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Archive for March, 2012

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, as we enter a whole new era, by which I mean a new omnibus.  This one is, for some reason, called Miles, Mystery and Mayhem, and it looks like it contains Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos, and “Labyrinth”, only two of which actually have Miles in them, but I suppose they all have mystery and mayhem to a greater or lesser degree.  The first of them, Cetaganda, probably contains a fair bit more mystery than mayhem, depending on how you define them, of course.  It comes fairly late in publication order, later even than The Vor Game, and I think is the last one published that was out of chronological order–that is, the last one to come chronologically before any other already-published novels.  So she hasn’t done that in a while, but I suspect that, given the large gap before Cryoburn, we wouldn’t mind something filling that in at some point…

I am amused to note that at the beginning of Miles, Mystery and Mayhem electronic copy (I don’t have a paper copy to check, alas) there is a nice little wormhole map of Barrayar and some of its environs, including Komarr, Pol, The Hegen Hub, Vervain, Aslund…  Yes, that’s right, this is the map that actually should have been in The Vor Game, a.k.a. Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Omnibus.  Oops.  Anyway, that’s enough ado, so on I shall proceed to cover the events of the first two chapters of Cetaganda

Chapter One

Lieutenants Miles Vorkosigan and Ivan Vorpatril are in a small personnel pod being piloted from a Barrayaran courier vessel toward a station orbiting the Cetagandan homeworld, Eta Ceta IV.  Miles compares the many lights on the planet below to the comparative sparseness of population on Barrayar, as he compares Ivan’s stature and handsomeness  to his own stunted figure.

Barrayaran Imperial Security didn’t pay him to be pretty, thank God, they paid him to be smart. Still, the morbid thought did creep in that he had been sent along on this upcoming circus to stand next to Ivan and make him look good. ImpSec certainly hadn’t given him any more interesting missions, unless you could call Security Chief Illyan’s last curt “. . . and stay out of trouble!” a secret assignment.

On the other hand, maybe Ivan had been sent along to stand next to Miles and make him sound good. Miles brightened slightly at the thought.

They are there to attend the funeral of the haut-lady Dowager Empress, and they speculate idly whether her death was natural.  Miles points out that she was a generation older than his grandfather, after all, and if it were at all suspicious, likely Illyan would have kept them home.  And if the Emperor had died instead, then they’d be in some defensive outpost hoping the Cetagandan war of succession didn’t spill over.  As it is, they’re just there to pay their respects and report on the event for Illyan later.  All the haut-lord satrap governors are going to attend.

“If any two governors come, I suppose the rest have to show up, just to keep an eye on each other.” Ivan’s brows rose. “Should be quite a show. Ceremony as Art. Hell, the Cetagandans make blowing your nose an art. Just so they can sneer at you if you get the moves wrong. One-upmanship to the nth power.”

“It’s the one thing that convinces me that the Cetagandan haut-lords are still human, after all that genetic tinkering.”

Ivan grimaced. “Mutants on purpose are mutants still.” He glanced down at his cousin’s suddenly stiff form, cleared his throat, and tried to find something interesting to look at out the canopy.

“You’re so diplomatic, Ivan,” said Miles through a tight smile. “Try not to start a war single . . . mouthed, eh?”

The pod is piloted into their assigned docking station, and Ivan and Miles unbuckle and head for the airlock.  As it opens, a man hurtles inside, white-haired but with no facial hair.  As he reached for a pocket of his uniform vest, Miles shouts “Weapon!” and Ivan launches himself at the man.  The man pulls a nerve disrupter from his trouser pocket, but Ivan dislodges it, and it ricochets throughout the cabin before Miles snatches it.  Ivan gets him in an armlock, and Miles pulls the object out of his vest pocket, an odd wand somewhat like a shock stick.  The man cries out in dismay as Miles takes it, continuing to struggle.

The intruder shook off Ivan’s grip and recoiled to the hatchway. There came one of those odd pauses that sometimes occur in close combat, everyone gulping for breath in the rush of adrenaline. The old man stared at Miles with the rod in his fist; his expression altered from fright to—was that grimace a flash of triumph? Surely not. Demented inspiration?

The man ducks back through the airlock, and kicks Ivan back into the pod when he tries to follow.  By the time they emerge from the pod, he’s disappeared out of the docking bay.  Miles tells Ivan the man had a desperate look to him, even before he drew a weapon.  They look around and realize that nobody else is there, Barrayaran or Cetagandan, and wonder where their welcoming committee is.  Miles points out two surveillance cameras ripped from their moorings, so it looks like the man wasn’t any kind of official emissary.  They speculate on whether he wanted to pod for an escape, or if he was after Miles, and wonder where station security is.  Ivan notes that the man must have been in disguise, since the hair that came loose during the struggle has an obvious adhesive at one end, and Miles wonders if station security has cleared personnel out of the station to try to hunt down a fugitive.

The pilot tells them that flight control has stated quite forcefully that they are in the wrong dock, and orders them to leave the station and wait for instructions, even though he’s sure he docked at the coordinates he was given.  They reboard the pod and the pilot undocks.  He asks if he should report the incident to station security, and Miles tells him to wait until they ask, since it’s not their job to do the Cetagandans’ work for them.  Ivan is dubious, but Miles says the competency of Cetagandan station security is doubtless something Illyan would be interested in.  Miles examines the items they captured.  The nerve disrupter is civilian make, not military, high quality but not decorated, meant to be concealed.

The short rod was odder still. Embedded in its transparent casing was a violent glitter, looking decorative; Miles was sure microscopic examination would reveal fine dense circuitry. One end of the device was plain, the other covered with a seal which was itself locked in place.

“This looks like it’s meant to be inserted in something,” he said to Ivan, turning the rod in the light.

“Maybe it’s a dildo.” Ivan smirked.

Miles snorted. “With the ghem-lords, who can say? But no, I don’t think so.” The indented seal on the end-cap was in the shape of some clawed and dangerous-looking bird. Deep within the incised figure gleamed metallic lines, the circuit-connections. Somewhere somebody owned the mate, a raised screaming bird-pattern full of complex encodes which would release the cover, revealing . . . what? Another pattern of encodes? A key for a key . . . It was all extraordinarily elegant. Miles smiled in sheer fascination.

Ivan asks if he’s going to give it back, and Miles says he will if they ask for it, otherwise he’ll keep it as a souvenir.  Or give it to Illyan, whose cryptographers could probably spend a long time picking it apart.  To placate Ivan, Miles gives him the nerve disrupter.  They receive new docking instructions, and end up two rows up from their original dock.  They debark again, a little more hesitantly this time.  They are met by Lord Vorob’yev, the Barrayaran ambassador, with four Barrayaran guards, and two Cetagandan station officials.  Miles is taken aback by the lack of Cetagandan security he was expecting, and realizes they didn’t connect their pod to the fugitive below.

They give a coded diplomatic disk to Vorob’yev and declare their six pieces of luggage, but don’t mention their more recent acquisitions.  One of the Cetagandans takes their luggage off, no doubt to be searched, but Vorob’yev tells them not to worry, it will be returned, eventually.  Miles tells Vorob’yev their trip was uneventful, but comments that they were redirected to a different docking port at first, and Vorob’yev says this is just a particularly ornate runaround to put the Barrayarans in their place.  They go to Vorob’yev’s diplomatic shuttle, leaving their Cetagandan escort outside, and relax in Vorob’yev’s lounge with a glass of wine.

Miles debates on whether to tell Vorob’yev about the incident, as Ivan silently urges him, but he tries to consider possibilities.  The Cetagandans could be stringing them along waiting for them to incriminate themselves, or they may just not have caught up with the fugitive yet.  Their luggage arrives as they finish their wine, and as Vorob’yev goes to deal with it, Ivan asks Miles what he’s up to.  Miles isn’t sure, off-balance because the Cetagandans failed to respond as he thought they would.  He tells Ivan they should be reporting to Lord Vorreedi, who’s in charge of ImpSec at the embassy.  Miles doesn’t look forward to having this little mystery taken out of his hands, though.

