The wheel of time turns, and brings us around to another Tuesday evening, which means it’s time for another Vorkosigan Saga Reread post. Over the halfway point now in Brothers In Arms, fulcrum of the series, though our protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan, spends chapters Nine and Ten pretty much a prisoner the whole time, so the action can’t actually be said to be picking up just yet. The tension, though, perhaps…
They take Miles up to an office, bright with sunlight, with a display showing Miles and Galeni’s cell, and occupied by the man who had been in charge of Miles’s kidnapping. He is preparing a hypospray for what is more likely going to be an interrogation rather than an execution. It takes a moment for Miles to catch the family resemblance and realize this must be Ser Galen, Galeni’s father.
Galen rose and stalked slowly around Miles with the air of a man studying a sculpture by an inferior artist. Miles stood very still, feeling smaller than usual in his sock feet, stubbled and grubby. He had come to the center at last, the secret source from which all his coiling troubles had been emanating these past weeks. And the center was this man, who orbited him staring back with hungry hate. Or perhaps he and Galen were both centers, like the twin foci of an ellipse, brought together and superimposed at last to create some diabolical perfect circle.
Galen speaks, wondering how such an unimpressive figure could have won his son’s loyalty, but commenting how apt a representation Miles is of his father’s inner corruption. Miles notes that, having cloned him, Galen knows there’s nothing genetic about it. Galen concedes the point but still wonders how such a monster as Aral Vorkosigan could retain the allegiance of his own son, let alone so many others.
Miles, glowering, clipped out, “For one thing, my father has never abandoned me in the presence of an enemy.”
Galen jerks away at this and picks up the hypospray; Miles regrets his impulse for the last word which has kept him from extending the conversation and maybe learning something. Miles asks what Galen is injecting him with, and Galen says it’s fast-penta. Miles knows what to expect, having studied the drug at the Academy; it’s considered perfect for interrogation, irresistible and harmless, unless of course you have a natural or induced allergy to it. Most ImpSec agents do, but Miles was considered to be too important to risk his life that way. As Naismith, he’s witnessed several interrogations, too, and they’re amusing to watch, less amusing to be the subject yourself.
Instead of beginning to feel mellow, relaxed, and trusting, though, Miles begins to feel amped up, as if on caffeine. He wonders if he’ll turn out to have a natural allergy anyway, but when he keeps breathing, or rather panting, he decides it must just be another weird drug reaction. They sit him down and Galen asks him about security procedures at the embassy. Miles begins rambling, spouting not only the answers to Galen’s questions but also every single digression and side road that his brain comes up with. Normal fast-penta victims do tend to ramble, but can be gently redirected; Miles babbles so forcefully that they find it difficult to keep him on track, or stop him without physical force.
As they mutter about what could be going wrong with the interrogation, a message comes in on the comconsole–Miles’s clone calling to check in with Galen. He tells Galen that he almost blew it when he didn’t recognize Ivan in the car, but he pretended it was a joke, and it blew over, though he now has to room with Ivan, who snores…
“You’re going to have to deal with all kinds of people who knew him, before this is done,” said Galen roughly to the vid. “But if you can fool Vorpatril, you’ll be able to carry it off anywhere—”
“You can fool all of the people some of the time,” chirped Miles, “and some of the people all of the time, but you can fool Ivan anytime. He doesn’t pay attention.”
Galen glanced over at him in irritation. “The embassy is a perfect isolated test-microcosm,” he went on to the vid, “before you go on to the larger arena of Barrayar itself. Vorpatril’s presence makes it an ideal practice opportunity. If he tumbles to you, we can find some way to eliminate him.”
The clone grumbles that they almost didn’t find out about his double life as Naismith in time, and wonders what else they missed. Galen tries to reassure him, calling him “Miles”, which strikes the real Miles as odd, that the clone wasn’t allowed to develop his own identity. He adds that this unexpected opportunity on Earth is much better than trying to pull the switch on Barrayar, which was their original plan, but much more complicated. The clone says he’s been trying to avoid talking too much, passing it off as a depressive episode. He asks about Miles’s voice, who’s been babbling in the background throughout the call, and Galen explains he’s under fast-penta. The clone says to ask him what he should do about the Dendarii Mercenaries, who won’t stop calling him. He’s trying to convince the ambassador to let him go back to Barrayar, but it’s difficult because he’s in charge of the search for Galeni; they might need to slip them in with the courier. Miles wonders if they know that the Barrayarans know the courier’s been compromised, and tries to keep from blurting that thought out loud enough for them to hear.
