Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome…back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I will endeavour to entertain you with the aid behind the scenes of Ms. Lois McMaster Bujold, author of the books I am so determinedly summarizing and analyzing. Our show for tonight consists of Chapters Nine and Ten of The Vor Game, the second novel, chronologically, featuring our star, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan. Confused? Don’t be. It will all become clear if you just take a deep breath and pay attention. Now, on with the show!
On the Jacksonian jump point station, Miles and Overholt are waiting to take a long ride home via Escobar. Ungari had “sold” Rotha’s ship and crew to an agent who would deliver them back to ImpSec, and then departed for Aslund, forbidding Miles to do any more investigation on his own, after receiving a coded message that obviously shook him badly. Overholt has been acting less subordinate and refusing to let Miles do anything at all risky. Miles is browsing for book-disks, virtuously avoiding the large quantities of pornography in favour of slim pickings in military history.
Miles brooded on Livia Nu. In fleeing from her erotic invitation he’d surely missed the adventure of his short lifetime. Yet that hadn’t been the look of love on her face. Anyway, he’d worry about a woman who could fall madly in love at first sight with Victor Rotha. The light in her eyes had been more on the order of a gourmet contemplating an unusual hors d’oeuvre just presented by the waiter. He’d felt like he’d had parsley sticking out of his ears.
He wishes, though, that they’d found out more about her, because he has a hunch that she’s an important piece of the Hegen Hub puzzle.
Two men approach Miles, Jacksonian Consortium security goons. They inform “Victor Rotha” that an arrest order has been purchased for him by someone named Cavilo, and ask him if he wants to try to outbid the price of 20,000 Betan dollars. Miles protests he doesn’t have that much on him, and they tell him he’ll have to make arrangements from Detention. Miles tells them he’ll miss his ship, and they agree that that’s probably the general idea. He consults quickly with Overholt, who urges him to try to make a run for the ship and out of their jurisdiction.
As Overholt tries to take out the two goons, Miles eludes them and escapes, but a third man in plain clothes catches him with a tangle field. As Miles goes down, he sees that Overholt is stunned on the ground. The goons inform him that resisting arrest comes with a 10% surcharge, then they beat him into unconsciousness with a shock-stick.
They drag him into a detention centre, awake but unable to control his muscles, and an officer there scans him into the system and tells them to dump him in the cooler until he stops twitching. They throw him on a bunk in the less inhabited end of the room and leave him there. Through the haze of pain and convulsions he sees a familiar face.
“Gregor! Am I glad to see you,” Miles burbled inanely. He felt his burning eyes widen. His hands shot out to clench Gregor’s shirt, a pale blue prisoner’s smock. “What the hell are you doing here?“
Gregor tells him it’s a long story, admonishes him to keep from saying too much in the open cell, and says that he’s going by the name Greg Bleakman. He admits to Miles that he left under his own power, running away from home as it were, and has already realized that it was a very bad idea. He tells Miles that he had a berth on a freighter, but they dumped him here, where he was picked up for vagrancy and is about to be send to Aslund Station on a work detail. Miles can’t let Gregor go without him, so he tries to convince the man in the next bunk to swap clothes and IDs with him. As Miles pleads, Gregor pounces, throwing the man to the floor, subduing him and stripping off his clothing. Miles puts it on, with only a little help from Gregor for his shaking hands, and successfully makes it out with Gregor and the other press-ganged workers. He drops the ID card soon, fearing it might be tracked, and they are taken on board a ship.
He and Gregor manage to get a compartment to themselves just before the ship undocks. Miles begins to realize how stupid the idea was, that he should have just waited, gotten himself free, and then come after Gregor. Gregor asks if he wasn’t sent by Illyan, and Miles admits he wasn’t, and asks Gregor to tell the whole story. Gregor was on Komarr, involved in negotations on wormhole treaties, or at least signing them. One evening, he found himself on a balcony, unattended, somewhat drunk, and feeling depressed, and decided to just go over the edge. He caught himself on some plants, climbed down, and made it out to the spaceport without being intercepted by his guardians. He got a berth on an outgoing ship that night. The ship went through Pol to the Jacksonian Consortium station, where they dumped Gregor off.
Miles chewed his knuckles. “So from ImpSec’s point of view, you evaporated from a fully guarded room. No note, no trace—and on Komarr.”
