Sing “hey”, my fine fellow, hearken thee to the publication of another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I reiterate and explicate the events of the Vorkosigan Saga novels of Lois McMaster Bujold, a brace of chapters at a time. At this juncture, I will yield to you some stuff about Chapters Seven and Eight of The Vor Game, a novel written out of sequence but occurring chronologically after the stuff I did before but before the stuff I haven’t done yet. I promise that there is less bathos to come.
Miles is moved from the informary to an apartment one floor down in ImpSec Headquarters, a small one-room efficiency usually used by protected witnesses and “political unpersons”. All his possessions from Kyril Island are there. Miles wonders if it’s bugged, or if nobody is bothering. He seems to be allowed to roam around, but not to leave the building, and soon discovers that even roaming around is discouraged. After unpacking and cleaning up his possessions, he spends most of his time pretending he’s in a cabin on a spaceship.
Two days later he receives visitors–first ImpSec officers who give the apartment, and Miles himself, a thorough sweep, and then the man they are escorting, Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, dressed innocuously in undress greens. He sits down in one of Miles’s chairs to relax, offering a bag with a pair of bottles of Vorkosigan wine. Gregor tells Miles that Cordelia sent him, but he can’t stay long, his time scheduled down to the minute as usual.
Miles contemplated his old playmate. If they’d been even a little closer in age, he and Gregor, they might have fallen more into the role of foster-brothers; Count and Countess Vorkosigan had been Gregor’s official guardians ever since the chaos and bloodshed of Vordarian’s Pretendership. The child-cohort had been thrown together anyway as “safe” companions, Miles and Ivan and Elena near-agemates, Gregor, solemn even then, tolerating games a little younger than he might have preferred.
Gregor commiserates with Miles about his abbreviated military career, saying that while he did have some ship duty himself, it was mostly just “pretend” patrols, in orbit, with Gregor as a pretend commander, no real risk allowed. He tells Miles that it’s the unplanned experience, like Miles’s and Prince Serg’s, among others, that makes one a “real” officer. Miles keeps quiet on what he knows about the real Prince Serg.
Miles decided to change the subject. “So we all know what happened to me, what have you been up to for the last three months? I was sorry to miss your last birthday party. Up at Kyril Island they celebrated it by getting drunk, which made it virtually indistinguishable from any other day.”
Gregor grinned, then sighed. “Too many ceremonies. Too much time standing up—I think I could be replaced at half my functions by a life-sized plastic model, and no one would notice. A lot of time spent ducking the broad marital hints of my assorted counsellors.”
Miles expresses the wish that Gregor does settle the succession soon, because after Gregor things get quite muddied, with half a dozen claimants with equally good, if remote, claims. Miles admits that he’s on the list himself, but would rather flee for his life than end up on the throne. Gregor empathizes with the desire to flee, recalling a tale of a former Chinese emperor who ended up working as a janitor somewhere, but Miles says that he hopes Illyan would find him first.
Trying to change the subject again, Miles notices the tacti-go game that Gregor brought. They start playing, and Miles’s beats Gregor too quickly the first time, but tries harder to make the games close after that, aided by the second bottle of wine. Gregor says that Miles should be an officer, it’s been so long since Gregor could beat him at tacti-go, but Miles points out the lack of variables which make it a poor simulation of real battle.
Gregor says that with Miles’s real experience with the Dendarii Mercenaries, he shouldn’t have needed to prove himself on Kyril Island, but Miles reminds him how secret that escapade is, and how without Ky Tung he wouldn’t have pulled it off in any case. Gregor wonders why Illyan hasn’t done more with them, but Miles says that their belonging to ImpSec is mostly just a legal fiction, and Illyan mostly just wants to keep them away from Barrayar; besides, they’re the wrong size to really accomplish much with.
Miles diffidently mentions that he doesn’t really think it proper to ask Gregor’s help to get him out of his situation, but… Gregor says that he’s another prisoner of ImpSec himself, and in any case Illyan is determined to keep Miles out of sight for a time.
“Time.” Miles swallowed the last of his wine, and decided he’d better not pour himself any more. Alcohol was a depressant, it was said. “How much time? Dammit, if I don’t get something to do soon, I’m going to be the first case of human spontaneous combustion recorded on vid.” He jerked a rude finger at the ceiling. “I don’t need to—don’t even have to leave the building, but at least they could give me some work. Clerical, janitorial—I do terrific drains—anything. Dad talked with Illyan about assigning me to Security—as the only Section left that would take me—he must have had something more in mind than a m-, m-, mascot.” He poured and drank again, to stop the spate of words. He’d said too much. Damn the wine. Damn the whine.
