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Archive for September, 2012

No rain, nor snow, nor dead of night, or even a touch of potentially E. coli-related food poisoning, will stay this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread from being posted. Though it was a near thing, and if the current book, Brothers In Arms, had had an odd number of chapters, you might be getting a one-chapter installment this time, but with some work and perseverance I’ve managed to do both Chapter Three and Four of the book this week, as Miles Vorkosigan has to deal with cash-flow problems, the press, inconvenient subordinates and superiors, and an inappropriate infatuation.  With no further ado, let’s open the envelope…

Chapter Three

Miles surveys the reception, which is at its peak, though some of the early arrivals seem to have left already, and the Cetagandans aren’t in sight.  Miles tells Ivan to meet him by the main door in five minutes, then slips back to his room to don his Dendarii uniform.  Then he goes back down the lift tubes and down a side corridor to the entrance; still no Cetagandans.  Ivan is shocked to see Miles’s outfit, and tries to block him from the rest of the room while trying to dissuade him from leaving.  Miles says that Elli wouldn’t have called him if it wasn’t important, so he needs to sneak out now, without Galeni seeing him.  He tells Ivan to claim that he’s gone back to his room because of a flareup of bone-related pain.  He tells Ivan to bring Sylveth, for cover, and with her as a distraction he gets past the guards without incident.

Outside, Ivan points out that he doesn’t have a bodyguard; Miles says Elli will be there soon enough.  He adds that Ivan will need to figure out a way for him to get back into the embassy later without being seen.  Miles dashes away as another car arrives, taking the tubeway to his destination.  When he emerges, any need to check his destination is obviated by the barricades, crowds and flashing police lights.

“Damnation,” Miles muttered, and started down that side street. He rolled the words back through his mouth, switching gears to Admiral Naismith’s flat Betan accent, “Aw, shit . . .”

Miles pushes his way through to the constable in charge, who asks him if he’s “one of those psychopaths”.  Miles identifies himself with dignity as Admiral Naismith, gently pushing away the barrel of a weapon aimed in his direction, and asks what’s going on.  The constable says it’s attempted robbery, with an attack on the clerk–trying to steal stock, not money, from what turns out to be a liquor store.  Now they’re holding her hostage, and claim to have rigged up a deadman switch so the police can’t just stun them all.  They were communicating by comconsole, though it’s now been destroyed.

Miles walks toward the store, telling the constable he’s going to arrest them himself; they’re not going to be crazy enough to shoot their own commanding officer.  He pounds on the glass door, and after a long pause it opens to admit him.  Inside the wineshop, the air is redolent with alcoholic fumes.  The man at the door, who’s wearing only underwear, salutes him drunkenly; Miles spots another Dendarii in uniform, whose consciousness is adrift, from something stronger than just alcohol.

Another man, Private Danio, emerges from behind a shelf, and his presence tells Miles all he needs to know about the situation.  Danio has an antique pistol with him–the dangerous firearm, which he says is his personal property, to help protect him from “crazies”; he says one of the others, Yalen, who’s on the floor, has a bowie knife.  Miles tells him that any weapon is illegal in this jurisdiction.  Miles confiscates their weapons and asks for a quick summary of events.

Danio says they were having a party and ran short of supplies, so they came here, but the clerk refused their credit.  Miles looks around and spots a middle-aged woman tied up with a Dendarii uniform; he starts to cut her free with the bowie knife, but the unclad soldier warns him that she makes a lot of noise.  Miles reads the name on the uniform, and identifies him as Xaveria, who served well as Dagoola…unfortunately for Miles, who had been inclined to throw the whole lot of them to the wolves.  Xaveria says that after their credit was refused, things escalated–insults, and bottles, were thrown, the clerk was knocked out, and when the police arrived, they told them about the deadman switch, which Xaveria assures Miles was pure bluff.

Miles asks about the refused credit cards; Xaveria says they’ve got the right cards, but the comconsole refused them…though Miles can’t confirm this because of the bullet hole in the middle of its screen.  The cards should be fine, Miles though, unless there was something very wrong with the main Dendarii financial account…  He promises to check it out, as long as he can get them out without the police killing them all.  Danio suggests blasting their way out the back and running for the tubeway.

“No, Danio,” Miles said when he could command his voice. “We are going to walk quietly—very quietly—out the front door and surrender.”

“But the Dendarii never surrender,” said Xaveria.

“This is not a firebase,” said Miles patiently. “It is a wineshop. Or at any rate, it was. Furthermore, it is not even our wineshop.” Though I shall no doubt be compelled to buy it. “Think of the London police not as your enemies, but as your dearest friends. They are, you know. Because,” he fixed Xaveria with a cold eye, “until they get done with you, I can’t start.”

Xaveria, quelled, tells Danio they’d better go along with the admiral.  Miles stuns the man who’s already lost in dreamland, tells Yalen and Danio to carry him, and Xaveria to put his hands on his head.  They emerge into daylight, where the police take charge of them.  Just as the constable is about to speak, though, the wineshop behind them begins to burn.  Miles lunges back into the shop, grabs the clerk, tosses her awkwardly over his shoulder, and heads for the door.  They make it out just as the whole shop bursts into flame, and Miles rolls himself and clerk on the sidewalk trying to put out their clothing, until a fireman with an extinguisher covers both of them in foam.  The constable is raving about a bomb, but Miles corrects him says it’s more likely brandy ignited by sparks from the comconsole.  As the firemen rush to try to put out the wineshop, Miles finds himself confronted with a holovid camera, until the clerk starts babbling and captures the reporter’s attention.

“Miles!” Elli Quinn’s voice over his shoulder made him jump. “Do you have everything under control?”

Miles and Elli take the tubeway to the shuttleport; he catches sight of his reflection and looks a sight–scorched, damp and covered with foam, and smelling of booze and smoke.  Miles asks why Elli didn’t protect him from that reporter, or take over, since she was more photogenic.

“Holovids make me tongue-tied. But you sounded calm enough.”

“I was trying to downplay it all. ‘Boys will be boys’ chuckles Admiral Naismith, while in the background his troops burn down London. . . .”

Elli points out that Miles was the one who ran into a burning building, which cheers him up a little, hoping that it came out looking good on camera.  One hand is somewhat blistered, but his uniform helped shield him from the rest.  He explains that he was operating mostly on reflex, knowing that he probably didn’t have much time before the fire really started to expand.  He is somewhat worried about the video of Admiral Naismith, but the Cetagandans likely already know that Naismith has been seen in London, and soon he’ll disappear back into Lieutenant Vorkosigan’s identity.  As they get off the tube, Miles’s back begins to twinge, strained from his carrying the clerk out of the fire.

They take a shuttle up to the Triumph, where the medic diagnoses him with pulled muscles and tells him to lie in bed for a week; Miles escapes with some pain pills and a bandaged hand, his tensions unwinding now that he’s safe on his flagship.  He heads to the financial offices, hoping to clear things up.  Vicky Bone, the fleet’s accountant, asks Miles about the credit transfer as soon as he enters.  Miles asks about the fleet finances, which she had assured him were under control.  She said they were, but there’s only so much they can do without actually getting paid.  They have to pay some of their bills to be able to stave off the rest, and they are now dangerously over-extended.

Miles asks her what happened at the wineshop.  Vicky looks into it and says that what they usually do while they’re in dock is take all their liquid funds and put them into short-term interest-paying investments.  Any credit requests get covered by a money transfer from the savings account.  But Danio and friends tried to access the main account directly, even though they’ve been told repeatedly not to, and since the account happened to be empty at the time, the request bounced.  Now, the investment account is empty, and they won’t be able to keep the fleet’s finances afloat much longer, maybe not even the six more days until the next courier is due.

Miles asks if they can somehow manage to create virtual money through accounting tricks; Vicky says that that’s impossible on a tightly-bound network like Earth’s, because you really need time lags to make that work.  She suggests getting some short-term loans against capital equipment…such as Triumph.  Miles reflects that Admiral Naismith would have to undersign it, despite his having no real existence whatsoever…  He authorizes her to set it up.