The clone has a few questions for Miles, while he’s there. He says that Lieutenant Bone asked him what to do with the surplus from the Triumph, and he told her to use her own judgement, but wants to know what that was all about. Miles tells him that Bone is the fleet accountant, and the surplus is extra money from the mortgage, and she’ll probably just invest it with the rest, what there is of it. The clone asks why one Rosalie Crew is suing Naismith for half a million credits, and Miles realizes she must be the women from the liquor store. He recommends countersuing for medical damages to his back, but Galen overrides that, telling the clone to ignore it because he won’t be around that long.
“And leave the Dendarii holding the bag?” said Miles angrily. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying desperately to think in the wavering room. “But of course, you don’t care anything about the Dendarii, do you? You must care! They put their lives on the line for you—me—it’s wrong—you’ll betray them, casually, without even thinking about it, you scarcely know what they are—”
“Quite,” sighed the clone, “and speaking of what they are, just what is his relationship with this Commander Quinn, anyway? Did you finally decide he was screwing her, or not?”
“We’re just good friends,” caroled Miles, and laughed hysterically. He lunged for the comconsole—the guards grabbed for him and missed—and climbing across the desk snarled into the vid, “Stay away from her, you little shit! She’s mine, you hear, mine, mine, all mine—Quinn, Quinn, beautiful Quinn, Quinn of the evening, beautiful Quinn,” he sang off-key as the guards dragged him back. Blows ran him down into silence.
The clone says Miles doesn’t sound like he’s on fast-penta, and Galen agrees that his reaction is odd; if they can’t trust the information he provides, there won’t be much use in keeping him around. The clone signs off, and Galen turns back to trying to interrogate Miles, about the Dendarii, as well as his habits and acquaintances on Barrayar. Miles answered when he couldn’t stop himself, but he found that if he managed to hit a line of poetry, he was compelled to finish the whole thing, and tries to use that to derail things.
“At this rate we’ll be here till next winter,” said one of the guards in disgust.
Miles’s bleeding lips peeled back in a maniacal grin. ” ‘Now is the winter of our discontent,’ ” he cried, ” ‘made glorious summer by this sun of York—’ ”
It had been years since he’d memorized the ancient play, but the vivid iambic pentameter carried him along relentlessly. Short of beating him into unconsciousness, there seemed nothing Galen could do to turn him off. Miles was not even to the end of Act I when the two guards dragged him back down the lift tube and threw him roughly back into his prison room.
Once there, his rapid-firing neurons drove him from wall to wall, pacing and reciting, jumping up and down off the bench at appropriate moments, doing all the women’s parts in a high falsetto. He got all the way through to the last Amen! before he collapsed on the floor and lay gasping.
Galeni, taken aback by Miles’s behaviour, asked if he was quite finished. Miles tells an incredulous Galeni that that was from his fast-penta interrogation, which apparently behaves as oddly for him as other drugs do. Galeni calls it a stroke of luck, but Miles remembers Galen talking about his decreased utility and isn’t so sure.
Miles spends the next day recovering from fast-penta hangover. Galeni is taken away for his own interrogation, after trying and failing to get himself stunned, and returns hours later to suffer his own hangover. Galeni says his father keeps trying to convince his son that he must really hate the Barrayarans after all, digging into his personal history to find out why he thinks otherwise. His father has concluded he must be “dazzled by the glittering tinsel of neo-fascism”, or “get a sadistic psychosexual kick out of being a bully, goon and thug”. Galeni admits he is on a power trip, to prove himself as a Komarran, rising through Barrayar’s great leveler, the Imperial Service, destined to emerge as practically the social equal of a Vor. He rambles on a bit more before confessing that this is actually his Ph.D. thesis.
