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Archive for November, 2012

While surfing the web, you hear a knock on the door.

>OPEN DOOR

You see a Vorkosigan Saga Reread here.

>EXAMINE REREAD

The Vorkosigan Saga Reread is an ongoing series dedicated to exploring the Vorkosigan Saga, a science fiction series written by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Its main character, Barrayaran Lord Miles Vorkosigan, has a double life as mercenary Admiral Miles Naismith, a recently-discovered clone-brother, lots of friends and enemies, and a few relatives.  It looks like the Vorkosigan Saga Reread is about to start a new book.

>EXAMINE BOOK

Mirror Dance is a Hugo-winning novel which, in the opinion of the Reread’s author, begins the strongest sequence of books in the entire series, as Miles meets up with his clone-brother once again.

>ENTER REREAD

Chapter One

The row of comconsole booths lining the passenger concourse of Escobar’s largest commercial orbital transfer station had mirrored doors, divided into diagonal sections by rainbow-colored lines of lights. Doubtless someone’s idea of decor. The mirror-sections were deliberately set slightly out of alignment, fragmenting their reflections. The short man in the gray and white military uniform scowled at his divided self framed therein.

He examines his reflection, dwarfish and subtle deformed, in a generic mercenary uniform.  The booth opens and the woman inside emerges, taken aback by his glower and quickly excusing herself; he manages to mutter something polite in return, before entering the booth and closing the door.  He pauses to gather his courage, noting that there’s a damned mirror inside the booth as well.  He inventories his remaining personal possessions–300 Betan dollars on a credit chit, three false identities, none of them matching whoever he was now, a comb, and a data cube.  Finally he punches in a long-memorized number and puts at least a neutral expression on his face.

The woman who answers identifies herself as Dendarii Comm Officer Hereld, and immediately, and enthusiastically, recognizes “Admiral Naismith”.  He asks for a pickup at the station, and when asked says it’s just him, no Elli Quinn, no other personnel or equipment.  He pauses to wonder nervously whether he should include something personal for Hereld, then confines himself to adding that he wishes to be taken directly to the Ariel, and to notify Captain Thorne that they will be leaving orbit soon.

“Naismith out.” He cut the comm. She vanished in a haze of sparkles, and he let out a long breath. Admiral Naismith. Miles Naismith. He had to get used to responding to that name again, even in his sleep. Leave the Lord Vorkosigan part completely out of it, for now; it was difficult enough just being the Naismith half of the man. Drill. What is your name? Miles. Miles. Miles.

Lord Vorkosigan pretended to be Admiral Naismith. And so did he. What, after all, was the difference?

He is, of course, really Miles’s clone Mark, but right now he wills his name to be Miles Naismith; leaving the booth, he heads off at a trot to where the shuttle will be picking him up.

The pilot of the shuttle seems as eager to see Naismith as Hereld was, as if he were “about to pull treats from his pockets”.  Mark fends off the pilot’s enquiries mildly and feigns tiredness.  As he pretends to doze, he thinks about how everyone seems to be so damned energized by Miles’s mere presence–even his enemies, and wonders how the hyperactive idiot did it.  Nobody ever reacted to the unalloyed Mark that way…  Bel Thorne will be a bit of a test for him, an old friends of Miles’s, as well as one who knows about Mark’s existence, so any mistakes might lead him to the truth about Mark’s identity.  It annoys him that Miles is now claiming that Admiral Naismith is a clone of Lord Vorkosigan, just another swipe at Mark’s identity.  But he reassures himself that he’ll be fine with Thorne, as long as he avoids Elli Quinn, who’s off with the real Miles anyway.  After twenty years of imprisonment by the Komarrans, and two years of one disaster after another, this is his last chance, so he has to make it work.

The shuttle docks at the Ariel, which Mark thinks is a good, fast ship for running away in.  They dock, and Mark dismisses the pilot and debarks, to meet Captain Thorne at last.  Mark isn’t bothered by Thorne being a hermaphrodite–as a clone, he has sympathy for the genetically different–but he is a little disturbed by Thorne’s “I-love-Naismith” face.  He’s completely caught off guard when Bel steps forward and hugs him, and only barely endures it, relieved that Thorne doesn’t try to kiss him, too.  Thorne asks what the matter is, and Mark says he’s just tired.  He says he’d rather just go straight to the mission briefing–just to Thorne, so he doesn’t have to risk contact with more of the crew than necessary.