Comments

Somehow, when I was reading the previous chapter, I was under the impression that the reception they were at was somewhere else, not at the Barrayaran embassy itself.  And, I guess, that those were different goldfish.  But of course it’s easier for Miles to get his Admiral Naismith uniform if he doesn’t have to go back to his own embassy from somewhere else…

I also keep picturing the scene taking place at night–possibly because I keep thinking that the reception should be taking place at night–but Bujold does occasionally remind us that it’s daytime.  Oh, yeah, and the fact that the Dendarii in the shop were partying also makes me think it must be night…  It makes me wonder if it started as a night scene but the author had to change it to fit her timeline.

Daytime or not, I am always flabbergasted that Miles, after sneaking out to rescue his troopers from their predicament, then leaves the planet.  Bujold slips from on-the-ground to on-the-ship between paragraphs, implying it takes negligible time, but I still think it’s ill thought out.  Sure, he needs to clean up and get some medical help before returning to the embassy, not to mention talking to Vicky Bone about their finances, but I can’t help but think that he could have managed that while staying on Earth.  A quick check on the net indicates that the Space Shuttle took 10 minutes to get to low orbit, and 45 minutes to a higher one, so let’s say an hour including time to get through the shuttleport, get clearance, etc.  If they’d radioed for the medic to come down to meet them, Miles could have showered in a hotel or fitness club or something and bought replacement clothes (or even just gotten some sent down from the ship too) in that time, while talking remotely to Vicky…assuming they have some kind of secure communication, that is, which I’m pretty sure they must.

And, of course, the financial troubles continue to pile up.  That’s the kind of thing it would never occur to me to use as a major plot element, so I always have lots of respect for those who can do that, like here, or, say, Dave Sim in the “High Society” storyline in Cerebus.  The thought that an army can be brought low simply because of economic problems is somehow counterintuitive to me, but then I never did take economics in school or anything.  It also feels vaguely unfair, despite doubtless being more realistic, and yet a little bit reassuring that there is that kind of check on military might…

Chapter Four

Miles cleans up and finds himself much more cheerful–almost too much, and he makes a note to cut down on the dosage of painkillers.  Elli says they need to hurry to get back to the embassy; Miles says it’s probably already a lost cause to get back undetected, already 2300 London time.  Not looking forward to his reception at the embassy, he tries to think of something to do to put it off.  Admiral Naismith will be hidden away soon enough, but he deserves one last fling.  He rejects alcohol as being a bad idea on top of his pills, and theatre keeping him in one place for too long, so once they’re back on the ground, he invites Elli to go window shopping with him.

They walk through late-night London, looking at the passersby as much as the shops, though Elli still seems to be bodyguarding him rather than relaxing.  When she does stop in front of a shop advertising bio-engineered “cultured furs”, Miles ushers her inside.  The upscale store has a variety of rare types of fur and skins, which they are assured are 100% vat-grown, no real animals harmed.  Elli is particularly taken with a black “live fur”, blended from real cat genes, which the salesman tells them does not eat, shed, or excrete, but sustains itself off of electromagnetic radiation from the environment, or it can be microwaved on low to give it an extra boost.

“Pet it,” the salesman instructed Elli eagerly.

She did so, and laughed. “It purrs!”

“Yes. It also has programmable thermotaxic orientation—in other words, it snuggles up.”

Elli wrapped it around herself completely, black fur cascading over her feet like the train of a queen’s robe, and rubbed her cheek into the silky shimmer. “What won’t they think of next? Oh, my. You want to rub it all over your skin.”

Taken with the image of Elli rubbing it all over her skin, Miles says they’ll take it.  When he turns out only to have Miles Vorkosigan’s credit card, though, Elli is forced to pay for it herself, and it isn’t cheap.  Still, Miles won’t regret taking advantage of the opportunity to delight Elli, and promises to pay her back later.  Now, though, he really wants her to try it out…but he tries to convince himself he shouldn’t.  He’s starting to get past the point of wanting to have an affair with her, and being ready to ask her to change her career to Lady Vorkosigan…and space-born Elli isn’t likely to think much of that.

In a drop-tube, Miles has a sudden flashback to Dagoola and grabs Elli’s arm tightly.  She checks his eyes to see if they’re dilated and tells him that they’re actually pulsing in and out; Miles reassures her that the Dendarii medics are careful with the medications they give him.  Impulsively, Miles kisses her, and after a moment of surprise, she pulls him close and kisses him back.  The near-escape of the boxed live fur, and Elli’s beeper going off, breaks the mood and they swiftly exit the lift tube.  They look at each other apprehensively, their working relationship now upended, and Miles wonders what next, if starting a relationship with her is a bad idea, or if they should take advantage of any time they have, before one or the other falls victims to one of the risks of their dangerous career.

Elli checks her beeper and finds Ivan calling her on the secure commlink.  Ivan tells her to send Miles back soon, because he’s holding open a hole in the security net for him, but not for much longer.  He says he’s at the guard post on the third underground level, and they have about fifteen minutes before he won’t be able to edit the footage to cover Miles’s return.  Elli says they just have time to make it.

Miles massaged his face, as she went to credit their tokens, trying to rub his escaping rationality back through his skin by force. He looked up to see his own dim reflection staring back at him from the mirrored wall, shadowed by a pillar, face suffused with frustration and terror. He squeezed his eyes shut and looked again, moving in front of the pillar and staring. Most unpleasant—for a second, he had seen himself wearing his green Barrayaran uniform. Damn the pain pills. Was his subconscious trying to tell him something? Well, he didn’t suppose he was in real trouble until a brain scan taken of him in his two different uniforms produced two different patterns.

Upon reflection, the idea was suddenly not funny.

They steal a few more kisses on the tube, before Miles has to leave, painfully aroused and holding the package with the live fur.

The next morning Miles awakens with the fur almost wrapped around him.  Ivan is impressed with it, and says he’d like to rub it all over his skin.  Miles decides to get rid of his pain pills, after his adventure of the night before and the weird hallucination in the tube station.

Galeni summons Miles down to his office in the morning.  Miles, with his sore back muscles, doesn’t have to feign pain from his supposed incapacity of the day before, but he has a harder time accounting for his burned hand.  Galeni tells him about an interesting news broadcast he saw, and shares with Miles, showing Admiral Naismith and the daring wineshop rescue.  When Galeni calls him to account for it, Miles explains how Elli called him with the emergency, and points out that his intervention helped saved lives, but he apologizes for going AWOL.

Galeni, unimpressed, takes him to task for sneaking off and almost getting himself killed, and somehow managing to do so without leaving a security blip.  Miles explains how he snuck out with some guests in his Dendarii uniform, but has a harder time explaining his return.  Galeni warns him not to protect Lt. Vorpatril, and Miles says that he ordered Ivan to do it; he’ll tell Ivan to give a report on how he created the security hole.

“You will, eh?” Galeni’s lips twisted. “Has it occurred to you yet that Lieutenant Vorpatril is above you in this chain of command?”

“No, sir,” gulped Miles. “It, er . . . slipped my mind.”

“His too, it appears.”

Miles said he’d been planning on making a more open return, but Ivan went to such effort it seemed ungrateful…  And, Galeni adds sardonically, it looked like it might work.  Miles says Ivan is innocent, but Galeni can charge Miles if he wishes.

“Thank you, Lieutenant, for your kind permission.”

Goaded, Miles snapped, “Dammit, sir, what would you have of me? The Dendarii are as much Barrayaran troops as any who wear the Emperor’s uniform, even if they don’t know it. They are my assigned charge. I cannot neglect their urgent needs even to play the part of Lieutenant Vorkosigan.”

Galeni rocked back in his chair, his eyebrows shooting up. “Play the part of Lieutenant Vorkosigan? Who do you think you are?”