Gregor, who had built a little tower of tacti-go chips, toppled it with one finger. “Oh, being a mascot isn’t bad work, if you can get it.” He stirred the pile slowly. “I’ll see what I can do. No promises.”
Two days later, whether by Gregor’s doing or not, Miles is assigned a job working in the ImpSec building’s administration, assisting the guard commander. The initial novelty of the job has worn off after a month, and Miles realizes that in a sense he is his own guard, his own loyalty being used against him to keep him from escaping.
Was he going to get out of this bloody box before Winterfair? How long did it take the world to forget him, anyway? If he committed suicide, could he be officially listed as shot by a guard while escaping? Was Illyan trying to drive him out of his mind, or just out of his Section?
He begins to amuse himself in his off hours by watching all of the training vids in alphabetical order, but after several weeks, is only up to “L” before he is summoned to Illyan’s office.
There is another man there when Miles arrives, who Illyan introduces as Captain Ungari, one of ImpSec’s galactic operatives. Illyan then asks Miles if he’s heard from the Dendarii Mercenaries recently. Miles replies truthfully that all he’s had was a birthday message from Elena about a year ago, which Illyan already knows about. Illyan shows Miles a wormhole map which he recognizes as the Hegen Hub–a system with no planets, but multiple gates to Pol (adjacent to Komarr), Vervain (adjacent to the Cetagandan Empire), Jackson’s Whole (another nexus, and a center of criminal activity), and Aslund, which only has the one jump point.
Illyan says that though the Hegen Hub is as crucial to Cetagandan trade and civilian travel as it is to Barrayaran, there may be trouble brewing there. Pol is beefing up its defenses, on the side opposite the Barrayaran Empire, which is disturbing; Jackson’s Whole is doing the same on its side of the Hub. Vervain has hired a mercenary fleet, Randall’s Rangers. This has caused some concern for Aslund, so they have started building their own jump-point defense station, and have hired their own mercenaries–formerly known as the Dendarii Mercenary Fleet, though they have reverted to the Oseran Mercenaries more recently.
Illyan postulates that Cetaganda sees an opportunity to seize complete control of the Hegen Hub, which would mean that they would control two of Komarr’s four jump routes. As Miles knows, the best way to capture a jump point is from both sides at once, so if the Polians have discovered a connection between the Oseran/Dendarii Mercenaries and Barrayar, namely Miles, they might panic and seek out a Cetagandan alliance. Illyan says he wants more information, and asks Ungari if he thinks Miles is suitable. Ungari is a little dubious, because of Miles’s conspicuousness and physical limitations, but Illyan says he trusts Aral’s judgement on the matter, and thinks that Miles is so conspicuous as to make a good “stalking goat”.
Illyan asks Miles if he could play Admiral Naismith again, and Miles replies, half-seriously, that the problem would be to stop playing Naismith once he started. Illyan tells Ungari that Miles is his; first of all, to determine what’s going on in the Hegen Hub, and secondly to try to move the Dendarii/Oserans out of the equation, up to and including supplying a bogus contract with ImpSec money. Miles is to pretend to Admiral Naismith traveling incognito, with Ungari as a bodyguard, but there will be an additional real bodyguard if Ungari has to operate separately. Miles accepts the assignment readily.
The conversation with Gregor is interesting because of his repeated references to being trapped and wishing for escape, which seems at first like just commiserating with Miles, but there will turn out to be something deeper than that to it. Gregor resents his ImpSec escort, his overscheduled time, and in particular the sham that his military career seems to be without “real” experience. He even envies Miles’s exploits with the Dendarii. Most of this is only clear in hindsight, so I’m helpfully pointing it out to you now.
The whole lecture about the Hegen Hub is a kind of “As You Know Bob” conversation, as Illyan gets Miles to recite what he knows about them, but it puts me in mind of similar scenes in James Bond movies and the like, so I guess it works okay. It works better if you have a map, which, as I said, the digital copy doesn’t. There’s one in the Vorkosigan Companion (included with the CD that came with the Cryoburn hardcover); there’s also a version at http://pw1.netcom.com/~fresne/nexus.htm, and there may be others. All of them are highly schematic, of course, since the positions are fairly arbitrary–I don’t know if wormholes are supposed to take one in the direction they’re “facing” or not, for instance–so you can probably arrange them however you want as long as the lines all connect.
Miles takes the role of Victor Rotha, “Procurement Agent”, a.k.a. Arms Dealer. Rotha is purportedly Betan, and so is his ship, now docked at Pol Six. The trip from Barrayar was uneventful, though Ungari took as many opportunities as possible to gather data about every single jump station on the route. Pol Six, Pol’s station in the Hegen Hub, had started out as a communication station, but has grown to much more than that, with Navy ships visible all around.