He lets Thorne lead him to its private quarters, making careful note of the route, because Naismith is intimately familiar with the Ariel‘s layout.  In its cabin, Thorne gets out some tea and offers some to Mark, who asks for “the usual”.  Mark sips the tea, finding it pleasant if not quite sweet enough for him, but decides not to risk asking for sugar.  Thorne says the mission is obviously going to be a “lovely” one, from “Miles”‘s mood, and Mark confirms it.  He tells Thorne that they’re going to be hitting the Bharaputra clone creche on Jackson’s Whole.  Thorne, dismayed, asks if they’re going to be killing the clones; Mark says they’ll be rescuing them, to Thorne’s relief and wholehearted endorsement.  Thorne says that he’s long hated the House Bharaputra brain-transplant business, to Mark’s surprise and pleasure.

The arrangement was simple, though the surgical procedure upon which it was based was fiendishly complex. A clone was grown from a customer’s somatic cell, gestated in a uterine replicator and then raised to physical maturity in Bharaputra’s crèche, a sort of astonishingly-appointed orphanage. The clones were valuable, after all, their physical conditioning and health of supreme importance. Then, when the time was right, they were cannibalized. In an operation that claimed a total success rate of rather less than one hundred percent, the clone’s progenitor’s brain was transplanted from its aged or damaged body into a duplicate still in the first bloom of youth. The clone’s brain was classified as medical waste.

The procedure illegal everywhere except Jackson’s Whole, which allows them to a keep a monopoly on it.  Mark finds himself genuinely touched by Thorne’s anger over the practice, and he finds himself on the verge of tears.  Thorne asks if taking the Ariel is a good idea, since Baron Ryoval may recognize it; Mark has no clue what he’s talking about, and says they’ll just avoid House Ryoval.  Thorne asks what the real motivation for the mission is, since it knows that their employers must have a hidden purpose.  Mark tells Thorne his prepared story, that one of the clones is of particular interest, but he’d prefer that they treat all of the clones alike, so that the Bharaputrans won’t have a clue which one is the real target.

Thorne asks if they have any backup, and Mark tells Thorne not to count on it.  Thorne asks if there are any known threats, apart from Bharaputra, Ryoval and Fell, and Mark doesn’t have any more information, but tells it to take over the planning and logistics and Mark himself will look after the final assault on the creche.  There will be about fifty or sixty kids, which should fit aboard the Ariel, though it will be a little tight.  Speed is of the essence, since every week means another young clone murdered, and Thorne takes this to mean that their target’s surgery is coming due.

Thorne asks about funds, and Mark says the mission is strictly cash on delivery.  To authorize withdrawing what money they need from the Fleet funds, Thorne scans Mark’s palm.  The scanner rejects it the first time, but while Mark is on the verge of panic, Thorne is apparently used to it malfunctioning, and it works the second time.  Thorne says it knows which commando squad “Naismith” will want, and Mark faintly agrees.  Thorne tells him his “usual” cabin will be ready for him, and asks when Quinn will be joining them.  Mark says she won’t be coming along, and Thorne is extremely interested by this.  Mark tells them to send “his” kit over from Triumph and send him up a meal.  Thorne is happy to note that “Miles” seems to be eating better, though not sleeping as well; Mark has in fact been having trouble keeping his weight down to fit Miles’s uniforms.

After leaving Thorne’s quarters, Mark has to try a number of room locks before finding the correct one.  He has a shower and emerges just in time for his meal, which he notes is calculated for Miles’s tastes, and appetite, to the smallest detail.  As he’s finishing that, a Dendarii non-com brings in his gear from the Triumph.  The non-com offers to be his batman for the trip, and Mark eventually has to show a little exasperation to get rid of him.  Left alone, he opens the crate with anticipation, like what he imagines birthday presents would be like.  There are, indeed, many suits of clothes in all styles, including real space battle armour and half-armour for ground combat, and a command headset which he resolves to learn how to use.

He packs it all up again and is just about asleep when Thorne buzzes him to tell him the commando squad is assembled and ready for him to inspect.  With a sigh he gets back up and dressed, manages to pick the right shuttle bay, and pauses to observe the commandos before stepping among them.  As he’s inspecting them, one more emerges from the shuttle.

He stood paralyzed with panic. Whatinhell was it? He stared at a flashing belt buckle, then tilted his head back, straining his neck. The freaking thing was eight feet tall. The enormous body radiated power that he could feel almost like a wave of heat, and the face—the face was a nightmare. Tawny yellow eyes, like a wolf’s, a distorted, outslung mouth with fangs, dammit, long white canines locked over the edges of the carmine lips. The huge hands had claws, thick, powerful, razor-edged—enamelled with carmine polish. . . . What? His gaze traveled back up to the monster’s face. The eyes were outlined with shadow and gold tint, echoed by a little gold spangle glued decoratively to one high cheekbone. The mahogany-colored hair was drawn back in an elaborate braid. The belt was cinched in tightly, emphasizing a figure of sorts despite the loose-fitting multi-gray flight suit. The thing was female—?

