Winter is coming, they say, or is it already here? You know what’s definitely here? Another Vorkosigan Saga Reread post, as I devote my week to another two chapters in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga–in this case, chapters Thirteen and Fourteen in Brothers In Arms, the penultimate installment in the book. We’re definitely into the climax now…
Ivan follows Elli and Miles back up to their quarters. As Miles changes back into his Dendarii uniform, Ivan says that Destang will probably be trying to break Galeni down. Miles is incensed on Galeni’s behalf, but says that if Ser Galen couldn’t do it, Destang probably can’t. Ivan says they’ll probably be coming to question him soon enough. Miles realizes that Ivan will indeed remain in the thick of it, and proposes that he give his secured commlink back to Ivan, while Elli “forgets” to return hers, and that Ivan then keeps Miles’s commlink until he gets the other half. Ivan is leary of the idea, not wanting another incident on his service record. Miles insists it will only be a precaution, in case he needs to a private line to the embassy; Ivan says he can’t conceive of any reason Miles would need to use it rather than normal channels, and neither would Destang.
“Just what are you hatching in the back of your twisty little mind, Coz?”
Miles sealed his boots and paused in seriousness. “I’m not sure. But I may yet see a chance to save . . . something, from this mess.”
Elli, listening intently, remarked, “I thought we had saved something. We uncovered a traitor, plugged a security leak, foiled a kidnapping, and broke up a major plot against the Barrayaran Imperium. And we got paid. What more do you want for one week?”
“Well, it would have been nice if any of that had been on purpose, instead of by accident,” Miles mused.
Ivan ask him what he wants to save, and realizes it must be the clone. He tells Miles to stop obsessing over it, but Miles says that it’s his brother–on some planets, would even be considered his child. Ivan says that it tried to kill him, and Elli says he could always make another clone if he wants one. Miles says he doesn’t want a clone, but he seems to have one anyway. Elli says the clone belongs to Galen, by Jackson’s Whole law, and Ivan says that Miles is out of the picture anyway. Miles says that Destang wants to kill the clone, and he has no time to get his father to tell Simon Illyan to order him otherwise. Ivan is shocked that Miles would even consider pulling strings like that, but Miles says he owes it to his clone. He tells Ivan that he just wants to keep an open channel, in case; he’d give it to Galeni, but he doesn’t think it would look right.
Miles, Elli and Elena catch a shuttle for returning Dendarii personnel; joining them on it at the last minute is Sergeant Siembieda, a tech sergeant who’d been cryofrozen but made it through. Siembieda shows them snapshots of the Unicorn Park in Great Britain, where they have a number of genetically engineered species on display, as well as tame lions. Then he asks, diffidently, what happened on the day he was killed on Mahata Solaris. Miles tells him they’d been checking out some defective batteries they’d been sold when they were jumped at a warehouse by a Cetagandan hit squad; Siembieda had taken shrapnel to the neck and bled out quickly, but they’d frozen him right away. Elli points out that memory loss is common in all trauma cases, not just cryo-revivals. Miles asks her if she remembered her plasma burn, and she admits she never quite lost consciousness.
The shuttle takes off, a little fast, with a combat-drop pilot at the helm. Miles looks out over the great dikes holding back the risen oceans from the Thames estuary, helping to preserve historical London, and spots one of the Channel-spanning bridges. He contemplates Galen, wondering what need he still has for Mark, now that his Barrayar plot has been exposed. He might be trying to sell the clone to somebody, like the Cetagandans…and Miles begins to wonder if he can convince Galen that he wants to but it himself, if that would be an effective way to salvage Mark out of the situation. But if Galen was willing to sell the clone for a brain transplant, would Miles still be willing to let him escape?
Miles is happy to be back on Triumph, perceptibly in better repair than before their arrival at Earth. He issues orders to prepare the Dendarii for departure, cancelling any remaining work contracts, then goes to talk to Bel Thorne in the Intelligence department. He tells Bel to play through the recording of what happened in the Komarrans’ house after they left (supposedly “with the Barrayaran attaché”, for Bel’s benefit). The guards awaken from stun, and then Galen calls them, discovers their failure, and breaks off contact with them. The call came from a public comconsole, unfortunately, and with the efficient tube system Galen could already be a hundred kilometers away. The Barrayarans showed up to arrest the two guards shortly thereafter.
