Good evening, or morning, or noon, or dusk, wherever and whenever and whoever you may be. Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, covering Lois McMaster Bujold’s stellar (and I’m not just saying that–this is science fiction, there’s stars all over the place) Vorkosigan series. This week we cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first Miles Vorkosigan book.
Had a nice chat about Bujold with Jo Walton at a convention this past weekend, which was a good time. Since I seem to do all my work on Monday and Tuesday anyway, it didn’t hold me up much, but here I am, still at the last minute, but persevering for the benefit of all my loyal readers. (Note to self: Get more loyal readers. Some of Jo Walton’s would do nicely.)
Bothari takes charge of their horde of new prisoners, leaving Elena as Miles’s bodyguard, though Miles gets her to take notes for him as well. Miles has the Triumph‘s medical staff take care of Tung’s own wounded, with a couple of guards to watch over them. The Felician Colonel Fehun Benar and two others are all but catatonic after their torture, done mostly through hypospray.
Doctors from both sides work on a temporary face replacement for Elli Quinn, which Miles and Elena force themselves to watch. Even when Miles is ready to leave, Elena wants to stay, to harden herself like she thinks a real soldier should. He persuades her to leave anyway, and they argue about whether women should even be in combat at all. Miles adds that his mother was a real soldier, and she never hardened herself like that.
Miles organizes a staff meeting to plan for the counterattack.
He quickly slid into the role of referee, controlling the flow of ideas while concealing his own dearth of hard factual information. He folded his arms, and said “Um,” and “Hm,” but only very occasionally “God help us,” because it caused Elena to choke. Thorne and Auson, Daum and Jesek, and the three freed Felician junior officers who had not been brain-drained did the rest, although Miles found he had to steer them gently away from ideas too much like those just demonstrated not to work for the Pelians.
He urges Daum to continue trying to contact his government.
Miles is given the executive suite, though housekeeping has been neglected, with detritus on the floors and fuzzy patches on the bathroom walls. After trying the null-gee bed and rejecting it, he ends up going out for a walk, looking for Bothari and a bottle of scotch. Seeing an observation deck, he heads for that, until he hears a cry of distress from Elena.
Rushing up onto the catwalk, he sees Bothari trying to strangle Baz Jesek, while Elena, clothes in disarray, is trying to stop him. Elena appeals to Miles to stop her father, and despite his own rush of jealousy, he orders Bothari to stop. Bothari doesn’t respond, and when Miles tries to pry his grip loose, threatening to break his brittle fingers, he relents. As Elena rushes to Baz’s side, Bothari says that he caught Elena “nuzzling” with “that coward”. Elena fiercely defends Baz’s bravery, though Miles realizes that she’s crediting Baz with the soldier Miles himself killed with his space armour’s medkit. Miles tries to persuade Bothari that Baz is a fellow armsman, which Bothari rejects; he is also still intent on a better match for his daughter.
Baz croaked out words. “No . . . dishonor!” Elena hushed him, and lurched to her feet to face Bothari, fiercely.
“You and your military honor! Well, I’ve faced fire, and I’ve killed a man, and it was nothing but butchery. Any robot could have done it. There was nothing to it. It’s all a sham, a hoax, a lie, a big put-on. Your uniform doesn’t awe me any more, do you hear?”
Trying to defuse the situation, Miles sends Elena to take Baz to the infirmary, and then asks Bothari to share his scotch. Once Bothari calms down a little, Miles asks for assurances that he won’t kill Baz, if only because they need techs. Bothari grumbles, but assents, then asks Miles to promise that if Bothari dies, Miles will see to Elena’s future himself, with a “proper baba” to arrange the marriage. A little while later, Bothari asks Miles to also promise not to leave his body out in space if he dies there, but to see him buried back on Barrayar, at Cordelia’s feet.
Baz is back on duty, albeit with a neck brace, the next day, and they are working feverishly to fix up the Triumph–ostensibly to help fight off the Pelians, but Miles also thinks to himself that it’s their only hope to all escape, if they can persuade one of Tung’s pilot officers to take them. Of course, that would leave them back on Beta Colony without the profits they need to pay off their mountain of debt. They install Daum’s weapons on the refinery, but they are still critically short of personnel, so Miles tries another tactic.
Armed with wine, fruit, packaged delicacies, and folding chairs, Miles makes his way to Ky Tung’s prison cell to attempt to woo him. When Miles arrives, Ky Tung is trying to pry open his light fixture, but he gives up when he sees Bothari at Miles’s side. At first he refuses more than “name, rank, serial number”, but Miles promises not to interrogate him, and pours him some wine. Tung starts by asking about his troops, and Miles tells him about their status.
