Lots of people talking about Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras, Lent and Ash Wednesday, and all that. If there is one thing that I don’t think you should give up for Lent, though, I’d say that it would be the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, particularly her Vorkosigan saga, and I’m not just saying that because I’m here to summarize another couple of chapters for you, and planning to continue doing so in the weeks to come. Also, it’s non-fattening and doesn’t cause cancer, though there may be unforeseen side effects. This week I continue with The Vor Game, fourth novel in the series chronologically and second featuring Miles Vorkosigan as protagonist, though it was originally published a bit out of order. I’ll be covering chapters Eleven and Twelve this week, as things look brighter, and then darker, for our characters.
Elena appears down the corridor, and Miles is caught off guard by the short haircut she now sports. She compliments Chodak on his work and asks if the motionless Oseran soldiers are dead. Miles says they’re just stunned; Elena wants to space them, but agrees with Miles that they can’t take the time right now, though they do drag them into the airlock for concealment. Then she tells the three other soldiers who had accompanied her to clear their path, but subtly, and then vanish and forget all about this. Gregor and Miles change into stolen Oseran uniforms in the airlock, Miles wishing for some actual boots that would fit him rather than Victor Rotha’s sandals.
Gregor and Elena exchanged looks, each warily amazed at the other, as Gregor yanked on grey-and-whites and plunged his feet into the boots.
“It’s really you.” Elena shook her head in dismay. “What are you doing here?”
“It was by mistake,” said Gregor.
“No lie. Whose?”
“Mine, I’m afraid,” said Miles. Somewhat to his annoyance, Gregor did not gainsay this.
Miles reminds them that they don’t have long until these Oserans are missed, as he takes their weapons, indentification and money, helping himself to a ration bar that he finds. They leave the airlock, marching through empty corridors with Miles hidden in the centre of their cluster, take a drop-tube and come out at a cargo lock with a shuttle outside. Arde Mayhew and Ky Tung are piloting, and Tung reproves Miles for taking so long to return. Mayhew, who has been faking a malfunction, reports it cleared and detaches from the station.
Elena informs them that it’s now safe, at least to talk; the shuttle is scheduled, though the passengers are not. Oser will be searching Triumph and the military station soon, though they might be able to smuggle Miles back onto Triumph after the search has passed. Tung tells them that if they hadn’t been able to rescue Miles quite so quietly, they would have taken Ariel and officially declared rebellion against Oser, which Miles is glad didn’t happen. Tung asks Miles what his plan is, and why he’s there. Miles says he’s there by accident, though Oser didn’t believe it. Tung says that Miles’s accidents are better than most people’s plans, and offers him the chance to retake the Dendarii; Miles says he doesn’t want them, but Tung says that he does. Miles asks how Oser took over in the first place.
Tung says that after a bad contract, Oser, who had taken over a lot of administrative duties, had gotten them some boring wormhole guard duty work, and in the ensuing peacetime, had outmaneuvered Tung and Baz Jesek by a “financial reorganization”, swinging the votes of the captain-owners, with Auson’s support, to put himself in charge. Elena says they should have known Oser couldn’t be trusted after he made a pass at her, even if he did take “no” for an answer. Tung had decided to bide his time and hope for Miles’s return, though Elena had tried to tell them that he likely wasn’t coming back, at least unless his other plans didn’t pan out.
Mayhew says that they have five minutes to either announce their intention to dock or cut and run for the Ariel. Tung offers to put four ships at Miles’s back, since Miles is more likely to get wholehearted support than Tung himself. Miles repeats that he didn’t come back to take back the Dendarii; he’s more concerned about stopping a planetary civil war, or even an interstellar one. Running through his options, he asks them to send him to Vervain. Tung is getting frustrated about Miles’s secrets, but Elena reminds him that she, Baz and Mayhew are all sworn to Miles. Tung says this is another reason why he needs Miles, and reminds Miles how much they’ve stuck their necks out to rescue him from Oser. Gregor speaks up (in his imperial We) to say that he will provide for anyone left as a refugee for helping him escape. Tung finally agrees to try to smuggle Miles and Gregor onto an outgoing ship for Vervain.