“Sergeant Taura and the Green Squad, reporting as ordered, sir!” The baritone voice reverberated in the bay.

Mark is barely able to speak from shock, but he dismisses them and tells them to get their orders from Thorne.  Taura stays behind to thank him for the mission, surprising Mark with her familiar attitude.  She is also extremely interested by Elli’s absence, and tells him that she’ll be his bodyguard any time, “lover”…  She places her mouth on his in what he belatedly realizes is a kiss, and he has to feign recent illness to explain it.  She offers to carry him to sickbay, but he insists he just needs rest.  On his way back to the cabin, he wonders what the hell his crazy clone-brother had been up to with that eight-foot monstrosity, and wonders how his briefings could have missed so many little details about Admiral Naismith’s life.

As he lies back down, he feels the ship unclamp from the Escobar orbital station and head off towards Jackson’s Whole.  Exhilarated, he realizes he’s done it, stealing an entire Dendarii ship and crew from his brother, and now he’s on the way to claim his own destiny.

But if you claim your destiny, his demon voice whispered at the last, before the night’s oblivion, why can’t you claim your name?

Comments

I took as few classes in English literature as I could, so I’m not normally good at catching symbolism and stuff, but by this point I can pick up on the obvious mirror imagery here.  The mirror dance itself dates back to Barrayar, and makes a reappearance later in this book, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that’s there’s a lot more to it than that.  The whole book is an examination of Miles vs. his clone, comparing and contrasting–not just the author, but each of them comparing himself with the other…Mark more vigorously than Miles, because Miles is getting pretty content with himself these days.  (He should know better–Bujold is not the kind of author to just leave you do that, except maybe between books…)

Of course, there are also ample elements from “Labyrinth” in here–Taura, Bel Thorne, House Bharaputra, Jackson’s Whole–showing good reuse as an author should.  Mark had said in Brothers In Arms that taking out the illegal cloning and brain-transplant industry was what he’d really like to do with his freedom, and while he seems to have squandered the money that Miles left him with in that book, he does have other resources, though this does seem to be a bit of a last-ditch move.

Actually, in some ways this is just like The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Miles bluffed his way to an Admiralcy in that one, pretending to be something he wasn’t, and now his clone-brother has managed to get himself a ship and crew pretty much the same way.  I wonder if that would make him feel any better?  Probably not, or this wouldn’t have been his last resort.  One does presume, by the way, that he knew enough to wait for a time when Miles wasn’t actually with the fleet, or else his gambit would have failed right off the bat.  Presumably he had to track down the Dendarii Fleet, and then watch to make sure Miles was elsewhere…I don’t recall any specific references made to that in the book, but it stands to reason.  Though Mark doesn’t always think things all the way through…

Chapter Two

Quinn and Miles disembark onto the same Escobar orbital station arm in arm, and Miles revels secretly in how he receives so many envious looks for being with her.

Liquid brown eyes informed her face with wit. But it was the perfect, sculptured curves and planes of the face itself that stopped men’s voices in midsentence. An obviously expensive face, the work of a surgeon-artist of extraordinary genius. The casual observer might guess her face had been paid for by the little ugly man whose arm she linked with her own, and judge the woman, too, to be a purchase. The casual observer never guessed the price she’d really paid: her old face, burned away in combat off Tau Verde. Very nearly the first battle loss in Admiral Naismith’s service—ten years ago, now? God. The casual observer was a twit, Miles decided.

As an example, Miles considers the man who’d been hitting on Quinn on the flight from Sergyar, like a blond version of Ivan, who sighs regretfully as he gathers his own luggage.  Elli admits to Miles that she mostly strung him along because she thought he might be an agent of some kind.

Miles says it was nice traveling under the pretense of being a married couple, and asks why they can’t actually get married.  Elli asks why they’re having this conversation again; she says she’d be perfectly happy married to Miles Naismith, but she doesn’t want to be Lady Vorkosigan, trapped on a planet for the rest of her life, especially not Barrayar.  Miles says that his mother likes her, and Elli agrees, but says that Cordelia Naismith would have been in charge of the Betan Astronomical Survey by now if she’d stayed on her homeworld.

