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Archive for January, 2012

It’s time once again for that old favourite, the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which is what I call this thing I do where I read a couple of chapters of one of the books in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, then summarize them for the assembled masses of the Internet and add a few modest comments of my own.  This week I cover Chapters Five and Six of The Vor Game, fourth book chronologically and I’m not even such which one in publication order, since they often don’t match up for this series.  There may be spoilers, though I try to be a little coy about them, and if you don’t start at the beginning, you may be a little bit lost, because I may not stop to summarize things that the author recaps for the benefit of new readers–be warned.

Chapter Five

Miles is awakened by a klaxon, but soon realizes that it’s not the wah-wah warning, or any attack.  The klaxon stops, and Miles checks the time; it’s only evening.  He decides to get up and find out what’s going on.  He finds Lt. Bonn walking purposefully, and asks him what’s going on.  Bonn says it’s an accident in a toxic stores bunker, and possibly a very bad one.

At the bunker, they find the surgeon loading two injured soldiers for transport, and giving them instructions to decontaminate themselves and everything they’re wearing.  He tells Miles and Bonn that the two men were moving things around in the bunker to make room for a new shipment, when they flipped their loader (probably through horsing around), breaking one man’s leg and also breaking open at least two barrels of fetaine.  Miles recognizes it as a mutagenic terror weapon never actually used in combat, but apparently still stored on Kyril Island.  Bonn comments that if those barrels, supposedly indestructible, have broken open, the rest are likely also dangerous.

Miles suggests torching the whole bunker, since heat will dissociate the fetaine, and he, Miles, and the fire marshall come up with a plan to do so safely using plasma mines and some sealant.  Since it will depend on the wind direction, Miles heads back to his office to refine his forecast, with Bonn and Lt. Yaski, the fire marshal, coming back to the admin building as well to work out the details.  While he’s working, though, he sees Bonn and Yaski leaving the building.  Since his new forecast is not much different from what he’d already told them, he stays put, wanting to avoid the risk of fetaine contamination, but he finds himself unable to contemplate going back to sleep.

When Bonn and Yaski return again, Miles goes to give them the new forecast, and finds them in General Metzov’s office.  It emerges that Metzov wants to order techs into the bunker to clean it up, which Bonn recommends against, even with environmental gear, since fetaine can likely penetrate it.  Metzov is angry that Bonn didn’t order the techs, as Metzov had ordered him, and refuses to consider destroying the fetaine, since they are charged with storing it.  Miles asks if they can’t just mix up some more, and Metzov threatens him with charges if he cracks one more joke.

“Have you never heard of the fine old battlefield practice of shooting the man who disobeys your order, Lieutenant?” Metzov went on to Bonn.

“I . . . don’t think I can make that threat, sir,” said Bonn stiffly.

And besides, thought Miles, we’re not on a battlefield. Are we?

“Techs!” said Metzov in a tone of disgust. “I didn’t say threaten, I said shoot. Make one example, the rest will fall in line.”

Bonn persists that the techs could easily refuse to be that reasonable, and he feels unreasonable on the matter himself.  Metzov decides to give Bonn and the techs a lesson in obedience, since Bonn is “pretending” to be an officer.  He tells Bonn and Yaski to assemble their men outside so they can have an “old-fashioned discipline parade”.

Bonn and Yaski and their men stand in their weather gear outside the building.

Metzov smiled, a gloss over rage, and turned his head at a movement down the road. In a horribly cordial voice he confided to Miles, “You know, Ensign, there was a secret behind that carefully cultivated interservice rivalry they had back on Old Earth. In the event of a mutiny you could always persuade the army to shoot the navy, or vice versa, when they could no longer discipline themselves. A hidden disadvantage to a combined Service like ours.”

“Mutiny!” said Miles, startled out of his resolve to speak only when spoken to. “I thought the issue was poison exposure.”

Metzov says that with Bonn’s incompetence, it turned into mutiny when his techs refused his orders.  The infantry grubs appear in their winter gear, led by their sergeant, an old crony of Metzov’s, and armed with nerve disrupters.  The sergeant lines up the grubs, excited to have real weapons, and orders them to point their weapons at the techs.  Metzov orders the techs to strip, and that when they’re ready to obey their orders, they can get dressed again.  The techs, including Olney, Pattas, and several other Barrayaran Greeks, stand shivering, but showing no willingness to clean the fetaine.  While Yaski steps back, Bonn moves forward to join his techs, taking off his own clothes.  Metzov willingly condemns him along with his men.

Metzov tells Miles to make himself useful and grab a weapon, or leave.  Miles takes a nerve disruptor, though he leaves the safety on.  He wonders if the infantry grubs know about criminal orders, a seminar his own father used to teach to officer cadets at the Academy.  With the techs being notionally military, but in peacetime, the situation is highly ambiguous.  Miles watches as Bonn freezes with his men, entertaining brief fantasies of killing Metzov, and then probably being fried by the grubs.  He could just follow his orders, but he doesn’t relish the thought of these frozen ghosts following him the rest of his career.  Instead, Miles sneaks behind the grubs, drops his weapon, takes off his own clothes and goes forward to join the techs.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Ensign?” Metzov snarled as Miles limped past him.

“Breaking this up, sir,” Miles replied steadily. Even now some of the shivering techs flinched away from him, as if his deformities might be contagious. Pattas didn’t draw away, though. Nor Bonn.

“Bonn tried that bluff. He’s now regretting it. It won’t work for you either, Vorkosigan.” Metzov’s voice shook too, though not from the cold.

You should have said “Ensign.” What’s in a name? Miles could see the ripple of dismay run through the grubs, that time. No, this hadn’t worked for Bonn. Miles might be the only man here for whom this sort of individual intervention could work. Depending on how far gone Mad Metzov was by now.

Miles tells Metzov that while he might be able to cover up the deaths of Bonn and the tech’s, there’s no way he could cover up Miles’s death.  Metzov asks what happens if there’s no witnesses, but Miles reminds him that the grubs themselves are witnesses, and that living or dead, his story will prevail.  Metzov continues to wait, and Miles continues to freeze, swiftly catching up to the techs because of his lower body mass.  Miles sees that Metzov can’t back down from his discipline exercise now, so he tries a different tack, tempting him with the benefits of stopping, arresting the techs, Bonn and Miles as mutineers.  Their careers would all be in ruins, including Miles’s own.  Metzov likes the idea if bringing down the holier-than-thou Count Vorkosigan, and tells them they’re all under arrest, and to get dressed.

The others looked stunned with relief then. After a last uncertain glance at the nerve disrupters they dove for their clothes, donning them with frantic cold-clumsy hands. But Miles had seen it complete in Metzov’s eyes sixty seconds earlier. It reminded him of that definition of his father’s. A weapon is a device for making your enemy change his mind. The mind was the first and final battleground, the stuff in between was just noise.

Lt. Yaski had disappeared into the admin building with Miles’s distraction, and the surgeon, Metzov’s second, and the infantry commander all appeared in quick succession.  As they are led to the stockade, Bonn asks Miles if he’s supposed to thank him; Miles points out that they’re still alive, and now Metzov has no choice but to destroy the fetaine before the wind shifts.

Miles awakens in his cell later, where Bonn is being brought back in; he tells Miles that Service Security has arrived to investigate the matter, and that he’s just verified the destruction of the fetaine.  The guard summons Miles next, and soon he realizes that it’s not Service Security, but ImpSec, who has taken charge.  Miles gives a handprint, with difficulty since his hands and feet are swaddled in plastic and frostbite-healing gel, for travel orders, but is unable to get any more information from the ImpSec officers about what is going on.

General Metzov ducked through the door from the inner office, a sheaf of plastic flimsies in one hand and a Service Security captain at his elbow, who nodded warily to his counterpart on the Imperial side.

The general was almost smiling. “Good morning, Ensign Vorkosigan.” His glance took in Imperial Security without dismay. Dammit, ImpSec should be making that near-murderer shake in his combat boots. “It seems there’s a wrinkle in this case even I hadn’t realized. When a Vor lord involves himself in a military mutiny, a charge of high treason follows automatically.”

“What?” Miles swallowed, to bring his voice back down. “Lieutenant, I’m not under arrest by Imperial Security, am I?”

The lieutenant produced a set of handcuffs and proceeded to attach Miles to the big sergeant. Overholt, read the name on the man’s badge, which Miles mentally redubbed Overkill. He had only to lift his arm to dangle Miles like a kitten.

Overholt informes Miles he’s being detained indefinitely, pending further investigation, and will be taken back to ImpSec HQ in Vorbarr Sultana.  As Miles is led out to the courier shuttle, he notes from the feeling in his sinuses that the temperature will be stabilizing soon, and realizes that it’s time to get off of Kyril Island.

Comments

I suppose that a remote arctic island may be the best place to store those kind of toxic chemicals, if you must store them and not destroy them in the first place–and how often does the military throw away a potential weapon?  I’m reminded of the weapons used against Aral Vorkosigan back in Barrayar, the soltoxin and the sonic grenade, also from weapon stores…  Wonder how the author really feels about that?

Here, of course, is where Metzov really melts down, getting to play out his vision of what it would really be like if they were at war again.  One is not meant to have a lot of sympathy for him, though I expect that Miles may be able to squeeze out a tiny teaspoonful, at least for the military men who are lost without the clear-cut black-and-white morality of war.  Metzov may verge into sadism, or sociopathy, and outside of the military he might very well have turned into a murderer, or he may just have turned into a grumpy old man as Miles concludes early on.  But in the military there’s at least a chance he can be “useful”, I suppose.

What is it that really motivates Miles to join in the mutiny and turn the tide?  It’s probably a combination of all the things he says–how he can’t stand by and watch the techs die, even if it’s the career-smart thing to do, and how he reasons out that he can bring some of his weight to bear and stop the killing, even if he has to do so as a Vor lord and not an Ensign, poisoning his own career.  It shows that he can’t separate his Vor self from the rest of him, that his sense of Vor duties, his noblesse oblige, informs his every decision.  Even as Admiral Naismith, he feels the obligation to his subordinates, and of course let’s not forget his explicit ties to Arde Mayhew and Baz and Elena Jesek…

Chapter Six

The autumn weather in Vorbarr Sultana is a welcome change after Kyril Island, though Miles doesn’t get to see much of it before he is ushered from the shuttle into ImpSec Headquarters.  Overholt takes Miles to an upward tube, not down to the holding cells as Miles half expected, but up to the more fearsome confrontation with Simon Illyan.  Illyan dismisses Overholt, dryly telling the concerned lieutenant that he should be safe.  Miles is acutely conscious of his grubbiness and the medical mittens on his frostbitten hands and feet.