Miles says that the Barrayarans are no longer hiring them to find Galen, but he wants them to keep looking anyway, and this time try to avoid contact with the Barrayarans. When Bel expresses surprise, Miles decides to “explain” his interest.
“All right. An odd and unexpected personal wrinkle has turned up in the middle of this case. Have you ever wondered why I never speak of my family background, or my past?”
“Well—there are a lot of Dendarii who don’t. Sir.”
“Quite. I was born a clone, Bel.”
Thorne looked only mildly sympathetic. “Some of my best friends are clones.”
“Perhaps I should say, I was created a clone. In the military laboratory of a galactic power that shall remain nameless. I was created for a covert substitution plot against the son of a certain important man, key of another galactic power—you can figure out who with a very little research, I’m sure—but about seven years ago I declined the honor. I escaped, fled, and set up on my own, creating the Dendarii Mercenaries from, er, materials found ready to hand.”
Miles tells Bel that one of the early experiments (before the process was perfected with him) was frozen for a few years and is now in Galen’s hands, from which Miles is determined to recover him. Bel understands Miles’s interest and promises to do his best. Miles tells them that they should be able to distinguish the clone because he’ll still have bone in his legs, while Miles’s leg bones are now plastic; otherwise, he and his clone-brother are well-nigh indistinguishable, as Quinn confirms.
After they leave Intelligence, Miles tells Quinn he needed a way to keep the Dendarii on alert about Mark, and when she asks, explains how he arrived at the name “Mark”. Elli is also dubious about Miles’s interest in the clone, but Miles says that even if everyone else disagrees with him about it, he may still be right. He’s reluctant to use Naismith’s powers for personal reasons, but thinks Mark is worth it. Although he’s not sure he wants Galen and Mark to be found, if they are, he wants to be the one to do it, to get Mark and Galen separated, and keep Mark hidden long enough to get the kill orders rescinded. He’s still not sure what the best solution to Galen is, though.
Lieutenant Bone is ecstatic to receive their money at long last, and Miles tells her to unmortgage Triumph and disburse any other necessary funds. He also says he wants an untraceable credit chit, payable to bearer, for half a million marks. Bone promises to do her best. Miles goes to get some rest, trying to think of a way to get the momentum on his side, to act instead of react, but he can’t do much until they find Galen.
After managing to actually get enough sleep, he receives a comconsole message telling him that there’s a call from the Barrayaran embassy. Miles has it forwarded to his cabin (with no surveillance or recording). It is Destang, who orders Lieutenant Vorkosigan to stay on his ship and in orbit until personally notified otherwise by Destang himself. Miles deduces that Destang wouldn’t be closing off this particular loophole unless he was close to finding Mark. Miles calls on the private commlink, but reaches not Ivan, but Galeni. Galeni says that Ivan gave it to him before being sent off to escort the ambassador’s lady to a flower show; apparently Destang is less than thrilled with him, or with Galeni either, having confined him to quarters.
“It’s so damned useless! The dead hand of the past goes on jerking the strings by galvanic reflex, and we poor puppets dance—nothing is served, not us, not him, not Komarr . . .”
“If I could make contact with your father,” began Miles.
“It would be useless. He’ll fight, and keep on fighting.”
“But he has nothing, now. He blew his last chance. He’s an old man, he’s tired—he could be ready to change, to quit at last,” Miles argued.
“I wish . . . no. He can’t quit. Above life itself, he has to prove himself right. To be right redeems his every crime. To have done all that he’s done, and be wrong—unbearable!”
Miles tells Galeni to keep the commlink, just in case, and signs off. He checks with Bel to discover there’s no progress to speak of, and tells him the Barrayarans seem to have found their quarry, but he wants to beat them there. Miles prepares to depart immediately on receiving any news, arming himself as well as he can when planning to pass through customs, then waits impatiently for some break.