She says that Barrayar is sucking the life out of Cordelia, and will do the same for Miles.  She’s seen how he damps himself down on Barrayar, and Miles says that he can’t push things too far, since his deformities are already provocative enough to Barrayarans.  Elli says that must be why they send him offplanet so much, not to mention having him gather all this experience which they’ll then make him use in their service.  Miles says he’s always in their service; Elli says that when they do call him back, she wants to be Admiral, and Miles agrees.

He prepares himself mentally to return to his Naismith persona, and feels Naismith filling him up, displacing dull old due-for-promotion Lieutenant Vorkosigan.  They pass through customs, and then Miles sees the mirrored comconsole booths and suggests they check up on their injured soldiers from Red Squad.  Elli goes into the booth to make the call, leaving Miles to wait outside.  He considers how comfortable he feels in civilian clothes, when he used to hide inside uniforms to feel more secure.  He’s even come to terms with his body, and hasn’t been seriously injured since the bone replacements after the hostage rescue mission.  He tells himself he’s twenty-eight, he’s probably reached some sort of physical peak, and it will be all downhill from there…  Quinn is talking to Hereld, as Miles can barely see from his angle.  Quinn tells Hereld she wants to pick up Red Squad, and asks for a status update.

In the crowded concourse a man in Dendarii grays walked past. He saw Miles, and gave him a hesitant, cautious nod, perhaps uncertain if the Admiral’s civilian gear indicated some sort of cover. Miles returned a reassuring wave, and the man smiled and strode on. Miles’s brain kicked up unwanted data. The man’s name was Travis Gray, he was a field tech currently assigned to the Peregrine, a six-year-man so far, expert in communications equipment, he collected classic pre-jump music of Earth origin . . . how many such personnel files did Miles carry in his head, now? Hundreds? Thousands?

And here came more. Hereld turned back, and rattled off, “Ives was released to downside leave, and Boyd has been returned to the Triumph for further therapy. The Beauchene Life Center reports that Durham, Vifian, and Aziz are available for release, but they want to talk to someone in charge, first.”

“Right-oh.”

“Kee and Zelaski . . . they also want to talk about.”

Quinn says they’ll be on their way, and arranges a small personnel shuttle for transport to the surface.  Miles remembers the mission where the Red Squad members had been injured, continuing their aid to the rebels on Marilac.  One of the combat drop shuttles had been hit, with Red Squad and some Marilacan VIPs on board, and Durham, the pilot, had brought it in for a passable dock with Triumph so that the passengers could be retrieved, and they made it out before the Cetagandans caught them.  Seven of the squad had been injured badly enough to require cryofreezing, and the Beauchene Life Centre on Escobar has been trying to resuscitate them; now Miles and Quinn will find out how successful they’ve been.  Miles had almost ended up on that shuttle himself.

The hospital smell in the Life Centre, so often associated with pain in Miles’s experience, makes his adrenaline start to flow, and he tries to calm himself down.  They meet with Dr. Aragones, who obviously wishes he had better news, but he complains that the patients are often so poorly prepped.  Miles said they got a lot of casualties all at once and had to do the best they could; they make arrangements for recertification of Dendarii personnel in the latest techniques.  Aragones tells them that Kee and Zelaski couldn’t be revived, and they arrange for disposal of the bodies according to their wishes.  Durham and Vifian have cryo-amnesia, the pilot’s more severe because of the removal of his neural implants, which Aragones isn’t sure yet will be replaceable; for those, they make plans to send them back to their families to help with the recovery.  Aziz, on the other hand, suffered severe brain damage because of a bad prep, and he is now essentially a ­tabula rasa.  Since he had no next-of-kin listed, Miles tells them to transfer him to a long-term care facility, and he’ll set up a trust fund to pay for it.

Before they leave, Miles insists of seeing Aziz, and telling him about his old self, in hopes that he might remember it later.  Afterwards, Elli asks Miles why he does that to himself, and Miles says that Aziz made the ultimate sacrifice, and he has to show some respect for that.  He says that Aziz represents what he fears the most, loss of mind and self, because he relies on his mind so much.  They escort Durham and Vifian back, and by the time they reach the Triumph both of the amnesic crewmen have shown some flashes of memory.  Miles frets about how much they spend on rehabilitation, and how he needs to make sure it doesn’t short-change the rest of the medical budget, though it’s still funded by the Barrayarans.  Elli asks if Simon Illyan is still concerned about Dendarii expenditures, but Miles says it’s mostly because Illyan keeps getting accused of sloppy budgeting by having to seemingly squander so much money all the time.  Sergeant LaJoe, the pilot, joins them, and they stop talking about Barrayaran matters.  LaJoie shares some good news with them–on Escobar, he’d caught a small news story about how the Cetagandans are withdrawing from Marilac.

