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.
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…
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.
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.”
“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.
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.