Mayhew and Tung go out to drum up transport, leaving the other three behind. Miles asks Elena how live with the Dendarii has been apart from the troubles with Oser, and she tells him that Tung has been training her solidly on everything she needs to know to make her rank of Commodore a reality. Baz has been carrying on as engineering head, but is discouraged by the power struggles for command, which he doesn’t want to have to deal with.
“I’m sorry,” said Miles.
“You should be.” Her voice cracked, steadied, harshened. “Baz felt he’d failed you, but you failed us first, when you never came back. You couldn’t expect us to keep up the illusion forever.”
“Illusion?” said Miles. “I knew . . . it would be difficult, but I thought you might . . . grow into your roles. Make the mercenaries your own.”
“The mercenaries may be enough for Tung. I thought they might be for me, too, till we came to the killing. . . . I hate Barrayar, but better to serve Barrayar than nothing, or your own ego.”
Miles asks Elena why they didn’t just leave the fleet, and she says that he left them in charge, so it would feel too much like deserting, which Baz doesn’t want to do again. Elena asks Gregor what he’s doing out here, and Gregor says that he also tried deserting, and it didn’t work out for him either. Miles tells them how the Barrayarans don’t know what really happened with Gregor, and Elena quickly realizes how troublesome it would be if something happened to Gregor in Miles’s custody.
“Your father’s Centrist coalition government would be the first thing to fall,” Elena continued. “The military right would get behind Count Vorinnis, I suppose, and square off with the anti-centralization liberals. The French speakers would want Vorville, the Russian Vortugalov—or has he died yet?”
“The far-right blow-up-the-wormhole isolationist loonie faction would field Count Vortrifrani against the anti-Vor pro-galactic faction who want a written constitution,” put in Miles glumly. “And I do mean field.”
“Count Vortrifrani scares me,” Elena shivered. “I’ve heard him speak.”
“It’s the suave way he mops the foam from his lips,” said Miles. “The Greek minorists would seize the moment to attempt secession—”
“Stop it!” Gregor, who had propped his forehead on his hands, said from behind the barrier of his arms.
Elena relents and half-seriously offers Gregor a position with the fleet, which he half-seriously considers, asking Miles if he does want to be back in charge. Miles heatedly denies it, and Gregor backs off; Miles is secretly grateful that he didn’t order Miles to do it anyway.
He asks Elena what the situation is with Vervain, where they hope to reach the Barrayaran Consulate. Elena says the Vervani are concentrating on ships rather than stations, which makes sense with their multiple wormholes, but Aslund is starting to see them as potential aggressors. Aslund is even considering a first strike, but Oser is setting the price for that prohibitively high, since he doesn’t want to take that job either. Vervain has also hired a mercenary fleet, Randall’s Rangers. There is no Randall anymore, but they have a Barrayaran Second Officer, and the current commander is someone named Cavilo. Startled, Miles tells Elena how Cavilo bid for his arrest on the Jacksonian Consortium station, so they’ll avoid the mercenaries and just wait quietly at the Barrayaran Consulate until someone comes to bring them home.
“Strange,” said Gregor, looking at Elena—at the new Elena, Miles guessed—”to think you’ve had more combat experience than either of us.”
“Than both of you,” Elena corrected dryly. “Yes, well . . . actual combat . . . is a lot stupider than I’d imagined. If two groups can cooperate to the incredible extent it takes to meet in battle, why not put in a tenth that effort to talk? That’s not true of guerilla wars, though,” Elena went on thoughtfully. “A guerilla is an enemy who won’t play the game. Makes more sense to me. If you’re going to be vile, why not be totally vile? That third contract—if I ever get involved in another guerilla war, I want to be on the side of the guerillas.”