Miles is caught speechless, and Galeni notes that he seems to be losing track.  Miles says he has to play Admiral Naismith as hard as he can when he’s with the Dendarii; this is an unusual situation in having to switch back and forth.  Though Naismith isn’t real, his duties are, and Miles needs to be able to carry them out.  He realizes suddenly that if he’s in Galeni’s line of command, so are all of Naismith’s subordinates, and hopes that Galeni doesn’t decide to start messing with the Dendarii.  Galeni tells Miles that, in future, he would like to be consulted about any Naismith duties; Miles is on probation, and not confined to quarters only because he still has social escort obligations.  As he leaves, Miles wonders if he is going crazy after all.

That afternoon’s reception is for the Baba of Lairouba, who’s made a pilgrimage to Mecca and is now in talks about trade routes near Tau Ceti and Komarr, hence Barrayar’s interest.  Miles is escorting one of the Baba’s wives, swathed in silk except for her eyes and hands.  Translator earbuds having gone astray, much potential conversation is made impossible by language barriers until after dinner, though Miles does manage to communicate with hand gestures and somehow make her laugh twice.

After the dinner, Miles runs into the reporter he’d talked to the day before, who recognizes him as Admiral Naismith.  He pretends bafflement, and then shock that Admiral Naismith has been seen on Earth.  He introduces himself as Lt. Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar, but the reporter is still not convinced that he’s not Naismith.  He tells her that Naismith is of the greatest interest to Barrayaran Security.

She looked him up and down. “So I would imagine, since you are one and the same.”

“Come, come over here.” And how was he going to get out of this one? He took her by the elbow and steered her toward a private corner. “Of course we are the same. Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries is my—” Illegitimate twin brother? No, that didn’t scan. Light didn’t just dawn, it came like a nuclear flash at ground zero. “—clone,” Miles finished smoothly.

Seeing that she’s beginning to believe, Miles expands on his story, saying that the clone is probably a product of the Cetagandans.  She reintroduces herself to him as Lise Vallerie from Euronews, and he feigns reluctance to talk to the press, but allows himself to be persuaded.  She belatedly recognizes the name Vorkosigan, and Miles agrees that he is his son.  He takes her aside to give her the full story, which he says is mostly old news anyway.

“The biological construct who calls himself Admiral Naismith is . . . perhaps the most dangerous man in the galaxy. Cunning—resolute—both Cetagandan and Barrayaran Security have attempted, in the past, to assassinate him, without success. He’s started to build himself a power-base, with his Dendarii Mercenaries. We still don’t know what his long-range plans for this private army are, except that he must have some.”

Vallerie’s finger went to her lips doubtfully. “He seemed—pleasant enough, when I spoke with him. Allowing for the circumstance. A brave man, certainly.”

“Aye, there’s the genius and the wonder of the man,” cried Miles, then decided he’d better tone it down a bit. “Charisma. Surely the Cetagandans, if it was the Cetagandans, must have intended something extraordinary for him. He’s a military genius, you know.”

He tells her that Barrayar has stopped trying to kill Naismith, now mostly just trying to keep track of him, but the Cetagandans are out for his blood.  He says that Naismith was probably originally designed for some kind of replacement plot, but by now they’ve diverged too much to be able to carry it off–Miles claims to even be two centimetres taller than Naismith.  Pretending anger, he says that Naismith flaunts their relationship, having assumed his mother’s maiden name and Betan heritage, and claiming to be Miles’s brother by Betan clone-law.

The ambassador summons Miles over, and Miles parts with a request that she notify him if she sees Naismith again.  As he leaves, he is ecstatic to have finally come up with a plausible cover story for Naismith, one that even Galeni might appreciate.

Comments

Hands up, everyone who’d buy a live fur!  Okay, I guess there is something to be said for playfulness, mobility, a face, etc., there are probably a lot of people who’d love to not have to clean the litterbox or deal with meowing.  Just midnight smothering, I guess.  How can you guarantee no shedding, anyway?  Surely it would wear out over time, so eventually it would start to break down…probably just has a warranty period.

Miles and Elli’s relationship does finally start, sort of.  She was obviously willing, not throwing Miles’s non-fraternization rules back in his face when he makes his pass, but they don’t spend a lot of time actually discussing anything, what with the time constraints.  He’s right that Elli would not be eager to become Lady Vorkosigan…and isn’t it a bit early to be thinking about that, anyway?  I guess that’s the way Miles’s mind works–he has trouble disentangling love and attraction from the whole “growing old together” thing.  At least he never proposed to Taura; even he knew that wasn’t likely to work out.

The clone story is indeed brilliant, though of course it doesn’t fit with Miles’s frequent insistence that the problems affecting his development were “teratogenic, not genetic”.  Why, to make a clone of Miles look like him, you’d have to use some nasty techniques, possibly even involving the soltoxin antidote that caused the original damage to Miles.  Or you could just keep shortening his bones whenever they tried to grow too long, or something, but that would be a lot of work; who’d bother?

And yes, of course, knowing what happens in the rest of the book, that whole story about the clone is absolutely fraught with irony.  Heck, it’s practically fraught with irony even just knowing that Miles thinks he’s inventing the clone story, without knowing how much of it is actually true.


Brothers In Arms only has sixteen chapters, apparently; I thought it was a longer book, but maybe it just has longer chapters than, say, Ethan of Athos…  So I’m a quarter of the way through it already.  Still a fair chunk of plot to go, yet, so hang in there.

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  I hope you had a nice week off–I know I did–but now it’s time to get back to work, put the pedal to the grindstone and nose to the metal.  So let’s start with the first two chapters of Brothers in Arms, a classic tale of Miles Vorkosigan.  It’s “classic” in the sense that it’s one of the earlier works to be published, predating Barrayar, Cetaganda, The Vor Game, and the Borders of Infinity novellas, even as it is an almost immediate sequel to “The Borders of Infinity” itself.  It took five years before she finally followed it up with Mirror Dance.  It’s set against the backdrop of Earth, of all unlikely places.

Chapter One

In a repair bay in a shipyard in Earth orbit, Miles stands in front of the battered combat-drop shuttle from the Dagoola IV rescue, months past, and points out the design flaws of the ramp to the Kaymer Orbital Shipyards sales engineer.  Miles tells him, when the ramp was damaged, the hatch couldn’t close, and people died as a result, Miles almost one of them.  The engineer inspects them, then says that Kaymer can certainly fix them; Miles says there are twelve, thinking of the two that were destroyed and all the personnel, Dendarii and prisoners, that were lost.  Miles says that Commodore Jesek also wants to talk about Necklin rod recalibration for their jump drives, though he realizes Kaymer won’t deal with weapons, or damaged jump pilot implants.

The engineer asks Miles why the mercenaries have come to Earth, which is a little off the main routes these days.  Miles says that they’re looking for a little peace and rest.  The Dagoola rescue had been brilliant, one of the largest POW escapes in history, but the pursuit by the Cetagandans afterwards, with ships and assassins, had worn them down.  The engineer asks about Dagoola; Miles says it’s a covert operation, so he can’t talk about it, but the engineer points out that it was a big news story.  He asks Miles if there’s really a price on his head, and is taken aback when Miles agrees that there is.

The engineer turns the conversation back to payment.  Miles says that the terms of Kaymer’s bid (the lowest they considered) specified cash on delivery, after approval of the work done, but the engineer says that he’s not sure they can really offer that to a mercenary fleet, whose business is a bit riskier than their usual customers.  They won’t raise their price, but they’ll need payment up front.  Miles protests that that leaves them no protection against bad workmanship, and proposes half up front; they compromise on full payment left in escrow.  Miles agrees, not wanting to hint at the cash flow problems the Dendarii are currently suffering.