He tells Gregor that Illyan, far from being right on Gregor’s trail, will likely conclude initially that it’s a politically-motivated kidnapping, or assassination, by Komarran rebels. He realizes that the message that Ungari received before he left was probably a notification from Illyan nonetheless. Gregor says that he saw on the news that he was announced to be resting in seclusion at Vorkosigan Surleau; he knew it was a bad idea, but he couldn’t make himself get off at Pol, still feeling rebellious over the strictures of his life. Miles tells him it was a childish stunt. He realizes that he’s the only person in the galaxy who knows where the Emperor of Barrayar is, and that he could also be considered to be Gregor’s heir, so if anything does happen to him…
If anyone else does find out, in the Hegen Hub, then Gregor will become a pawn in the power struggle, or worse, end up in Cetagandan hands to be brainwashed or subverted.
Miles was an ImpSec officer, now, however junior or disgraced. And ImpSec’s sworn duty was the Emperor’s safety. The Emperor, Barrayar’s unifying icon. Gregor, unwilling flesh pressed into that mold. Icon, flesh, which claimed Miles’s allegiance? Both. He’s mine. A prisoner, on the run, trailed by God-knows-what enemies, suicidally depressed, and all mine.
Two chapters after Gregor talks to Miles in ImpSec HQ and complains about how constricted he feels, here he is having secretly escaped his keepers. I know that a lot of time passed in there, while Miles was working at ImpSec, while he was traveling to the Hegen Hub with Ungari, etc., but it feels quick in terms of story. Gregor would have been on Komarr around the same time Miles was outbound, probably, but perhaps he could have mentioned it during his evening with Miles. Maybe his ImpSec guards would have advised him against it, Miles being a possible security risk, I don’t know. But it’s not the smoothest of transitions.
Still, it does up the stakes nicely, and gives Gregor a chance to be an actual character in a way he hasn’t been, so far. Not until Memory and A Civil Campaign does Gregor get much of a role (maybe he does make an appearance in Mirror Dance, I suppose), and by then he has matured so noticeably that I suppose he may have needed some kind of tempering experience. He was led by the nose in The Warrior’s Apprentice, so that must have shaken his worldview a bit, leading to this crisis of self-doubt. Well, no, as I recall there’s another trigger for this crisis, but it hasn’t been mentioned yet, so I’ll save it until later.
I’m not sure I find the Jacksonian arrest procedure that plausible, but if they always have guys waiting incognito with tangle-fields, I guess it might work for them, as long as the prisoner doesn’t run the wrong way. And I suppose it’d nice for the people who can afford to outbid the person pressing charges in the first place. According to the goons, the person purchasing the arrest can withdraw the arrest bid, losing their deposit; do they get the deposit back if the other person outbids? Not clear, but I suppose it would be only fair, if fairness is really required in the Jacksonian system…
And how do tangle-fields work, anyway? I never got a clear picture of that. It talks about it buzzing around Miles’s ankles…does it actually physically keep him from moving, or just make him lose control over his muscles? In the Vorkosigan Companion it says
Used by police for arresting or restraining suspects, it is a grenade-sized device that can be thrown at a fleeing target. Upon impact, it tangles around the person’s limbs, effectively restraining them while also imparting a burning sensation to inhibit further resistance.
So there must be some kind of wire or fibers in there. I guess it’s one of those things that the author doesn’t need to describe because the narrator already knows how it works…
As his mind clears, Miles realizes that Gregor will be safer on the ship if Miles isn’t there, and resolves in future never to make decisions while having electro-shock induced convulsions. The only place he finds to conceal himself in the cabin is in a shallow maintenance recess under a loose floor tile, and when he hears angry voices in the corridor outside, he wedges himself in with Gregor’s help. Guards enter the room and ask Gregor about his “mutie roommate”; Gregor claims innocence, even when they apply some muscle. The guards conclude that Miles probably doubled back onto the station before the ship undocked, but decide they have to search the rest of the ship anyway. While he waits for Gregor to release him, he worries about the kind of hazardous jobs that Gregor will have to do on the station, as a drafted contract worker. He looks forward to turning Gregor over to Ungari and having the problem off his shoulders.
Just as Miles is growing concerned about whether Gregor has been taken away, he lifts the lid off of Miles’s hiding place. Gregor says he was tapped on the cheek with a shock stick, and it hurt less than he was expecting, but Miles deflates him by asserting that it was on low power. Miles tells Gregor his plan to contact Ungari, and Gregor says he had been planning on contacting the Barrayaran Consul on Aslund…but he admits that he also considered not contact the Consul, either, and tells Miles it’s a good thing he’s there. Gregor says that this opportunity for escape will never come again, and Miles asks him to estimate how many people would die on Barrayar if he did succeed in “escaping”, probably several thousand based on the Vordarian Pretendership, not even counting Komarr.