“Harder to make peace, between totally vile enemies,” Miles reflected. “War is not its own end, except in some catastrophic slide into absolute damnation. It’s peace that’s wanted. Some better peace than the one you started with.”
Mayhew and Tung return, with news of a ship to take them to Vervain, a Vervani pilot who’s run intelligence personnel for them three times previously. Gregor will pass, but Miles is too conspicuous, and they have to put him in a cargo box. They put Miles in the crate and Miles bids farewell to Elena and Tung.
They board the Vervani ship and leave the station without incident, quartered in a supercargo cabin, with a three-day trip to Vervain Station ahead of them. Miles contemplates with trepidation the report he’ll have to write on the incident. Trying to determine where the problems in the Hegen Hub are stemming from, he has to conclude that it is Vervain–Pol is reacting, not instigating, the Jacksonians are trying to stay out of it, and Aslund doesn’t have the resources.
Gregor comments on how different Admiral Naismith seemed from Ensign Vorkosigan; he asks if Miles wishes he were still with the Dendarii, but Miles says he doesn’t regret turning down Tung, who wasn’t offering admiralty as much he was offering a fight at bad odds. Miles tells Gregor he’s happy with the changes in Elena’s life, but admits ambivalence over her ending up with Baz; still, he hopes that they’re okay, with only Tung to protect them from Oser. They both conclude, reluctantly, that they’re better off out of the potential Oseran conflict.
After they dock at Vervain Station, the captain tells them that they need to wait for someone to escort them the rest of the way. Who eventually turns up is half a dozen men in uniform with stunners at the ready. Miles reassures Gregor that the captain has pulled it off three times already, but the captain says that he only pulled it off twice… The lieutenant in charge of the squad calls in to inform Cavilo of the Oserans they’ve caught, and Gregor and Miles debate telling them, obviously Randall’s Rangers, who they really are.
When Cavilo arrives, it turns out to be the women that Miles had previously met as Livia Nu. She is surprised to see “Victor Rotha” there; she asks him what happened to his protective suits, and Miles merely says that she should have bought when she had the chance. He wonders to himself what she was doing on Pol Station in the first place, talking with Jacksonians and killing poor Liga. She calls to the sickbay on Kurin’s Hand, one of her ships, to let them know she’ll be sending them a couple of prisoners to interrogate, and she might want to sit in herself.
The captain asks for assurances that his wife and son are safe. Cavilo tells one of the soldiers to take him to look at the monitors on Kurin’s Hand‘s brig, and he can earn them another week of life by doing another job for her. After the captain leaves, Cavilo calls Kurin’s Hand and tells them to run the tape they made last week, and not tell him that it’s not live.
More boots rounded the corner, a heavy regulation tread. Cavilo smiled sourly, but smoothed the expression into something sweeter as she turned to greet the newcomer.
“Stanis, darling. Look what we netted this time. It’s that little renegade Betan who was trying to deal stolen arms on Pol Station. It appears he isn’t an independent after all.”
The tan and black Rangers’ uniform looked just fine on General Metzov, too, Miles noted crazily. Now would be a wonderful time to roll up his eyes and pass out, if only he had the trick of it.
General Metzov stood equally riveted, his iron-grey eyes ablaze with sudden unholy joy. “He’s no Betan, Cavie.”
DUN DUN DUN!
Metzov turning up here was admittedly a nice plot twist, far trumping the Cavilo = Livia Nu thing. I mean, sure, Cavilo has been a mystery for, what three chapters now, and Livia Nu an enigmatic figure for a couple before that, so I recall being surprised when it was revealed they were one and the same, but Metzov’s appearance was both a surprise (what the hell? Wasn’t he back on Barrayar?) and an immense complication, because he is one of the few people in the Hegen Hub who could recognize both Miles and Gregor for who they are. And given that he’s left Barrayar after being unfairly treated (as he would see it) by the current government, and is working for a mercenary outfit, his loyalties are unlikely to still be to Gregor. Anyway, it does finally tie “The Weatherman” more solidly into the rest of the novel.