As they leave the repair bay, Miles contemplates Earth, with its wealth of human history; a planet where every world who can manage it strives to have an embassy, including, unfortunately, the Cetagandans.  Admiral Naismith will have to steer clear of them.  Elli interrupts to tell him that Ky Tung is calling for him, and Miles takes the call in the engineer’s office.  Tung, a native Earther, is taking home leave, and lets him know about the arrangements for medical treatment of their most seriously wounded, including the frozen dead, half of whom will probably be revivable.  The cost for their treatment is high, particularly for the injured jump pilot, but Miles grits his teeth and authorizes the payment.  Tung asks for reassurance that they will be paid for the Dagoola operation, and Miles says that’s his next goal.  Tung says that he’ll heading off home to Brazil, then, to see a new grandchild and visit with his sister and many cousins.

Elli points out that Miles could use some downtime himself, with the wounds he suffered, and the funk he was in even after he recovered.  Miles says that broken bones barely count as wounds, for him, and he should know better than to get involved on the front line anymore; he hadn’t realized Dagoola was going to get so physical.

“My impression was there was more to it than that.”

He whirled the chair around to face her with a snarl. “Will you back off! Yes, we lost some good people. I don’t like losing good people. I cry real tears—in private, if you don’t mind!”

She recoiled, her face falling. He softened his voice, deeply ashamed of his outburst. “Sorry, Elli. I know I’ve been edgy. The death of that poor POW who fell from the shuttle shook me more than . . . more than I should have let it. I can’t seem to . . .”

“I was out of line, sir.”

Chastened by her reaction, Miles wishes, not for the first time, that he hadn’t established the no-fraternization policy in the Dendarii.  He’d put off more than one pass from Elli, and wishes that he didn’t have to.  He’d made excuses to send her off on missions, including the advance team to Earth, rather than have her close by as a constant temptation.  Elli makes it worse right then by telling Miles that he really needs to get laid, and, in a panic, he changes the conversation back to getting their money.  He suggests they could do some sightseeing on Earth, since he’s going to need a bodyguard anyway, and Elli seems faintly disappointed.

Miles’s civilian clothes got left behind several planets back, so he’s forced to wear his Dendarii admiral’s uniform when they go Earthside, and he feels somewhat conspicuous.

The spaceport city of London, a jigsaw of nearly two millennia of clashing architectural styles, was a fascination. The sunlight falling through the arcade’s patterned glass arch was an astonishing rich color, breathtaking. It alone might have led him to guess his eye had been returned to its ancestral planet. Perhaps later he’d have a chance to visit more historical sites, such as a submarine tour of Lake Los Angeles, or New York behind the great dikes.

Elli is scanning the crowds, acting the bodyguard, and Miles is glad of the opportunity to be tired.  He suggests that Admiral Naismith could use an opportunity to vanish, and take some heat off the Dendarii.  He tells Elli he’s used to total strangers trying to kill him, and it’s actually refreshing for the assassins’ motive to having nothing to do with his Barrayaran relatives.

Elli points out their contact arriving, a Barrayaran sergeant named Barth.  Miles explains Elli as a bodyguard, but he can tell Barth makes a less flattering assumption about his beautiful female companion.  They follow Barth as he leads them through a shop, down to the underground utility corridors, and finally to an underground entrance to the Barrayaran embassy’s stark basement.  Miles tells Elli they need to get rid of all of their weapons; he’s switched to his Barrayaran accent, which Elli isn’t used to, since Naismith talks like a Betan.  Miles gets to keep his family knife with the Vorkosigan seal; the Barrayarans are impressed despite themselves by Elli’s miniaturized personal arsenal.

They travel up to the embassy’s main floor, which is less stark, and Sergeant Barth leads them to a small office and introduces them to the commanding officer, who is now technically Miles’s.  Miles wonders why he looks so unhappy to see them, until the captain asks about Miles’s father.  Miles contains his anger at the assumptions in the man’s statement, about nepotism and slurs on his competence, and asks who he is.  The captain, who has an accent Miles can’t place, introduces himself as Duv Galeni, senior military attaché and head of Security for the embassy.  He admits he’s not quite sure what to do about Miles appearing in his chain of command.

Miles explains that he hadn’t planned to end up on Earth, but the Cetagandans made it impossible for them to get to their original rendezvous point at Tau Ceti; he says that Dagoola got a little out of hand, and mentions that he does have a full report.  Galeni expresses surprise that Dagoola was actually an ImpSec operation, and asks Miles what the relationship is between ImpSec and the Dendarii Mercenaries.  All Galeni himself knows is that they’re not to be attacked, they should be given military assistance, and report to HQ for anything beyond that.  Miles explains how they’re a covert military unit on ImpSec’s payroll, with Miles as the go-between.

The captain drummed his fingers on his desk console and glanced down at a display. “None of this is in your official dossier. Twenty-four years old—aren’t you a little young for your rank, ah—Admiral?” His tone was dry; his eyes passed mockingly over the Dendarii uniform.

Miles tried to ignore the tone. “It’s a long story. Commodore Tung, a very senior Dendarii officer, is the real brains of the outfit. I just play the part.”

Elli’s eyes widened in outrage; a severe glance from Miles tried to compel her to silence. “You do a lot more than that,” she objected.

“If you’re the sole connection,” frowned Galeni, “who the devil is this woman?” His wording rendered her, if not a non-person, certainly a non-soldier.

Miles explains how there are a few Dendarii who know of his true identity; Elli is one of them, because of her presence from the beginning, and often serves as his Simon Illyan-ordered bodyguard when he’s transitioning from one identity to the other.  Galeni says he’s going to send to HQ for orders, and hopes this isn’t some Vor lordling’s idea of a bad joke.  Miles gives his word as a Vorkosigan, and from Galeni’s reaction to the name he realizes that Galeni’s Komarran.  He tells Galeni he needs to get orders from his superiors; when Galeni points out he’s a superior officer, Miles blandly asks him for orders.

Galeni decides he’ll have to add Miles to his staff temporarily.  Miles tells him about the Cetagandan assassins, and Galeni says he’ll have to confine Miles to the embassy for his own safety.  Miles requests to maintain contact with Quinn, since Ky Tung is on leave, and they need their payment, which Miles quotes as 18 million marks.  Galeni is flabbergasted, saying that’s more than ten years’ budget for the entire embassy, and there’s no way he has that on hand.  Miles again asks him to contact the sector HQ, and Galeni says he’ll be only too happy to make Miles someone else’s problem.  He asks Miles to wait, and leaves them alone in the office.

Elli asks what it was about Galeni being Komarran that made Miles back off from his earlier attitude.  Miles explains how Komarr was conquered by the Barrayarans, and Miles’s father put down a Komarran rebellion and gained the unearned epithet of “Butcher of Komarr” for his troubles.  With the colonization of Sergyar to bleed off excess energy, Komarr has calmed down quite a bit, and Komarrans are making some inroads into being accepted into Barrayaran society; they were first allowed into the Barrayaran military eight years ago.  To be a Captain, Galeni must be the cream of the Komarran military contingent, and yet he’s in a relatively unimportant posting, and not privy to a lot of intelligence information that Miles, his subordinate, knows all about.
But because of Miles’s father’s reputation, any Komarran in the service must be extra careful to keep Miles safe, or else the inevitable accusations of revenge against the “Butcher”‘s son will badly damage the progress of interplanetary peace.  So Miles is going to have to let Galeni do everything he can to keep him safe.  In the meantime, he doesn’t have the Dendarii’s money, and doesn’t know when he will…

Comments

Apparently Miles agrees with me about the drop shuttles’ design flaws.  I wonder where they got them in the first place?  If they’re still equipment from back in The Warrior’s Apprentice era, like Triumph and some of their other ships, then at least Miles might not have been responsible for buying them.  I suppose it’s not a flaw that’s immediately obvious, either, until it happens to you…

How does Simon Illyan’s “constant bodyguarding” requirement stretch to letting Miles be the inside man in the Dagoola prison camp in any case?  Unless he claimed that Elli and Elena’s constant monitoring was kind of like guarding him, except for their complete inability to intervene on his behalf…  Well, maybe it was one of these cases of “seek forgiveness rather than permission”.  I believe we do see Simon Illyan in the Borders of Infinity framing story, so maybe he gives Miles what-for at that point.