Practically everyone on Barrayar feared this man’s name, though few knew his face. This effect was carefully cultivated by Illyan, building in part—but only in part—on the legacy of his formidable predecessor, the legendary Security Chief Negri. Illyan and his department, in turn, had provided security for Miles’s father for the twenty years of his political career, and had slipped up only once, during the night of the infamous soltoxin attack. Offhand, Miles knew of no one Illyan feared except Miles’s mother. He’d once asked his father if this was guilt, about the soltoxin, but Count Vorkosigan had replied, No, it was only the lasting effect of vivid first impressions. Miles had called Illyan “Uncle Simon” all his life until he’d entered the Service, “Sir” after that.

Miles asks if he’s under arrest, and Illyan says that’s what they will be determining.  Rumours are spreading all over the Service, and mutating; Illyan wonders why Miles couldn’t have just tried to kill the Emperor or something instead.  He asks how Miles could have betrayed his father’s hopes, and Miles says that he doesn’t think he did.

Aral himself enters just then, and tells Illyan that he’s not officially there, so Illyan turns off his recorder.  Illyan asks Miles what really happened on Kyril Island, and Miles sums up the previous night’s events for them.  Aral is outraged at Metzov using trainees for his firing squad, jumping the chain of command and perhaps ruining the boys forever, and he assures Miles that Metzov will not escape his wrath.  Miles and mutineers will have to be dealt with separately, though.  Miles tells them that the mutineers were techs, and mostly Greeks, which of course would have inflamed the cultural minority if they had been killed, and might still; he said that one reason he interposed himself was that thereby he would prove it couldn’t all be blamed on the high Vor.

Miles asks if he’ll be arrest for high treason again, and Illyan says no, they’ll just have to hide him somewhere, other than Kyril Island, of course.  Miles says that he can’t ask for better treatment than the mutineers get, and Aral agrees to have their charges quashed, but with a price.  Miles would have to resign his commission, since this incident would poison any relationship he’d ever have with a commanding officer, not to mention any trust people might have that he was a regular officer and not someone untouchable with special privileges.  Miles, though sick at heart, agrees to pay the price, since the techs were, in some weird way, his men.

Illyan suddenly asks about an earlier comment of Miles about Metzov’s behaviour in the Komarr Revolt, which of course was sealed to ImpSec.  Miles tells him, with some embarrassment, about how he was able to get access to the files using Ivan and the facing screens.

“Perfect security,” said Count Vorkosigan in a choked voice. Chortling, Miles realized in startlement.

Illyan looked like a man sucking on a lemon. “How did you,” Illyan began, stopped to glare at the Count, started again, “how did you figure this out?”

“It was obvious.”

“Airtight security, you said,” murmured Count Vorkosigan, unsuccessfully suppressing a wheezing laugh. “The most expensive yet devised. Proof against the cleverest viruses, the most sophisticated eavesdropping equipment. And two ensigns waft right through it?”

Goaded, Illyan snapped, “I didn’t promise it was idiot-proof!”

Illyan tells Miles that, with this, house arrest is no longer enough–he won’t feel safe until Miles is “locked in a cell with hands tied behind his back”.  Aral notes that since ImpSec will need to keep an eye on Miles, for his own safety–and everyone else’s, Illyan adds–he should just be assigned there.  Miles says it wasn’t on his list of assignment choices, and Aral tells him that Major Cecil thought he showed major aptitude nonetheless.  Illyan reminds Aral that no commander in the Service will want Miles as an underling, and that Illyan himself is no exception.  Aral reminds Illyan that Illyan has one difference–Aral can lean on him to make him take Miles anyway.  It will look right, the transfer, a kind of internal exile, without the disgrace of actual resignation.  And Security does need Miles’s talents, to help preserve the Emperor’s honour as well as his life.  Illyan acquiesces with bad grace, and Aral tells Miles he needs an infirmary and leads him off to find one.

“Other than that, how was Kyril Island, Ensign Vorkosigan?” inquired the Count. “You didn’t vid home much, your mother noticed.”

“I was busy. Lessee. The climate was ferocious, the terrain was lethal, a third of the population including my immediate superior was dead drunk most of the time. The average IQ equalled the mean temperature in degrees cee, there wasn’t a woman for five hundred kilometers in any direction, and the base commander was a homicidal psychotic. Other than that, it was lovely.”

Aral says it doesn’t sound like it’s changed in twenty-five years; he tells Miles that he spent his own period of disgrace and exile there when his career was in eclipse, before becoming Captain of the ­General Vorkraft.  He admits that he coped with it mostly by drinking.  Miles asks his father if he did the right thing; Aral says he did a right thing, possibly not the best, but he makes it a practice never to second-guess the decisions of the man on the spot.

Aral takes Miles to an infirmary in ImpSec itself, small but adequate, where they are soon attended upon by a Security surgeon.  The doctor seems daunted by Aral, and Miles wonders why he isn’t affected that way; he must be acclimatized.

The former Lord Regent was the man who used to take a two-hour lunch every day, regardless of any crisis short of war, and disappear into his Residence. Only Miles knew the interior view of those hours, how the big man in the green uniform would bolt a sandwich in five minutes and then spend the next hour and a half down on the floor with his son who could not walk, playing, talking, reading aloud. Sometimes, when Miles was locked in hysterical resistance to some painful new physical therapy, daunting his mother and even Sergeant Bothari, his father had been the only one with the firmness to insist on those ten extra agonizing leg stretches, the polite submission to the hypospray, to another round of surgery, to the icy chemicals searing his veins. “You are Vor. You must not frighten your liege people with this show of uncontrol, Lord Miles.” The pungent smell of this infirmary, the tense doctor, brought back a flood of memories. No wonder, Miles reflected, he had failed to be afraid enough of Metzov. When Count Vorkosigan left, the infirmary seemed altogether empty.

Miles stays in the infirmary for a week, healing not only his frostbitten extremities but an incipient case of pneumonia requiring six days of antibiotics.  He’s the only patient for that period.  Miles complains to his mother, when she visits, about how he’s not quite under arrest but not quite free to leave either, just in limbo.  He wonders to himself why he never wants to be a ship captain like his mother, the daring Betan wormhole explorer.  She tells him that the other mutineers are being discharged, not dishonourably but without benefits, and so is Metzov.  Miles himself is listed as under indefinite detention by ImpSec.  Cordelia tells him he will stay in limbo long enough to convince the hardliners that he’s been sufficiently punished; Count Vorkosigan will be publicly angry with him and thus won’t be visiting again anytime soon.  She asks Miles if he’s ready yet to consider another career, another way of serving.

That evening Miles tries to call Ivan, but Ivan doesn’t want any “limbo” to rub off on him and hangs up.

Comments

So now we know how Miles got sidelined into ImpSec instead of keeping his nose clean and ending up with ship duty.  In chapters like this one I remember how The Vor Game was written after several chronologically-later books–by Brothers In Arms, for instance, we know he’s working for ImpSec.  How much of this did Bujold know by that point?  That’s always the question.  Did she only know that he got himself in trouble somehow and ended up in ImpSec as a penance?  Or did she try to get him in there willingly and end up realizing it just didn’t work?  Or was Kyril Island her plan the whole time?

It’s a nice footnote that Aral spent time there too, and it makes perfect sense although it never came up in, say, Shards of Honour.  It’s nice to leave enough gaps in your timelines, whether for characters or nations or planets, that you can insert things like that, unconsidered when you first conceived the timeline, without contradicting anything else you’ve already said.  As long as it doesn’t turn into leaving enough gaps for anything that may happen to be useful in your current book, like adding a skill they never needed before…  That makes me wonder if any of those plumbing scenes were in books written before this one.

Miles’s relationship to Simon Illyan is a little odd; he still seems daunted by him, if not scared, despite the fact that he’s more resistant to the influence of so many of his father’s other colleagues.  Illyan’s reputation must be very effective, despite the fact that neither of Miles’s parents are affected by it.  This is a theme that we’ll revisit, to powerful effect, in Memory.  (I am so looking forward to that, it’s not even funny.  Seriously, it’s possibly her best novel.  You’re gonna love it, but we have to get through the others first, or it won’t have the same effect…)

Lt. Bonn’s fate kind of sucks, and I suspect we don’t know whatever happened to him.  He probably never joined the Dendarii Mercenaries or the Vorkosigan household, so.  He deserves better than Metzov, and we never know if he got it or not…

Also: Security surgeon at ImpSec, no name.


And that’s all for this week. Next week we move past “The Weatherman” and into The Vor Game proper, which as I recall is one of the slower parts of the book.  So there’s that to look forward to, at least.  And I could be wrong–things may have picked up already by the end of Chapter Eight.  I guess you’ll have to wait until next week to find out, unless, of course, you have your own copy of the book or something…

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Vor!  What are they good for?  That’s what we find out as we continue on through the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, Lois McMaster Bujold’s primary hero in her Vorkosigan Saga.  We are now into The Vor Game, the fourth novel chronologically in the series, and this week we will cover the third and fourth chapters, the middle of the section of the book published separately as “The Weatherman”, as Miles serves his first post as a weather officer on remote Kyril Island.  Last time, Miles narrowly escaped being buried in the mud after a couple of pranksters gave him bad advice…

Chapter Three

Miles’s initial impulse is for violent revenge against the two men from the motor pool who got him stranded, but by the time he’s released from the infirmary, he’s cooled off.  It was meant as a prank, not an assassination attempt, so no need to call ImpSec into it.  And it was partly his own fault for chaining his tent to the scat-cat.  The medical corpsman tells Miles that he sees worse frostbite once the infantry “grubs” arrive.  He pronounces Miles free to go, but warns him that he will have to immediately attend upon General Metzov.

Miles goes to change into some proper clothing for his interview, but having lost his undress greens, and with no replacements yet, he has a choice between the casual black fatigues and the ultra-formal dress greens.  He opts for the dress greens with their tall riding boots, then heads to Metzov’s office, beginning to wish he’d gotten to know more of the base personnel.

Metzov is dressed in black fatigues, with only his most noteworthy combat medals, and Miles silently curses himself for guessing wrong with his own uniform.  Metzov reproves Miles for losing a scat-cat by parking it in a clearly marked Permafrost Inversion Zone.  This was only noted as P.I.Z. on Miles’s map, but apparently he should have read the Lazkowski Base Regulations, one of many items of reading material Ahn had dumped on him.  Metzov is only getting started on his dressing-down, though, and with his clerk present to make it a public one.  He rails against the “Vor drones” filling up the ranks, adding that he fought in Vordarian’s Pretendership and the Komarr Revolt, and deplores how the peacetime means the troops are getting soft.