The whole conversation about Miles not wanting to help out the Dendarii is somewhat frustrating. Reading the books in publication order, as I did, I knew that Miles was with the Dendarii in later books (so this doesn’t count as a spoiler, really), so I wanted them to join up again right away…and instead Miles waffled and hemmed and hawed and turned them down, even though we suspect that he’ll be sorry for doing it. When he does fall into Cavilo’s hands on Vervain Station, I was all, like, “See? I told you so!” Oh, well, as I once read in a Dragon Magazine article, it’s not the end of the world if your characters get captured. It’s just a different complication for them. And Cavilo has once disadvantage over Oser–she doesn’t realize how dangerous Miles’s tongue is.
Metzov tells Cavilo that Miles is a Barrayaran, and they have to get him out of sight, and he presumes Gregor is his bodyguard. Then Metzov takes a closer look, and doesn’t quite recognize Gregor until he hears his voice. Gregor asks Miles who this is, and Miles tells him this is Metzov. Metzov asks Gregor in disbelief where his security is, and Cavilo asks who they are.
“Power. Money. Strategic leverage. More than you can imagine,” Metzov answered.
“Trouble,” Miles put in. “More than you can imagine.”
Metzov insists again that they be taken back to the ship, and they march off. Once on board, Cavilo orders that they be taken to Medical for interrogation or the brig, but Metzov is unwilling. He asks Gregor for his parole, to Cavilo’s bafflement; Gregor asks if Metzov is thus declaring himself Gregor’s enemy. Metzov then says that they should go to his cabin, without witnesses or recordings, at least for the initial discussion. Cavilo agrees provisionally.
In his cabin, Metzov ties up Miles with tangle-cord but gives Gregor the best chair in the room, and Cavilo questions his logic. Metzov says she can keep her stunner out if she wishes, but he can’t decide if he should take out a weapon in front of Gregor. Cavilo, exasperated, asks him to explain. Metzov introduces Miles first, as Aral Vorkosigan’s son, though since he’d heard Miles was under arrest by ImpSec, he’s not sure what he’s doing posing as a Betan gunrunner. At last, he introduces Gregor as Emperor of Barrayar, which sparks Cavilo’s interest.
Cavilo begins to speculate on what they can get for these prisoners, and Miles advises them to let him and Gregor go, and collect the gratitude of Barrayar instead. Metzov growls that he owes Barrayar nothing, and says they can go down to the brig now. Cavilo says that Miles can go, since he’s nothing, by comparison, but Gregor she sends instead to a comfortable visiting officer’s cabin, and adjacent to her own, though one with the commlink cut off.
Cavilo joins Miles’s escort to the brig. As they enter, the Vervani captain is just leaving with assurances of his family’s continued health, when Miles says he should ask to see them in the flesh. Cavilo refuses, and the captain says that he won’t work for her anymore, so Cavilo orders him taken to his family’s cell and locked in. As he is turning to go, Cavilo shoots him with a nerve disrupter, and warns Miles not to call her bluff again. Miles, cowed, agrees. On the way to Miles’s cell, Cavilo asks for the recording of Metzov’s quarters.
The guards re-searched Miles, and took ID scans. Cavilo blandly informed them that his name should be entered as Victor Rotha.
As he was pulled to his feet, two men with medical insignia arrived with a float-pallet to remove the body. Cavilo, watching without expression now, remarked tiredly to Miles, “You chose to damage my double-agent’s utility. A vandal’s prank. He had better uses than as an object-lesson for a fool. I do not warehouse non-useful items. I suggest you start thinking of how you can make yourself more useful to me than as merely General Metzov’s catnip toy.” She smiled faintly into some invisible distance. “Though he does jump for you, doesn’t he? I shall have to explore that motivation.”