Vorob’yev returns and tells them they are welcome that evening to attend a reception at the Marilacan Embassy, which he heartily recommends.  Ivan asks about clothing, and Vorob’yev recommends they stick to uniforms, which will help keep them from running afoul of the complex Cetagandan language of clothes.  The shuttle undocks from the station, and Miles concludes that the fugitive must have eluded the Cetagandans, and nobody else knows of their little prizes.

Miles kept his hand down, and did not touch the concealed lump in his tunic. Whatever the device was, that fellow knew Miles had it. And he could surely find out who Miles was. I have a string on you, now. If I let it play out, something must surely climb back up it to my hand, right? This could shape up into a nice little exercise in intelligence/counter-intelligence, better than maneuvers because it was real. No proctor with a list of answers lurked on the fringes recording all his mistakes for later analysis in excruciating detail. A practice-piece. At some stage of development an officer had to stop following orders and start generating them. And Miles wanted that promotion to ImpSec captain, oh yes. Might he somehow persuade Vorreedi to let him play with the puzzle despite his diplomatic duties?

Comments

I never remember Vorob’yev’s name, though now I wonder how I could forget it with its awkward (from the Anglophone standpoint) apostrophe in the middle.  Apologies to my friend Anna Korra’ti if she happens to be reading this, but I’ve never been sure about the usage of apostrophes in fantasy names, so I’m obscurely troubled when I find them in real-world names too.  I find it a little puzzling, since from what little I know of Russian, the apostrophe is often used to represent the glottalization of a consonant…but so is the “y”, so are they really both needed?  Not sure.  In any case, it’s awkward to type.

Earlier I think I mentioned Cetaganda as one of the “planet” books, but I guess that’s not strictly true.  Cetaganda isn’t a planet, it’s an empire, and each of the planets (as we see later) is Something Ceta, where Something tends to be a Greek letter.  Where this actually comes from is unclear, since it’s not an astronomical thing, or at least not an Earth-centered one.  The constellation of Cetus, the whale, is well known for the star Tau Ceti, among the nearest sunlike stars, but Tau Ceti appears on the Nexus map and is not part of Cetaganda; there’s a completely different Tau Ceta which is one of the Cetagandan worlds.  Anyway, it’s clear where the “Ceta” comes from, but what about the “ganda”?  It’s a mystery, I guess.

I can understand Ivan’s frustration with Miles’s refusal to offload the mystery onto their superiors, though it’s entirely in character for Miles not to want to.  Here he is on a completely non-Dendarii mission, which he doesn’t want to be just boring and diplomatic, and this thing drops right into his lap; of course he wants to explore it.  One can already see him burning through another superior or two, like ImpSec Captain Lord Vorreedi…

Reading chronologically, it’s almost a little frustrating to see Miles with no Dendarii.  First we see him in The Warrior’s Apprentice, at the end of which he’s forced to leave the Dendarii behind, and then in The Vor Game he is reunited with them and assigned as a liaison.  And now we have Cetaganda, where (spoiler alert) the Dendarii never appear.  Again, this was written chronologically out of order, as Bujold filled in a time gap, and explained some of the events in her (very early) novel Ethan of Athos, and by that point she’d already written several Dendarii stories.  She never really did a straight Dendarii novel, if there really was such a thing, and one presumes she was never really that interested in that kind of story, so there’s lots of gaps in the timeline.

Chapter Two

Miles dawdles about getting dressed for the reception, trying to figure out whether he should carry the rod with him or leave it in the room.  Ivan chides him for his slowness and says that maybe it’s a practical joke designed to drive Miles crazy.  Miles makes a quick sketch of the symbol on the end on a plastic flimsy and leaves the rod in his dresser, telling Ivan that since they don’t have a lead-lined box, it doesn’t really matter where they hide it.  Ivan says they have one in the embassy, but Miles says that since Vorreedi is out of town, trying to deal with some Barrayaran merchant ship impounded at a jump station, he’s reluctant to tell anyone else at the embassy about it.

Ivan once again tells Miles to finish getting ready.  Miles puts his leg braces on under his uniform trousers, lamenting the fact that he hasn’t had his bones replaced with plastic yet.  They join Vorob’yev in the foyer and head over to the Marilacan embassy, which he tells them is “neutral but non-secured territory”.  There won’t be any haut-lords there, but there may be some minor ghem-lords.  Vorob’yev notes that Marilac has been accepting much “aid” from Cetaganda, thinking that that will keep them safe.

“The Marilacans aren’t paying sufficient attention to their own wormhole nexus maps,” Vorob’yev went on. “They imagine they are at a natural border. But if Marilac were directly held by Cetaganda, the next jump would bring them to Zoave Twilight, with all its cross-routes, and a whole new region for Cetagandan expansion. Marilac is in exactly the same relationship to the Zoave Twilight crossings as Vervain is to the Hegen Hub, and we all know what happened there.” Vorob’yev’s lips twisted in irony. “But Marilac has no interested neighbor to mount a rescue as your father did for Vervain, Lord Vorkosigan. And provocative incidents can be manufactured so easily.”

Miles is worried briefly that Vorob’yev is alluding to Miles’s own experiences in the Hegen Hub, but concludes that he has no way of knowing of Miles’s involvement.  They discuss the way that the ghem-generals are subdued by the failure in Vervain, and Ghem-General Estanis having committed suicide, even though he may have some help along the way.

“Thirty-two stab wounds in the back, worst case of suicide they ever saw?” murmured Ivan, clearly fascinated by the gossip.

“Exactly, my lord.” Vorob’yev’s eyes narrowed in dry amusement. “But the ghem-commanders’ loose and shifting relationship to the assorted secret haut-lord factions lends an unusual degree of deniability to their operations. The Vervain invasion is now officially described as an unauthorized misadventure. The erring officers have been corrected, thank you.”

“What do they call the Cetagandan invasion of Barrayar in my grandfather’s time?” Miles asked. “A reconnaissance in force?”

Vorob’yev tells them that ImpSec has been informed of his suspicions about Marilac, but so far it’s just a theory.  He asks them to keep an ear open for interesting gossip and information, and relay it to Vorreedi when he returns, while trying to not to give away too much in return.  Their car drives into the Marilacan embassy’s garage and into a foyer, then the lobby where the reception is taking place.

The center of the lobby was occupied by a large multi-media sculpture, real, not a projection. Trickling water cascaded down a fountain reminiscent of a little mountain, complete with impressionistic mountain-paths one could actually walk upon. Colored flakes swirled in the air around the mini-maze, making delicate tunnels. From their green color Miles guessed they were meant to represent Earth tree leaves even before he drew close enough to make out the realistic details of their shapes. The colors slowly began to change, from twenty different greens to brilliant yellows, golds, reds and black-reds. As they swirled they almost seemed to form fleeting patterns, like human faces and bodies, to a background of tinkling like wind chimes. So was it meant to be faces and music, or was it just tricking his brain into projecting meaningful patterns onto randomness? The subtle uncertainty attracted him.

The Marilacan ambassador, Bernaux, tells them that the sculpture, called ‘Autumn Leaves’, is a gift from a local ghem-lord.  After being introduced to Bernaux, they are set loose to mingle, though Miles wishes he could listen in on Vorob’yev and Bernaux’s conversation.  Miles and Ivan separate, and Miles watches ‘Autumn Leaves’ cycle through to a cold, bleak winter.  He doesn’t see any hairless faces that could be their mysterious fugitive, but he watches as Ivan quickly corrals himself a ghem-lady.  Miles considers the difference between himself and Ivan, how Ivan can bounce back from rejections until he finds an acceptance, while Miles takes them personally and spends his time brooding instead.

Ivan, Miles and the ghem-lady are soon joined by a ghem-lord who is introduced as Yenaro, who turns out to be the sculptor who created ‘Autumn Leaves’.  The ghem-lady, Gelle, introduces the Barrayarans to Yenaro, who tells Miles that they have a connection–his grandfather as the ghem-general who commanded the Barrayaran invasion (not “reconaissance”) that Miles’s grandfather Piotr repulsed.  Miles points out that General Yenaro was only the last of the five commanders, and received more than his due share of blame as a result.