Metzov was still expanding, self-stimulated. “In a real combat situation, a soldier’s equipment is vital. It can be the difference between victory and defeat. A man who loses his equipment loses his effectiveness as a soldier. A man disarmed in a technological war might as well be a woman, useless! And you disarmed yourself!”

Miles wondered sourly if the general would then agree that a woman armed in a technological war might as well be a man . . . no, probably not. Not a Barrayaran of his generation.

Metzov assigns Miles to help Lt. Bonn retrieve the scat-cat, since he sank it too deep for it to be feasible to dig it out himself by hand.  He assignes Miles an additional week of basic-labour detail for the damage he did to the weather station, despite Miles’s protests that he did it to keep himself alive.

Miles spoke through his teeth, words jerked out as though by pliers. “Would you have preferred the interview you’d be having right now if I’d permitted myself to freeze, sir?”

Silence fell, very dead. Swelling, like a road-killed animal in the summer sun.

Metzov dismisses him, and Miles curses himself for losing his temper, trying to make use of his father’s position, and once again failing to treat the General as a true superior officer.  He saw too many of them at Vorkosigan House, he supposes, to be too overawed by them.  He decides to see if he can manage to avoid Metzov as successfully as Ahn does for the next six months.

He heads out with Lt. Bonn’s detail to retrieve the scat-cat, pointing out the exact location where he sank it.  As Bonn probes for it, he finds a layer of ice; he tells Miles that this stuff can go from frozen to liquid and back again quite easily and quickly under the right conditions, as he discovered.  Finally they get it through the ice and find it on the probe’s sonar.  Then they get a hovercab and use its tractor beam to dig a crater down to the level of the scat-cat, then reverse the beam to pull it out, bubble-shelter still attached.

Miles goes looking for his boots among the debris dug out by the tractor beam, but only finds one.  Bonn asks Miles if he was in the bubble shelter, and Miles confirms that he was, and tells how he had to escape after it sank into the mud.  Bonn realizes that Miles could have died, and then mentions that he heard Pattas at the motor pool bragging about how he had played a trick on Miles.  Bonn asks Miles why he’s on Kyril Island, and Miles tells him about his desire to earn the right to ship duty, and calling in ImpSec for revenge wouldn’t help him any.

“The motor pool is in Engineering’s chain of command. If Imperial Security fell on it, they’d also fall on me.” Bonn’s brown eyes glinted.

“You’re welcome to fall on anyone you please, sir. But if you have unofficial ways of receiving information, it follows you must have unofficial ways of sending it, too. And after all, you’ve only my word for what happened.” Miles hefted his useless single boot, and heaved it back into the bog.

Thoughtfully, Bonn watched it arc and splash down in a pool of brown meltwater. “A Vor lord’s word?”

“Means nothing, in these degenerate days.” Miles bared his teeth in a smile of sorts. “Ask anyone.”

The next day, Miles starts cleaning off the retrieved scat-cat, and Bonn brings him two helpers–Pattas and Corporal Olney from the motor pool.  Miles treats them neutrally, letting them stew.  After that, he and his two assistants are sent out to inspect plumbing and drains around the base.  In spite of himself, Miles finds it fascinating, with the intricate systems, some of them dangerous, with high-pressure hot water and chemical solvents.

On the sixth day of his punishment detail, they are investigating a blocked culvert near the grubs’ practice fields.  Not finding anything blocking the flooded end, Miles crawls in the other end in search of the plug.  After finding it, he backs out of the pipe.

He stood up in the bottom of the ditch, straightening his spine vertebra by creaking vertebra. Corporal Olney stuck his head over the road’s railing, above. “What’s in there, Ensign?”

Miles grinned up at him, still catching his breath. “Pair of boots.”

“That’s all?” said Olney.

“Their owner is still wearing ’em.”

Comments

One of the reasons I suspect I would make a bad soldier is that I suspect my reaction to unfair orders from an inferior officer would be kind of like Miles’s.  (Or maybe not–I’ve had a bad boss or two in my time, and I wasn’t especially noted for my insubordination.)  Best way to make a character unsympathetic–put them in a position of authority and have them make an unfair judgement against someone.  It was possible that Miles and Metzov just got off on the wrong foot, that he was really okay on some level, but now it seems much less likely.  Especially compared to the entirely reasonable Lt. Bonn.  (Yes, I prefer to abbreviate Lieutenant whenever possible, just like I prefer Drou to Droushnakovi.)

Miles’s interest in plumbing, introduced here, is one of those things that pops up from time to time in the series, and can probably be used to tell serious readers of the series from more casual ones.  I know it turns up later on in The Vor Game, and definitely in A Civil Campaign, and probably one or two other places…

Chapter Four

Miles summons the base surgeon by commlink, and by the time he arrives, they’ve blocked the upper end of the drain and tied a rope around the corpse’s feet.  With some effort, they pull him out; Pattas and Olney hang back while Miles watches interestedly over the doctor’s shoulder.  The doctor finds nothing but bruises on his shoulders, and says he probably died by drowning or hypothermia, within the last twelve hours.  He tells Miles that there’s always a few idiots who get themselves killed every year, but this is a new one on him.  Miles checks the culvert more thoroughly, but finds nothing except a flashlight.  They unblock the culvert and drain the lake; no other body turns up, and the surgeon says this was the only man listed as missing that morning.  Pattas expresses grudging admiration for Miles’s evident experience with corpses and willingness to get his hands dirty, and they head back to the base.

Before Miles can wash up, he discovers that he had received a vid call from Vorbarr Sultana.  Fearing bad news, he returns it right away, and finds only Ivan, wanting to show off his new apartment.  Miles experiences severe disconnection from Ivan’s life of warm weather and more than one sex, and when Ivan comments on his appearance, merely says he was engaged in “forensic plumbing”, and is actually still on duty.  After they disconnect, Miles finds himself obscurely comforted at the reminder of life outside of Kyril Island.

Miles goes to check on the autopsy after he goes off-duty, and the surgeon tells him that it was definitely drowning, within half an hour of his getting stuck.  Miles asks if there’s any clue as to why he would have gotten stuck in the first place, and the surgeon isn’t particularly interested, saying his diagnosis is still “stupidity”.  Miles goes out for a jog, and finds himself back out by the culverts.  He tries to figure out what the dead man would have been doing or thinking, and wonders if he was looking in the wrong culvert.  The next one over is slightly wider, and Miles finds a waterproof package hidden in it, obviously the dead man’s real goal.  Miles examines it curiously, wondering if there’s drugs or sensitive information inside, worthy of a commendation from Simon Illyan for his finding it…but opening it, all he finds are pastries, obviously sent from home and cached to avoid having to share them.  He takes them back and shows them to the surgeon, who confirms his earlier diagnosis–“stupidity”.

After his week of maintenance details ends, Ahn’s office corporal comes back from his leave, and Miles finds him a fount of the knowledge he’d been trying painstakingly to learn from Ahn.  Ahn leaves happily shortly thereafter, expressing his desire to retire to the equator–anywhere on the equator.  He gives Miles a final warning to look out for Metzov, but is unable to get into more specifics, just mentioning an incident during the Komarr revolt.  He says that Metzov is “a funny kind of dangerous”, though.  Miles says he can’t be that bad if he’s in charge of trainees, but Ahn says that the trainees come with their own officers–Metzov is only in charge of the base itself.

Next time he’s alone in the weather office, Miles hunts up Metzov’s public record.  He’s been in the Service for 35 years, rose quickly during the conquest of Komarr, and ended up on the right side in Vordarian’s Pretendership, which had been Miles’s first guess as to why he’d been effectively exiled here.  That seemed to have been caused by something in the Komarr Revolt, but it’s hidden underneath an ImpSec seal.  He calls Ivan’s office to see if he can get help there.  He asks Ivan if he’s alone.

“Yeah, the old man’s stuck in committee. Nice little flap—a Barrayaran-registered freighter got itself impounded in the Hegen Hub—at Vervain Station—for suspicion of espionage.”

“Can we get at it? Threaten rescue?”

“Not past Pol. No Barrayaran military vessels may jump through their wormholes, period.”

“I thought we were sort of friends with Pol.”

“Sort of. But the Vervani have been threatening to break off diplomatic relations with Pol, so the Polians are being extra cautious. Funny thing about it, the freighter in question isn’t even one of our real agents. Seems to be a completely manufactured accusation.”

Ivan asks what Miles wants, and Miles tells him about the file he wants Ivan to call up.  Ivan is reluctant to take the risk with an ImpSec file, and says that he can’t transfer it to Miles’s station anyway, without a special cable he’d have to sign for.  He can only bring it up on the internal system.  Miles tells him to put it on that screen and then turn his desk around so Miles can read it.  Ivan does so, and Miles finds out more about Metzov’s career on Komarr.

The file was a collection of secret reports from an ImpSec investigation into the mysterious death of a prisoner in Metzov’s charge, a Komarran rebel who had killed his guard and himself been killed while attempting to escape. When ImpSec had demanded the Komarran’s body for an autopsy, Metzov had turned over cremated ashes and an apology; if only he had been told a few hours earlier the body was wanted, etc. The investigating officer hinted at charges of illegal torture—perhaps in revenge for the death of the guard?—but was unable to amass enough evidence to obtain authorization to fast-penta the Barrayaran witnesses, including a certain Tech-ensign Ahn.

“Miles,” Ivan interrupted for the fourth time, “I really don’t think we should be doing this. This is slit-your-throat-before-reading stuff, here.”

“If we shouldn’t do it, we shouldn’t be able to do it. You’d still have to have the cable for flash-downloading. No real spy would be dumb enough to sit there inside Imperial HQ by the hour and scroll stuff through by hand, waiting to be caught and shot.”

This is the last straw for Ivan, who turns his desk back around and tries to conceal the evidence.  Miles says that Ivan knows he’s not a spy, at least, and he should try to gain some brownie points by pointing out, in a purely theoretical way, the vulnerability in the system.

Miles resolves to try to wait out the rest of his term on Kyril Island, and let the problem of General Metzov resolve itself, since he has only five years left to retirement.

In the next weeks Miles settled into a tolerable routine. For one thing, the grubs arrived. All five thousand of them. Miles’s status rose on their shoulders, to that of almost-human. Lazkowski Base suffered its first real snow of the season, as the days shortened, plus a mild wah-wah lasting half a day, both of which Miles managed to predict accurately in advance.