Ungari tells Miles to be conspicuous, drawing attention away from Ungari himself, and maybe even try to make a few contacts. He is escorted by his bodyguard, Lieutenant Overholt, who is dressed like a bodyguard trying to look like a tourist, which should help with “Victor Rotha”‘s noticeability. They make their way through security and onto the space station, where “Rotha” has an appointment set up.
A curious trio idled just across the busy concourse from Miles. A big man dressed in loose clothing ideal for concealing weapons scanned the area uneasily. A professional counterpart of Sergeant Overkill’s, no doubt. He and Overholt spotted each other and exchanged grim glances, carefully ignored each other after that. The bland man he guarded faded into near-invisibility beside his woman.
She was short, but astonishingly intense, slight figure and white-blond hair cropped close to her head giving her an odd elfin look. Her black jumpsuit seemed shot with electric sparks, flowing over her skin like water, evening-wear in the day-cycle. Thin-heeled black shoes boosted her a few futile centimeters. Her lips were colored blood-carmine to match the shimmering scarf that looped across alabaster collarbones to cascade from each shoulder, framing the bare white skin of her back. She looked . . . expensive.
Just then, Miles is startled by his first appointment, a Mr. Liga, a man supposedly after better armaments for his mining facility guards. Liga notes that the man that the blonde woman was talking to was a representative of House Fell, arms dealers of Jackson’s Whole. He takes Miles and Overholt to an otherwise unoccupied hotel room, where Miles shows him vids of the weapons he has for sale–for educational purposes only, since they are all illegal on Pol Six, though Liga points out that Pol’s authority doesn’t extend far into the free space of the Hegen Hub.
When Liga disparages Miles’s price for nerve disrupters, Miles takes out a hidden vid and shows Liga a Betan nerve disrupter shield net, a new development not yet officially on the market. Liga is intrigued, and borrows the vid to show to his supervisor, despite the high price tag that Miles quotes him. After they leave, Miles asks Overholt if he did well, and Overhold says he was “very smooth”.
As they are eating lunch afterwards, Miles is surprised to be greeted as “Admiral Naismith”, by someone that he recognizes as Clive Chodak, a Dendarii commando. Chodak is with another man, unfamiliar to Miles.
“I’m sorry, you’re mistaken,” Miles’s denial was pure spinal reflex. “My name is Victor Rotha.”
Chodak blinked. “What? Oh! Sorry. That is—you look a lot like somebody I used to know.” He took in Overholt. His eyes queried Miles urgently. “Uh, can we join you?”
“No!” said Miles sharply, panicked. No, wait. He shouldn’t throw away a possible contact. This was a complication for which he should have been prepared. But to activate Naismith prematurely, without Ungari’s orders . . . “Anyway, not here,” he amended hastily.
Chodak tracks Miles down after he’s returned to the ship, but before Ungari’s return, and after some deliberation Miles authorizes Overholt to let him in. Chodak is reluctant to talk until Overholt leaves, and is pleased that Miles remembers him. He asks Miles what his plans are, but Miles is coy, presuming Chodak to be a spy on Pol Six for the Oserans. Chodak apologizes for having inadvertently blown Miles’s cover, and asks why he was away so long; Miles says that he spent some time in prison (Kyril Island, close enough), and then with his other interests. He asks why he hasn’t heard from Commodore Jesek, and Chodak tells him that Jesek has been demoted to fleet engineer, and Ky Tung to chief of personnel, leaving Admiral Oser in charge.
Chodak warns Miles that his superior, who was with him at the time, is loyal to Oser (Chodak implies he’s more loyal to Tung, without saying it outright), and will probably report back on sighting Miles. Miles says as long as he doesn’t know that Chodak spoke to Miles privately, it’s okay; he may be able to make a deal with Oser. Chodak warns him that Oser doesn’t think that he got the better of his last deal with Miles, that he thinks Miles was a scammer and would have lost if Tung hadn’t switched sides. As Chodak leaves, Miles tells him to cover his ass.
Miles wonders whether he shouldn’t just leave the mercenaries to Oser after all, though it nags at him that he still has three liegepeople among them, but it is ultimately Ungari’s decision. Ungari is not happy at Miles’s blown cover, though Miles points out that Chodak was the one who blew it, and he wonders whether Chodak did it intentionally, to hedge his bets. Ungari opines that it may be too risky to activate Admiral Naismith after all, and he had half a mind to confine Miles to the ship, but Liga had made another appointment with Victor Rotha, and Ungari wants to know who’s behind Liga, particularly if it happens to be the Cetagandans, before they move on to Aslund Station.