I recall seeing a lot of Elli Quinn in this book, and Ky Tung’s got his excuse for being out of the picture, but somehow I don’t recall Elena, Baz Jesek, or Bel Thorne showing up much.  Baz is mentioned in the first chapter, but the rest?  Well, if Miles is confined to the embassy, safe and sound, for most of the book, I guess he won’t get into much trouble, right?  Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

It’s a little amusing to see Earth not the centre of some kind of human federation, but instead a backwater off the main trade routes.  I guess that there was never any big commonwealth, since the colonies all seem to be mostly independent.  The first colonies were off course sent off sub-light, but one would think that Earth could have tried to maintain hegemony using jump-drive ships…  Except that Earth probably never achieved a world government unified enough to pull that off.  Also, one sees Bujold’s forecasts of rising ocean levels in the flooding of the coastal cities, but people seem to have adjusted.

Chapter Two

Elli reaches for Miles, and he resolves that if she hugs him, he’s going to kiss her and see what happens.  Instead, Galeni’s office doors open and Miles and Elli fly apart, as he hears a familiar voice.

“—brilliant, sure, but hyper as hell. You think he’s going to slip his flywheel any second. Watch out when he starts talking too fast. Oh, yeah, that’s him all right.”

“Ivan,” Miles breathed, closing his eyes. “How, God, have I sinned against You, that You have given me Ivan—here. . . .”

God not deigning to answer, Miles smiled crookedly and turned. Elli had her head tilted, frowning, listening in sudden concentration.

Galeni is indeed accompanied by Lieutenant Ivan Vorpatril, Miles’s cousin, who asks Miles what he’s doing there.  Miles responds with the same question, and Ivan says he’s on Earth as another attaché, to get cultured.  Ivan asks after the Dendarii, and Galeni is nettled that yet another person knows more about them than he does.  Ivan explains his relation to Miles.

“Oh,” said Elli Quinn in a tone of sudden enlightenment, “this is your cousin Ivan! I’d always wondered what he looked like.”

Ivan, who had been sneaking little peeks at her ever since he’d entered the room, came to attention with all the quivering alertness of a bird dog pointing. He smiled blindingly and bowed over Elli’s hand. “Delighted to meet you, m’lady. The Dendarii must be improving, if you are a fair sample. The fairest, surely.”

Elli repossessed her hand. “We’ve met.”

“Surely not. I couldn’t forget that face.”

“I didn’t have this face. ‘A head just like an onion’ was the way you phrased it, as I recall.” Her eyes glittered. “Since I was blinded at the time, I had no idea how bad the plastiskin prosthesis really looked. Until you told me. Miles never mentioned it.”

Ivan remembers her now, and subsides, as Elli puts her arm through Miles’s.  Galeni says that since Ivan knows Miles, he’ll get Miles oriented to his duties, until his status can be clarified.  Elli can return to the Dendarii.  Miles asks for a way to contact her, and Sgt. Barth brings in a secured comlink for that purpose.  Elli leaves, with instructions to tell the Dendarii that their funds are “in transit”.

Galeni tells Ivan to take Miles to get a proper uniform.  Nettled, Miles tells him that the Dendarii uniform is as real as any other, and Galeni says his father could only afford toy soldiers for him as a child.  Miles is incensed, but waits until they’re out of earshot before venting to Ivan.  Ivan tells Miles that Galeni is all right, he’s just wary of mercenaries, since there’s some very patchy outfits out there.

Miles gets his new uniform, machine-tailored to his form but still not quite up to the standards of his own tailor at home.  He considers taking a break from Admiral Naismith, vanishing into Lieutenant Vorkosigan’s role for a while.  Ivan shows Miles his current job, to distill large amounts of data about Earth to be sent back to Barrayar.  Most of the data is public, which they crunch down to see if any numbers don’t match up, but they usually do because the people who publish the numbers have run these checks themselves.  They also track ship movements, as well as a number of people ImpSec wants to keep an eye on; on Earth this is mostly the group of Komarran expatriates who have formed a community there.  Miles asks if Galeni has any contacts there, but Ivan says they avoid him like a leper.  Some of the Komarrans are refugees, but some are wealthy merchants who left before the actual troubles and took much of their wealth with them.

Finally, they keep track of other embassies, such as the Cetagandans, who are only a couple of kilometres away.  Miles wants very strongly to keep away from them, since they’re trying to kill him, as Admiral Naismith, at least.  Ivan says that Naismith has disappeared, but Miles says that with Admiral Naismith and Lieutenant Vorkosigan on the same planet around the same time, it won’t take long for somebody to figure out his secret.  Miles says that Ivan’s counterpart, ghem-lieutenant Tabor, will already be tracking the Dendarii and any movements and purchases.  Ivan reassures him that the Barrayaran embassy is larger than the Cetagandans’, because of the Komarrans, and they’ll have to wait for orders too.

Miles gets restless throughout the day as he learns Ivan’s job.  He begins to suggest ways to speed up the work, but Ivan protests that he likes to stretch out the work to last the day, so he won’t be stuck with nothing at all to do.  Ivan says he looks forward to going out partying after quitting time, but after Miles points out that he’s confined to the embassy, Ivan offers to keep him company, maybe get some exercise in the gym.

They spend the next ten days exercising and doing Ivan’s work, which Miles soon takes away to do more efficiently, preferring the extra time to read and study.  Miles watches vid dramas with Ivan and travelogues without him, and talks with Elli daily on the comlink, prolonging their talks as much as he can get away with, and afterwards wondering if he really dares try to date her.

On the day the courier from HQ is due, Miles is a jittery ball of pent-up energy waiting for Galeni’s news.  Ivan points out that in peacetime everyone has time to write lengthy reports, and Miles says they’re spoiled relative to the Dendarii.  Their discussion is interrupted by Galeni’s call.

Miles cut the com and plunged for the door. “My eighteen million marks, at last!”

“Either that,” said Ivan genially, “or he’s found a job for you in inventory. Maybe you’re going to get to count all the goldfish in the fountain in the main reception court.”

“Sure, Ivan.”

“Hey, it’s a real challenge! They keep moving around, you know.”

“How do you know?” Miles paused, his eyes lighting. “Ivan, did he actually make you do that?”

“It had to do with a suspected security breach,” said Ivan. “It’s a long story.”

In Galeni’s office, Miles is a little surprised at the orders conveyed from HQ.  He’s assigned temporarily to the embassy, with duties almost identical to Ivan’s, which will include “escort duties”, attending local social functions and “being Vor” for people who enjoy hobnobbing with nobility.  Galeni notes that Ivan is actually good at it.  Miles is somewhat annoyed, but decides somebody must have decided that he should acquire some social polish, given his likely career trajectory into the upper reaches of the service.  He accedes to the orders, which Galeni says dryly is very good of him.

Miles asks, somewhat humbly, about the Dendarii funds, and Galeni said that no funds were sent with the courier.  Miles is shocked, and says there must be some mistake; Galeni says that if everything is as Miles says, it will surely be straightened out.  He will be sending another courier; Miles volunteers, and Galeni considers it, but says Miles’s orders are to stay on Earth for now.  Miles braces himself to wait ten more days, hoping HQ will have straightened itself out by then.

At an afternoon reception, Miles is squiring the Lord Mayor’s chattering wife, while the Barrayaran ambassador is escorting a fascinating woman from Tau Ceti.  Miles attempts to numb himself with wine, but discovers that he’s being served apple juice instead.  He stiffens as he notices a Cetagandan ghem-lord approach, who turns out to be Lieutenant Tabor.  They make small talk before Miles’s attention is drawn by the laughter of Ivan’s young and pretty companion, who proves to be the Lord Mayor’s daughter.  Miles realizes that, as Ivan’s social superior, he’ll be stuck with the dowagers while Ivan gets all the daughters.  The Mayor’s wife asks Miles about his relations, and Miles gives her a brief summary of his and Ivan’s descent from Prince Xav Vorbarra’s daughters.  She seems to find it all terribly romantic, though Miles does spare her a lot of the details of the uglier side of Barrayaran history.