Even more happily, Miles was completely displaced as the most famous idiot on the island (an unwelcome notoriety earned by the scat-cat sinking) by a group of grubs who managed one night to set their barracks on fire while lighting fart-flares. Miles’s strategic suggestion at the officers’ fire-safety meeting next day that they tackle the problem with a logistical assault on the enemy’s fuel supply, i.e., eliminate red-bean stew from the menu, was shot down with one icy glower from General Metzov. Though in the hallway later, an earnest captain from Ordnance stopped Miles to thank him for trying.

Comments

In some ways it’s a big wasted opportunity when the body in the culvert turns out to be utterly insignificant to the plot.  That’s another problem of “The Weatherman” having come into existence as a short story first.  But even if it could have turned out to be some other evidence against Metzov…  As it is, it seems like a chapter or so of much ado about nothing.  The initial promise of the body revealed at the end of one chapter has failed to pan out into a real mystery.  I think this is the first time through that I’ve noticed that the body has only been there for less than a day; other times I’ve concluded that it was from months earlier, apparently missing the statements to the contrary.  (This is not a new thing for me.  I’m sure I’ll find more as the series goes on.)

The actual plot-relevant material comes up in the Ivan scene, the bits about Vervain and Pol that I quoted above.  (When I think of Vervain I always think of Captain Vervain, one of the rabbits from Efrafa in Watership Down.  I expect it’s some kind of British plant I don’t know much about, though.)  There may have been a partial wormhole map in the actual book, showing Vervain and Pol in reference to Komarr, Barrayar, the Cetagandan Empire, etc., but it doesn’t seem to be in the electronic version from my Cryoburn CD.  Still, it was nice to see–I like maps, at least when they’re readable.

Also, this chapter gives us more ammunition against Metzov.  Not only is he an unfair commander, but he’s also gotten into trouble in the past.  As, perhaps, did Ahn?  So what do you think the odds are that Miles won’t run into any more trouble with him?  Not that good, eh?

Finally, did you notice?  The head doctor on Lazkowksi Base?  Has no name.  Seriously, what is it with Bujold and naming doctors?


It’s seeming to me that The Vor Game has shorter chapters than some of the other books I’ve done in the series, but maybe I’m just getting faster at this.  Also, whole pages (screens) can go by without my feeling the urge to quote some pithy dialogue, and I’m often more likely to quote something that’s already so good a summary that I’d just end up having to paraphrase it sentence-by-sentence anyway.  Anyway, next week should see the end of “The Weatherman” and the Kyril Island plotline, and maybe get us a little closer to the real plot of the novel.  Until then…

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Well, the weather outside is frightful, at least where I am, but now there’s another installment of The Vorkosigan Saga Reread to keep you warm.  This week I start The Vor Game, the next novel chronologically in the epic science fiction saga of Miles Vorkosigan (and his friends and family).  It was actually written somewhat later, after Brothers In Arms, Borders of Infinity, Falling Free, and Ethan of Athos, so the first time through the series I read it a little out of order.

Without further ado, let’s take a break from winter’s cold (*offer valid in Northern Hemisphere only) and travel with Miles to…a remote Arctic island?

Chapter One

Miles and his cousin Ivan wait in line to find out the first duty assignment he will be given.  Ahead of him, one ensign is assigned to ship duty on the Commodore Vorhalas; the next, Ensign Plause, is assigned to language school, to learn even more languages than the four native Barrayarans ones he already knows, which Miles tells him means ImpSec will likely send him offworld.  Ensign Lubachik is assigned to what Ivan calls “palace guard school”, Security and Counter-assassination, which he finds somewhat daunting.

Ivan is next, and he is assigned to Operations, as aide-de-camp to Commodore Jollif.  He exults in how he will get to maintain a near-civilian lifestyle in the capital, almost hiding his disappointment in not getting ship duty.  Miles also hopes for ship duty, and is paralyzed with disbelief when he is assigned as a meteorologist instead.  After confirming with Ivan that they never took a meteorology course, Miles discovers that his assignment, Lazkowski Base, a.k.a. “Camp Permafrost”, is on an isolated arctic island, Kyril Island, used for winter training of infantry soldiers.  He wonders why the Imperial Service is sending him to an infantry base when he is patently more qualified for better things, and after a brief deliberation, heads off to talk to Major Cecil, the man in charge of the assignments.

When Miles arrives at Major Cecil’s office, Major Cecil collects a one-mark note from his clerk for predicting that Miles would be there in less than ten minutes.  After the clerk leaves, Miles asks Cecil to explain his orders.  Major Cecil tells him that Miles’s school career has been very closely watched, and one of Miles’s problems seemed to be in his treatment of his superior officers, as “cattle” to be herded to his will.  He tells Miles that he will have to learn to cope with regular officers who will resent him if he tries to show them up, as opposed to classmates who all want him on their team.  He then tells Miles that in six months or so, the new warship the Prince Serg will be commissioned; with its greater range, they are paying close attention to psychological profiles.  If Miles can prove that he can last that long at Camp Permafrost without getting into trouble, then Cecil will personally approve his transfer to the Prince Serg.  He assures Miles that as Meteorology Officer he won’t be expected to actually perform as an infantryman.  Miles leaves to download as much meterology information as he can.

He has plenty of time to read up on weather on the long flight to Kyril Island, with its numerous hours-long delays, before his final arrival on an automated freight shuttle.  The only people who arrive to meet the shuttle are the crew arrived to unload the supplies.  When they see Miles, they begin talking to each other in Barrayaran Greek, which Miles pretends not to understand, joking of course about his size.  He shows them his officer’s tabs and asks where he can report in to Lieutenant Ahn, the current Meteorology Officer, who will train him before departing.  The men are taken aback, but direct him to the administration building, where Ahn will likely be found.  After briefly considering asking for a lift on the loader vehicle and rejecting it as being undignified, he elects to walk instead.

Miles finds the administration building almost deserted, and the map out of order, and gets directions from a distracted accountant.  After he founds the meteorology office, he prepares himself carefully to meet his first commanding officer before opening to door.  Therein, he finds an overheated room full of electronic equipment, and Lt. Ahn just about to drink himself into unconsciousness on the floor.  After Ahn passes out, Miles examines the equipment before deciding he will need a fair bit of instruction.  He checks up on Ahn’s record and finds that he is weeks from retirement, after being stuck for fifteen years at Camp Permafrost.  He decides that he’ll hope that Ahn sobers up, or take steps to sober him up if need be.  He goes exploring the base, looking for someone who is in charge, whether an officer or even a competent corporal.

In the downstairs foyer a human form approached Miles, silhouetted at first against the light from the front doors. Jogging in precise double time, the shape resolved into a tall, hard-bodied man in sweat pants, T-shirt, and running shoes. He had clearly just come in off some condition-maintaining five-kilometer run, with maybe a few hundred push-ups thrown in for dessert. Iron-grey hair, iron-hard eyes; he might have been a particularly dyspeptic drill sergeant. He stopped short to stare down at Miles, startlement compressing to a thin-lipped frown.

Miles stood with his legs slightly apart, threw back his head, and stared up with equal force. The man seemed totally oblivious to Miles’s collar tabs. Exasperated, Miles snapped, “Are all the keepers on vacation, or is anybody actually running this bloody zoo?”

The man’s eyes sparked, as if their iron had struck flint; they ignited a little warning light in Miles’s brain, one mouthy moment too late. Hi, there, sir! cried the hysterical commenter in the back of Miles’s mind, with a skip, bow, and flourish. I’m your newest exhibit! Miles suppressed the voice ruthlessly. There wasn’t a trace of humor in any line of that seamed countenance looming over him.

With a cold flare of his carved nostril, the Base Commander glared down at Miles and growled, “I run it, Ensign.”

Comments

This chapter is apparently easier to summarize and harder to find good quotes from than many of the ones I’ve done.  I considered and rejected many from the very nice scene at the beginning where they get their orders, mostly because we never see Plause or Lubachik again, as far as I recall.  There was also one offhand reference to “The Mountains of Mourning” as Miles contemplates the anti-mutant attitudes of the Greek stevedores.  I remember the opening of this book very well, though at some point I got confused and thought it was from The Warrior’s Apprentice instead.  I’m all straightened out now.

The first part of the book is apparently based on the novella “The Weatherman”, which was published separately and was nominated for a Nebula Award (while The Vor Game itself went on to win a Hugo, which I still don’t entirely think it deserved).  To some degree this gives the novel a bit of an awkward structure, with the first third of it being an essentially separate story; though there are some elements and characters that carry on and turn up later, the transition isn’t as smooth as it could be.  But I’ll cover that later, I suppose.

“The Weatherman” is similar to “The Mountains of Mourning” in some ways, showing a less space-operatic and more down-to-Barrayar side of Miles Vorkosigan’s adventures.  As such, it’s more of a character than plot story, with a large dollop of setting too.  It’s also, similarly, a little slower-paced.

Chapter Two

Miles finds Ahn awake and sober when he arrives at the office the next morning, and reintroduces himself.

“I’m your replacement, sir. Didn’t anyone tell you I was coming?”

“Oh, yes!” Ahn brightened right up. “Very good, come in.” Miles, already in, smiled briefly instead. “I meant to meet you on the shuttlepad,” Ahn went on. “You’re early. But you seem to have found your way all right.”

“I came in yesterday, sir.”

“Oh. You should have reported in.”

“I did, sir.”

“Oh.” Ahn squinted at Miles in worry. “You did?”

Miles seizes the opportunity to claim that Ahn promised him a full technical orientation.  Ahn proceeds to introduce Miles to the various machines, which all have women’s names, and he seems stable enough as long as Miles keeps him on the topic, and they find the procedures disks that Miles had been unable to locate the day before.  He also takes Miles up to the roof to show him the data collection equipment up there and then look out over the railing at the barren landscape.  Miles takes a look at Kyril Island, with most of its buildings dug in and covered with turf, and what little life there is pure unterraformed Barrayaran.

Ahn asks Miles if he’s related to Aral Vorkosigan, and Miles tells him that Aral’s his father.  Ahn asks Miles what he’s like.

What an impossible question, Miles thought in exasperation. Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan. The colossus of Barrayaran history in this half-century. Conqueror of Komarr, hero of the ghastly retreat from Escobar. For sixteen years Lord Regent of Barrayar during Emperor Gregor’s troubled minority; the Emperor’s trusted Prime Minister in the four years since. Destroyer of Vordarian’s Pretendership, engineer of the peculiar victory of the third Cetagandan war, unshaken tiger-rider of Barrayar’s murderous internecine politics for the past two decades. The Vorkosigan.