Soon he receives a call from a public comconsole, which he gets Bel to record; it turns out to be Galen. Galen tells Miles to meet him at the Thames Tidal Barrier in seventy minutes, and come alone, or else Ivan will die at 0207. Miles protests that he has to bring a second, to match Galen and Mark, and Galen agrees and hangs up. Bel says they could have someone there in a few minutes, but by then Galen could have lost himself again. He tells Bel to ready his shuttle and get Elli to meet him there with some med-scanners, and get the credit chit from Bone.
He calls Galeni and tells him to check on Ivan. Galeni calls someone else to check, and returns to report that Ivan’s driver has just reported him missing at the flower show. Miles tells Galeni to get away, however he can, without alerting Destang, and meet him at the Tidal Barrier with a stunner. They have one last chance to deal with Mark and Galen properly before it’s too late.
I’m not sure why they need the scene with Siembieda. If anything, it reads like foreshadowing for Mirror Dance, but that book was still years in the future; was Bujold planning ahead for that already? Or is it just a little bit of colour, filling in some tech and also a little bit of the backstory between Dagoola IV and Earth? Seems an odd place for it, though.
We do get a little bit more of a glimpse of the changes in the future Earth–bridges over the English Channel(!), and obviously higher ocean levels, requiring big dikes to protect the historic shores of the Thames. One almost expects a diabolical plot to blow them up, holding the city hostage, but Galen doesn’t have those resources, and probably never did, except perhaps on Komarr…did he threaten to blow up any Barrayaran-occupied domes back then, one wonders? (I can’t remember if, by this point, much of Komarr has been described; apart from this book, there was Gregor’s disappearance in The Vor Game, and either of them might have mentioned domes, but once again I’m too lazy to check…)
And Ivan once again gets to be the damsel in distress, in need of rescue. I guess the other time was in Cetaganda, which wasn’t published under after Mirror Dance, so in some ways this is the first time. It never fails to amuse, though. (In some role-playing games, Ivan would fulfill the role of a “dependent NPC”, albeit a competent one, giving Miles a few extra character points in exchange for being a weakness for his enemies to exploit by kidnapping or threatening.)
Miles finds the Thames Tidal Barrier (a.k.a. the King Canute Memorial) more impressive close up in an aircar than it had from the shuttle. It’s a gigantic mountain of synthacrete with periodic towers manned by technicians constantly monitoring the pumps and sluices. Section Six, where they are to meet Galen, is a peripheral area, all but deserted in the wee hours of the morning. Miles wonders why Ivan’s death is scheduled for 0207 precisely, and the aircar pilot says that it’s high tide; Miles realizes that means that Ivan is probably below the tide line somewhere. Quinn suggests having the Dendarii check it from the air, which Miles approves.
A man nearby turns out to be a late-night jogger, who avoids the uniformed Dendarii, but the next they see is Captain Galeni. Miles gets Elli to med-scan him and record it as a baseline, and tests out his wrist-comm, which he sets to constantly transmit. Elli asks what to do if Mark comes back and Miles doesn’t; Miles tells her to fast-penta him, find out where Ivan is, and then blow Mark’s head off if she wants.
Miles and Galeni set off for the meeting place, a walkway on the other side of the dike. Galeni says he had no trouble leaving the embassy, but the duty guard definitely saw him, so Destang will know soon enough, but he wasn’t followed, and left his wristcomm behind to avoid being traced. At the top of the dike, they discover the ladders down are locked.
Miles sighed under his breath. Rappelling high over rock-hard surfaces was one of his all-time least favorite activities. He fished the drop-wire spool from its own little pocket on his Dendarii jacket, attached the gravitic grappler carefully and firmly to the railing, and doublechecked it. At a touch, handles telescoped out from the sides of the spool and released the wide ribbon-harness that always looked horribly flimsy despite its phenomenal tensile strength. Miles threaded it round himself, clipped it tight, hopped over the rail, and danced down the wall backwards, not looking down. By the time he reached the bottom his adrenaline was pumping nicely, thank you.