Gelle asks Yenaro about the “banal” sculpture in the lobby, which Yenaro says is only a practice piece, but the Marilacans are happy enough with it.  He prefers to create scents, himself, putting down Gelle’s own scent in the process.  He also tells her how Ivan is a biological body-birth, which Gelle apparently finds faintly off-putting, deploring Yenaro’s obnoxiousness and taking her leave.

Yenaro tells them that they should experience the sculpture from the inside.  Miles agrees, but is then called over by Vorob’yev, though he promises to return.  Vorob’yev introduces him to an attractive, slightly older woman named Mia Maz, from the Vervani Embassy.  Maz specializes in women’s etiquette, and has apparently been trying for some time to convince Vorob’yev that he needs a women’s expert as well.  Vorob’yev protests that he hasn’t one with the experience, and Miles suggests that Maz could take on an apprentice.  Vorob’yev excuses himself, and Maz expresses her gratitude to Miles for his father’s help against the Cetagandan invasion attempt.

Miles asks Maz if the ghem-ladies are really that different, and Maz insists they are, though she admits the Barrayarans have more in common with the ghem-lords than many other cultures do.  The haut-lords and ladies, on the other hand, are entirely different, each sex with its own area of power and control, though mysterious to outsiders.  Miles takes a chance and shows her the sketch of the bird-logo from the rod, asking her if she recognizes it.  Maz says that it looks like a personal seal, rather than a family, but it lacks the decorative cartouches which have been in vogue for three generations so it must be an old one.

Ivan reappears with Yenaro, turning his charms on Mia Maz, and insisting that Miles take a turn passing through the sculpture as Ivan has just done.  Miles reluctantly takes leave of Maz and lets Yenaro escort him inside.  Miles asks for technical details, and Yenaro says that the floating flakes are driven by magnetism, not gravity, but it emerges that it was really put together by technicians, with Yenaro as the designer.  Yenaro and Miles get into a discussion on whether design is sufficient, or if physical work is equally of value, and Yenaro invites Miles to a private gathering at his home two nights hence, which Miles decides to accept.

They enter the sculpture, and Miles is interested enough until he realizes that he can feel burning sensation in his legs–something about the magnetism is heating up his leg braces, and he frantically peels them off, leaving burns on his legs and hands.  Yenaro calls for help, and Miles finds he’s drawn the attention of most of the attendees.  Miles concludes that the magnetic fields used by the sculpture had a bad effect on the metal of the braces, like shoving them in a microwave.

Bernaux asks if he wants to go visit the embassy infirmary, but Miles says he’d rather go home.  Yenaro, distraught, insists that the sculpture be destroyed, though Bernaux temporizes that they may settle for just doing a thorough safety check.  Ivan and Vorob’yev escort Miles to the Barrayaran groundcar and head back to their embassy.  They discuss whether this was more than an accident–the field would have been harmless to anyone not wearing a lot of metal, but it seems like it would have taken too much lead time.  Their departure had been scheduled two weeks ago, the reception invitation came three days ago, and the sculpture had only been installed the day before.

Vorob’yev thought it over. “I think I must agree with you, Lord Vorpatril. Shall we put it down as an unfortunate accident, then?”

“Provisionally,” said Miles. That was no accident. I was set up. Me, personally. You know there’s a war on when the opening salvo arrives.

Except that, usually, one knew why a war had been declared. It was all very well to swear not to be blindsided again, but who was the enemy here?

Lord Yenaro, I bet you throw a fascinating party. I wouldn’t miss it for worlds.

Comments

Second bizarre incident, check.  No suspicious deaths, yet–the Dowager Empress’s doesn’t count, I don’t think–but definitely a mystery looming.  We have nowhere near enough information about anything yet, but what’s going on is definitely very Cetagandan, if nothing else.  Or “Byzantine”, if you prefer.  I don’t recall yet if Cetaganda is really a hotbed of intrigue, but I suspect that it is, with haut-lords plotting and ghem-lords carrying out their schemes, or something like that.

One thing I don’t recall us ever seeing is regular, everyday Cetagandans.  We see the lords and ladies, and a few police-types, but what about the Cetagandan civilians?  Are they oppressed, or fairly free?  The fact that they still live in a monarchy implies something closer to the former, since the Cetagandans seem a little more paranoid, if more technologically sophisticated, than Barrayarans.  Or are there any civilians?  Is everyone either ghem or haut?  I suspect not–after all, we see a lot of Barrayaran Lords, but there are still regular people out there too, in the cities as well as the backwoods.

More than a few references to past Cetagandan adventures–Mia Maz and her thanks from Vervain–and future ones, with Vorob’yev’s discussion of Marilac’s relationship with the Cetagandans.  From books already published, by this point, so this is more backfilling, like the links to Ethan of Athos I mentioned earlier (though they don’t come up until much later).

Yenaro is so obviously a rebellious youngster, like a teenager, emotionally, an artist working with scents as a way of annoying his no-doubt militaristic ghem-lord father.  This is probably why we haven’t had nearly as much trouble with the Cetagandans in a while, if the up-and-coming generation are this kind of “retro-avant” spoiled dilettantes.


So, two chapters in, we can see that Cetaganda is shaping up to be a mystery, of a sort, though what kind is not quite clear.  We have an implicit promise from the author that things will be explained if we read to the end, though, so please join me next week as I continue to do so.

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Right!  So, the Vorkosigan Saga, written by Lois McMaster Bujold, is what I’m summarizing here, with comments of course, and this week I’m finishing off The Vor Game, which is of course one of the books in the series, the fourth chronologically, if you don’t count that one novella, or the much-earlier book I’m not doing, and of course ignoring publication order, so this week I’m doing Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen, because I normally do two chapters but I only did one last week.  Any questions?  No?  Then let’s get on with it, shall we?

Chapter Sixteen

When Cavilo’s shuttle docks with the Ariel, they find only a deserted chamber closed off with blast doors at each end (and Miles watching through vid link).  Cavilo and an escort of Rangers emerge in space armour, and an unarmoured Gregor.  Cavilo, helmet off, asks “What’s the trick?”, at which point Miles blows the docking clamps.  Her shuttle’s boarding tube tears away, and the airlock shuts automatically.  Miles notes that the shuttle is tumbling through space, damaged by the blast.  He tells Bel Thorne to keep an eye on it just in case.

Cavilo has put her helmet back on, and her Rangers are forming up defensively, but there’s still nothing to see.  Miles puts on his own helmet and examines his own half-dozen space-armoured troops, and his plasma cannon, fully capable of blowing away someone in space armour, as well as the hull of the ship.  He signals Elena to open the blast doors between Cavilo’s group and the cannon, then issues an ultimatum.

“Cavilo!” he shouted. “Deactivate your weapons and freeze, or I’ll blow Gregor to atoms!”

Body language was a wonderful thing. It was amazing, how much expression could come through the blank shining surface of space armor. The littlest armored figure stood openhanded, stunned. Bereft of words; bereft, for precious seconds, of reactions. Because, of course, Miles had just stolen her opening line. Now what do you have to say for yourself, love? It was a desperate ploy. Miles had judged the hostage-problem logically insoluble; therefore, clearly the only thing to do was make it Cavilo’s problem instead of his own.

Cavilo hisses to Gregor that he’d said Miles was safe.  Gregor says that he’ll prove Miles is bluffing, and just walks right up to the tip of the plasma cannon.  Miles is almost lost in admiration before he remembers to shut the blast doors again, this time with Gregor on his side.  Miles is relieved that Gregor picked up his cue, and in an inspired fashion, though he admits he had a few backup plans as well.  He orders Elena to mop up the Rangers, and they arm their weapons (none of them, even the cannon, had actually been charged).

As they move up to the tactics room, Miles admits to Gregor that he’d been worried about whether he’d actually been taken in by Cavilo.  Gregor says that she reminded him too much of Count Vordrozda.  Miles asks Gregor if he’d realized that he could have just had Cavilo “rescue” him all the way to Barrayar, and Gregor says all that would have taken was a complete lack of personal honour.  Gregor says he would have had her killed, if she’d killed Miles, and yet, he wished she had been for real.

Miles briefs Gregor on the tactical situation, spotlighting their shortage of information on the Cetagandans, after Elena secures the boarders.  He asks Gregor to choose–to go home on board the Ariel, or to stay for the battle, even to command.  Or, as a more realistic option, Gregor can decree the Dendarii to be real Barrayaran forces, and negotiate a treaty with Vervain.  Gregor asks if there’s a way he can actually serve in the combat.