I have seen him laugh in pure delight, standing on the dock at Vorkosigan Surleau and yelling instructions over the water, the morning I first sailed, dumped, and righted the skimmer by myself. I have seen him weep till his nose ran, more dead drunk than you were yesterday, Ahn, the night we got the word Major Duvallier was executed for espionage. I have seen him rage, so brick-red we feared for his heart, when the reports came in fully detailing the stupidities that led to the last riots in Solstice. I have seen him wandering around Vorkosigan House at dawn in his underwear, yawning and prodding my sleepy mother into helping him find two matching socks. He’s not like anything, Ahn. He’s the original.

“He cares about Barrayar,” Miles said aloud at last, as the silence grew awkward. “He’s . . . a hard act to follow.”

Ahn pushes himself away from the railing and begins entering data, saying that at least there’s no “wah-wah” warning.  Miles asks what that is, wondering if it’s some kind of obscure joke, and Ahn tells him it’s a sudden and powerful wind that comes up from time to time.  There are ropes strung between buildings to hold onto, and they’ll get about twenty minutes’ warning from the coastal stations.  Miles asks Ahn where he got the figures he just entered, and Ahn has trouble answering at first, settling on the answer that that’s just how it smells.  He tells Miles that they do have computerized projections, but he never uses them because they’re not accurate enough.  Miles realizes that Ahn has internalized his weather prediction to the point where he’s better than the computers–about 95%, compared to the computers’ 75-85%, and that once he’s gone, Miles will be stuck with the computers.

The day after taking Miles on a maintenance patrol to the five nearest remote stations, Ahn was scheduled to take Miles to the outlying six, but instead Miles found him drunk in his quarters.  Miles decides to go on his own, and heads over to the motor pool to sign out an all-terrain “scat-cat” (guaranteed not to blow away in a wah-wah).  The tech who helps him retrieve it, Pattas, is one of the Greeks from his arrival the first day.  After Miles goes through its checklist–painfully slowly to the watching techs–Pattas tells him that if he goes up to Station Nine, he should park the scat-cat in a hollow below the station, out of the wind.  Miles isn’t sure why, because the scat-cat won’t blow away, but Pattas says they sometimes blow over.

He drives away feeling self-conscious about having to prove himself yet again, but by the time he reaches Station Six he’s more relaxed, and performs the scheduled maintenance smoothly enough.  In Station Eight, though, he has to repair a piece of equipment, and by the time he reached Station Nine he realizes that even the long summer arctic day is beginning to fade.  He decides to stay at Nine for the four-hour night, and reports that in to the base.

He parks in the recommended hollow and set up a bubble-tent to camp in, chaining it to the scat-cat in case of wah-wah.  He sets up a heater, has some rations, better grade than some, and reads a book-disc until he dozes off.

When he wakes up, it’s still dark, but according to his wrist chrono it should be daylight.  The sides of the tent are indented slightly, and he’s having some trouble breathing, as if there was an excess of CO2 and a shortage of oxygen.  The floor of the tent turns out to be slanted.  He realizes that his tent has sunk into some kind of mud-pool, and the scat-cat is apparently what’s pulling it down.  He pulls loose one of the tent’s ribs, unzips one corner slightly, and pokes the rib through, trying to figure out how deep he is.

Finally, he loosens his boots and pants and starts digging his way up through the mud.  His chest is bursting by the time he breaks through to the air.  Unable to push himself any further off of the tent, he tries pulling himself out with clumps of bracken, and eventually manages it, leaving half of his clothes behind in the mud.  Up above, it’s sleeting.

They found him hours later, curled around the dimming heat-tube, crammed into an eviscerated equipment bay in the automated weather station. His eye-sockets were hollow in his black-streaked face, his toes and ears white. His numb purple fingers jerked two wires across each other in a steady, hypnotic tattoo, the Service emergency code. To be read out in bursts of static in the barometric pressure meter in base’s weather room. If and when anybody bothered to look at the suddenly defective reading from this station, or noticed the pattern in the white noise.

His fingers kept twitching in this rhythm for minutes after they pulled him free of his little box. Ice cracked off the back of his uniform jacket as they tried to straighten his body. For a long time they could get no words from him at all, only a shivering hiss. Only his eyes burned.

Comments

As my city of residence sinks into sudden cold winter, at least a month and a half later than we might have expected, I can’t help but empathize with Miles living in this frozen wasteland.  I don’t think I read “The Weatherman” in the magazines, but I sometimes get elements of this story confused with Maureen F. McHugh’s “Baffin Island”, which I did, so I keep thinking that Kyril Island is much larger than it is.  (Apparently it’s about the size of Jamaica, but somewhat remoter.)

In Miles’s mental description of his father, I was a little startled to see the mention of the Third Cetagandan War.  When was that?  During Miles’s childhood?  A space war only, as opposed to the invasions of the Cetagandan War that Count Piotr fought in (the first)?  Not sure if the author’s ever shared much more than that, but maybe in Cetaganda or Brothers In Arms or even Ethan of Athos there’s something.

The sinking scat-cat and tent is the first bit of actual tension we get in the book, and it’s pretty effective, claustrophobic and chilling (literally).  That Greek guy isn’t too friendly, apparently, but more about that in the next chapter, as I recall.  But really, “The Weatherman” is just warming up (so to speak).

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Now you have to wait another week to find out what happens in the aftermath of Miles’s scat-cat sinking.  Who’s going to take the blame, Miles or the suspiciously helpful Pattas?  Can Miles get along with his commander, and without Lt. Ahn?  Will the wah-wah come?  It looks like “The Weatherman” proper lasts into at least Chapter Five, if not Six, so it’s not going to be resolved for another couple of weeks, so sit tight…

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein the works in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga are summarized and commented upon piece by piece, a couple of chapters or so at a time.  This week I will complete my treatment of her novella “The Mountains of Mourning”, which fits chronologically in between The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game and so is included in the omnibus volume Young Miles in between those two novels.  It’s a sort of murder mystery, and other things besides, and is science-fictional mostly because it takes place on another planet and features a few pieces of futuristic technology, but it’s a good story.  It also doesn’t have any chapter breaks, so here I pick up after last post’s arbtirary stopping point about halfway through.

The Mountains of Mourning, cont.

As Miles, Pym and Dea sit on Speaker Karal’s porch, the inhabitants of Silvy Vale begin to come by, starting with women, bringing dishes of food, which Ma Karal set back of her own, and offers of assistance, which she refused politely.  After nervously greeting Miles, they sent their children to play in the woods, though some came back to peek at Miles.  He tolerated their curiosity, until young Zed Karal tells a friend that Miles is there to kill Lem Csurik.

Miles summons Zed over, and he comes warily.  Miles asks Zed to repeat what he’d said, and then says it’s a dangerous lie.  He says he’s looking for the person who killed Raina Csurik, who may not be Lem.  Zed protests that Harra thinks it’s Lem, but Miles says she could be mistaken; his truth drugs, though, will allow him to be sure, and keep him from executing the wrong person.  Miles continues to ask Zed why Lem would want to kill the baby, and Zed says that she’s “only a mutie”.  Miles tries to think of how to get across to Zed that that attitude is wrong; finally he asks Zed if he’s proud that his father served the Emperor

Miles forged on. “Well, these practices—mutie-killing—shame the Emperor, when he stands for Barrayar before the galaxy. I’ve been out there. I know. They call us all savages, for the crimes of a few. It shames the Count my father before his peers, and Silvy Vale before the District. A soldier gets honor by killing an armed enemy, not a baby. This matter touches my honor as a Vorkosigan, Zed. Besides,” Miles’s lips drew back on a mirthless grin, and he leaned forward intently in his chair—Zed recoiled as much as he dared—”you will all be astonished at what only a mutie can do. That I have sworn on my grandfather’s grave.”

He then dismisses Zed, obviously cowed, to go play.  Dr. Dea says that the hillfolk are ignorant; Miles counters that they are his hill-folk, and alleviating their ignorance is his responsibility.  “Don’t kill your babies” isn’t 5-space math, they should be able to understand it.  Dr. Dea protests that it’s not fair to ask them to feed “marginal” people when they have to slittle, but Miles points out that they are no longer on the verge of famine every winter, and conditions will continue to improve.  He suddenly notices Ma Karal standing nearby, having been listening in, probably since he called Zed over; they exchange a nod of acknowledgement.

Speaker Karal and Alex return by suppertime, leaving some men still searching, but Karal opines that Lem is hiding in the scrublands.  Miles asks if he’d risk contacting some relative, and Karal says they’d have a hard choice, what to do with their fugitive kin.  Miles thinks of the contrast between Lem’s prior condition, reasonably successful by Silvy Vale standards, and his current ones, on the run with his baby dead and his wife thinking him the murderer.  Would he linger near Silvy Vale, or decide there was nothing left for him?  He wonders if he should call in the Hassadar police force, but that wouldn’t be much better than having arrived in an aircar in the first place.  Miles realizes his father wants him to be conspicuously clever.  He tells Karal to call off the search for the night.

After supper, men begin to drift in, some bring musical instruments, and somehow the gathering segues into a party.  Miles tries to appreciate the music, but his mood is frequently broken by the hillfolk being visibly anxious that he not disapprove, though one song about lost love makes him yearn for Elena.  At one point he sees a group of young girls making much of Fat Ninny, and later Speaker Karal brings Ma Csurik, Lem’s mother, to see him.  After an awkward silence, she tells Miles that she’s sure Lem didn’t kill the baby, that they never did that in their family.  Miles tells her that he should come in then, and let Miles clear his name; he reiterates strongly that he won’t execute Lem unless he convicts himself under fast-penta.  One of Lem’s brothers tells her to come away, that the “mutie lord” has obviously come for a killing.  Before the end of the evening, Ma Mattulich, Harra’s mother, comes to see Miles as well; she appraises him silently, and Miles tries to reassure her that there will be justice.  She tells him that it’s too late for justice.

By midnight, the party winds down, the hillfolk disperse, and they begin to bed down, Karal’s boys in the tent and Pym, Miles and Dea in the loft.  Miles ponders his strategy, wonders if he should be trying to go faster, or if he would just bog down.  Late at night, he awakens to see a glow outside in the inght.  He wakes up Pym and tells him to bring his stunner.  They look out at the yard to see a torch burning on top of Miles’s tent, which is thankfully quite fireproof.  Pym goes out to scan the surroundings as Speaker Karal wakes up, returning to report nobody within a kilometer; they douse the torch and awaken the boys in the tent, who are quite excited at the attempted assassination until their mother forces them to sleep inside.  Karal apologizes on behalf of his community for the outrage.