“The Cetagandans have just announced their withdrawal from Marilac. They’re calling it—what was that, now—’Due to great progress in the cultural alliance, we are turning police matters over to local control.’ ”

Miles’s fists clenched, joyously. “In other words, they’re abandoning their puppet government! Ha!” He hopped from foot to foot, and pounded Quinn on the back. “You hear that, Elli! We’ve won! I mean, they’ve won, the Marilacans.” Our sacrifices are redeemed. . . .

He regained control of his tightening throat before he burst into tears or some like foolishness. “Do me a favor, LaJoie. Pass the word through the Fleet. Tell them I said, ‘You folks do good work.’ Eh?”

LaJoie leaves with pleasure, and Miles exults in what he and the Dendarii had accomplished, stymieing a Cetagandan invasion without breaking Barrayar’s budget.  Elli comments that she’d thought that ImpSec wanted Cetaganda bogged down on Marilac for a while yet.  Miles says he’d followed the letter of Illyan’s orders, and he says that four years was long enough.  Elli wonders how long it’ll be before Miles gets in trouble for interpreting orders his own way.

Elated, he gives Elli a kiss and they go to their separate quarters.  Miles wonders at how much this cabin has become home, and how much the fake persona of Admiral Miles Naismith had become real.  Since Ky Tung’s retirement, he has really come into his own, with encyclopedic knowledge of the fleet and its personnel, knowing how to use them to best advantage.  He takes a shower and emerges to find, in puzzlement, that he can’t find any of his clothes.  His uniforms are gone, and most of his civilian clothes, except for a few of the more outlandish.  He wonders if it’s a practical joke, but his space armour is missing too.  Perforce, he puts back on the civilian clothes he’d worn on the shuttle.

On the way to the briefing he bumps into Sandy Hereld, who is surprised that he’s back already.  Miles assumes she’s speaking of the trip downside, since the Barrayar trip took several weeks, but doesn’t have time to pursue the matter.  In the briefing room is most of his senior staff–Auson, the Bothari-Jeseks, and the rest of the senior captains, except for Bel Thorne, for some reason.  While waiting for Thorne, Miles asks Elena about visiting her mother on Escobar, which apparently went well.  Quinn arrives with the briefing materials, but still no Thorne.

Talk died away. His officers were giving him attentive, let’s-get-on-with-it looks. He’d better not stand around much longer with his thumb in his ear. Before bringing the console display to life, he inquired, “Is there some reason Captain Thorne is late?”

They looked at him, and then at each other. There can’t be something wrong with Bel, it would have been reported to me first thing. Still, a small leaden knot materialized in the pit of his stomach. “Where is Bel Thorne?”

By eye, they elected Elena Bothari-Jesek as spokesperson. That was an extremely bad sign. “Miles,” she said hesitantly, “was Bel supposed to be back before you?”

Elena tells him that Bel left with him three days ago.  Elli and Miles protest that that’s impossible, but Miles begins to get an inkling.  He asks what the Ariel‘s destination had been, and the answer of Jackson’s Whole confirms it, and Elena and Elli begin to catch on as well.

“You see,” Miles explained in a hollow voice to the What-the-hell-are-they-talking-about? portion of the room, “some people have an evil twin. I am not so lucky. What I have is an idiot twin.”

Comments

Compare and contrast…Miles, so at ease with his life and his body, barely even noticing the mirrored comconsole doors.  Plus, he has those little personnel files for all of the Dendarii, while Mark struggles to figure out whether each one is somebody he has to treat like he knows them or not.  They’re potential obstacles, not people.  Miles does seem more alive as Naismith than as himself, but he still feels duties to Barrayar as Lord Vorkosigan, whereas Mark resents having to play either of Miles’s roles.  Still, the parallelism between these first two chapters, Mark’s arrival and Miles’s, is a great start to the back.

Irony here, or perhaps foreshadowing, as Miles thinks about being at his physical peak…yeah, this is probably as good as it’s going to get, because your physical condition is due for a sharp downturn in the not-too-distant future…  I totally understand Miles’s fear of losing his mind…one of the scariest horror stories I ever read was Flowers For Algernon.

It seems a little odd, in some ways, for Quinn to be the one talking to Hereld, in such a way that Hereld never sees Miles with her.  If she did, of course, the moment of realization would come a lot sooner, so maybe it’s more like one of those bedroom-farce moments where things are comically timed to lead to the maximum level of misunderstanding.  Quinn also uses “I” instead of “we” most of the time, so there’s no need to explain who else might be with her…  Similarly, the Dendarii in the concourse might have heard about Mark’s departure with Ariel and wondered what the heck he was doing back already…  It is a nice scene when the other shoe drops in the briefing room, so it would have been a shame to waste that.