“If—in your judgment—the best and most vital service you can give everyone else risking their lives here is as a minor field officer, I will of course support you to the best of my ability,” said Miles bleakly.

“Ouch,” murmured Gregor. “You can turn a phrase like a knife, you know?” He paused. “Treaties, eh?”

“If you would be so kind, sire.”

Miles wonders how they can deal with Randall’s Rangers, now doubtless in disarray.  Gregor mentions that Cavilo had implied that the Dendarii were part of her forces, and she had been going to confer with them.  Miles wonders if they can take advantage of that somehow; he also points out to Gregor how he himself had single-handedly sabotaged the Cetagandan invasion.  He orders Cavilo brought in so they can try to nail down the Rangers somehow.

Cavilo rolled her short-cropped blond head in futile resistance, the limit of physically possible motion. She glared furiously at Gregor as the soldiers exited. “You snake,” she snarled. “You bastard.”

Gregor sat with his elbows on the conference table, chin resting in his hands. He raised his head to say tiredly, “Commander Cavilo, both my parents died violently in political intrigue before I was six years old. A fact you might have researched. Did you think you were dealing with an amateur?”

“You were out of your league from the beginning, Cavilo,” said Miles, walking slowly around her as if inspecting his prize. Her head turned to follow him, then had to swivel to pick up his orbit on the other side. “You should have stuck to your original contract. Or your second plan. Or your third. You should, in fact, have stuck to something. Anything. Your total self-interest didn’t make you strong, it made you a rag in the wind, anybody’s to pick up. Now, Gregor—though not I—thinks you should be given a chance to earn your worthless life.”

Cavilo says that Miles doesn’t have the guts to kill her; Miles agrees and says he was planning to give her to the Cetagandans instead, at which she pales.  Gregor offers her safe passage out of the Hegen Hub after the battle if she cooperates, by yielding up command of her forces, probably to a Vervani liaison.  Cavilo acquiesces with bad grace, telling Miles that she hopes to be there when his “loyalties” turn around to bite him.  After she leaves, Miles is dismayed when Gregor and Elena admit he and Cavilo are somewhat similar, at least in stature and twistiness of plotting, and Miles hopes he never sinks to her level.

Back on the Triumph, Miles is briefing Gregor on the upcoming negotations, quite needlessly, mostly because he feels the urge to babble.  Chodak brings the “prisoners”, Ungari and Overholt, into the room, only leaving Miles and Gregor alone with them reluctantly.  Ungari begins threatening Miles’s health and career before noticing Gregor.

“My apologies, Captain,” said Miles, “for my high-handed treatment of you and Sergeant Overholt, but I judged my plan for retrieving Gregor too, uh, delicate for, for . . .” your nerves, “I thought I’d better take personal responsibility.” You were happier not watching, really. And I was happier not having my elbow jogged.

“Ensigns don’t have personal responsibility for operations of this magnitude, their commanders do,” Ungari snarled. “As Simon Illyan would have been the first to point out to me if your plan—however delicate—had failed. . . .”

“Well, then, congratulations, sir; you have just rescued the emperor,” snapped Miles. “Who, as your commander-in-chief, has a few orders for you, if you will permit him to get a word in edgewise.”

Gregor appoints Ungari and Overholt as his ImpSec escort, and tells them to share any information they have with the Dendarii, since he has officially designated them as Imperial forces.  Miles assigns the Ariel and a fast courier to Gregor, still thinking of his escape route, giving him an intelligence report and asking him to be sure that the surviving Dendarii get paid, if nothing else.  Ungari protests Gregor’s destination of Vervain Station, but Gregor says there are more urgent issues right now; to forestall Ungari’s further protests about Miles’s duties, he appoints Miles official Dendarii liaison.  Overholt becomes Gregor’s interim batman and bodyguard, and when he protests that he’s not trained for it, Miles says that none of them are.

Miles waits in Triumph‘s tactical room as the Dendarii prepare to jump into the Vervain system.  A scout returns to announce they have some clear space, and the ships begin jumping at thirty-second intervals, pushing safety margins.  Miles examines the tactical display, with some minutes-out-of-date information from the other side of the wormhole, and then it is Triumph‘s turn to jump.  The Cetagandans have taken the far Vervain wormhole, but are still being held off from the Vervani battle station on the other side.  Unfortunately, a lot of the Vervani fleet is guarding the planet itself, which the Cetagandans are bypassing entirely.

Failing subterfuge and maneuvering to both sides, the best way to take a wormhole is with a “sun wall” of massed nuclear weapons, which was part of how the Cetagandans had taken the other wormhole.  The arrival of the Dendarii has forced the Cetagandans to reconsider what they had thought would be a final assault on the Vervani station, especially with the implication of further reinforcements.  Ky Tung tells Miles that even that won’t get them to abandon the attack entirely, since they have too much face to lose by giving up now.  The Dendarii and Cetagandans begin maneuvering, each trying to gang up on ships and overload their plasma mirrors, or get close enough to use an imploder lance.

In the tac room, they receive a message that Oser has escaped from the brig and freed the rest of the prisoners as well.  Miles contacts Auson to ensure that the tac room and bridge are both well protected.  Eventually a cargo shuttle launches, apparently with some of the prisoners on it; Miles orders them not to fire on it.  He tries to page Oser, who seems to be heading for the Peregrine, but Oser refuses to open contact.  As it nears its destination, though, a Cetagandan ship picks it off.  The Cetagandans finish their attack pass, slightly the worse for wear, but the Dendarii ships are badly battered.  It takes hours for them to form up again, and reinforcements are still arriving from across the system.

As the Cetagandans begin their next attack run, one of the jumpscouts suddenly announces that help is coming, and they need to keep the wormhole clear.  With some difficulty, Tung complies, and even he is startled at the first ship that comes through, which Miles recognizes as the Prince Serg, the first of the promised Barrayaran reinforcements.  The Cetagandans soon discover at the Prince Serg‘s imploder lances are longer range than theirs, even as more ships, including Polians and Aslunders, enter the system as well.  Tung almost faints with hero-worship when the Prince Serg announces the presence of Aral Vorkosigan, and orders the Cetagandans to surrender; Miles promises that he’ll introduce Tung to Aral later.

The Cetagandans break and retreat, and even the Vervani in orbit break off from planetary defense to help mop them up.  At some point Miles realizes that their part in the battle is over.

Comments

The first time I read this, I remember when the Prince Serg showed up I was like, “Yes!”  Crowning Moment of Awesome.  Though, let’s face it, Miles doesn’t have a lot to do with that.  He obviously wasn’t on the Prince Serg, since he screwed his chances for that on Kyril Island when he stood up to Metzov.  It was surely Ungari or someone else from ImpSec who passed the word on Gregor’s location back to Barrayar in the first place, and given the timing of the cavalry’s arrival, they must have been on their way to the Hegen Hub a while ago, probably long before Miles found out about the Cetagandan invasion.  All that Miles did, really, was help the Vervani hold the wormhole long enough to keep the Cetagandans at bay.  Which is nothing to sneeze at, but it wouldn’t have been enough if the Prince Serg hadn’t arrived.  So, on further thought…it’s a little unsatisfying.

Gregor has a good Moment of Awesome as he walks up to Miles’s cannon, playing his part consummately and helping turn the tables on Cavilo.  I like the bit where Miles threatens Gregor’s life, stealing Cavilo’s line and throwing the hostage situation back on her.  I mean, honestly, how convincing would it have been for her to threaten Gregor at that point?  Could she still have fallen back on the Cetaganda plan?  I suppose she hadn’t quite run away yet, and Randall’s Rangers were still cooperating…  It’s also quite a relief to see that Gregor has learned from the lessons of Vordrozda and other toadies, and can overcome his self-doubt enough to at least see through Cavilo’s facade.