Miles starts dropping crumbs into the nearby fountain for the goldfish.  He spots one near the bottom which doesn’t seem to be going for them as eagerly as the others, and, thinking of Ivan’s story, instantly wonders if it’s some kind of sophisticated spy robot.

He might pluck it out with a feline pounce, stamping it underfoot with a mechanical crunch and electric sizzle, then hold it up with a triumphal cry—”Ah! Through my quick wits and reflexes, I have discovered the spy among you!”

But if his guess were wrong, ah. The squish! under his boot, the dowager’s recoil, and the Barrayaran prime minister’s son would have acquired an instant reputation as a young man with serious emotional difficulties. . . . “Ah ha!” he pictured himself cackling to the horrified woman as the fish guts slithered underfoot, “you should see what I do to kittens!”

The big goldfish rose lazily at last, and took a crumb with a splash that marred Miles’s polished boots. Thank you, fish, Miles thought to it. You have just saved me from considerable social embarrassment.

Miles has lost track of the dowager’s conversation, and is trying to lead it into a discussion of Ivan’s history of disease and inbred genetics, when his secure comlink beeps.  He finds a private spot and answers it.  Elli tells him they have a Situation, and he’s the nearest Dendarii officer; four or five of his soldiers are reported to have taken over some shop, barricading themselves in with a hostage, reportedly armed.  She and Tung are too far away to get there anytime soon, but it’s only about ten minutes for Miles.  Miles promises to try to defuse things for her.

Comments

Ah, the fish.  Reminds me of one of those interactive fiction games, where a lengthy examination of a pool of fish leads you to notice one of them is red…”perhaps a herring of some sort?”  One wonders how much use a fake fish would be for surveillance, given that sound and light would be somewhat distorted and blocked off.  In a fishbowl on a table, perhaps…or if it could swim through the plumbing system.

I love the scene where Elli spikes Ivan’s hopes by recalling how he treated her when she was a plasma-burn victim.  You can’t really say that she misjudged him, either, since at this point, at least, he was all about superficiality.  Maybe even then he had hidden depths, but if so he was hiding them a bit too well for them to do him any good with people who could see past the surface.  One does get the feeling that there might be something going on between Miles and Elli, but perhaps it’s too early to tell…

The chapter begins to set up the wheel-spinning that I recall happening a lot near the beginning of the book.  Maybe there isn’t as much as I remember, but it feels like there’s a lot of Miles waiting for his money, and doing busywork at the embassy, and not much of plot showing up.  Next chapter promises to be a bit more exciting, but, of course, it will be yet another Vorkosigan’s-run-off-again situation to get him in hot water with yet another commanding officer.  I guess it was Cetaganda where I most remember him getting into trouble for that, which wasn’t written yet at this point, but still, it’s a recurring theme, at least while people keep trying to assign him to higher-ranking officers to keep track of him.


Next week, the Dendarii situation continues to deteriorate, I think, but maybe the rest of the book’s plot will begin to manifest.  This book may be a little longer than the last couple of novels I did, so I suppose I should give it a little leeway to get moving, and I hope you will too.

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Good evening, or morning, or afternoon, or stroke of noon, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I recount and discuss the sundry events chronicled by Lois McMaster Bujold concerning the life and times of Miles Vorkosigan & his esteemed colleagues, family, friends, and foes.  This week we are concluding the tripartite (as subdivided by me, in any case) story of “The Borders of Infinity”, a short novel of Mr. Vorkosigan’s exploits (as his alter ego Admiral Miles Naismith, and with the occasional assistance of his loyal troops, the Dendarii Mercenaries).

The Borders of Infinity (Concl.)

After the chow calls were regulated, things quieted down for a while, but the amount of violence, including that from the Enforcers themselves, is on the rise. Miles takes to walking the perimeter of the dome after every call, as much to burn off energy as to inspect things.  Suegar joins him sometimes, and on one walk Miles asks him if his sermons are getting any better response.  Suegar says he doesn’t have as much time as he used to, but at least he doesn’t get beaten up anymore.  He tells Miles about a mining camp he was once at, which had gotten subdivided into hundreds of tiny claims.  Like the Dagoola camp, lots of people going hungry, suffering from accidents and disease, fighting a lot, but they also worked hard because there was hope for the future.  On Dagoola IV, though, he has to keep going or else the inertia of the place will suck him down.

They reach the point on the edge farthest from the women’s camp, and Miles suddenly notices a group of four men ahead of them, and more visible beside and behind.  Miles recognizes one of them as a former friend of Pitt’s, and thinks one of the others is actually one of his own Enforcers.  He berates himself for having fallen into a predictable routine.  Pitt’s lieutenant pulls out a rag rope braided into a strangling cord.

“You,” said Pitt’s lieutenant hoarsely. “I couldn’t figure you out at first. You’re not one of us. You could never have been one of us. Mutant . . . You gave me the clue yourself. Pitt wasn’t a Cetagandan spy. You are!” And lunged forward.

Miles dodged, overwhelmed by onslaught and insight. Damn, he’d known there must be a good reason scragging Pitt that way had felt so much like a mistake despite its efficiency. The false accusation was two-edged, as dangerous to its wielder as its victim—Pitt’s lieutenant might even believe his accusation true—Miles had started a witch-hunt.

Miles and Suegar try to fight, but to little avail.  One of the men removes the rope bracelet holding Suegar’s scripture to his wrist and taunts him with it; he starts to tear it up, then decides to eat it.  Enraged, Miles punches the nearest attacker, breaking his hand and wrist, as Suegar chases the paper-chewer.  The cord goes over Miles’s neck, and he manages to get one hand, the broken one, underneath it.  His vision is closing in when rescue arrives, in the form of Beatrice and some Enforcers and commandos.  When he recovers a bit, he sees Suegar lying on the ground, curling up around his stomach.

They carry Suegar back to the camp, and Beatrice finds a doctor, but all she can say is he has a “busted belly” and lament about how few medical skills she seems to have without the technology she was trained with.  She says all they can do is keep him warm and see if he lives or dies; personally, she doesn’t think much for his chances, and Miles agrees.  Beatrice asks Miles what they should do with their attackers, and Miles says they should let them go; they’re not the enemy.  He pleads with Beatrice until she agrees, with ill grace.

Miles sits next to Suegar, giving him water from time to time, and nursing his own injured hand.  A chow call passes and Beatrice brings their rat bars by.  Miles contemplates the pain of losing friends, and wonders if Suegar will be as bad as Bothari, or worse.

He lay back and stared at the dome, the white, unblinking eye of a dead god. And had more friends than he knew already been killed by this megalomanic escapade? It would be just like the Cetagandans, to leave him in here all unknowing, and let the growing doubt and fear gradually drive him crazy.

Swiftly drive him crazy—the god’s eye blinked.

Miles opens his eyes wide, wondering if he’d blinked, or hallucinated, but he sees the dome flicker again, then blinks out, leaving them in the unaccustomed darkness of real planetary night.

“CHOW CALL!” Miles screamed at the top of his lungs.

Bombs start to land on the buildings encircling the former dome, lighting up the night again.  Miles grabs Tris as she goes by, and yells to her to get the group leaders organized, to get their groups of 200 set up around the perimeter, and keep the chow call discipline so they won’t mob the shuttles.  Tris is flabbergasted, and Miles repeats that they just need to follow the drills they’ve practiced.  As more explosions and flares light up the camp, causing Miles to wonder why his people had decided to pick them up at night instead of in daylight, he grabs Beatrice and tells her the same as Tris, telling her to try to calm people down by explaining they get a shuttle seat instead of a rat bar.  Then he asks her to come back and guard Suegar once she’s spread the word.  Beatrice doesn’t know what he’s talking about until he indicates the fourteen shuttles (including one he’d only been hoping would be repaired in time) already dropping down from the sky around the perimeter of the camp.