Miles attempts to go back to sleep, and is on the verge of giving up when he hears a shrill squeal of pain from Fat Ninny.  As they run to help, Ninny kicks Pym in the chest; while trying to calm the horse down, Miles finds its neck all bloody, and calls for the doctor, who comes to look at the damage and then returns with his medkit.

“I took tests,” Dea complained sotto voce as he worked. “I beat out twenty-six other applicants, for the honor of becoming the Prime Minister’s personal physician. I have practiced the procedures of seventy separate possible medical emergencies, from coronary thrombosis to attempted assassination. Nobody—nobody—told me my duties would include sewing up a damned horse’s neck in the middle of the night in the middle of a howling wilderness. . . .”  But he kept working as he complained, so Miles didn’t quash him, but kept gently petting Ninny’s nose, and hypnotically rubbing the hidden pattern of his muscles, to soothe and still him. At last Ninny relaxed enough to rest his slobbery chin on Miles’s shoulder.

“Do horses get anesthetics?” asked Dea plaintively, holding his medical stunner as if not sure just what to do with it.

“This one does,” said Miles stoutly. “You treat him just like a person, Dea. This is the last animal that the Count my grandfather personally trained. He named him. I watched him get born. We trained him together. Grandfather had me pick him up and hold him every day for a week after he was foaled, till he got too big. Horses are creatures of habit, Grandfather said, and take first impressions to heart. Forever after Ninny thought I was bigger than he was.”

Pym and Karal inspect the ground around the horse-lines, but don’t find anything.  Ma Karal watches Dea repack his medkit, and Miles realizes that she has just seen more done for a horse than she’s seen done for many people.  Pym goes inside to get his chest taped, and Miles stays on sentry duty on the porch with a stunner, wondering if now was the time to call in the troops, with his bodyguard hurt and two attacks already.

He sees movement in the bush and leaves the porch to go stalking it.  He finds a lean young man looking up at the cabin for several minutes before he pulls an apple out of his pocket and begins to eat it.  The noise attracts Fat Ninny, and the man gives Ninny half the apple, only then noticing the dressing on the horse’s neck with surprise.  Then he turns and sees Miles, who addresses him as Lem Csurik.

Lem asks him if he keeps his word; he says he didn’t kill Raina, and he wants to confess, but he’s heard that under fast-penta you can’t hold anything back.  He offers to submit to the interrogation, but only if Miles swears on his honour not to ask him about anything else.  He says he doesn’t know who killed his daughter, but he has suspicions.  Miles muses that it would be nice to solve the case by deduction rather than using truth drugs, and gives Lem his word.  He leads Lem to the cabin, introduces him to the surprised inhabitants, and tells Dea to get out the fast-penta.

Dr. Dea muttered under his breath to Miles as he got out the hypospray. “How’d you do that?”

Miles’s hand brushed his pocket. He pulled out a sugar cube and held it up, and grinned through the C of his thumb and finger. Dea snorted, but pursed his lips with reluctant respect.

Dea gives Lem the injection, and after he relaxes, Miles begins the questioning, with easy questions first, according to his training.  Under his guidance, Lem tells them that he returned to the cabin about midmorning, finding Harra gone and the baby asleep, but soon the baby started crying, wanting milk.  He says that he didn’t even touch the baby, but went down the path looking for Harra, then headed for his sister’s.  Miles asks if he met anyone on the path, and Lem says he did, and then Miles tells Dea to administer the counteragent before Lem can tell them who it was.  Once the fast-penta has worn off, Dea asks Lem who he met on the path, but Lem doesn’t answer.  Miles says he already knows, that it was Harra’s murderer, and he asks the Karals to witness that Lem didn’t tell him.

Miles sends people out to gather the witnesses.  Ma Csurik is first, with two of her sons, relieved to see her son, though not happy that he had to take that “poison drug”.  Miles tells her that far from being poison, it saved his life, then asks which of her sons threw the torch on his tent.  The Csurik boys clumsily deny it while making it clear that they did.  Miles says they should apologize to Zed and his brothers, and warns them that it could be treated as a case of attempted assassination on a Count’s heir, though the boy, Dono, protests that he didn’t think it’d kill him, just frighten him.  Miles holds the treason charge, but tells Dono that Speaker Karal and his parents will have to keep an eye on his behaviour.  He tells Pym that he doesn’t think the Csuriks were behind the attack on the horse, though.

Next to arrive is Harra.  Miles tells her that Lem is innocent, but she protests that she knows he’d been there, that he’d taken his tools with him.  Miles says that Raina was still crying when Lem left, but that Harra was focusing so hard on Lem so she wouldn’t think too hard about other suspects.  He asks Dr. Dea to prepare another dose of fast-penta, but doesn’t tell him who to administer it too.  He asks Dea and Pym if they’ve figured it out yet, but neither has.

“I suppose it’s because neither of you ever met my grandfather,” Miles decided. “He died just about a year before you entered my father’s service, Pym. He was born at the very end of the Time of Isolation, and lived through every wrenching change this century has dealt to Barrayar. He was called the last of the Old Vor, but really, he was the first of the new. He changed with the times, from the tactics of horse cavalry to that of flyer squadrons, from swords to atomics, and he changed _successfully_. Our present freedom from the Cetagandan occupation is a measure of how fiercely he could adapt, then throw it all away and adapt again. At the end of his life he was called a conservative, only because so much of Barrayar had streamed past him in the direction he had led, prodded, pushed, and pointed all his life.

“He changed, and adapted, and bent with the wind of the times. Then, in his age—for my father was his youngest and sole surviving son, and did not himself marry till middle-age—in his age, he was hit with me. And he had to change again. And he couldn’t.

He tells them how his grandfather had urged his parents to have Miles aborted, and the rift that it had created between them, though to some extent he’s just killing time until the last visitor arrives.  More footsteps approach the cabin, and Miles tells Dea to fast-penta the next person to come through the door.  He does, administering the shot to Ma Mattulich.  She is outraged, but the drug overtakes her quickly, though not quickly enough to conceal her anguish.  Lem tells Miles that he hadn’t dreamed that she shouldn’t be left alone with the baby; Harra has gone white.

Miles begins the interrogation, more difficult than Lem’s, leading her gradually to when Raina was born.  She says she wasn’t there until it was too late, after people had already seen the babe with her dirty mutation.  Jean, the midwife, wouldn’t leave Ma Mattulich alone with the baby, and she didn’t want to do the deed in front of Harra either.  Harra had been her only clean baby; two others had been stillborn, and the other two she’d killed herself, with her own mother watching to be sure she did it right, but now she realizes that Harra had the poison in her too, must have gotten it from her father…  The others in the room are frozen as she rambles on, Harra and the younger ones horrified, the older ones ashamed.  Miles asks if she had murdered two other babies as well.

“Murdered?” said Ma Mattulich. “No! I cut them out. I had to. I had to do the right thing.” Her chin lifted proudly, then drooped. “Killed my babies, to please, to please . . . I don’t know who. And now you call me a murderer? Damn you! What use is your justice to me now? I needed it then—where were you then?” Suddenly, shockingly, she burst into tears, which wavered almost instantly into rage. “If mine must die then so must hers! Why should she get off so soft? Spoiled her . . . I tried my best, I did my best, it’s not fair. . . .”

Miles asks why she broke Raina’s neck rather than any other method, and she said it was to hide the truth from Harra.  Miles comments that she wasn’t the only one; Lem says he didn’t want to be the one to say, and Speaker Karal says he wanted to save her grief.  Miles says they all have underestimated Harra’s strength, and they exchange nods of acknowledgement.  When Miles asks Ma Mattulich, she admits the attack on the horse too, since she couldn’t get at Miles himself, the mutie lord, the ultimate slap in the fact after all her suffering.  Miles pronounces the mystery solved, but has to deliberate over the administration of justice.

He takes a walk to visit Raina’s grave, and asks her what he should do.  He ponders Barrayaran law, how the intent of the law was so often valued over the letter, the judgement of the man on the spot over any precedent.  What would be gained by killing an old woman?  Should he sacrifice the needs of Silvy Vale’s people in the service of making a political statement?  Speaker Karal comes to speak with him, and Miles admits his dilemma, though he says that the truth was still better than Karal’s attempt to gloss the matter over.  He wishes he could make a difference, and Karal points out the differences between Harra and her mother, or even the harridan that was her grandmother.  And if the village gets onto the worldwide network, then the future will come rushing in.  And Miles himself has been an example, an inspiration, a sign of what can be accomplished.

“I think,” said Karal, “Barrayar needs you. To go on being just what you are.”

“Barrayar will eat me, if it can.”

“Yes,” said Karal, his eyes on the horizon, “so it will.” His gaze fell to the graves at his feet. “But it swallows us all in the end, doesn’t it? You will outlive the old ones.”

“Or in the beginning.” Miles pointed down. “Don’t tell me who I’m going to outlive. Tell Raina.”

Miles once more presides from Karal’s porch, with everyone they could manage to find assembled in the Speaker’s yard.  He summarizes the charges against Ma Mattulich, and says that they will be announced in every corner of Silvy Vale.  He announces that she has earned a sentence of death, but he suspends the sentence indefinitely; instead, she will be legally dead, with all her possessions actually owned by Harra, in her daughter’s care as if an invalid, and never left alone with any other child.  Finally, she will die without any sacrifice on her grave.

Afterwards, he makes a proposition to the Csuriks.  He offers to find Harra a scholarship to attend a teaching college in Hassadar, and tells Lem that if he’s a carpenter, there’s plenty of construction work in the city as well.  They are both interested, but worried about leaving Silvy Vale.  Miles says that the condition of the offer is that they will have to return.  He will provide a small comm unit that they can use for picking up educational broadcasts, which won’t cost him much more than that new lightflyer he’d been planning to buy…  Miles suggests that when they set up the school, they can name it after Raina, which finally manages to bring Harra to tears.  He adds that he’ll send up a temporary teacher until Harra is ready to take over.

Harra scrubbed her eyes, and looked up—not very far up—at him. “You went to the Imperial Academy.”

“I did.” His chin jerked up.

“Then I,” she said shakily, “can manage . . . Hassadar Teacher’s College.” The name was awkward in her mouth. At first. “At any rate—I’ll try, m’lord.”