Galeni says he had more combat experience in the Komarran revolution than most cadets at the academy, admitting that his father did make use of him at a young age, and that he helped kill men before he turned fourteen. Despite seeing Barrayarans commit atrocities, he grew to realize that it didn’t matter whether Komarrans were killed by the Barrayaran invaders or their own resistance fighters, they were still as dead. And the Barrayarans weren’t trying to destroy Komarr, despite what his father said. So he planned to rise through the service, retire, enter the civil service, and rise up as high as he could… Miles suggests Viceroy, and Galeni says that might be a bit overambitious. Ser Galen, though, insists the the Barrayaran occupation is a priori wrong, and anyone who’s not resisting is collaborating.
Miles suggests that Galeni might consider pretending to go along with his father, but Galeni says that changing his mind would just convince his father he could change it again, and then Ser Galen would definitely have to kill him. Miles says that his parents have always agreed on one thing–“it’s more important to be loyal to a person than a principle”.
Galeni sat forward in interest, his hands loosely clasped between his knees. “It surprises me more that your mother had anything to do with your upbringing at all. Barrayaran society tends to be so, er, aggressively patriarchal. And Countess Vorkosigan has the reputation of being the most invisible of political wives.”
“Yeah, invisible,” Miles agreed cheerfully, “like air. If it disappeared you’d hardly miss it. Till the next time you came to inhale.” He suppressed a twinge of homesickness, and a fiercer fear—if I don’t make it back this time. . . .
Galeni smiled polite disbelief. “It’s hard to imagine that Great Admiral yielding to, ah, uxorial blandishments.”
Miles shrugged. “He yields to logic. My mother is one of the few people I know who has almost completely conquered the will to be stupid.”
Miles says that Galen’s plan disturbs him, because it doesn’t seem logical. He doesn’t think that his clone really stands a chance of becoming Emperor, and he suspects that Ser Galen knows it. And besides, even if he attained the crown, he’d have trouble making the rest of Barrayar obey him–it’s not so long since The Dismemberment of Mad Emperor Yuri, after all. So if the clone becomes Emperor and tries to grant Komarr independence, he’d be offending the military and the counts and the ministries, for different reasons, not to mention the people, who can’t help but think of him as a mutant. Miles doesn’t think that even he could survive being Emperor, even if he didn’t give up Komarr, and the clone is years of experience behind him.
Since it’s such a bad plot, it can’t be Ser Galen’s real plot, especially since it would end up giving the Barrayaran throne to a descendent of Aral Vorkosigan, and he seems to lack any leverage to keep the clone under his control afterwards. Miles realizes that the clone isn’t meant to succeed, just to cause chaos on Barrayar. At the moment of most disorder, Komarr is no doubt scheduled to rise up and throw off their overlords. For that plan to succeed, Ser Galen must have lined up allies to blockade the wormhole and trap Barrayar again; Miles hopes he’s not stupid enough to have approached the Cetagandans. Galeni asks how Galeni proposes to save his clone afterwards.
Miles smiled crookedly. “Ser Galen doesn’t care. He’s just a means to an end.” His mouth opened, closed, opened again. “Except that—I keep hearing my mother’s voice, in my head. That’s where I picked up that perfect Betan accent, y’know, that I use for Admiral Naismith. I can hear her now.”
“And what does she say?” Galeni’s brows twitched in amusement.
“Miles—she says—what have you done with your baby brother?!”
Galeni protests, but Miles says that by Betan law the clone is exactly that, and his mother is perfectly capable of expecting Miles to look out for him. Galeni wonders that she really has such influence on Aral Vorkosigan, pragmatic as he is, but Miles repeats, people before principles. Galeni admits that his father was always a man of principles.
I’ve never been sure whether or not “Ser Galen”‘s first name is actually “Ser”, or if Ser is an honorific, like “Sir” or “Mister”. On the one hand, it feels like we should know his name, but we don’t seem to. Surely Miles does, having read the sealed file, which would certainly have included the name of Galen’s father–it mentioned his aunt, after all–but it doesn’t tell us. Unless it is actually “Ser”, but somehow I have trouble actually believing it, because of the offhanded way it’s introduced into the chapter. Plus, I’ve seen “Ser” used as an honorific multiple times before; the “Fantastic Honorifics” page on TV Tropes even has a section devoted to it, though it doesn’t mention Komarr specifically, so I’m not sure if it’s used there or not.