Miles says he managed to sneak two stunners and a few other “toys” through security; Galeni only has one stunner himself. They walk slowly along the walkway, the water not far below them, obviously covering this place at high tide. Miles peeks around a curve and sees Mark and Galen standing at the end of the walkway, in front of a door, stunners at the ready. Galen sees Miles, and notes the standoff; either Miles can only stun one of them and the other can kill him, or by some chance Miles might stun both, and never know where Ivan is. Galen is surprised and dismayed to see his son appear behind Miles, but says that it changes nothing.
Galen suggests they all lay their weapons down on the ground. Miles suggests he and his clone first, then Galen and Galeni; Galeni gives his word, and his father reluctantly accepts, though he hesitates a long time when his turn comes, before reluctantly laying down his stunner. Galeni follows suit. Ser Galen asks for Miles’s proposition; Miles offers the credit chit (which he says is concealed, where Galen would never find it), a hundred thousand Betan dollars, and information on how to evade the Barrayarans. In return, he asks for Ivan, the clone, and Galen’s promise to retire peaceably somewhere.
“The revolt,” breathed Galen almost to himself, “must not die.”
“Even if everybody in it dies? ‘It didn’t work, so let’s do it some more’? In my line of work they call that military stupidity. I don’t know what they call it in civilian life.”
“My older sister once surrendered on a Barrayaran’s word,” Galen remarked. His face was very cold. “Admiral Vorkosigan too was full of soft and logical persuasion, promising peace.”
“My father’s word was betrayed by an underling,” said Miles, “who couldn’t recognize when the war was over and it was time to quit. He paid for the error with his life, executed for his crime. My father gave you your revenge then. It was all he could give you; he couldn’t bring those dead to life. Neither can I. I can only try to prevent more dying.”
Galen asks his son what he could promise; Galeni says grandchildren, perhaps, a continuation of his family line. Galen sneers that they would be “good Imperial subjects”. Miles wonders at Galen’s own proposition, knowing that he must have a second weapon concealed, and briefly considering trying to swim for it; he doesn’t, even when Galen pulls out a nerve disrupter. He tells Mark to gather up the stunners, and says he’s going to kill them; Miles wonders why he hasn’t already, and tries to keep him talking, asking what he thinks to accomplish.
Galen says he will leave with the only Miles–not to replace Miles Vorkosigan this time, but rather Miles Naismith, and take over the Dendarii Mercenaries. Miles says that the Dendarii are wise to the possibility of substitution, and he’s told them to use med-scanners. The clone tells him that he’s had his own perfectly good leg bones replaced with synthetics too, though, and any other differences will be more subtle and easy to miss. He’ll dispose of the three who know Miles Vorkosigan–Elli and the Bothari-Jeseks–and study up on Miles’s logs until he’s a perfect replacement.
Miles says that he’ll never carry it off, since Miles carries lots of information in his head about the five thousand Dendarii that’s not in any log. Even if Mark does succeed–is that really what he wants? He doesn’t have to be a mercenary commander, he could have the freedom to be anything else he wants. Galen comments that the clone won’t make a convincing soldier if he’s never killed, so he hands the clone the nerve disrupter and tells him to kill Miles and Galeni. Mark asks about the credit chit and Galen tells him it’s just a ruse. Miles speaks into his wristcomm, and Elli replies audibly, telling him that everything they said has been relayed to Thorne in Intelligence.
Galen exhorts Mark to kill them, but Mark is undecided. Miles tells him that he’s a free man, until he kills for Galen. Galen tells him to kill his enemies, and makes to take the disrupter from the clone; Galeni steps in front of Miles. The disrupter crackles, but it is Ser Galen who falls. Mark points the weapon back and Miles as he lunges forward. Noticing the seawater beginning to lap over the edge of the walkway, Miles asks about Ivan, and Mark tells him to stay back or he’ll never know. Miles agrees to help him, if he takes them to Ivan, but Mark doesn’t trust him. Miles points out that between the Komarrans, the Barrayarans, and the local authorities, Mark doesn’t have a lot of alternatives. Elli begins to rappel down behind them, and Mark ducks through the hatch, tossing the nerve disrupter away; he points out that it’s Miles’s fingerprints on the weapon.