[Gregor’s] mouth twitched in an irony altogether devoid of humor. “Don’t worry, I’m not serious. I just . . . wanted to know. I could have made it on my own, don’t you think?”
“Of course! That’s not the question.”
“It was for me.”
“Gregor.” Miles’s fingers tapped in frustration, against his knee. “You’re doing this to yourself. You have real power. Dad fought through the whole Regency to preserve it. Just be more assertive!”
“And, Ensign, if I, your supreme commander, ordered you to leave this ship at Aslund Station and forget you ever saw me, would you?”
Miles swallowed. “Major Cecil said I had a problem with subordination.”
Gregor says that if he can’t even control one small ensign, can he control a government? And worse, should he? He points out how poorly he did against Vordrozda’s machinations, and he has to do better, or he’ll be worse than no emperor at all. Miles says he didn’t answer the question as an Ensign, but as Lord Vorkosigan, and Gregor’s friend, and rescuing Gregor will make him feel better, whether Gregor needs it or not.
Miles hid out under the floor tiles a lot over the next two days, only once because of guards; the other times are because of other prisoners coming to chat with Gregor, and Miles encourages him to make friends. When they dock at the station, Miles waits until the others have left the ship before leaving himself, still wearing the stolen blue uniform. A guard watches him leave but doesn’t stop him. He marches off “purposefully at random”. Passing a fighter deck, he thinks that Ungari would be interested in it, but he can’t see Ungari anywhere nearby. Looking out a transparent portal into space, he is chagrined to see the commercial transfer station a few kilometers away in space.
A man summons him over, saying he needs his help, especially when Miles says his specialty is drains. He leads Miles over to an intersection between two corridors, where a sewer pipe runs between two walls, and asks him to find the leak. Miles is relieved to find that the pipe isn’t hooked up yet, and, borrowing a handlight from the other man, squeezes between the walls to look for the leak.
He slid in and inched along the smooth round surface, listening and feeling. About seven meters in he found it, a rush of cool air from a crack under his hands, quite marked. He shook his head, attempted to turn in the constricted space, and put his foot through the paneling.
He stuck his head out the hole in astonishment, and glanced up and down the corridor. He wriggled a chunk of paneling from the edge and stared at it, turning it in his hands.
Two men putting up light fixtures, their tools sparking, turned to stare. “What the hell are you doing?” said the one in tan coveralls, sounding outraged.
“Quality control inspection,” said Miles glibly, “and boy, do you have a problem.”
After briefly considering enlarging the hole and walking back around, he slides back through the wall instead, reporting the location of the leak as well as the demonstrably shoddy paneling. Leaving the man to his problems, Miles ducks around another corner and almost runs into a pair of Oseran Mercenaries. They only glance at him in passing, but Miles wonders how many others are on the station; most of them wouldn’t help him, but if he can find Elena, she might help him. If she’s not under a cloud the way that Baz Jesek and Ky Tung are, that is. He’s not sure of his feelings for her anymore, but she knows him, and she also knows Gregor, so she might be able to help them both out.
He decides he needs to keep a lookout, so he stations himself half-concealed behind a wall near the cafeteria, pretending to be busy fixing something while watching the comings and goings. It seems to mostly be workers, with a few Aslunder guards, but eventually he sees a few Oserans, though still none he recognizes, or trusts enough to contact when he does.
Finally he sees, and is seen by, Sergeant Chodak, and calls him over to talk. Chodak asks how he even got on the station, and if he knows how much danger he’s in, with Oser’s guards watching for him all over the transfer station. Miles tells Chodak he needs to contact Baz or Elena, or even Tung, Mayhew or Elli Quinn. He tells Chodak to tell Elena to meet him and “their old friend Greg” at Greg Bleakman’s cubicle.
Chodak leaves, and Miles heads off to Gregor’s quarters himself. Gregor is off-shift and wakes up when Miles enters, telling Gregor that he’s contacting Elena. Gregor is almost cheerful, saying he’s done nothing more dangerous than putting up light fixtures. They wait for Elena’s scheduled arrival, Miles fighting fatigue, but when the door opens, a squad of Oserans are there with stunners and shock-sticks to take them into custody. Miles doesn’t even bother to resist, though Gregor disarms one man before being shoved against a wall. They wrap Miles up in a tangle-net and the squad leader calls in the capture. As he and Miles are dragged away, he spots Chodak standing in a side corridor and curses his instincts in trusting the man.