One thing about having read Brothers In Arms before some of the later-published stories is that I knew for a fact that Miles was never going to get fast-pentaed in them. So while there may have been some times in The Vor Game or Cetaganda or “Labyrinth” that it seemed likely, I was able to rely on the fact that his first exposure didn’t happen until Brothers In Arms. Of course, he’s seen others, and conducted them…let’s see if I can remember which, from memory–two in “Mountains of Mourning”, Lem Csurik and his mother; Metzov in The Vor Game, the Ryoval security guy in “Labyrinth”…I think that’s all in the series so far. Maybe one in Ethan of Athos as well, which of course Miles wasn’t there for. I don’t recall fast-penta turning up in the Cordelia books, or The Warrior’s Apprentice, but I could be wrong.
Why, precisely, did Miles memorize “Richard III”? Shakespeare is still indispensible as literature however many centuries in the future? (Has Bujold ever committed to an actual year? Can’t remember. Somebody check and let me know.) Oh, well, it’s hard to say which is worse, using a piece of literature that we’re familiar with, however far in the character’s past it might be, or else making up a fake one that you then have to go out of your way to explain to the reader. And she does have a point, iambic pentameter makes it easier to memorize than, say, a complete Dickens book. Or an episode of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”.
By the third day of Miles’s incarceration, he’s given up on Ivan or Elli having noticed any obvious flaws in the clone’s performance. Miles works off some of his energy exercising, then tries to clog the sink and the toilet, but failsafes thwart his efforts to flood the room. Galeni has already proven how difficult it is to escape past the guards and their stunners, so their only option is to try to sabotage the information they pass to the Komarrans…though fast-penta makes that more difficult, of course.
While Miles is waiting for his socks to dry, the guards come for him. Miles finds the clone waiting in the corridor, dressed as Admiral Naismith. He’s taken to the study, where there is no sign of Ser Galen, and tied to a chair. The clone tells the guards to wait outside, and they leave him alone with Miles. Miles watches him assume one of his own familiar postures, and asks how he escaped the embassy. The clone says that the Dendarii passed him to Komarran escorts thinking they were Barrayaran, and the Barrayarans will think when he returns that his Komarran escorts are Dendarii, so he has a little bit of free time.
Miles asks what he plans to do, since fast-penta doesn’t work; the clone says he just wants to talk to Miles for a while, and confesses how much he hates him. Miles point out that they only met a few days ago, but the clone says his life has been poisoned by Miles’s very existence. It won’t be for much longer, though, but before then, Ser Galen promised him a conversation. He had to steal the opportunity, though, while Galen was gone, because Galen’s reneged on the offer. Miles said it’s probably because he was afraid Miles would spill the truth about his plot; Miles was okay with not giving the clone any more information to work with than he had to.
The clone takes the bait and asks what Miles figured out. Miles tells him that Galen doesn’t plan for him to survive as Barrayaran Emperor. The clone says he knows that already, that nobody thinks he can do it, which strikes Miles hard as a point of similarity.
“But I’ll show them. Ser Galen,” the clone’s eyes glittered, “is going to be very surprised at what happens when I come to power.”
“So will you,” Miles predicted morosely.
“D’you think I’m stupid?” the clone demanded.
Miles shook his head. “I know exactly how stupid you are, I’m afraid.”
The clone smiled tightly. “Galen and his friends spent a month farting around London, chasing you, just trying to set up for the switch. It was I who told them to have you kidnap yourself. I’ve studied you longer than any of them, harder than all of them. I knew you couldn’t resist. I can outthink you.”
He tells Miles that as Admiral Naismith he got Danio and the others released from jail. He asks if Miles is sleeping with Quinn.
“Quinn,” said Miles, “is six years older than me. Extremely experienced. And demanding. Accustomed to a high degree of finesse in her chosen partner. Are you an initiate in the variant practices of the Deeva Tau love cults as practiced on Kline Station?” A safe challenge, Miles judged, as he’d just this minute invented them. “Are you familiar with the Seven Secret Roads of Female Pleasure? After she’s climaxed four or five times, though, she’ll usually let you up—”
The clone circled him, looking distinctly unsettled. “You’re lying. I think.”