Miles shows up at Liga’s hotel room only to find the blonde woman there instead, dressed more seductively than before, who introduces herself as Livia Nu. She says she’s Liga’s superior, “in a sense”, and disapproves of Miles’s attempts to find out more, though Miles says that unlike House Fell, he needs to be careful who deals with. Livia dismisses her bodyguard, and Miles sends Overholt out as well. Once they are alone, Livia reaches into her cleavage and produces the vid disc he’d given to Liga, and asks how many he can provide. Miles says a strictly limited number, since he’s not a manufacturer, but promises to undercut anyone else’s price. She wonders what she can do with so few, and Miles suggests she sell them to governments as samples. He says he could do so himself, but he came in through Pol and has to leave through Cetaganda or Jackson’s Whole, and doesn’t think he’ll be able to take his cargo out past them without it being confiscated.
She asks if he can provide one sample, in her size, but Miles says that they’re standard size and he hasn’t had any luck cutting one small enough to fit either of them yet, and prefers to sell them in lots anyhow. He says he’ll moving on to Aslund soon, and Livia says they can come to some agreement, starting to move in on him. He mentions her boss from House Fell, and asks for a meeting with him, but Livia says “business before pleasure”. Unnerved as she puts her hand on his neck, he breaks away and flees the room, taking the vid disc with him, and promises to set up a meeting later.
Ungari wakes him up in the middle of his sleep period, telling their pilot to move off from the station, outside of Polian space. He tells Miles that Liga’s body was found in the hotel room, and an arrest warrant is being issued for Victor Rotha, since the murder seemed to have happened around the time of Miles’s second meeting there. Miles tells how he didn’t even meet with Liga the second time, only Livia Nu, and he’d have told Ungari if he’d killed anyone. Ungari says that Miles is being framed, and Miles realizes that Livia Nu might not be Liga’s boss, but instead just killed him and took the disc that way.
Miles says that if he was wrong about who she was, they need to find out more about her, but Ungari says that now they can’t go back through Pol, and can’t go to Aslund because of the “mercenary complications”; it’ll have to be the Jackson’s Whole station. Ungari will double back to Aslund, while Miles and Overholt take the long way home. Miles wonders if whoever framed him anticipated them cutting and running, but Ungari is confident they couldn’t know about his information source. Miles notes that they could plan for both contingencies, like he would himself, but Ungari has left the cabin.
There were, of course, lots of Dendarii, so it’s kind of nice that the first one we see in the book is not one of the major ones we’d seen before, but nonetheless somebody that Miles knew, at least slightly. I don’t remember what happens with Chodak in the book, so I guess I’ll have to wait and find out.
I can’t help but feel that Ungari is being a bit of a buttwad about Miles’s cover being blown, but one would hope that maybe he’s just being mad that it hadn’t occurred to him that the Dendarii/Oserans would have anyone on Pol Six that would recognize Admiral Naismith while he was out and about as the absolutely conspicuous Victor Rotha. This is one of the ways that Ungari fails to endear himself to the reader throughout this book, and provides another bad example for Miles, another superior officer that he knows better than and that the reader wants him to insubordinate, the way we want Harry, Ron and Hermione to not listen to Professor McGonagall when she tells them not to go investigating on their own… (Though Professor McGonagall is really much nicer.)
Also the introduction of Livia Nu (as we know her in this chapter, at least). I can’t remember if she was honestly trying to seduce Miles or if she was more likely to try to kill him first. After all, how did she get close enough to kill Liga? I suppose she could have just broken in to the room and hidden in the bathroom or something. Does that mean that Liga was in there the whole time she was meeting with Miles? Hmmm.
Miles’s escape from the room…what was the reason? Later in the series he expresses a preference for tall women, but in this chapter he thinks to himself “I finally meet a woman who’s barely taller than I am, and I don’t even know which side she’s on,” so maybe he hasn’t realized it yet. What have his sexual experiences been up to this point? There was supposed to be some girls on Beta Colony, I think, though none of them particularly good experiences. No women at the Academy, no women on Kyril Island, no women in ImpSec… So he might not have gotten laid in several years, but I guess he wasn’t desperate enough for lust to overcome his better judgement, because his instincts were spot-on in scarpering. He was probably also thinking that Overholt would be able to tell what was going on, and Ungari would not be impressed, unless he had something solid to show for it. And doubting Livia’s motivations, with good reason.
As we reach the Hegen Hub, the space-opera section of the plot is beginning to thicken, but a few crucial ingredients have yet to appear, or reappear… Probably at least one of them will do so in the next couple of chapters, so come back next week for another exciting installment!