For some reason, when I remember the bit with Oser’s escape, I always used to remember Auson being on the shuttle and getting blown up too.  But I guess if he was actually in command of the Triumph, he wouldn’t have fled with Oser–if he was still on Oser’s side, he would have helped Oser take over the ship or something.  Auson still filed with Oser as “annoying Oserans”, I guess, since I never forgave him for his assholery in The Warrior’s Apprentice.  And we never, ever see him in the series ever again after this book, at least as far as I can remember (and bolstered by The Vorkosigan Companion), so he might as well be dead.  He certainly never became a friend of Miles’s, and was never invited to his wedding or into his inner circle.  Maybe he just quietly mustered out between books or something.

At least Gregor makes it possible to deal with Ungari and Overholt successfully.  At least they’re rational enough to obey their Emperor, rather than just trying to swaddle him in bubble-wrap and stick him in a closet.  Of course, they must have realized that Miles still had the upper hand, but, like Aral later, they were convinced that Gregor was actually in command and not just a figurehead to be protected.

I still find the whole “naming things after Prince Serg” a little disturbing.  Since only a scant few people know his real nature, it’s natural that he should have become some kind of a war hero, but naming first a planet, and then the first of the new generation of warships, after him may be going over the top.  I imagine that Miles and Gregor, and maybe Aral and Illyan too, must find heaploads of irony in “Serg” being Gregor’s salvation.

Chapter Seventeen

Miles checks on the escaped prisoners and finds that still unaccounted for are Oser, the Peregrine‘s captain and two other loyal Oserans, as well as Metzov and Cavilo.  Miles thinks that Oser, at least, was on the shuttle, and maybe all of them were.  On his way back to his cabin with an escort, he encounters a group of wounded being transported to sickbay, transferred from other ships since the Triumph had been behind the front lines, and follows them to provide what morale-boosting he can, until exhaustion takes over and he heads back to his cabin.

He hit the code-lock on Oser’s cabin. Now that he’d inherited it, he supposed he ought to change the numbers. He sighed and entered. As he stepped inside he became conscious of two unfortunate facts. First, although he had dismissed his commando guard upon entering sickbay, he had forgotten to call him back, and second, he was not alone. The door closed behind him before he could recoil into the corridor, and he banged into it backing up.

The dusky red hue of General Metzov’s face was even more arresting to the eye than the silver gleam of the nerve disrupter parabola in his hand, aim centered on Miles’s head.

Metzov and Cavilo have both acquired some ill-fitting Dendarii uniforms; Miles notices Cavilo has bruises on her neck and looks to be in an odd mood.  Metzov drops the nerve disrupter and grabs Miles around the neck, pushing him against the wall and beginning to choke him as Miles struggles feebly.

Cavilo slipped forward, crouching, soundless and unnoticed as a cat, to take up the dropped nerve disrupter, then step back, around to Miles’s left.

“Stanis, darling,” she cooed. Metzov, obsessed with Miles’s lingering strangulation, did not turn his head. Cavilo, clearly imitating Metzov’s cadences, recited, ” ‘Open your legs to me, you bitch, or I’ll blow your brains out.’ ”

Metzov’s head twisted round then, his eyes widening. She blew his brains out. The crackling blue bolt hit him square between the eyes. He almost snapped Miles’s neck, plastic-reinforced though those bones were, in his last convulsion, before he dropped to the deck. The blistering electrochemical smell of nerve-disruptor death slapped Miles in the face.

Miles watches Cavilo, wondering what had happened in the cabin while they’d been waiting for him.  Eventually Miles asks if she’s going to kill him too.  Cavilo says she’d rather survive to see her revenge play out, and she believes that Miles will still keep his word about letting her go free.

After a few moments, coming up on the time they might expect the reinforcements to storm in, she strolled over to his side. “I underestimated you, you know.”

“I never underestimated you.”

“I know. I’m not used to that . . . thank you.” Contemptuously, she tossed the nerve disruptor onto Metzov’s body. Then, with a sudden baring of her teeth, she wheeled, wrapped an arm around Miles’s neck, and kissed him vigorously. Her timing was perfect; Security, Elena and Sergeant Chodak in the lead, burst through the door just before Miles managed to fight her off.

Miles boards the Prince Serg in his Dendarii uniform, in his Admiral Naismith role, along with Tung, Elena and Chodak.  The Executive Officer, Commander Natochini, is there to give a delighted Tung a your of the ship, while Miles and Elena are escorted to meet with Admiral Vorkosigan, and Tung will join them all for lunch after the tour.  Lieutenant Yegorov, escorting them, asks Elena if she is Barrayaran, and she tells him briefly that her father was a Vorkosigan Armsman.  Yegorov isn’t quite as sure about Miles, in his Betan persona, and delicately encourages him to be more “formal” with the Count.

Miles notices how squeaky clean the Prince Serg is, in contrast to the somewhat battered Triumph, and then notices that there is some repair work going on–which turns out to be actual construction work not yet finished when they took the ship out of Barrayaran orbit.  He thinks that if it hadn’t been for Metzov, he could’ve been working on the ship himself.

Yegorov brings them into Aral’s office, where he and Miles have a heartfelt reunion.  Yegorov is taken aback, but is escorted out by Aral’s armsman Jole.  Aral then greets Elena warmly and conveys Cordelia’s good wishes as well, as well as the reminder: “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  After a pause, Miles asks about the ceasefire; Aral says that the Cetagandans have withdrawn, except for the ships that were too badly damaged, and regular commercial traffic should resume within days.  Things are returning to the status quo, though Aral points out that several Cetagandan senior officers are being recalled to make “apologies” to their Emperor.

Aral explains that Simon Illyan would have been there, but he and Aral couldn’t both go offplanet at the same time.  The Emperor’s absence was covered up by a young lookalike who was only too happy to help cover up Gregor’s “secret mission”, though he’s spent a lot of time absent from the capital.  It’ll be up to Gregor to explain it in the end, he expects.  Aral had taken the Prince Sergon a diplomatic mission to Pol, where they spent some time trying to negotiate passage into the Hub, and were still in orbit when they heard about the Cetagandans invading Vervain.  Gregor gets all the credit for persuading the Aslunders to join in, and the Vervani are quite taken with him.  They are working on a permanent treaty now between Barrayar, Pol, Aslund and Vervain, and Gregor is doing quite well at it.

“It . . . astonished me, that you permitted him to jump with you into the fire zone. I hadn’t expected that.”

“Well, when you came down to it, the Prince Serg’s fleet tac room had to have been among the most tightly defended few cubic meters anywhere in Vervain local space. It was, it was . . .”

Miles watched with fascination as his father tried to spit out the words perfectly safe, and gagged on them instead. Light dawned. “It wasn’t your idea, was it? Gregor ordered himself aboard!”

Aral admits that he wanted to forbid it, but he realized the time had come to stop guarding Gregor and start obeying him.  Miles asks about Ungari, and Aral says he’s not best pleased with Miles.  Miles says he did what needed to be done, and Aral says he’s begun to realize that Miles doesn’t belong in the regular Service, like “a tesseract…in a round hole”.  Elena says that, like Metzov, he could become a mercenary.  Aral says that he’d tracked down Ahn and gotten the rest of the story about Metzov on Komarr–Metzov had killed a Barrayaran guard who objected to his torture of the Komarran prisoner, then fabricated an escape to cover it up, killing the Komarran in the process.  Ahn was almost relieved to be finally interrogated about it after Metzov disappeared.  Aral almost wishes they’d taken Metzov alive to execute as a show of goodwill to Komarr.

Miles brings up the matter of payment to the Dendarii, and Aral says that while ImpSec’s budget wouldn’t cover it, a “friend in a high place” will make sure that it gets covered, by a special appropriations bill in the Council.  He tells Miles to submit a bill, and Miles whips out a data disk he already had ready; Aral is impressed, and says he’ll have a credit chit before they leave.  Elena asks what the Dendarii are supposed to do now, if they’re going to be abandoned again, after supposedly being made an Imperial fleet.  Aral says they can’t stay so near Barrayar, but their fate is still under discussion.  As they go to lunch, Miles reminds Aral that Ky Tung still thinks of him as Admiral Naismith, and Aral admits that Illyan and Ungari won’t want to waste such a potentially useful cover.

“I should warn you, Admiral Naismith is not very deferential.”