Miles asks the clone if his bones are brittle, and the clone admits they aren’t; Miles says that he won’t be able to pass for very long, because any medical scans won’t match up. The clone says that he’ll be Emperor in six months. Miles asks how they’re going to bottle up the Barrayarans; the clone admits they had been planning to use the Cetagandans, but not any more. Now they’re going to use the Dendarii Mercenaries. Miles yells that they’ll be slaughtered, and tries to lunge for the clone, only managing to tip his chair over. The guards come in at the commotion, asking what’s going on; the clone tells them to just set Miles back upright. The guards, obviously assuming that the clone is beating up on Miles, offer some help in technique, which both of them refuse, in unison. Miles is briefly tempted to claim that he’s the clone, overpowered and tied up, except for the fact that he’s got three days growth of beard to distinguish him.
After the guards leave, Miles reiterates that the Dendarii are a small force, with no chance against the determined might of a planet like Barrayar, that they won’t last much longer than the clone himself will as Emperor. The clone says that way he won’t have to pay them.
He paused and looked at Miles curiously. “How far ahead do you think?”
“These days, about twenty years,” Miles admitted glumly. And a fat lot of good it did him. Consider Captain Galeni. In his mind Miles already saw him as the best viceroy Komarr was ever likely to get—his death, not the loss of a minor Imperial officer of dubious origins, but of the first link in a chain of thousands of lives striving for a less tormented future. A future when Lieutenant Miles Vorkosigan would surely be subsumed by Count Miles Vorkosigan, and need sane friends in high places. If he could bring Galeni through this mess alive, and sane . . . “I admit,” Miles added, “when I was your age I got through about one quarter hour at a time.”
The clone says Miles has about 24 hours before he’s due to ship out and Miles will become redundant. Miles decides that, if his time his short, he’d better make his best effort now. He asks the clone what the plans are for their father, Aral Vorkosigan. The clone denies any relationship to the Butcher of Komarr, saying that his mother was a replicator. Miles points out that his was, too, but his mother won’t care, being Betan, and will consider herself the clone’s mother too. The clone says that once he’s Emperor, he’ll deal with Ser Galen. Miles says that if he plans to betray Ser Galen, he should go ahead with it now. He offers to take the clone back to Barrayar, saying he’s got family now, like it or not; after all, Miles wouldn’t have picked Ivan for a cousin if he’d had a choice.
The clone choked slightly, but did not interrupt. He was beginning to look faintly fascinated.
“But there he is. And he’s exactly as much your cousin as mine. Did you realize you have a name?” Miles demanded suddenly. “That’s another thing you don’t get to choose on Barrayar. Second son—that’s you, my twin-six-years-delayed—gets the second names of his maternal and paternal grandfathers, just as the first son gets stuck with their first names. That makes you Mark Pierre. Sorry about the Pierre. Grandfather always hated it. You are Lord Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, in your own right, on Barrayar.” He spoke faster and faster, inspired by the clone’s arrested eyes.
He tells “Mark” that he’ll have plenty of opportunities to whatever he wants. He could get an education, become a licensed pilot, take over the family wine business, go study with Grandmother Naismith, live on Beta Colony instead of Barrayar if he wants. The clone challenges that ImpSec would never let him live; Miles says that he’d give his clone-brother his word to protect him, against anything up to and including ImpSec. He wonders as he says it if he’s trying to undermine the clone’s alliance with Galen, or if he really means every word of it. The clone is amused by Miles’s grandiose promises, from his position of weakness, slapping him across the face to underline it. Miles can tell he’s never really struck a man before, or killed one, for that matter.
Miles asks him about his childhood, what kind of dreams he had growing up, of rescue. The clone says that he knew from an early age, growing up with young clones, some of whom he met later after their wealthy donors had taken up occupancy in their new bodies. He’s quite satisfied to be stealing Miles’s life, rather than have Miles steal his.
“Then where will your life be?” asked Miles desperately. “Buried in an imitation of Miles, where will Mark be then? Are you sure it will be only me, lying in my grave?”
The clone flinched. “When I am emperor of Barrayar,” he said through his teeth, “no one will be able to get at me. Power is safety.”
“Let me give you a hint,” said Miles. “There is no safety. Only varying states of risk. And failure.”