Beatrice stood with her mouth open, staring upward. “My God. They’re beautiful.” He could almost see her mind start to ratchet forward. “But they’re not ours. Not Cetagandan either. Who the hell . . . ?”

Miles bowed. “This is a paid political rescue.”

“Mercenaries?”

“We’re not something wriggling with too many legs that you found in your sleeping bag. The proper tone of voice is Mercenaries!—with a glad cry.”

Miles continues accosting people and spreading the news himself, commandeering a tall commando at one point to help him see what’s going on.  The fourteen groups do seem to be assembling at about the right positions as the shuttles land.  He walks over to the nearest shuttle, hoping that his plan will keep the shuttles from being overrun with prisoners.  The shuttle disgorges armed troopers, a small group pointing their weapons at the prisoners and a larger one heading to the Cetagandan buildings outside the circle.

He spots Lieutenant Murka and calls him over; Murka immediately notifies Ky Tung of Miles’s presence through his headset.  Miles grabs Murka’s headset to talk to Tung directly, asking whether Elli and Elena have been retrieved yet.  Tung says they don’t have the two women yet, and informs Miles they have about two hours for the lift.

The first group of 200 is assembled ready for the shuttle, and the second group is being organized to sit down and wait calmly.  Miles notes an odd procedure as the prisoners are boarded onto the shuttle–cutting open the back of the uniform, using a medical stunner, then ripping out the serial numbers the Cetagandans had tagged them all with.  Bel Thorne appears, with a doctor and some clothes.  Before Miles can change, the doctor does the same operation to him, and he yelps in pain before the stun kicks in.  The doctor explains that Elli and Elena discovered that the barcodes were done in a special ink with embedded chemicals that would begin to dissolve an hour after being removed from the dome, leading to a very messy death.  Miles shudders at the news and tells Thorne to authorize a commendation for the two women, promising to take their (Barrayaran) employers to task for missing the vital bit of information.  He also asks for a quick stun for his broken hand.

Thorne expresses concern about the increased size of the operation, which was supposed to just be a pickup for Colonel Tremont, and turned into a full jailbreak, using the full resources of the entire Dendarii fleet.  He points out that there’s twice as many prisoners as Dendarii.  Miles promises that their employers will pay for the operation, but he’ll have to deliver the bill in person.

Ky Tung appears just as the first wave of shuttles is launching, each as it fills up rather than waiting for the others, so Miles judges timing is extremely tight.  He tells Miles that they’re loading the prisoners into some used freighters, which can hold 5000 prisoners each, though not particularly comfortably, but they’ll be okay if they lie down and don’t breathe too much.  The local Cetagandan military are on practice maneuvers on the other side of the solar system, so all they have to deal with is some local police shuttles for now.  They’d had to wait for the maneuvers, which had been the holdup, after the revised and expanded plan was put into effect.  Tung says that the defense forces on the planet have been reduced substantially since Miles went in, stripped off to other hot spots, but they only have two hours.  Getting the fourth and last load into the air will be cutting it rather fine, depending on how fast they can load them in the first place.

“Have you found Elli and Elena yet?”

“I have three patrols out searching.”

He hadn’t found them yet. Miles’s guts tightened. “I wouldn’t have even attempted to expand this operation in midstream if I hadn’t known they were monitoring me, and could translate all those oblique hints back into orders.”

“Did they get ’em all right?” asked Tung. “We argued over some of their interpretations of your double-talk on the vids.”

Miles confirms they were right, but is surprised they have actual vids.  Tung says that they got a burst transmission daily, and some people found Miles’s efforts entertaining.  He says Elli and Elena were in contact as of yesterday, and assures Miles that his three patrols wouldn’t do any better with Miles himself helping.  Miles can’t help but worry about them, though, especially knowing that Cetagandans killed spies, after interrogating them thoroughly first.  He tries to reassure himself that there would be more resistance here if the Cetagandans had captured them…unless they were killed by friendly fire, of course.

He tells the soldier with his clothes to go and fetch Beatrice and Suegar; he enjoys the experience of being able once more to give orders without having to give a sermon for each one.  He feels exhausted, and has trouble dressing himself one-handed until Thorne comes to help him out.  Miles asks where his headset is, and Thorne says he was scheduled for immediate evacuation.  Miles swallows his annoyance and admits he’s not yet enough in the loop on the details of the operation to be giving orders, but he’s available to bring up the rear.

The soldier returns with Beatrice and Suegar.  Miles’s personal surgeon takes a look at Suegar, gives him synergine for the shock, and pronounces him in bad shape.  Miles tells him he’ll see Suegar personally brought for surgery on the command ship.  Tung receives a message on his comm set; Elli and Elena have been found and are being brought to the drop site, and haven’t asked for a medtech so are probably okay.

Miles asks Beatrice to get Tris and Oliver so he can talk to them before they go up.  When they arrive, he congratulates them on having “achieved an army”.  Tris is pessimistic, wondering what will happen if anything goes wrong, or if anyone starts to panic.  Miles says they can ride with him if that makes them feel better, though he will be going up in the last load; Tung receives this announcement with consternation.  He also tells Tris and Oliver that his original mission had been only to rescue Colonel Tremont, so he could raise an army to fight off the Cetagandans, but when that didn’t work out, he decided to just raise an army himself.  Tris and Oliver are now the new Marilac resistance, Miles tells them, overriding their protests of inexperience.  Oliver says his time in the military actually ended while he was at Fallow Core, and wonders when he’ll be able to retire now.

“The odds were worse for Barrayar, in its day, and they ran the Cetagandans right off. It took twenty years, and more blood than either of you have seen in your lives combined, but they did it,” asserted Miles.

Oliver seemed more struck by this historical precedent than Tris, who said skeptically, “Barrayar had those crazy Vor warriors. Nuts who rushed into battle, who liked to die. Marilac just doesn’t have that sort of cultural tradition. We’re civilized—or we were, once. . . .”

“Let me tell you about the Barrayaran Vor,” cut in Miles. “The loonies who sought a glorious death in battle found it very early on. This rapidly cleared the chain of command of the accumulated fools. The survivors were those who learned to fight dirty, and live, and fight another day, and win, and win, and win, and for whom nothing, not comfort, or security, not family or friends or their immortal souls, was more important than winning. Dead men are losers by definition. Survival and victory. They weren’t supermen, or immune to pain. They sweated in confusion and darkness. And with not one-half the physical resources Marilac possesses even now, they won. When you’re Vor,” Miles ran down a little, “there is no mustering out.”

Tris says they will still need supplies, and Miles says there will be covert support of the Resistance as long as there’s a Resistance to deliver it to.  Tris asks Oliver if he’ll be joining her, and he says he will.  Miles asks Tung how they’re doing, and he says they’re a few minutes behind, unloading.  Miles tells Tris and Oliver to go up in the next wave, on separate shuttles, and help speed up the unloading.

Beatrice lingered. “I’m inclined to panic,” she informed Miles in a distant tone. Her bare toe smudged whorls in the dampening dirt.

“I don’t need a bodyguard anymore,” Miles said. He grinned. “A keeper, maybe . . .”

A smile lighted her eyes that did not yet reach her mouth. Later, Miles promised himself. Later, he would make that mouth laugh.

The second wave begins to lift, even as more first wave shuttles are still landing; the fog has turned to rain.  Tung swears suddenly and then tells Miles that two shuttles have been destroyed by a Cetagandan fighter–one full, one empty.  Miles is relieved that Tris and Oliver weren’t on them, but is saddened by the loss of the 200 prisoners, and the six Dendarii crewmembers.  Beatrice asks for a task, to keep her mind busy, and Miles sends her to tell the leaders of the two groups now without a shuttle to divide up among the others; the last wave will have to go up overloaded.  Tung says they were already overloaded, this will make it worse.  Miles asks him to calculate how far behind they’ll be when the rest of the Cetagandans return.  Tung works it out and says that five shuttles will still be waiting to unload.

