense of disorientation. And it was all his, every rusty bolt, dubious weld, and stopped-up toilet in it . . .
Elena was observing him anxiously. “What’s the matter, Miles? You don’t look happy. We won!”
A true Vor, Miles told himself severely, does not bury his face in his liegewoman’s breasts and cry—even if he is at a convenient height for it.
Maybe another alternate title for the book could be “Mo’ Mercenaries Mo’ Problems”. No? All right. Anyway, Miles’s impulse to save Arde Mayhew and his ship has led him into more and more complicated situations, like a Red Queen’s Race where he’s trying to keep from losing everything. And now, ironically (as it just struck me) he’s actually destroyed, or crippled, Mayhew’s ship in the process…so his original goal has been lost. Admittedly, with the state of mind he was in on Beta Colony, he was likely to get involved in something just as hare-brained eventually no matter what, trying to find some direction for his life, not to mention trying to impress Elena.
Why does Arde Mayhew’s ship never get a name, by the way? I guess not everybody is sentimental enough to name their ships, especially cargo freighters, but I would have thought that Mayhew might have come up with something, since he was somewhat attached to it. Maybe his mind just didn’t run that way. And, speaking of namelessness, the “communications officer” who is a major player in the battle-armour scene never seems to get a name. Was Bujold consciously trying to avoid cluttering her story with named characters who never come up again? And yet the woman who asks about their pay at the end of the chapter get a name, if only because Miles has to directly address her. Maybe Bujold’s editors complained about too many named characters, too. And maybe I’m just too used to reading Wheel of Time books where one-shot characters get named all the time.
And now we’re done for another week…two more chapters to come next week…we’ll see if Miles can pull something else out of his bag of tricks…but not until next Tuesday…good night, all…