Elena and Count Vorkosigan looked at each other, and both broke into laughter. Miles waited, wrapped in what dignity he could muster, till they subsided. Finally.

Admiral Naismith was painfully polite during lunch. Even Lieutenant Yegorov could have found no fault.

Later, Miles picks up another credit chit, this time from the Vervani, who are happy enough to pay off the forces that kept the wormhole defence from crumbling entirely before the “Hegen Alliance” forces could arrive.  He then heads for a medal ceremony, where Cavilo is also in attendance with her unsympathetic “honour guard” of Barrayaran female auxiliaries.  She is wearing the perfume that so bothered Miles before, but he makes a show of putting in some highly effective nasal filters to defuse her ploy.  He reminds her to get clear of Vervain as soon as she can, before the Cetagandans spill the beans on her involvement; he also tells her that the Dendarii have managed to get paid in full by the Barrayarans, Vervani and Aslunders for their efforts.  Cavilo is furious, and warns Miles that they better not ever meet again, but she still has the gall to accept a medal on behalf of Randall’s Rangers.

Weeks later, after Miles has returned to Barrayar for home leave, he is invited to lunch with Gregor.  Miles compares the sumptuous food with the horrible rations he and Gregor had endured in the Hegen Hub, and Gregor says he hadn’t realized how boring space stations were compared with the natural beauty of Barrayar.  Gregor and Miles compare experiences, and Gregor is cheered to hear that Miles never gave any orders in the battle himself.  Gregor talks about how easy it is, in the computer displays, to forget the deaths and injuries are happening to real people.

Miles asks Gregor if he told Illyan the truth about going over the balcony on Komarr, and Gregor admits he only said he was drunk.  Miles tells Gregor to talk to someone about it, and recommends his mother, who will “put Gregor the man before Gregor the emperor”.  Gregor says he is feeling somewhat better, though he didn’t volunteer for any of this.  He says that he wonders when his genes, Mad Yuri’s or Prince Serg’s, will start to drive him mad as well, and Miles realizes that he’s found out about his father.  He asks, and Gregor confirms that he found out, while he was on Komarr.  Miles says that Cordelia will tell him the whole truth about that if he asks as well.

“I’m afraid of power . . .” Gregor’s voice went low, contemplative.

“You aren’t afraid of power, you’re afraid of hurting people. If you wield that power,” Miles deduced suddenly.

“Huh. Close guess.”

“Not dead-on?”

“I’m afraid I might enjoy it. The hurting. Like him.”

Miles reminds Gregor how he always hated going hunting with Count Piotr.  Gregor wonders how many horrible things he could have stopped if he’d strangled Cavilo in her sleep.

“If I’d strangled her while she slept—which I had a chance to do—none of those horrors would have come to pass.”

“If none of those horrors had come to pass, she wouldn’t have deserved to be strangled. Some kind of time-travel paradox, I’m afraid. The arrow of justice flies one way. Only. You can’t regret not strangling her first. Though I suppose you can regret not strangling her after. . . .”

“No . . . no . . . I’ll leave that to the Cetagandans, if they can catch her now that she has her head start.”

“Gregor, I’m sorry, but I just don’t think Mad Emperor Gregor is in the cards. It’s your advisors who are going to go crazy.”

Gregor stared at the pastry tray, and sighed. “I suppose it would disturb the guards if I tried to shove a cream torte up your nose.”

“Deeply. You should have done it when we were eight and twelve; you could have gotten away with it then. The cream pie of justice flies one way,” Miles snickered.

After a sophomoric verbal food fight, Miles reminds Gregor that he’s actually good at his job, and he should keep at it.  He adds that he has a meeting with Simon Illyan that afternoon, and notes that as an Ensign he can’t be demoted any further.  Gregor says it might not be that bad; he might get promoted, and after all, Kyril Island needs a new base commander…

At ImpSec HQ, Miles notes the door guards are part of the crew he’d supervised a few months earlier.  He’s left to make his own way to Illyan’s office, trusted without an escort.  Illyan tells him that he still seems to have a problem with subordination, and Miles says he can’t help it if people keep giving him the wrong orders.  He says that he did a survey of the Hegen Hub, he found the destabilizing elements, and he even got the Dendarii to leave.  He rescued Gregor, which he wasn’t ordered to do, but he assumed Illyan would have wanted.

“As I recall,” said Illyan (and Illyan’s memory was eidetic, thanks to an Illyrican bio-chip) “I gave those orders to Captain Ungari. I gave you just one order. Can you remember what it was?” This inquiry was in the same encouraging tone one might use on a six-year-old just learning to tie his shoes. Trying to out-irony Illyan was as dangerous as trying to out-bland him.

“Obey Captain Ungari’s orders,” Miles recalled reluctantly.

Illyan says that Ungari’s career came close to being ruined, and Miles says that sometimes he needed to be Lord Vorkosigan, or Admiral Naismith, rather than Ensign Vorkosigan.  He asks Miles what superior officer’s career he should ruin next, and Miles suggests Illyan himself.  Illyan says that it’s already been suggested, that they might make a virtue of necessity…  He is interrupted then by the arrival of Gregor.

“Did you tell him about the Dendarii yet?” Gregor asked Illyan.

“I was working around to it,” said Illyan.

He tells an eager Miles that they’ve decided to keep the Dendarii on permanent retainer, with Admiral Miles Naismith as a liaison.  Gregor says that they’ve proven their worth as a force that can go places where Barryaran forces cannot; Illyan silently mourns the expense to his budget.  Gregor adds that they’ll try to find opportunities to use the Dendarii actively when possible; Illyan says more likely as espionage than covert ops.  He says that Miles will operate independently, which at least will keep him out of Illyan’s hair; Gregor adds that he’s working to get rid of Illyan’s prejudice against youth.

“Aral and I have labored twenty years to put ourselves out of work. We may live long enough to retire after all.” He paused. “That’s called ‘success’ in my business, boys. I wouldn’t object.” And under his breath “. . . get this hellish chip taken out of my head at last. . . .”

Prompted by Gregor, Illyan tosses Miles some lieutenant’s collar tabs and congratulates him gruffly on his promotion; Miles switches tabs on the spot.  Illyan promises him nothing he doesn’t earn, including reprimands, and Miles says he looks forward to it.

Comments

Just when you think everything is wrapped up neatly, with Metzov and Cavilo disintegrated anticlimactically by the Cetagandans, there they are, in Miles’s cabin, threatening his life…but Metzov makes his final, fatal miscalculation of Cavilo, and then she doesn’t follow through on it.  It’s probably a cold calculation of her chances of escaping the Triumph on her own, showing that she’s not as cartoony a villain as Metzov.

Miles thinking about how he could have been on the Prince Serg himself make me wonder how that alternate timeline would have played out.  Gregor would have been alone in the Hegen Hub, drafted into working on the Aslund military station.  Ungari would have been there, possibly with some other ImpSec subordinate; how long would it have taken for him to find Gregor?  Of course, nobody would have stopped Cavilo’s Cetagandan plot, and she would have been unlikely to meet up with Gregor to alter it, so by the time Ungari had found Gregor, the escape route through Pol might have been closed, and Komarr would have been seriously threatened…though there still would have been the Prince Serg to fight it.  They’d have still gone to Pol to try to get through to the Hub to find Gregor, but the Cetagandans might have had more momentum by this time, and no Vervani or Aslunders to help out the Barrayarans.  If Gregor got out of it at all, he’d probably start thinking of himself as a screwup; the Oserans would either have gotten trapped between Aslund and the Cetagandans, or pulled out through Jackson’s Whole.  So probably not that bad, but Miles and Gregor’s careers wouldn’t have gotten the boost they needed.