“Sorry things got so messy,” Miles apologized. “I realize how it must burn you to have your opponent blunder to victory. I’d have preferred something neater and more tactical myself, like Komarr, but I had to take the situation as I found it.”
Tung snorted. “Who wouldn’t? Who do you think you are? Lord Vorkosigan?”
Miles inhales some wine in startlement before he realizes that Tung is talking about Aral, and says that Aral is now Count. Tung begins to rhapsodize about Aral’s book on the Komarr invasion. When Miles lets slip that he’s actually met Aral, Tung is more interested, and asks if he has a companion volume about the retreat from Escobar. Tung says that he was a junior lieutenant in a small mercenary fleet at Komarr, and begins replaying the invasion from his perspective, which Miles soaks up avidly.
When Tung finishes, Miles offers him a position with the Dendarii, but Tung is still skeptical, annoyed at losing his ship, and determined not to betray his employer.
Tung eyed him with amused tolerance. “Now, regardless of what that ass Auson seems to think, I have you pegged as a hotshot junior officer in over his head—and sinking fast. Seems to me it’s you, not I, who’s going to be looking for a new job soon. You seem to have at least an average grasp of tactics—and you have read Vorkosigan on Komarr—but any officer who can get Auson and Thorne hitched together to plow a straight line shows a genius for personnel. If you get out of this alive, come see me—I may be able to find something on the exec side for you.”
Miles insists that he has his own contract, and Tung says that he doubts that Felice would honour any contract Daum made. As Miles is leaving, Tung asks for a screwdriver, and Miles is half tempted to give him one. Though Bothari wonders what he gained from it, Miles is satisfied with the progress he made.
Ah, the lovely irony of Tung expounding on Aral to Aral’s son (did he but know it). I can’t remember if Tung and Aral meet at some point–at Miles’s wedding, perhaps? Or in The Vor Game? He is the most perceptive, as befits his senior status, but at least he sees Miles’s potential in “personnel”. That is really Miles’s forte, come to think of it–I remember contrasting his first chapter in Mirror Dance with Mark’s, how he knows all the Dendarii while Mark is just faking his way through. (Miles is still faking his way through most of the way right now, of course, but he’s getting better.)
You hear about protective fathers scaring off potential suitors, but Bothari takes the prize, I think. Too bad that Elena has never fully agreed with her father’s plans, but she still doesn’t know what her father has to try to make up for–both in compensation and in amends. Even Miles only has the barest inkling that Bothari’s family origins are that lowly, and his past crimes…well, there is one bit where drunken Bothari is mumbling about how blood washes away sins, from Cordelia’s frantic inspiration back in Shards of Honour, but Miles doesn’t seem to attach much significance to it. Or maybe he’s just willfully blind…
But Elena is definitely beginning to turn away from her father and toward Baz. Poor Miles, alas, is still outside her romantic considerations, being part brother, part friend, and part liegeman, that scene in the library earlier in the book notwithstanding. (Is Baz supposed to be the guy in too little shirt on the original paperback cover? I’ve always wondered, though it’s not how I pictured him… It’s not Bothari, not Bel Thorne, probably not Auson or Arde Mayhew…)
When the Pelians come, they come without Oserans, obviously no longer trusting the mercenaries. They come from the direction of the outer system, and they slow down, obviously intent on capture; Miles is delighted that he predicted them so precisely.
He is the last aboard the Triumph, needing to avoid being trampled by his own men; the ship is run by a bare skeleton crew. Auson greets him as “My Lord”, and Miles tries to explain that only certain people get to call him that. Arde Mayhew is piloting, manually, which he finds a chore. The refinery is loaded down with Daum’s weaponry, more than they have people to man them; Baz and Elena have tried to fix the control systems, but they’re still buggy.
The lead Pelian shop lets loose a bombardment of “dandelion bombs”, which split into separate needles after lauch, and the defenders try to take out as many of them as they can. One Pelian ship is blown up by a lucky shot, and as the rest begin to scatter, Triumph and Ariel swoop in on either side. As more of the Pelian ships are destroyed, they begin to accelerate again, trying to break off the attack. One of the ships, as it passes, hits the refinery with an odd weapon that Miles can’t identify, and he asks Auson to try to capture the ship, over the captain’s objections.