The hatch closes and locks; Elli suggests blowing it open, but it’s below the high tide line, so Miles nixes that, not wanting to flood London. Galeni hasn’t moved, but tells Miles he’s not in shock “yet”…Miles asks him to go up and try to find another entrance. He offers Galeni weapons, but Galeni says he’ll use his bare hands. Quinn gets the door open shortly after Galeni ascends, and she and Miles enter, leaving Galen’s body behind. They soon reach a T-intersection.
“You go left, I’ll go right,” said Miles.
“You shouldn’t be alone,” Quinn objected.
“Maybe I should be twins, eh? Go, dammit!”
Miles runs along the corridor for a while, just beginning to wonder if he’s missed a turnoff when he spots a stunner on the floor, obviously dropped by Mark. He tries to contact Quinn with his wristcomm but gets no response. Reaching a lift tube, he goes up and gets off in a lobby on the third floor. The first person he sees, though, a man in civilian clothes, pulls out a nerve disrupter and shoots at him. Miles ducks back into the lift tube, catching only the very edge of the disruptor, and realizes the man had Barrayaran boots; he was nearly shot by his own side, mistaking him for his clone. The next level up is empty of gunmen, and Miles tries four doors along the corridor before finding one that opens. Two women in tech uniforms are cowering under a console.
Miles tried a friendly smile. “Ah . . . hello.”
“Who are you people?” said the second woman in rising tone.
“Oh, I’m not with them. They’re, um . . . hired killers.” A just description, after all. “Don’t worry, they’re not after you. Have you called the police yet?”
She shook her head mutely.
“I suggest you do so immediately. Ah—have you seen me before?”
“Which way did I go?”
She cowers away, obviously convinced he’s insane, and he leaves, urging them again to call the police. He reaches the other end of the hall, where the lift tube has been deactivated, and peeking over the edge gets another nerve disrupter aimed at him. Miles heads out onto a balcony instead, and uses his grappler to go up to the next level. There, he spots Mark, waiting by the lift tube with his stunner. Miles calls out to him and offers to help get him out of this, so they can find Ivan. Mark agrees to tell Miles where Ivan is in exchange for help escaping.
Miles tells Mark that the Barrayarans will have to retreat as soon as the police arrive, already being in hot water just for having been seen. He suggests going to the roof for pickup by a Dendarii aircar, but Mark says that he’ll be Miles’s captive then, and he knows what use Miles could have for a clone… He tells Miles that Ivan is down, not up, and they only have eleven minutes left. Miles checks the lift-tube, finds it empty, and hooks up the rappelling line, telling Mark to hang on. Miles jumps over the side, Mark clinging in terror.
Their doubled weight gathered momentum terrifyingly. They fell unimpeded in near-silence for four stories—Miles’s stomach was floating near his back teeth, and the sides of the lift tube were a smear of color—then the rappelling spool began to whine, resisting its blurring spin. The straps bit, and Mark’s grip hand-to-hand across Miles’s collarbone began to pull apart. Miles’s right hand flashed up to clamp around Mark’s wrist. They braked to a demure stop a centimeter or two above the lift tube’s bottom floor, back in the belly of the synthacrete mountain. Miles’s ears popped.
They don’t seem to have excited any attention, even when Miles pulls the grappel back down after them. Mark points the way and they jog along the corridor; Miles can hear the pumps beginning to work just one level below them. Mark stops and indicates the access hatch to a pumping chamber. Miles pictures Ivan’s fate if not rescued, and castigates Mark for doing this to someone whose worst crime was snoring.
He opens the hatch and sees Ivan’s face looking up; he sets up the grappel and sends the rappelling harness down to Ivan, who grabs on and lets the reel pull him up. Ivan crawls out into the corridor, his hands raw from pounding on the walls, and when Miles closes the hatch again, the pump begins working immediately. He tells Miles he’s going to take up claustrophobia as a hobby. Miles turns and sees that Mark has disappeared, and he still can’t raise Elli on his wristcomm. He calls Sergeant Nim with the air patrol instead and tells him he’s lost contact with Quinn, and where he last saw her.