It’s too bad we didn’t get to see more of the actual meeting between Aral and Ky Tung, because the lunch was dismissed in just the one sentence about Miles’s behaviour.  For some reason I picture Bujold sitting at her computer/typewriter keyboard staring at a blank screen/empty piece of paper trying to come up with the scene, then shrugging and skipping over it entirely.  Maybe Tung was infallibly polite as well, following on Miles’s example, and nothing exciting or witty got said; maybe he became uncharacteristically tongue-tied.  After all, it’s not like Aral and Tung became bosom friends after this encounter…

The ending is mildly prequelitic, since, as I said, there’d already been multiple stories and novels where Miles was manifestly in charge of the Dendarii and reporting to Barrayar, but at least the author makes it plausible that things turned out that way.  Aral, Gregor and Illyan are all impressed with Miles’s proven competence, though of course they show it in different ways.  There are clear parallels with Miles’s next major change of career, in Memory, including the promotion that means more to Miles than it does to anyone else…

Where do the female Barrayaran auxiliaries guarding Cavilo come from?  What kind of female staff do they have on the Prince Serg?  Previous comments always led me to believe that Barrayaran ship crews were 100% male…  Are they from another ship that came along later?  It’s not like there’s an Empress to guard, or there may have been a Droushnakova or two.  It’s mostly an offhand remark, and I’m sure the thinking behind it is just that they wouldn’t trust regular male officers not to either underestimate Cavilo or fall for her charms, but it doesn’t quite add up for me.

They’re so careful about Miles’s Naismith/Vorkosigan identities, not letting Ky Tung in on the secret, and later talking about how they don’t want a good cover identity to go to waste, and of course it becomes a major plot point in later books…so why were they so careless around Yegorov?  He escorts this short Betan guy to meet with Aral Vorkosigan, who embraces him like long-lost family, and I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for Yegorov to find out about the diminutive Miles Vorkosigan.  Maybe he has a higher security rating than I think, maybe he’s really ImpSec, and maybe Aral’s Armsman is taking him off to be scared out of his mind, but really, couldn’t they have been a wee tiny bit more discreet?

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Close to the wire, but I did manage to get both chapters done, so we are now done The Vor Game.  I will be taking my usual week off, so come back here two weeks from now, when I’ll start on the next novel chronologically, Cetaganda…wherein we never see the Dendarii at all.  Second book in the series to be named after a planet, which I’m glad she didn’t do consistently, or else we’d have books like Jackson’s Whole instead of Mirror Dance, Sergyar instead of Shards of Honour, Kibou-Daini instead of Cryoburn, etc.  Anyway, until then…

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Greetings and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I devote my attentions to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series of novels and stories.  This week I cover Chapter Fifteen of The Vor Game.  There are seventeen chapters in the novel in total, you see, and while normally I’d leave the odd chapter until the end, this week I decided to do the single chapter and hope that I have more energy next week to do two chapters.  (Otherwise I suppose I could forego the normal week off I give myself after the end of a novel and do three one-week chapters instead…)  We are well and truly into the climax of the novel now, at any rate.

Chapter Fifteen

Miles checks over the files on Oser’s comconsole, trying to get up to speed on the changes in the Dendarii Mercenaries, and their view of the situation and events in the Hegen Hub.  He is close to crashing from fatigue, but promises himself some rest during the 36-hour transit of the system.  He will need more rest to try to outwit Cavilo, he’s sure.

He contemplates the changes of weapon and defense technology.  Projectile weapons, first, were made obsolete by basic defenses intended to take care of asteroids and space debris.  Then came lasers, until the development of the “Sword-swallower”, which absorbed the lasers’ energy to power itself, and, similarly, plasma weapons, which were foiled by the plasma mirrors that turned the tide of the Barrayaran invasion of Escobar.  The latest development seems to be the gravitic imploder lance, against which there wasn’t yet a reliable defence, but which consumed energy exorbitantly and was still only usable at extremely close range.  Closely-packed ships, though, were vulnerable to “sun wall” attacks of bunched nuclear weapons, and boarding tactics became more practicable.

Baz Jesek arrives, and apologizes for “squandering Elena’s dowry” by letting the Dendarii slip out of their control.  He offers his resignation, which Miles promptly refuses, pointing out that Tung was suckered by Oser’s shenanigans too, adding that Baz can’t resign as Armsman, and that Miles can’t find a replacement for him on his current schedule.  He then brings Baz into the loop on the problem with Gregor.

“If the Emperor is killed—if he doesn’t return—the mess at home could go on for years,” Baz said. “Maybe you should let Cavilo rescue him, rather than risk—”

“Up to a point, that’s just what I intend to do,” said Miles. “If only I knew Gregor’s mind.” He paused. “If we lose both Gregor and the wormhole battle, the Cetagandans will arrive on our doorstep just at the point we will be in maximum internal disarray. What a temptation to them—what a lure—they’ve always wanted Komarr—we could be looking down the throat of the second Cetagandan invasion, almost as much a surprise to them as to us. They may prefer deep-laid plans, but they’re not above a little opportunism—not an opportunity this overwhelming—”

As Miles and Baz are going over information, Miles is notified that man who identifies himself as “Ungari” wants to see him.  Miles checks through a security camera and indeed sees Ungari and Overholt, and gladly authorizes their entry.  He tells Baz that he may want to avoid the attention of ImpSec right now, and Baz takes the hint and leaves.  Miles is relieved that Ungari is there to take over, and let him know at last what ImpSec has been doing.  Chodak and two guards escort Ungari and Overholt into the office, and Miles dismisses them and asks them to fetch Elena.

Ungari waited impatiently till the door had hissed closed behind Chodak to stride forward. Miles stood up and saluted him smartly. “Glad to see y—”

To Miles’s surprise, Ungari did not return the salute; instead his hands clenched on Miles’s uniform jacket and lifted. Miles sensed that it was only with the greatest restraint that Ungari’s grip had closed on his lapels and not his neck. “Vorkosigan, you idiot! What the hell kind of game have you been up to?”

Ungari says they lost track of Miles and Gregor at the Consortium Detention centre, and Miles says he thought they might try to make contact with Elena.  Miles desperately asks Ungari what recent events looked like from their point of view.  Ungari says that Overholt and the Jacksonians both thought the other had done away with Miles until they were able to question the prisoner Miles had swapped places with.  However, Overholt hadn’t known about Gregor’s disappearance, until he met back up with Ungari and tried to retrace Miles’s path again, days later.  Miles is relieved that ImpSec at least knows that the Emperor is in the Hub, and not in Komarr or Escobar or something.

Ungari’s fingers clenched again. “Vorkosigan, what did you do with the Emperor?

Ungari clarifies that they know Gregor is with Randall’s Rangers, and rescue forces are being mobilized.  Miles is concerned about the situation with Pol, since Ungari doesn’t think the Barrayaran fleet will bother to ask permission to cross Polian space, since Gregor is in Vervani hands.

“Vervain doesn’t hold Gregor, Commander Cavilo does,” Miles interrupted urgently. “It’s strictly non-political, a plot for her personal gain. I think—in fact, I’m dead certain—the Vervani government doesn’t know the first thing about her ‘guest.’ Our rescue forces must be warned to commit no hostile act until the Cetagandan invasion shows up.”

“The what?”

Miles is surprised that they don’t know about it, but reasons that even in the current situation, someone at ImpSec will have looked at Cetagandan ship movements and realizes that’s going on.  He updates Ungari on the plan for Cetaganda to take the Vervain wormhole and cross into the Hub, and says that he plans to take the Dendarii across the Hub to stop them.  Ungari tells him in no uncertain terms that Miles is being sent to their Aslund safehouse until someone comes to take him off Ungari’s hands.  Miles asks if he has any good information, but it turns out that Ungari’s information is mostly from Aslund, which Miles has on Oser’s comconsole.

Ungari, losing patience with Miles, says that he will come with the two of them, or else.  Miles tries to convince them that it’s a bad idea, but Overholt moves to grab him, so Miles is forced to press his alarm button.  Chodak, Elena, and the two guards rush in, stunning Overholt and holding Ungari at bay.  He tells Chodak to take them to the brig and put them with Metzov and Oser.  Unfortunately, he won’t be able to fast-penta Ungari as he had Oser, because of the ImpSec agent’s induced allergy.  When Miles explains to Elena who that was, she points out that Miles now has his last three commanders locked up in the brig.

When the Dendarii fleet leaves Aslund Station, it plunges the Aslunders into confusion.  Miles forbids contact with them, hoping to keep Cavilo from learning that he’s doing anything but what she ordered.  The Aslunders, panicking, go to full alert status as they try to fill the gaps that the departing mercenaries are leaving.  Miles breathes a sigh of relief as they pass the point where any Aslunder pursuit could catch up to them short of the Vervain wormhole–where, with luck, the arrival of the Cetagandans would convince any Aslunders to join the Dendarii’s side.