The next day an aircar arrives to take Dr. Dea, Pym, and two of the horses back home, and leaves Armsman Esterhazy behind to ride back with Miles.  That night they camp by the river of roses, and Miles contemplates giving more than just a lightflyer’s worth of money to Silvy Vale…but he doesn’t have enough for every little village, and after all of the training the District’s tax money has bought for him, he should do something more with it.  He remembers how, after he swore fealty to the Emperor, he pictured defending the Emperor and Barrayar through blazing battle…but now Barrayar has a different symbol in his mind.

Peace to you, small lady, he thought to Raina. You’ve won a twisted poor modern knight, to wear your favor on his sleeve. But it’s a twisted poor world we were both born into, that rejects us without mercy and ejects us without consultation. At least I won’t just tilt at windmills for you. I’ll send in sappers to mine the twirling suckers, and blast them into the sky. . . .

Comments

*sniff* again.  Powerful story, emotionally, though on some levels hardly anything happens.  Miles rides into a rural community, investigates a half-condoned infanticide, survives a couple of half-hearted attempts on his life, dispenses justice, and helps out a young couple in need.  But Miles changes as a result of his experiences, from trying to satisfy his grandfather to trying to be worthy of Raina Csurik, from coveting glory and a new lightflyer to feeling his duty to his people, even the smallest.  Silvy Vale itself is changed by his visit, the judgement called against the ancient custom of killing deformed babies, the counterexample and inspiration of Miles himself.

As far as the mystery goes…well, I was never any good at mysteries.  I tend to come up with a random guess and then count myself lucky if I guess right.  I’m still not quite sure how Miles becomes so certain of the killer–something about how Lem wouldn’t tell?  How Harra was so focused in her husband as the only suspect?  It’s only the surface plot, though, in many ways.

Whenever I read this I wonder at the concept of the Barrayaran legal system, so at odds with our modern concept–the spirit of the law vs. the letter.  The whole problem with following “the spirit” is that it does rely on one person’s individual judgement, and so it only works if there exists the concept of such a person whose judgement is incorruptible and bound by honour.  It’s a far cry from “checks and balances”, and, as Cordelia often says, it’s inconceivable for it to work.  Obviously there are corrupt folk, like Vordarian, Vordrozda, etc., but if you can manage to get a good and honourable person at the top, it could just work…  Like any autocracy, it works as long as the autocrat is trustworthy.  Which I suppose is why they have to overthrow them once in a while, as they did with mad Yuri.

Of course, with the wonderdrug that is fast-penta, at least there is less guesswork involved.  Admittedly, fast-penta’s shortcomings are added later, the induced allergies, and Miles’s own idiosyncratic reaction, first seen in Brothers In Arms, but in general it’s a good source of justice, because if you can question someone with it, then you can trust everything they say to be the truth.  And the Barrayaran justice system is, surely, a little looser with, say, requiring warrants, given the powers granted to ImpSec and Imperial Auditors (to be introduced much later).

Interesting to think that while Barrayarans are thought of throughout the galaxy as madmen, obsessed with honour (and killing their deformed children), they would doubtless think of those with more elaborate justice systems as treacherous, honourless bastards who can’t trust each other and so have to place so many safeguards between each other.

One other thing that I never realized–I always assumed that “The Mountains of Mourning” was just a reference to a place name.  But it’s the Dendarii Mountains where the story takes place, isn’t it?  It’s a title that is never referred to in the story, though I guess that what it is talking about is all of the children that they had to kill, and how they mourned them…  I think I liked it better as a place name.  (Okay, I admit it, I’m not always crazy about her titles…)


That’s it for the interlude that was “The Mountains of Mourning”.  Next week it’s back into novels, with The Vor Game.  Until then, live your life with honour and don’t spend all your money on new lightflyters.

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I devote my attentions to the novels and stories of Lois McMaster Bujold’s science-fictional saga of Miles Vorkosigan and company.

After having covered three novels, I pass now onto one of her novellas, “The Mountains of Mourning”, which is set after The Warrior’s Apprentice but before The Vor Game chronologically–quite close to the latter, in fact; ten days, according to the text.  Of course, Ms. Bujold wrote the series in a bit of a scattered order, so, for instance, the Miles novel Brothers In Arms, much later chronologically, came out before it, and there were two or three other novellas between that and The Vor Game itself.  Nonetheless, although I had seen her books around, and even roomed with a guy who had a copy of The Warrior’s Apprentice which I never read, “The Mountains of Morning” was the first Vorkosigan story I ever read, back when I was actually in the habit of buying SF magazines when I found them and then taking them home and reading them.  I had little idea who this guy was, but I did learn a lot about him in reading this…and then still didn’t read any other Bujold for years.  It forms an interesting contrast to the space opera of The Warrior’s Apprentice, nearer in spirit perhaps to parts of Barrayar with its close attention to the poorer folk of the Vorkosigan District, and was a definite sign, in retrospect, that there was more to the series than first met the eye…

The Mountains of Mourning

Miles is climbing back up from the lake at Vorkosigan Surleau when he hears a woman weeping.  She is trying to plead her case to the gate guard, who asks her to go to the village magistrate instead.  She says the magistrate won’t be back for weeks, and she’s already walked for four days.  She offers a pitiful bribe, but the guard, seeing Miles, refuses it.  Miles asks what’s going on, examining the woman as he approaches; she is young, with an obvious hillfolk accent, simply dressed and barefoot, breasts full but leaking milk with no baby in sight.

The guard tries to shoo the woman off, but she insists that it’s her right to see the Count, her father having been in the service.  She says she has a murder to report, and her village Speaker refuses to do anything about it.  Miles points out that she does have a right to appeal, to the magistrate or to the Count.  He authorizes the guard to admit her, and accompanies her up the path after the gates are open.

“Do you serve Count Vorkosigan, little man?” she asked cautiously.

Miles thought about that one a moment. “Yes,” he answered finally. The answer was, after all, true on every level of meaning but the one she’d asked it. He quelled the temptation to tell her he was the court jester. From the look of her, this one’s troubles were much worse than his own.

By the time they reach the residence, the woman is feeling less sure of herself, nervously asking Miles on how to behave around the Count; Miles just tells her to “stand up straight and speak the truth”.  At the entrance to the residence, he learns that the Count and Countess at breakfast, and hands his guest over to Armsman Pym, Bothari’s replacement, so she can join them.

Miles changes into his new Ensign’s uniform, and gathers a few items–a copy of his commission documents, his transcripts, his cadet’s insignia, and a brazier.  He takes them into the cemetery and sets up the brazier on his grandfather Piotr’s grave, burning the papers and cloth and a lock of his hair.

“So, Grandfather,” he purred at last. “And here we are after all. Satisfied now?”

All the chaos of the graduation ceremonies behind, all the mad efforts of the last three years, all the pain, came to this point; but the grave did not speak, did not say, Well done; you can stop now. The ashes spelled out no messages, there were no visions to be had in the rising smoke. The brazier burned down all too quickly. Not enough stuff in it, perhaps.

He stood, and dusted his knees, in the silence and the sunlight. So what had he expected? Applause? Why was he here, in the final analysis? Dancing out a dead man’s dreams—who did his Service really serve? Grandfather? Himself? Pale Emperor Gregor? Who cared?

“Well, old man,” he whispered, then shouted: “ARE YOU SATISFIED YET?” The echoes rang from the stones.

Pym clears his throat behind Miles, and informs him blandly that his father wishes him to attend.  Miles tells him not to touch the brazier, he’ll clean it up later.

As Miles heads over to the pavilion where his parents are eating, he thinks that he might go sailing on the lake in the afternoon.  He has ten days of leave, and he planned to go to Vorbarr Sultana with Ivan and buy himself a lightflyer.  He hopes for ship duty, but he resists asking his father to make sure of it.  Aral and Cordelia are sitting in the pavilion with the hillwoman, who looks upon Miles with a new understanding.

Count Vorkosigan spoke to the woman. “That is my son. If I send him as my Voice, would that satisfy you?”

“Oh,” she breathed, her wide mouth drawing back in a weird, fierce grin, the most expression Miles had yet seen on her face, “yes, my lord.”

The Count says hers is a most interesting case, and he can see why Miles sent her up.  Miles admits ignorance of her case, and the Count says it’s an infanticide case.  Miles realizes then where the missing baby is, and comments that it’s unusual for it to be reported.  The woman, Harra Csurik, says that her baby’s only deformity was “cat’s mouth”, which Cordelia recognizes as harelip and cleft palate, not even the type of mutation the infanticide customs were designed to combat.  Harra says she was going to take her baby to the hospital in Hassadar, but her husband, Lem, killed the baby first.

The Count says that if it is reported as a murder, they will treat it as one, and send a message throughout the District.  Though Miles pleads a lack of qualification, the Count thinks that sending Miles himself, deformed as he is, is also part of the message.

Harra is certain that her husband killed the baby, since her crying kept him awake, but he’d left the house for the night.  Harra had found the baby asleep in the morning, and went picking berries.  Later, when she went to feed the baby, Harra found her dead, with no mark, as if she’d been smothered.  The Speaker said she must have overlain the baby, even though she slept in a cradle Lem had made her, and wouldn’t take her complaint.

Cordelia takes Harra to wash, reluctantly, before sending her home, and the Count says that Miles should take Dr. Dea as medical examiner, and in case he suffers any accidents with his brittle bones, as well as an armsman as bodyguard and, possibly, executioner.  Miles proposes arriving in the aircar, a couple of hours’ flight, to get it over with quickly, but the Count vetoes that.  Miles protests that after days of tramping on foot, he’ll present a less than impressive figure, which the Count agrees to, but he has another idea.

So Miles, Armsman Pym, Dr. Dea, and Harra set off on horseback instead.  Miles’s own horse, Fat Ninny, is one he’s had since childhood.  Dr. Dea, a city man, is having more trouble with his horse; he falls off and then starts to chase after the horse, who easily canters out of reach.  Miles says he’ll have no look trying to outrun the horse, and warns Harra not to let her horse get away either.  Miles gets down off of Fat Ninny and digs in his pockets for sugar, giving some to Fat Ninny.  Dea’s mare wanders closer, interested, and Miles calmly takes her reins as she eats the sugar.

“No fair,” wheezed Dea, trudging up. “You had sugar in your pockets.”

“Of course I had sugar in my pockets. It’s called foresight and planning. The trick of handling horses isn’t to be faster than the horse, or stronger than the horse. That pits your weakness against his strengths. The trick is to be smarter than the horse. That pits your strength against his weakness, eh?”