Miles asks her what use Metzov is to her, and she says he’s an experienced ground-combat commander, and then that he amuses her. Miles wonders what use Metzov’s skills will be to her in a space fleet as he is locked into his solitary cell. He’s left alone there for an undetermined time, only a nearly-inedible ration bar for company, as he contemplates how close they still are to the Barrayaran Consulate. He doubts that its notional diplomatic immunity would hold against Cavilo for long if she needed something from it, though.
A visitor some time later proves to be General Metzov. Not invited to dinner with the Emperor, though he is confident that Cavilo, only a woman after all, will come to her senses and seek out his expertise in Barrayaran matters soon enough. He asks what’s going on, and Miles tells him that Gregor got separated from his security and they’re trying to return to the Barrayaran Consulate. Not satisfied, Metzov asks why they are there, why they came from Aslund. Miles tells him how Cavilo killed the freighter captain, so there’s nobody to corroborate his story anyway.
He asks Metzov to guess what’s going on, and Metzov concludes that Miles has concocted some plot to get the Emperor alone, probably to assassinate or brainwash him, unless there’s some secret mission. Miles points out that in the latter case, the Emperor should have some security, and in the former, Miles would have brought some himself. Metzov decides that with fast-penta they’ll find out his secrets soon enough, or he’ll break one of Miles’s bones every day until he talks.
Miles begins to wonder what this visit is about, since it’s not a proper interrogation, and realizes that Metzov, excluded by his lover Cavilo, is lonely and homesick. He tries to draw Metzov out, asking whether Cavilo’s changed his mind about female soldiers. Metzov is confident that he’ll be taking over Randall’s Rangers within a few months, and Cavilo won’t be a problem. After giving Miles one last chance to confess his plans, he leaves. Miles tries again to work out what’s going on in the Hegen Hub. If Vervain is planning something which involves a planetary invasion, are they going after Pol or Aslund? Aslund, as a cul-de-sac, isn’t that attractive, but attacking Pol will just drive them to ally with Barrayar. Miles concludes that he’s still missing something, and he wonders how well Gregor is doing against Cavilo, if he’s falling victim to her wiles.
Miles is left in the cell for another couple of days; in desperation he begins trying to make macrame letters out of loose threads to try to send out a message. In this endeavour he is interrupted by another visitor, this time Cavilo. She comments on how poorly he looks, and Miles says he needs a library viewer, or maybe an exercise period. She begins to ask Miles about his mother, touching mostly on the topic on how she came to marry Lord Aral Vorkosigan and become accepted by Barrayaran society. She concludes that despite Barrayar’s dislike for offworlders, Cordelia’s military background helped win her some respect.
Miles asks after Gregor, and Cavilo says he’s well, and amusing her. Miles hopes that he’s being fed better than Miles himself, and shows her the ration bar; she claims to be surprised and deplore such paltry rations, and offers him a more regular menu. Miles warns that she’s coming close to causing an incident between Vervain and Barrayar, but Cavilo claims she’s only keeping him safe from the secret police. Miles asks why he’s locked up, and Cavilo says that it’s to keep him safe from Metzov, rapidly using his usefulness, and his threats of bone-breaking. Realizing that means she’s heard Metzov’s earlier conversation, he asks if Metzov’s disloyalty is the problem, but she says the strategic situation is changing and he may no longer be necessary.
Returning the conversation to Gregor, Cavilo asks about the urgency of Gregor marrying and getting an heir, and Miles confirms the civil war that would result otherwise. He suddenly realizes that Cavilo is angling to marry Gregor and become Empress herself.
“Commander Cavilo, I don’t think you understand Barrayar. Or Barrayarans.” Actually, there’d been eras in Barrayaran history where Cavilo’s command style would have fit right in. Mad Emperor Yuri’s reign of terror, for example. But they’d spent the last twenty years trying to get away from all that.