As they overtake the Pelian ship, Miles decides that the Pelians will probably try to self-destruct their ship rather than surrender, but they’ll want to escape in their shuttle, so he decides to board the ship with a squad of engineers while they are running away. They blast their way through the airlock after the shuttle leaves, and Miles and the four techs split up to search the ship. One tech manages to prevent a chain reaction set up to implode the ship, but Miles encourages them to keep searching in case there’s more than one trap. Miles finds a bomb made from an oxygen canister rigged up to the microwave, and disarms that one; then another tech, Kat, finds all the dandelion bombs in the armory rigged to go off. She starts disarming them, and Miles and the other techs join her as fast as they can; they finish the last with seconds to spare.
When Miles returns the ship the refinery, he has not only the mysterious weapon, but a suit of battle armour almost his size, albeit with female plumbing. The Felicians tell Miles that one of the beams hit the prison section, causing loss of air; Elena let the prisoners out rather than leave them to suffocate, and they haven’t all been recaptured yet. She had to stun her father to do it, and Bothari is still out. Miles publicly commends Elena for her merciful actions. She says two were killed by the beam–an “electron orbit randomizer”, as Baz identified it–and eleven more asphyxiated, including one of Tung’s pilots, but Tung himself escaped. Miles gives orders that the prisoners are not to be killed, afraid to lose the last pilot and their hope of escape.
He asks about the weapon, and according to Baz it’s a weapon from Beta Colony that never caught on, and he knows how to fix the shields to block it; Miles is disappointed that it’s not a new high-tech secret. When he asks about Daum, another Felician officer, Lieutenant Gamad, tells him that Daum was killed in the attack, and Gamad is now the ranking officer.
It took three days to ferret out the escaped prisoners from all the corners of the refinery. Tung’s commandos were the worst. Miles eventually resorted to closing off sections and filling them with sleep gas. He ignored Bothari’s irritated suggestion that vacuum would be more cost-effective. The bulk of the round-up duty fell naturally, if unjustly, to the Sergeant, and he was tight as a drawn bowstring with the tension of it.
When the final head count was made, Tung and seven of his men, including his other Pilot Officer, turned up missing. So did a station shuttle.
Miles has no choice but to wait for the Felicians to come claim their cargo; the shuttle sent to contact them hasn’t returned. He has half a mind to send Lt. Gamad off in another one, since Gamad is trying to throw his weight around, at least until he hears people calling Miles “Admiral Naismith”, a title which has spread through his troops.
Finally, after eight more days, a Felician cruiser arrives. When its officers board, they bring plastic crates which Miles hopes contain money. They ask after Daum’s manifest, but it is presumed lost when Daum was killed. The captain goes off with Gamad to talk strategy, and, nettled, Jesek and Mayhew follow them. The paymaster asks for the contract, and Miles says they had a verbal agreement, and argues with the paymaster over the validity of such a contract, but the paymaster concedes that if Miles has the cargo, he’ll get paid.
He opens the crates, and Miles inspects its content, brightly coloured paper money, which the paymaster identifies as Felician millifenigs. When Miles asks how much it’s actually worth, the paymaster is eventually forced to admit that while they were listed last year as 150 to the Betan dollar, since the blockade they have dropped off the exchange entirely.
Miles fingered his dagger. “And just what are these—millifenigs,” he would have to experiment, he decided, to find just the right degree of venom to pronounce that word, “backed by?”
The paymaster raised his head proudly. “The government of Felice!”
“The one that’s losing this war, right?”
The paymaster muttered something.
“You are losing this war, are you not?”
Miles demands real Betan dollars, but the paymaster says that Daum took most of the offworld currency with him to buy the cargo in the first place. Beaten, Miles lets the paymaster leave, and examines the bills. He tries burning one, only to extinguish it hurriedly when it sets off alarms, and contemplates how many it would take to wallpaper Vorkosigan House.
He varied his financial structure by building a square fort, with corner towers and an interior keep. The gate lintel had a tendency to collapse with a slight rustle. Perhaps he could pass on Pelian commercial shipping as a mentally retarded mutant, with Elena as his nurse and Bothari as his keeper, being sent to some off-planet hospital—or zoo—by rich relatives. He could take off his boots and socks and bite his toenails during customs inspections . . . But what roles could he find for Mayhew and Jesek? And Elli Quinn—liege-sworn or not, he owed her a face. Worse, he had no credit here—and somehow he doubted the exchange rate between Felician and Pelian currency would be in his favor.