Miles tells his clone that he always knew why he was an only child–because, despite the sterility caused by the soltoxin, they could easily have used Betan technology to grow another child. But if they had had another child, who was whole, tall and fully developed, the pressure to disinherit Miles would have grown horrendous. He tells the clone the story of how Bothari had protected him from his grandfather’s attempts at infanticide, and how General Piotr had later taught Miles to ride and given him his dagger. He pressured Miles to strive and struggle, while Miles’s parents were more careful with him, preserving him from sibling competition.
Running down, Miles wonders to himself how he can rescue “Mark”, himself, and Galeni, foil the Komarran plot, and save the Dendarii. The only place he can act is right here, trying to win the trust of his clone-brother. The clone asks what guarantee Miles can give, and Miles asks, as someone weaned on betrayal, what guarantee he would accept. Assuming everyone always lies is just as bad as assuming everyone always tells the truth; the flaw is in him, not in anyone else; he has to test it, try to trust someone.
While the clone struggles with this, Galen bursts in with his guards. He asks the clone what he’s doing; the clone replies that he’s trying to improve his odds of survival on Barrayar. Galen says all Vorkosigans are liars, and that Miles will have been trying to trip him up. The clone says that even knowing how Miles lies has told him a lot about how he thinks; he says Miles seems to believe them, though he, of course, does not. Galen tells the guards to lock Miles back up.
“Your name is Mark!” Miles shouted back to him as the door shut. “Mark!”
Galen hits Miles in the jaw to shut him up and then tells the guards to lock him up, and not let him out without orders from himself personally. As the guards escort him down to the cell, Miles calculates that he and Galeni against the two guards may be the best odds they have. Unfortunately, when they open the cell door, Galeni is finally asleep. Miles tries to rouse him, grappling with the guard holding him to try to get his stunner, which he does at the cost of a broken finger. He tosses the stunner to Galeni, who scoops it up, but the other guard grabs Miles in a chokehold and stuns him point-blank.
The conversation between Miles and his clone has been a few chapters coming, but was worth waiting for. Admiral Oser, as one of the few to ever go up against Miles a second time, recommended cutting his tongue out to be safe from him, but Ser Galen isn’t wise enough for that yet, though he did try to block Miles and the clone from meeting. Miles is painfully in earnest, despite his own doubts, in what he offers the clone. He doesn’t hold any grudge against the clone, as a pawn of Ser Galen, not to mention a teenager, with a horrible upbringing. Also, finally we get “Mark”, though as a name for the clone it doesn’t really catch on until the next book sometime, and not before time. I should start calling him that in the summaries anyway, or else I’ll start trying to come up with variants of clone, like “Cloneo” or “Vorclone” or maybe even something actually clever. I may have to use the quotation marks, though.
I wonder why “Mark”, and Ser Galen as well, I guess, and to some extent even Galeni, are so dismissive of Cordelia. She does manage to mostly not make waves in Barrayaran society–at least, not since beheading the would-be Emperor Vordarian–but she’s not easily diverted. It’s true that there don’t seem to be a lot of prominent Barrayaran women, but they’re there nonetheless. Galen has a pretty one-dimensional view of Barrayar, so he can be excused for overlooking the fact that Cordelia is actually Betan…but, I guess, among the more Barrayaran Betans. Mark hasn’t had the chance to look past Galen’s indoctrination, or, at least, he hasn’t quite figured out which bits of it to doubt. Galeni, though…what’s his excuse? He was raised in Komarr’s more egalitarian society, though admittedly by Ser Galen, but I guess he just leapt to conclusions. I miss Cordelia, and I’m glad we’ll get to see more of her in the next book or two…
I’m fascinated in some ways by the kind of naming customs that Miles describes, that dictate the names of at least your first few children, or, more likely, first few sons, since daughters aren’t nearly as important on Barrayar… As I know from my wife’s Dutch family, though, they can get a little ridiculous. My father-in-law had the same name as his eldest brother, because they ran out of aunts and uncles and had to start over again. (Or maybe there was another duplication in that generation, too…) It is convenient here, because it gives Miles a ready-made name to bestow upon his clone-brother, so I wonder, was this where it was first mentioned? Miles’s name was arrived at a similar way in Barrayar, but that came out later than this one, so this might have set the precedent…
Three more weeks for Brothers In Arms, and then we should have Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance to divert us. Until next week, then…there are neither beginnings nor endings in the wheel of time, but this isn’t an ending in any case.