“I need your cooperation,” Cavilo said. “Or at any rate, it could be very useful. To both of us. Your neutrality would be . . . tolerable. Your active opposition, however, would be a problem. For you. But we should avoid getting caught in negative attitude traps at this early stage, I think?”
Miles asks about the freighter captain’s family, and Cavilo claims that the Vervani had demanded their release, and she merely hadn’t wanted him to know she had no more hold over him, and that executing him herself was no different from ordering it done. Miles begins to understand Cavilo more, as a homicidal paranoid, just like good old Bothari. He starts trying to change his attitude, as if he was grudgingly being won over, but isn’t sure how he can protect Gregor from her. Trying to seduce her himself doesn’t seem like it would work.
She keeps her promise to change his rations, his next meal being delivered in five courses with two bottles of wine, and shortly thereafter he receives clean clothes, underwear and toiletries. He wonders about Cavilo’s background.
God, where had she come from? A mercenary veteran, she had to have been around for a while to have risen this far, even with shortcuts. Tung might know. I think she must have lost bad at least once. He wished Tung were here now. Hell, he wished Illyan were here now.
Her flamboyance, Miles increasingly felt, was an effective act, meant to be viewed at a distance like stage makeup, to dazzle her troops. At the right range, it might work rather well, like the popular Barrayaran general of his grandfather’s generation who’d gained visibility by carrying a plasma rifle like a swagger stick. Usually uncharged, Miles had heard privately—the man wasn’t stupid. Or a Vorish ensign who wore a certain antique dagger at every opportunity. A trademark, a banner. A calculated bit of mass psychology. Cavilo’s public persona pushed the envelope of that strategy, surely. Was she scared inside, knowing herself for overextended? You wish.
He wonders if Cavilo is actually winning Gregor over, or if he’s stringing her along with a story of a despised prospective bride. Or maybe there really is such a bride.
Cavilo returns with another soldier in tow, who identifies Miles as “Admiral Naismith”. Miles realizes he must have been another mercenary at Tau Verde, as he tells Cavilo that he should hire Naismith, he’s a military genius.
Cavilo reappeared after a moment, to stand in the aperture with her hands on her hips and her chin outthrust in exasperated disbelief. “How many people are you, anyway?”
Luckily, Metzov turns out to be a lot less effectual that one might fear. I guess the fact that he was exiled to Kyril Island should have been an indication. He can’t bring himself to actually give Cavilo the respect she deserves, assuming her a fallible woman who needs his help, and probably fancies her in love with him as well. His ambivalence about the Emperor shows that he hasn’t quite made up his mind about Barrayar yet, either. Cavilo, on the other hand, is all decisiveness, even at the risk of making the wrong decision. Perhaps her earlier loss that Miles theorizes were because of indecisiveness, either hers or someone else’s.
Again, reading these books in publication order would lead you to worry less about Miles getting injected with fast-penta, since his first, memorable experience is definitely in Brothers In Arms. And his first experience using it, of course, at least for real, was back in “Mountains of Mourning”. Breaking his bones as a threat…well, that might work eventually, but Miles is probably less scared of it than many people, having experienced it so many times.
We’ve been given little enough evidence of Gregor’s reliability that there is a reasonable doubt about how well he’ll do against Cavilo’s wiles. Unless, of course, you remember that Cordelia was the major mother-figure for most of his childhood. Even if Gregor is experimenting with rejecting Barrayar and its planned destiny for him, he must still remember his lessons from Cordelia, and considering her profound doubts about Barrayaran society, he’s probably drawing on them rather than reject them too. If he’s smart enough, that is.
Five chapters left in the book, which means that once again there’ll be a one-chapter week in there somewhere. I always feel like we should continue on into the Dendarii novellas after that, but instead we jump around in publication order again, first up several years to Cetaganda, and then, since I have committed myself to it, back several years to Ethan of Athos. In the reprint omnibuses, I guess that means I go on to Miles, Mutants and Mayhem. But first, three more weeks of The Vor Game, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, shall we? See you next week…