Noting that Harra seems to be wavering in her determination as they head towards her home, Miles distracts her by asking about her family.  Her father was in the District Militia, but died during Vordarian’s Pretendership, leaving just her and her mother.  Miles is relieved at her lack of big strapping brothers to deal with, but she also tells him that her husband Lem has four brothers, which makes Miles more nervous.  When Miles had asked his father about that kind of situation, the Count had merely told him that he should have the cooperation of the Speaker and deputies, or else he should figure out how to obtain it.

She asks about Miles’s family, and Miles says that surely she knows he has no siblings.  She tells him some of the things she has heard about him, how his mutations spring from radiation, or a venereal disease from his parents, or off-worlder genes, but most agree that it was due to poisoning by the Count’s enemies, which Miles agrees with.  She goes into more outlandish rumours, about him having no legs, or being nothing more than a brain in a jar, and he realizes that she’s testing him, trying to reassure herself that he’s suitable and sufficient to her needs.

The woodland, fruit of many generations of terraforming forestry, opened out suddenly on a vale of brown native scrub. Down the middle of it, through some accident of soil chemistry, ran a half-kilometer-wide swathe of green and pink—feral roses, Miles realized with astonishment as they rode nearer. Earth roses. The track dove into the fragrant mass of them and vanished.

They hack through the roses, Miles thinking about the carefully planned terraforming of Barrayar by the original colonists, disrupted by the collapse of the warp point and the stranded settlers’ needs to survive.  Many native species were wiped out, but Miles thinks that the fittest of both worlds have found a new balance.

They camp overnight, then move on into areas Miles is less familiar with.  The next day they stop short of sunset, not wanting to arrive at Harra’s village in the dark, unannounced.  In the morning Miles puts on his dress uniform, and Pym unfurls the Count’s banner.  At midmorning, they arrive at the Speaker’s cabin, on the edge of a sugar maple grove.

Harra calls for the Speaker, Karal, who emerges talking about how worried they were at her disappearance, before stopping at the sight of her companions.  She tells Karal she took her case to the Count.

“Oh, girl,” Karal breathed regretfully, “that was a stupid thing to do. . . .” His head lowered and swayed, as he stared uneasily at the riders. He was a balding man of maybe sixty, leathery and worn, and his left arm ended in a stump. Another veteran.

“Speaker Serg Karal?” began Miles sternly. “I am the Voice of Count Vorkosigan. I am charged to investigate the crime Spoken by Harra Csurik before the Count’s court, namely the murder of her infant daughter Raina. As Speaker of Silvy Vale, you are requested and required to assist me in all matters pertaining to the Count’s justice.”

Karal asks Miles who he is, and Miles introduces himself as Lord Miles Vorkosigan, son of the Count.  Miles dismounts, Karal taking in his height, and asks to water their horses, which Karal sees to with the aid of his son Zed.  Karal invites them in and busies himself making tea.  Miles says they want to swiftly be about the investigation; Karal protests that the baby likely died a natural death, with no markings, and Miles comments on how often babies die “natural” deaths in the District.

“I begin to see,” Miles let his tone go ice cool, “why Harra Csurik found it necessary to walk four days to get an unbiased hearing. ‘You think.’ ‘You believe.’ ‘Who knows what?’ Not you, it appears. I hear speculation—accusation—innuendo—assertion. I came for facts, Speaker Karal. The Count’s justice doesn’t turn on guesses. It doesn’t have to. This isn’t the Time of Isolation. Not even in the back-beyond.

“My investigation of the facts will begin now. No judgment will be—rushed into, before the facts are complete. Confirmation of Lem Csurik’s guilt or innocence will come from his own mouth, under fast-penta, administered by Dr. Dea before two witnesses—yourself and a deputy of your choice. Simple, clean, and quick.”

He commands Karal to bring him Lem Csurik for questioning.  Karal says that most of the villagers will see fast-penta as nothing short of magic, and distrust it, and Miles says that Speaker Karal will have to reassure them, then.  The Speaker puts on his old uniform and prepares to go out, stopping to tell Miles that in all his time as Speaker nobody has had to take their justice even as far as the magistrate.  Miles counters that justice is for everyone in Silvy Vale, even those sickly, weak, and unable to speak for themselves.  Pym joins Karal, stunner at the ready.

Miles looks around the cabin, finding evidence of more children, and a radio set for picking up transmissions from Hassadar.  He wonders how far ahead the District would be if it hadn’t been for the nuclear destruction of Vorkosigan Vashnoi during the Cetagandan War.  Dr. Dea asks if he should break out the fast-penta, but Miles says that he doubts Lem Csurik will be brought in so easily, and says the autopsy kit will likely be needed first.  Indeed, though Karal and Pym return with another man, it is the Speaker’s deputy Alex, not Lem Csurik, who has eluded them.

Miles then proposes to go dig up Raina’s body for the autopsy.  Karal is reluctant, not wanting to disturb the dead, then pointing out that Lem is technically the next of kin, and they need his permission.  Miles just tells him to be careful the grave they dig is not his own.

Alex digs up the small crate with Raina’s body, upon which Pym and Alex find an excuse to be farther away.  Dr. Dea unwraps the body and begins his examination, Miles watching and Harra furtively retrieving the cloths for rewrapping.  Dea quickly determines that the baby’s neck was broken and then put back into place, which means it could not have been accidental; no great strength would even have been required.  He also says that even an experienced layman should have been able to discover this.  Karal admits that he suspected, but he thought that more grief would have come from making a fuss, that his duties were to the living.

“So are mine, Speaker Karal. As, for example, my duty to the next small Imperial subject in mortal danger from those who should be his or her protectors, for the grave fault of being,” Miles flashed an edged smile, “physically different. In Count Vorkosigan’s view this is not just a case. This is a test case, fulcrum of a thousand cases. Fuss . . .” He hissed the sibilant; Harra rocked to the rhythm of his voice, “you haven’t begun to see fuss yet.”

Dea restores Raina’s body, Harra wraps her back up, and Alex reburies her in the crate.  Harra cuts off a lock of her hair to burn as offering, and Miles expresses his regreat that he has nothing to contribute.  Harra is surprised he would even think to offer.

Peace to you, small lady, after our rude invasions. I will give you a better sacrifice, I swear by my word as Vorkosigan. And the smoke of that burning will rise and be seen from one end of these mountains to the other.

After sending Karal and Alex away to find Lem Csurik, Miles offers Harra a ride to her house on Fat Ninny.  Pym surreptitiously scans the bushes on the way.  At the house, they find signs of recent male habitation, which Harra absently begins to straighten up.  Miles gets Harra to show them where she picks her berries, and times how long it takes to get an idea how long the murderer would have had; he also notes that you couldn’t hear someone calling from the house.  He is frustrated to note that both method and opportunity are wide open, leaving only motive.

They leave Harra in her home, where she insists on staying despite the chance of Lem returning, wanting to be alone for a while.  Pym suggests they rouse the village to beat the bushes for Lem.  When Karal had taken him looking for Lem before, they found people who had been hunting for Harra already returning, Lem’s relatives among them.  Miles thinks that Karal knows more than he’s letting on; Pym suggests using fast-penta on him, but Miles says that that results in a loss of dignity that he’d rather avoid inflicting on the Speaker.

“I have facts. Physical facts. A great big pile of—meaningless, useless facts.” Miles brooded. “If I have to fast-penta every back-beyonder in Silvy Vale to get to the bottom of this, I will. But it’s not an elegant solution.”

“It’s not an elegant problem, m’lord,” said Pym dryly.

Speaker Karal’s wife is home and frantically preparing for her guests when Miles and Pym return.  She is indignant at Dr. Dea’s suggestion that her guests sleep in their tent and spurn her hospitality.  Dr. Dea suggests that they at least eat their packaged food, but Miles says they should be able to share the common pot safely enough.  Karal’s younges tson serves them tea, and asks if Miles will be sleeping in his bed.  Miles suggests they sleep in his tent, since they’re being put out anyway, and the boy runs off excitedly to pass on the news.

Miles makes himself comfortable, and Dr. Dea wonders if they’re knocking off for the day already.  Miles points out that either Lem Csurik is guilty, and there’s a possibility they’ll have to call in reinforcements to deal with his relatives, or he’s innocent, and there’s still a murderer.  He reminds Dea that running after something isn’t always the best way to catch it, and his duty is not merely to solve the crime, but to be seen as what he is–a “mutie”, a lord’s son, and a man.

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“The Mountains of Mourning” doesn’t have chapters, though it does have a number of scene breaks.  This isn’t a particularly exciting place to stop, but it’s an oddly-paced story, with little in the way of physical excitement, so I decided to just pick somewhere about halfway through, since it’s much longer than any two chapters…

It is, in many ways, a murder mystery.  I don’t read a lot of straight mystery, but I’m sure someone out there has written a mystery set in a backwoods setting, which this would probably resemble.  The SF touches are fairly subtle–the tradition of infanticide, the legacy of generations of mutations brought on by radiation exposure.

I was going to say “after the destruction of Vorkosigan Vashnoi”, but then I realized that that was back in Count Piotr’s time, and the tradition was long-settled by that time.  There’s a part I didn’t quote, where Cordelia talks about the Barrayarans’ ancestors “pilgrimage through the Fire”.  While it does sound like some kind of journey through a radioactive zone, it may be merely metaphorical, since the problems probably didn’t start until after the first wormhole disappeared.  So maybe even the radiation was not responsible, as much as a desire to keep the gene pool from straying too far afield…?

I find it interesting that the story starts with Miles trying to decide whether or not he’s appeased his grandfather’s spirit–how literally I don’t know, since I don’t think that Miles seriously believes in ghosts or anything, but he has a sense of obligation to his ancestors nonetheless–and throughout the course of the story he takes on a new duty, that to the slain infant Raina Csurik.  For Count Piotr, Miles tried his hardest to make his peace with the ways of Barrayar of the past–the horses, the military, the service of the Emperor, the responsibilities of the Vor.  But for Raina, Miles has to try to bring the future to Barrayar, to allow it to shed the customs of its past that no longer make sense as Barrayar slowly assimilates the technology and knowledge of the greater galactic community.  One of the best scenes in Memory, for instance, is when Miles, with so much stripped away from him, makes a return pilgrimage to Raina’s grave.


We’ll wrap up the story next week, and then after that head on to The Vor Game, which is not my favourite of the series, but more on that later.  Until then…

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