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…
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.
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…
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.
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.