One of the mercenaries opens the door and says he heard that their pay had arrived. Miles decides he can just give it out to them, omitting any mention of its actual worth, and hope he’s far away when they found out. He deputizes the mercenary, Trainee Nout, to take the payroll to a safe place and guard it with his life, and Nout happily complies, dazzled with his new responsibilities.
Later, as Miles is watching repairs being made to the RG-132, Jesek and Mayhew return, claiming to have set the Felicians straight. The Felicians themselves soon appear, apologizing to Admiral Naismith for not having understand the situation. One of the Felicians introduces himself as General Halify, who has been ordered to hold the refinery, but only after sending the Betan armaments back to protect Felice itself. In an effort to take the galactics out of the equation, Halify proposes hiring the Dendarii to break the Oseran blockade.
Miles temporizes that he lacks most of his forces, and Halify offers to let him send for them; the Felicians have a fast ship they can lend.
Miles was about to make a rude reply, when it hit him—here was escape, being offered on a platter. Pile his liege-people into the jump ship, have Thorne and Auson run him through the blockade, and thumb his nose to Tau Verde IV and all its denizens forever. It was risky, but it could be done—was in fact the best idea he’d had all day—he sat up, smiling suavely. “An interesting proposition, General.” He must not appear too eager. “Just how do you propose to pay for my services? The Dendarii do not work cheaply.”
“I’m authorized to meet whatever terms you ask. Within reason, of course,” General Halify added prudently.
“To put it bluntly, General, that’s a load of—millifenigs. If Major Daum had no authority to hire outside forces, neither do you.”
“They said, by whatever means necessary.” The general’s jaw set. “They’ll back me.”
Miles demands that he be paid in real Betan dollars, and asks for a written contract signed by someone with actual power to pay him. Miles agrees, and General Halify pledges his personal word on it, which takes Miles aback. Miles pledges his own word, wondering if he really means it, or if he’s already lost his honour.
Piled deeper and deeper…his payroll imaginary, and yet another layer of his bluff being called as he is asked to summon his real mercenary fleet. And pledging his word on it, too. After his protests to the paymaster that “his soul is in his breath”, can he break his word that easily? Miles is like Matrim Cauthon that way–with more honour than he claims to have. He claims to be on the verge of running, but the list of people he feels that he owes something to begins to grow longer and longer, so he can’t break away unless he can bring all of them with him too.
I wonder a little at Miles’s lack of reaction to the casualties in the battle with the Pelians, but I guess this is actual battle, so he’s going to feel better about killing enemy soldiers than he is about torturing prisoners for information. And perhaps space combat is more bloodless that way…but cue “Aftermaths” again. Who’s going to clean the Pelian corpses out of the asteroid belt after the battle, and send them home to their families? We’ve barely seen any Pelians, though, mostly just Oserans who have largely been swayed to Miles’s side (the Pelians are right to stop relying on them, quite frankly). Were there Pelians on the refinery when it was captured? Were Pelians the ones who tortured Daum’s friend Fehun Behar, or was that Oserans? I can’t remember if we get to find out who started the war between Felice and Pelias on Tau Verde IV…or if it matters. It’s a little sordid, but then I’ve never been quite easy in my mind about the conquest of Komarr, either.
I almost forgot to begin looking for Miles’s references to his stomach hurting. Going back, there’s one reference to his stomach hurting in Chapter Ten (after Auson kicked him there in Chapter Eight), an ambiguous reference in Chapter Eleven (“anticipation turning to lead in his stomach”), another one in Chapter Twelve (his stomach contracting after hearing about the casualties taking the refinery), and then, in Chapter Thirteen, his stomach “turning inside out” when he tries the null-gee bed. All pretty innocuous. In Chapter Fourteen? “His stomach sent up a throat-burning, acid belch” while he’s disarming the dandelion bombs; his “heart sinks into his foaming stomach” when he heard one of Tung’s pilots is dead; and, when burning the millifenig note, trying “to see if anything could hurt more than his stomach”. Of course, he’s under a lot of stress, but he’s not really paying as much attention to himself as he should be, too busy trying to take care of everyone else. It’s kind of like when a female character keeps throwing up and you’re yelling at the book, “It’s morning sickness! You’re pregnant!” Except not quite like that. Anyway, good foreshadowing on Bujold’s part, if you’re paying attention.
More to come, as always. I’m not sure how close we are to the big plot twist yet, the one that was lightly foreshadowed back in the earlier chapters… Next chapter looks pretty wrenching, as I recall, so it should be a fun time for all, next week… See you all then!