They are dragged on board the Triumph, and Miles notices that two of the squad are clearing the corridors ahead of them, keeping any potential witnesses away. As Miles gets his Admiral Naismith personality in order, and tries to think of an innocuous explanation for Gregor, they are taken to a small briefing room where Oser waits with an unfamiliar blond companion. Miles and Gregor are seated and a single guard stationed outside; Miles thinks to himself how Oser reminds him of General Metzov. Oser asks Miles why he’s there, and Miles says, half-truthfully, that he’s doing a “military survey of the Hegen Hub for an interested non-combatant”, though he denies that it’s Barrayar when Oser asks. He says that Barrayar is busy enough with Komarr, Sergyar, and its own frontiers to have any interest in Aslund. He also says that Pol should be safe enough if unprovoked, but he admits he hasn’t checked on Vervain yet.
Oser says he could execute Miles as a spy, and asks what his interest is in the Oserans. Miles says he just wants to know how they fit into the overall scheme in the Hub. He asks for more details on their contract with Aslund; when Oser doesn’t reply, he asks how much he could do as one man. Oser reminds Miles that he had four people with him in Tau Verde, and ended up taking over Oser’s own fleet, which it took him three years to win back. Oser asks about Gregor and Miles dismisses him as his batman, though Oser thinks he looks more like an officer, which Gregor finds heartening. Miles points out that Tung looks like a wrestler, and Oser turns frosty, asking Miles how long he’s been in communication then Tung, then ordering them to be spaced.
“You,” the pointing finger collected Oser’s silent lieutenant, “go with them. See that it’s done. Use the portside access lock, it’s closest. If he,” pointing to Miles, “starts to talk, stop his tongue. It’s his most dangerous organ.”
Miles asks if he doesn’t want to interrogate them, and Oser says he doesn’t want Miles to contaminate his intelligence section; depriving him of oxygen is the safest way to deal with him. The guards drag Miles and Gregor down to the airlock, Gregor raging at dying at the hands of “bloody peasants“. Miles tells the guards that there’s a huge ransom if they can get them loose; when the guards pause, the lieutenant pulls out a vibra-knife and grabs Miles’s tongue, apparently to cut it out.
Miles bites the man’s fingers and throws himself back at the guard behind him, stinging him with the tangle-net. The guard releases him and Miles rolls against the lieutenant’s legs and trips him up. Gregor’s guards, distracted by the melee, are hit by a stunner from a cross-corridor, and Gregor and the stunner, wielded by Sergeant Chodak, take out the lieutenant as well.
“Damn fine soldiering,” Miles panted to Sergeant Chodak in the sudden silence. “I don’t think they even saw what hit them.” So, I called him straight the first time. Haven’t lost my touch after all. Bless you, Sergeant.
“You two aren’t so bad yourselves, for men with both hands tied behind their backs.” Chodak shook his head in harried amusement, and trod forward to release the tangle-fields.
“What a team,” said Miles.
Admiral Oser is one of those Bujold villains that embodies her conviction that the bad guys should not be stupid. He has Miles’s measure, calling his tongue his “most dangerous organ”, and trying to keep him from using it. If it weren’t for people whose loyalty Miles had already won, it would even have worked.
Once again, the unknown quantity of Sgt. Chodak helps with the tension, because we don’t know how trustworthy he is. I don’t know how they traced Miles to Gregor’s apartment, but I suspect that it wasn’t Chodak who spilled the beans. Hopefully they reveal more in the next chapter about what really happened. (No, apparently not. Well, whatever.) Miles isn’t exactly inconspicuous, just from his size, and Oser’s paranoid enough to have people on the lookout for him…
I’m not sure if inspecting an empty sewer line counts as plumbing, but Miles did volunteer his expertise in drains, so close enough. The broken wall scene is pretty funny.
Gregor continues to wrestle with his self-worth, wanting to earn something, some respect at least, for himself, and not for the Emperor of Barrayar. We’ll see how long it takes his experiences to convince him that being Emperor isn’t so bad, especially if he can do it on his own terms.
Now the plot, like a pot of soup to which cornstarch has been added, begins to thicken. There’s a couple more major plot twists to come in the next chapter, too, but you’ll have to wait until next week for those. Until then, I remain, your sincerely, etc.