He pulls Ivan to his feet and they walk down the corridor. Ivan said it feels like he’s been on pure adrenaline for hours, but Miles says it’s only been a couple of hours. He says that Galen snatched him to lure Miles down, even though Destang had ordered him to stay on Triumph, which is why the Barrayarans feel free to shoot at any diminutive Miles that they see. He tells Ivan that Galen is dead, as they near the hatch to the walkway, and, hearing approaching footsteps, says he’ll get a chance to thank Mark in person soon enough.
Mark appears, running flat-out, with a plasma burn on one side of his face. He tells Miles about “painted lunatics” in the next watchtower up the corridor. Miles realizes that these must be Cetagandans, and that Quinn may well have run into them.
“But you can relax, Mark. They don’t want to kill you.”
“The hell they don’t! He shouted, ‘There he is, men!’ and tried to blow my head off!”
Miles’s lips peeled back on a dirty grin. “No, no,” he caroled soothingly. “Merely a case of mistaken identity. Those people want to kill me—Admiral Naismith. It’s just the ones on the other end of the tunnel who want to kill you. Of course,” he added jovially, “neither of them can tell us apart.”
Miles leads them back to the access hatch, but with the rising waters, they can no longer open it.
Poor Mark, he still can’t decide which way to jump. He still has so little experience in trusting people, but at least he broke free of Galen (who never did dignify him with a name apart from “my Miles”). He can’t figure out Miles’s motivations, though, apart from his conclusion that he must want a clone-body. Would Miles want Mark as a clone-body, though? At least Mark doesn’t have fragile bones (lucky him, though, he got to have unnecessary replacements), but he’s still not really tall and prepossessing. Of course, if Miles was transplanted into a real Ivan-sized clone, most of the people he knew wouldn’t recognize him, so I suppose there’s that.
This chapter and the next one are kind of like a bedroom farce, except with lethal weapons. The Cetagandans want to kill Miles Naismith, the Barrayarans want to kill Mark the clone, and neither of them really want to kill Miles Vorkosigan, but they can’t tell any of the two (three) of them apart. And, of course, neither group wants to be caught by the police, who would probably love to just stun everybody and sort them out in jail…at least, as soon as they arrive.
There is a nice moment (which I mostly skipped over) after Miles rescues Ivan:
“Why did you come downside?” asked Ivan after a minute or two. “Don’t tell me you’re still trying to save that graceless little copy’s worthless hide.”
“Galen sent me an invitation engraved on your hide. I don’t have too many relatives, Ivan. They’re of surprising value to me. If only for their rarity, eh?”
Miles and Ivan don’t always get along, but they do care about each other, and, let’s face it, Miles is much closer to his cousin than to his genetic twin, because of the wealth of shared experiences. Miles and Ivan are more “brothers in arms” than Miles and Mark. It’ll take a few more books for their relationship to settle down still…
The little rappelling spool/grapple thingie does prove to be very useful, and Miles even comments to himself that he almost didn’t bring it along. I’m not quite sure how such a little thing could lift someone as heavy as Ivan out of the tank, but I guess he wasn’t completely dead weight, and if it can stop Mark and Miles from hitting the bottom of the lift tube, it must be fairly strong. I guess that’s the “gravitic” part of the “gravitic grappler”–does it have a miniature black hole? Or just some weird offshoot of the gravitic imploder lance weapon (though that wasn’t actually mentioned until the later-written Vor Game…)
One more week! I just hope Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance comes in at the local bookstore branch, and that we don’t have to go too far afield to track it down next Tuesday. Or that it doesn’t get held up for weeks like Cryoburn did. I tried to preorder it online, but apparently they only guarantee to send it on release date. I remember Harry Potter & The Order of The Phoenix, you could order to arrive on release date. Grumble. I really need to remember to get the reread post done early next week, to leave Tuesday clear… Oh, yeah, and the election, too. It’ll be a long week…