Tung makes a few suggestions–don’t send those five shuttles down, and leave a thousand prisoners on the behind.  Miles isn’t keen on the idea, and points out that the last groups of prisoners have been watching Miles carefully, and any sign they’ll be left behind will likely lead them to riot.  Tung says they won’t notice, with the shuttle timing so skewed.

“So we just leave them standing there, waiting for us?” The sheep look up, but are not fed . . .

“Right.”

“You like that option, Ky?”

“Makes me want to puke, but—consider the 9,000 others. And the Dendarii fleet. The idea of dropping them all down the rat hole in a pre-doomed effort to pack up all these—miserable sinners of yours, makes me want to puke a lot more. Nine-tenths of a loaf is much better than none.”

Miles proposes an alternate option.  The freighters are the slowest ships, but the Triumph is faster.  If they can take the last five shuttles and have them dock to the Triumph instead, jettisoning five fighters to make room, then the Triumph‘s shields can protect them while they cram the prisoners into the corridors.  The added mass of people may slow it down, but they can jettison some of the drop shuttles to offset it.  They should have enough oxygen to make it to the jump point, after which they can redistribute people.  Tung begins to protest the cost, and Miles stops him and says he’ll tack it onto the bill to their employers.  Tung runs the calculations and says it’ll buy them 15 very expensive minutes.

The second wave of shuttles begins to return, and, after giving Murka strict orders to not bother returning to the ship without Miles, Tung boards his shuttle with the third wave, leaving less then two thousand prisoners still on the ground, waiting.  The last wave of shuttles begins to return just after the last of the third wave leave, but the Marilacans’ discipline seems to be holding.  Miles sees Suegar onto the shuttle first, noting that he’ll actually reach Triumph faster this way than he would if he’d been loaded onto a freighter first.

The last of the armored troops that had been occupying the Cetagandan ground installations reaches the shuttle, reporting to Murka.  Plasma fire bursts out of the darkness, some Cetagandan holdout who’d found a weapon.  One immobilizes a Dendarii trooper’s armour, another flies off harmlessly into the air; rear-guard soldiers pick up weapons and head off after it, but Miles calls them back, saying there’s no time.  Miles helps the trooper out of his armour and they dash for the shuttle.  As Murka is waiting for the last few to board, he gets decapitated by a plasma beam across his neck.  Miles grabs Murka’s headset and runs up the ramp, partly melted by the plasma beam, and tells the pilot to lift now.

The shuttle begins to lift off as the ramp retracts…and jams on the melted section.  They can’t pull it in further, or seal the hatch, so Miles tells them to jettison it.  Now it’s stuck, though, and can’t slide back out, either.

Hands reached out to thump on it urgently. “You’ll never get it that way!” Beatrice, across the hatch from Miles, yelled fiercely, and twisted around to kick at it with her bare feet. The wind of their flight screamed over the open hatchway, buffeting and vibrating the shuttle like a giant blowing across the top of a bottle.

To a chorus of shouting, thumping, and swearing, the shuttle lurched abruptly onto its side. Men, women, and loose equipment tangled across the tilting deck. Beatrice kicked bloodily at a final buggered bolt. The ramp tore loose at last. Beatrice, sliding, fell with it.

Miles dove at her, lunging across the hatchway. If he connected, he never knew, for his right hand was a senseless blob. He saw her face only as a white blur as she whipped away into the blackness.

The white blur loops over and over in Miles’s head, as he finds himself crouched on the deck, pinned by the shuttle’s acceleration, the hatch finally closed.  He sees Pitt’s lieutenant, who had grabbed a weapon near the end, standing over him, and tells him he’d better kill a lot of Cetagandans, because otherwise the price they’d paid was too high.

He crawls forward to talk to Suegar, who’s barely conscious with the drugs and the pain, telling him how it worked out according to the scripture, “up through the regions of air” with “agility and speed”.  Suegar tells him he knew it wasn’t scripture, they both knew it, but Miles make him laugh weakly anyway.  Miles himself manages not to weep until they’re through the wormhole.

Comments

Whew, that’s intense, that ending.  Even though they’d taken out a lot of the Cetagandan defense, the whole operation was, in some ways, so precarious that it didn’t take much to jeopardize it.  The one fighter who managed to take out two shuttles, the single sniper killing Murka (poor Murka, you were so brilliant on Jackson’s Whole) and, indirectly, Beatrice…  Those two deaths haunt Miles for a long time, as I recall, particularly Beatrice’s.  The whole scene with the ramp, though, I always found confusing and hard to picture.  Maybe now I have it down, but I guess I always had a problem with the relationship between the ramp and the hatch, and wasn’t sure why you couldn’t close the watch without retracting the ramp.  I suppose the ramp must retract to inside the hatch, but, evidently, it’s a bad design if all it takes is a little bit of plasma melting to make it unworkable.

She was set up for most of the story as a potential romantic interest for Miles, at least once he broke through the defenses that she had put up against the dangers of the camp.  How precisely their relationship would have worked, I don’t know, since I imagine she would be following Tris into the Marilacan Resistance.  I suppose Miles could have tried to make her join the Dendarii instead, but that would have been a really bad idea, since she’d have been torn between the two and probably ended up bitter and resentful.  Probably wouldn’t have made a good Lady Vorkosigan either, though I guess it’s hard to say; we don’t really know much about her beyond the hardened exterior.

The first time through the story, for sure, I had no idea what was coming, what Miles was waiting for, and when the dome shut off and the shuttles came down I had a sudden flash of recognition of how brilliant this plan actually was.  Especially when Miles was concocting it on the fly after the failure of the original plan and only able to communicate it to the Dendarii officers through indirect means, spouting sermons and hoping that Elli and Elena would be able to pass them along.  To think, the best thing the Cetagandans could have done to stop the plan would have been to just stop recording everything.  But I guess Elli and Elena (who are some kind of inseparable bicorporate Cetagandan-infiltration machine in this story) were probably prepared to make sure things got recorded anyway.

All those extra costs that Miles incurs just to try to save a few more lives–well, losing the two shuttles isn’t really his fault, but preparing to sacrifice five brand-new fighters, and maybe two or more of the freighters, can’t be cheap.  Even just mobilizing the entire mercenary fleet to save all the prisoners rather than just trying to sneak one out must have been a costly decision.  And that ramp will probably need to be replaced, too.  The original Borders of Infinity anthology had a scene with Miles trying to explain his cost overruns to Simon Illyan (set after Brothers In Arms), which leads into the story itself.  You ever wonder about those poor Barrayaran peasants whose taxes are used to subsidize Miles’s little adventures?  Well, I’m sure they tax the nobility as well…or, at least, get them to give the Emperor gifts on his birthday every year, but I’m not sure who the main tax burder really falls on.  I guess that somebody, at least, thinks they’re worth it, even if all they’re doing is secretly giving a black eye to the Cetagandans.

Still wonder whether the Cetagandans recognizes Miles, and if they did, if they recognized him as Miles Naismith or Miles Vorkosigan.  I guess, after the fact, unless the records got wiped by Elli-and-Elena, they’d be able to figure out who was behind it all, but in the context of Miles Naismith, for sure.  There’s no evidence that they ever connected the two, and if they did, maybe they just decided that Miles Vorkosigan had a clone or something.  Which would be ridiculous, of course, since clones don’t really work that way, do they?


On that note…we’re done “The Borders of Infinity” and ready to start on Brothers In Arms, wherein we ask the question, “What if Miles had a clone?”  I’ll start week after next, because I get another week off now before leaping into another full-sized novel.  Not quite into my favourite stretch, but without this one Mirror Dance doesn’t stand up, and without Mirror Dance, Memory doesn’t stand up, so it’s a necessary step, and in some ways encompasses a major transition in Miles’s life which begins to throw everything else out of balance.  So there’s that.  In two weeks, then…

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