It is nice to see some rapprochement between Elena and her mother (Elena Visconti), considering her origins, as a child of rape.  Miles did manage to convince Visconti to reach out to her daughter back in The Warrior’s Apprentice, and the passage of years seems to have mellowed things out a lot more.  One presumes they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about Bothari, Elena’s father and Visconti’s rapist, but Elena has enough of a life post-Bothari by this time.

Finally, we do get more of a look at the victims of cryo-trauma, just like that brief glimpse we saw in Brothers In Arms.  A little bit of foreshadowing…


There’s thirty-two chapters in Mirror Dance, but some of them are quite short, as I recall, so I’m not quite sure how long this is going to take, but most of winter, I imagine (adjusting for hemisphere as necessary).  Tune in next week for another exciting installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I’ll have to think of something besides a fake interactive fiction game for doing the introduction.

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Welcome to a special installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Last week I finished Brothers In Arms, and normally I take a break between books, but there is one odd little piece of the series that, due to popular demand, I’m going to be including.  You see, after Lois McMaster Bujold had published three novellas–“The Mountains of Mourning”, “Labyrinth”, and “The Borders of Infinity”, her publisher ended up collecting them in a single volume, which was called Borders of Infinity (no “The”).  As often happens in these cases, she ended up writing a framing story to kind of unify them and link them together.  For whatever reason, this story was set chronologically after Brothers In Arms.

Later releases, though, have packaged the novels and novellas of the series into different volumes.  “The Mountains of Mourning” ended up in Young Miles, where it belonged chronologically, “Labyrinth” ended up at the end of Miles, Mystery and Mayhem, and “The Borders of Infinity” was placed at the beginning of Miles Errant.  The framing story kind of makes little sense without the stories to tie it together, though, so it kind of fell by the wayside.  But, for the sake of nostalgia, I’ll be dealing with it in a special installment this week.

It’ll be a little more challenging than the others I’ve done so far, because, of course, not being part of the rerelease, it wasn’t released in ebook form, so I’ll have to deal with a physical book, picking it up and putting it down to type rather than just switching windows, not to mention having to manually type any quotes (so please excuse any inaccuracies); plus, as a framing story, it’s scattered all over the book, which will make it more time-consuming that way.  (And it’s not like there’s any helpful table of contents with page numbers or anything, noooo.)  So I hope you all appreciate the extra effort here.  It’ll be good practice for Memory, anyway…

Borders of Infinity

Part One

A medical corpsman announces a visitor to Miles’s hospital room, one who apparently makes him nervous; it turns out to be Simon Illyan, head of Imperial Security.  Miles is in bed, his arms completely immobilized; he’s just undergone surgery to replace his arm bones with plastic, apparently because of the extreme damage they suffered on their last mission.  He tells Illyan about all the bone fragments they had to pick out of his right arm, and comments that he’s still waiting for the bone marrow transplants to take, so he’ll “be a little anemic” for a while.

“I hope you are not going to make a habit of returning from your mission assignments on a stretcher.”

“Now, now, this is only the second time that’s happened.  Besides, eventually I’ll run out of unreplaced bones.  By the time I’m thirty I could be entirely plastic.” Glumly, Miles considered this possibility. If more than half of him became spare parts, could he be declared legally dead?  Would he ever walk into a prosthetics manufacturing planet and cry, “Mother!”  Were the medical sedatives making him just a little spacey…?

Illyan asks Miles about his recent missions, making it clear this is not just a social call.  Miles says Illyan has his reports, which Illyan dismisses as “masterpieces of understatement and misdirection”.  Miles points out that he can’t put everything in there for just anyone to read; Illyan says that they are highly classified, but he gets Miles’s point.  The real problem, though, is the money that Miles has gone through.  He assures Miles that his results have been satisfactory, though they will have to talk about his recent adventure on Earth; Miles says there a couple of higher authorities to discuss it with first.  Illyan says that the charges are about earlier affairs, like Dagoola…”Charges?”, asks Miles

Illyan says that one of the advantages of Miles being offplanet with the Dendarii is that it makes it more difficult for his father’s enemies to use him in their plots.  One group, though, are claiming that Miles’s expenses are ridiculous, and are trying to hit him with charges of systematic peculation, and bring him up on a court-martial.  Illyan says it hasn’t quite gotten to that stage yet, but he needs more information from Miles so he can effectively quash the charges without getting blindsided.  He mentions having ended up in prison himself once because of one of these plots (in The Warrior’s Apprentice, no doubt).  The plotters have managed to convince the highly respectable Count Vorvolk that there’s something to these allegations, and Vorvolk has the Emperor’s confidence, so he can’t be dismissed out of hand, even if he is mistaken.  Miles catches the hint that Illyan isn’t 100% confident that Miles is completely innocent, and realizes this is why Illyan is questioning him now, when he’s still dopey from surgery.