Miles wonders if he might even be able to arrive before Cavilo summoned the Cetagandans, in which case he might spook her into not calling them at all, and he could head off the invasion without a shot being fired.  Then he’d just need to rescue Gregor.  He tries to puzzle his strategies out, then gives up and goes to sleep.

He is awakened twelve hours later to be notified of a message from Vervain, still over half a light-hour away in time-lag.  A high-ranking Vervani officer is asking an explanation of the Dendarii fleet’s movements; Miles tells his communications officer to claim the message was garbled and ask for it to be retransmitted.  When the response comes, Miles has dressed and breakfasted, and the Vervani officer has been joined by Cavilo, who asks for an explanation or else they will be treated as hostiles.  Miles sends the following response:

“Admiral Miles Naismith, Commanding, Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet, speaking. To Commander Cavilo, Randall’s Rangers, eyes only. Ma’am. I have accomplished my mission precisely as you ordered. I remind you of the reward you promised me for my success. What are your next instructions? Naismith out.”

The comm officer points out that the message isn’t being sent privately, but Miles confirms that’s what he wants.  He then tells her to play up any communication problems caused by their passing behind the twin suns’ corona, and create as many other problems as she can until he’s close enough for a tight-beam conversation with Cavilo.  Miles goes to check with Tung, who points out four large Vervani warships who have just jumped back through the wormhole to their home system, as evidence that the Cetagandan attack has probably begun.

Miles moves over to the Ariel, command ship of his “Little Fleet” which also includes two other fast, maneuverable ships.  His crew consists of Elena on comm and Arde Mayhew for everything else, with Bel Thorne on Nav and Com, out of range of any private conversations Miles may need to have.  They scan the Vervain station, which is abuzz with activity; Elena says they are still demanding a response, but Miles notes they aren’t being fired on yet.  He tells her to ask for communication with Cavilo alone.  When a tight-beam response comes, Miles asks Elena to trace it, and she finds the source on a small courier ship heading away from the Vervain wormhole.

Miles sits himself down for his conversation with Cavilo.  She asks him why he’s brought the Dendarii across the Hub, and Miles says he was merely following her orders, and he though it was obvious where she’d want him to bring the fleet.  She asks if he received Metzov’s message, and he plays dumb and says he hasn’t seen Metzov, but he’s probably drowning his sorrows in some spaceport bar.  Cavilo gets angry and says she knows Miles has Metzov captive, and Miles wonders why she didn’t take precautions against Metzov trying to kill him.  He offers her his services as a more reliable subordinate, pointing out that he knows more about the hazards of Barrayaran culture than she does.  She orders him out of his Emperor’s flight path, and he insists on hearing those orders from Gregor himself.  She threatens Gregor’s life, and Miles tells her that if Gregor dies, he could become Emperor himself, so Gregor’s life is much more important to her than to him.

Cavilo’s face froze. “He said . . . he had no heir. You said so too.”

“None named. Because my father refuses to be named, not because he lacks the bloodlines. But ignoring the bloodlines doesn’t erase them. And I am my father’s only child. And he can’t live forever. Ergo . . . So, resist my boarding parties, by all means. Threaten away. Carry out your threats. Give me the Imperium. I shall thank you prettily, before I have you summarily executed. Emperor Miles the First. How does it sound? As good as Empress Cavilo?” Miles gave it an intense beat. “Or, we could work together. The Vorkosigans have traditionally felt that the substance was better than the name. The power behind the throne, as my father before me—who has held just that power, as Gregor has doubtless told you, for far too long—you’re not going to dislodge him by batting your eyelashes. He’s immune to women. But I know his every weakness. I’ve thought it through. This could be my big chance, one way or another. By the way—milady—do you care which emperor you wed?”

Cavilo admits she underestimates Miles, and asks him to escort her.  Miles insists that he must transport her and Gregor aboard the Ariel.  When she balks, he says that he will obey Gregor’s orders only, which is something she’ll have to get used to on Barrayar.  Cavilo signs off to get Gregor, leaving Miles to catch his breath.

“Damn,” said Elena in a hushed voice. “If I didn’t know you, I’d think you were Mad Yuri’s understudy. The look on your face . . . am I reading too much into all that innuendo, or did you in fact just connive to assassinate Gregor in one breath, offer to cuckold him in the next, accuse your father of homosexuality, suggest a patricidal plot against him, and league yourself with Cavilo—what are you going to do for an encore?”

Miles tells Elena that he needs to keep Cavilo off balance, confuse her with too many possibilities and calculations, and keep her mind off of what’s actually happening.  Cavilo reopens contact then, with Gregor at her side now; Miles presents him with the Dendarii Mercenaries as his own fleet, and invites him onto the Ariel to take personal command.  Cavilo breaks in to tell Gregor about Miles’s plotting, and replays the earlier dialogue.  Gregor is unfazed, telling Cavilo that everyone knows that Miles’s mutations have driven him mad, but he could be a valuable ally if they make it worth his while.  He adds that Miles is the end of his bloodline, and as a “mutant”, his odds of becoming Emperor are slim.  (Elena has slid off her chair and is struggling to contain her helpless laughter.)

“Then, Cavie, let’s join my would-be Grand Vizier. At that point, I will control his ships. And your wish,” he turned his head to kiss her hand, still resting in his grasp on his shoulder, “will be my command.”

“Do you really think it’s safe? If he’s as psycho as you say.”

“Brilliant—nervous—skittish—but he’s all right as long as his medications are adjusted properly, I promise you. I expect his dose is a little off at the moment, due to our irregular travels.”

Cavilo insists that they come over on their own shuttle, and they break contact.

Comments

The infodump on the space weaponry is probably necessary, but it does stick out a little.  One wonders if it could have been integrated a little better elsewhere in the book, but perhaps not.  I find it interesting to think of the different weapon types, particularly with the different tactics they require.  I used to spend a lot of time playing a space combat/exploration game called Space Empires III, which has a number of similarities.  SE3 had a short-range-only weapon they called a “Ripper Beam” which is similar, tactically, to the gravitic imploder lance, though admittedly it didn’t have the kind of matched weapon-defense pairs that Bujold explains.  It also uses wormholes for interstellar travel.  I wonder how direct of an influence Bujold was on the game, or if they both borrowed from common sources.

One doesn’t emerge from the Ungari takedown scene with much sympathy for the ImpSec officer.  He miscalculates badly, though admittedly his biggest problem is assuming that Miles will obey his orders.  The thought of Miles’s three commanders sitting in the cell block is amusing, especially if one were to picture them exchanging Miles stories and commiserating, or even plotting.  I find that one of the best ways for me to lose sympathy for a character is for them to refuse to listen to someone else.  It’s even worse when it’s a main character who’s the one refusing to listen, but it doesn’t do Ungari any good here, either.  At least he didn’t try to have Miles spaced…

Miles does get to unleash that deadliest of weapons, his tongue, against Cavilo, and his speech is truly a tour de force, as Elena so ably summarizes.  I don’t know if it’s really true, the cliche that a habitual liar is the quickest to believe other are lying, and a habitual plotter believes everyone else is plotting too, but I can believe it of Cavilo.  I mentioned before that I don’t believe trying to plan your actions so that every possible option leads to success is an efficient way to operate on the fly, when situations change too fast to keep up with all the calculation and multiply-forking decision trees, so Miles’s strategy of keeping her off balance is a sound one.

I would hope that Miles feels a little better about Gregor when he plays along with Miles’s claims.  If he were really on Cavilo’s side, he could call Miles’s bluff and tell her what Miles is really like, so his picking up on Miles’s cue is a good sign.  Between the two of them, and with Miles having some actual force on his side this time, they should be more than a match for Cavilo, who has discarded her own mercenary fleet…


With luck, next week I will reach the end of The Vor Game, and the Young Miles omnibus I’ve been reading it in.  After that it will be time for Miles, Mystery & Mayhem, starting with the novel Cetaganda, which, like The Vor Game, is a little out of publication order.  Until next week, then…

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