Miles asks Illyan why not just use fast-penta; Illyan says he’s already noted Miles’s odd reaction to it.  Instead, he’s letting the surgeons “twist Miles’s arms”.  He says that he will quash the matter, regardless of the truth, to keep his father’s agenda safe, but he wants to know for sure, and promises none of it will leave this room.  Miles asks if he’s offering amnesty; Illyan says he will, if necessary.

Miles couldn’t clench or even feel his fists, but his toes curled.  He found himself gulping for air in the pulsing waves of his rage; the room seemed to waver.  “You…vile…bastard!  You dare call me a thief…”  He rocked in the bed, kicking off tangled strangling covers.  His medical monitor began to bleep alarms.  His arms were useless weights hanging from his shoulders, flopping nervelessly.  “As if I would steal from Barrayar.  As if I would steal from my own dead…”  He swung his feet out, pulled himself upright with a mighty wrench of abdominal muscles.  Dizzied, half-blacking-out, he toppled forward precipitously with no hands to catch himself.

Illyan catches him, just as the doctor rushes in, asking him what he’s doing to his patient.  The corpsman points out who Illyan is, but the doctor says that any “interrogations” can take place at ImpSec headquarters, not in his hospital.  Illyan tries to explain what happened, and Miles whispers to him that he’s not the only one who needs to be careful of appearances.  Illyan helps Miles back into the bed, and Miles tells the doctor that it’s all right.

Miles begins to wonder if the trust that Illyan had seemed to place in him, letting him have so many independent missions, wasn’t really just a way to get a “dangerously clumsy Vor puppy” out of his way.  The accusations still enrage him, though; as if he wasn’t aware of where the money came from that paid the costs of his decisions.  And Illyan must have at least a modicum of doubt or he wouldn’t be here.  Tired and dopey, he feels tears begin, and Illyan says that he needs to be ready to depend the expenditures by tomorrow, but he can come back after Miles has had a chance to rest.

Miles turns over and remembers…(and, for some reason, what he remembers is “The Mountains of Mourning”).

Part Two

Illyan returns some hours later to find a somewhat recovered Miles sitting up in bed.  He apologizes for doubting Miles’s word, but says that he hopes Miles appreciates how important it is, as Count Vorkosigan’s son, to not just be honest, but appear honest.  Miles says no, not as his father’s son.

Illyan says that apart from the Dagoola affair, Count Vorvolk has also seized on the Jackson’s Whole pickup mission.  Even though it was two years earlier, the theory is that Miles’s success with peculation there led him to try for bigger prizes later.  Illyan says they don’t have much to go on, but he wants to take away anything they can, and convince Vorvolk that there’s nothing out of the ordinary for him to look at.  So he wants Miles to explain his expenditures on the mission, in particular the half-cargo of weapons they abandoned on Fell Station.  Miles says that that loss was necessary to keep from losing “a scientist, a ship, and a subordinate”.

Asking Illyan to keep it strictly confidential, he then tells the story…(of “Labyrinth”).

Part Three

After Miles finishes, Illyan asks after Taura; Miles says she’s made sergeant, and they’re trying various drugs to slow down her metabolism and hopefully prolong her life.  Illyan says that it’s time to move on to Dagoola, where the only report he got from Miles was a very short, preliminary one sent from Mahata Solaris.  Miles says the mission started out simple enough, but then went very, very wrong.

Illyan tells him to start at the beginning, and so Miles tells the story…(of “The Borders of Infinity”)

Part Four

When Miles finishes, he’s somewhat shaky, and tells Illyan he thought he’d gotten over it a little more by this point.  Illyan says that it must be “combat fatigue”, pointing out that his entire time in the prison camp was really combat time.

“If your Count Vorvolk wants to argue that I should have traded lives for equipment, well…I had maybe five minutes to make a decision, under enemy fire.  If I’d had a month to study it, I would have come to the same conclusion.  And I’ll stand behind it now, in a court martial or any goddamn arena he wants to fight me in.”

Illyan reassures Miles that he’ll deal with Vorvolk and his “shadow advisors”, and they won’t disturb his recovery any further.  Miles apologizes that his carelessness made Simon doubt him, and he’ll try to be more intelligent in future; Simon says that he will too.

Cordelia enters the room then, telling Simon the doctor has asked her to make sure he leaves, because the medical monitors are claiming that Miles needs to rest now.  Illyan says they’re finished and leaves.  Miles, watching her, suddenly realizes why he was so shaken up by the death of that tall redheaded woman in the Dagoola escape.

She turns to him and says that he looks terrible, and that Elli Quinn tells her he hasn’t been eating properly.  He asked if Quinn could visit, but as an offworld soldier she’s excluded from the grounds of ImpMil hospital.  “Barrayarans!” she swears, and tells him Quinn is staying at Vorkosigan House.  As soon as he’s released, she’ll take both of them to Vorkosigan Surleau, and hopefully Quinn can help him recover.  Miles says he does have a lot to tell her about Earth; she kisses him and tells him to rest and heal.

Comments

All told, this “story” comes to about thirteen pages in my paperback copy, over half of that in the opening scene, and half of the rest in the ending.  So it really doesn’t stand on its own, but I suppose it does have a few bits in it.  In the timeline it’s always labelled as “Miles undoes another plot against his father while flat on his back”, which makes it sound like he’s some kind of bedridden detective putting together clues, rather than just providing information to Illyan so that Illyan can defuse the plot.

It does show that Elli Quinn has definitely been on Barrayar, and spent some time there with Miles…  She’s not comfortable planetside, so there could have been a few amusing scenes, but mostly I’m sure they get to carry on the affair that they started on Earth, and that they may not have had much time to devote to on their hostage rescue mission.  Which, by the way, we get zero details on, apart from the fact that Miles apparently broke his arms, one of them apparently a compound fracture, to the point where they decided to replace them with plastics.

The bone marrow transplant was an interesting consideration; after all, bones, despite their hardness, are something that our bodies grow themselves, and the marrow is important in its own right, so they’d need to find some way to get it to work in a non-living environment.  One hopes they get this technology from offworld, because it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that Barrayar would have naturally acquired or developed on their own.  Must have been all part of the process of trying to keep Miles alive and give him a skeleton…though of course they couldn’t make plastic bones that grew, so they had to wait until he’d reached his full growth, at least.  Did they do the finger bones, too?  It wasn’t clear in this scene, and I’d think that would be much riskier and more complicated, what with all the manual dexterity considerations, muscles and nerves and all.

I’d forgotten the bit about Miles realizing why he felt the loss of Beatrice, the tall redhead, so keenly.  Does that make his initial attraction for her a little Oedipal?  Well, I recall hearing that we are “naturally” attracted to those who are genetically similar to us as possible without actually being related, but on the other hand that could be complete nonsense, so who knows?  Still, even if there hadn’t been that attraction, losing her might have hit just as hard.  I agree that Miles is probably suffering from…well, these days we call it “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”, which always makes me think of George Carlin talking about how it developed from “shell shock” to “battle fatigue” to PTSD as an example of bureaucratic language.  (Not that I necessarily agree with him that a short, catchy, but inaccurate term is better than a long, fussy, more encompassing and less evocative one…)


And that’s it, really.  The end of the Dagoola sequence, in a way, since so much of that underlay Brothers In Arms (the motivations of the Cetagandans, at least, and the source of their expenses), so we’re free to carry on with the clone-brother arc started in that book as well, into Mirror Dance…  Though we’re now getting into my favourite part of the series, I will still be taking a week off, so be back here two weeks from now for me to start on that book…back on my digital copy again, thankfully.

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Good day, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I try to distill (or is that “dilute”?) the essence of the fine novels and stories in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week I cover the last two chapters of Brothers In Arms, which wraps up most of its plot threads, though it seems to start up some others…

Chapter Fifteen

Miles immediately contacts Nim and tells them about the Cetagandans and their plasma weapons; Nim says he’s already run into them, since they fired at the Dendarii when they tried to enter.  He tells Miles that Elli’s wristcomm is down on the lower levels, not moving, and she stll doesn’t respond.  Miles wonders if it’s still on her wrist, or if she’s lying stunned or dead somewhere.  Miles tells Nim to anonymous inform the police about the presence of the armed men in the tower, maybe paint them as potential saboteurs, and then try to keep them sealed in the tower, pulling back when the police arrive if possible, but if necessary just pretending to be tourists out for a stroll.

As Miles signs off, Mark grabs him and tries to get him to call the Dendarii back and get them to clear out the Cetagandans.  Miles says that stunner tag is one thing, but plasma arcs have a longer range.  Ivan expresses concern that they’re about to be caught in a pincer between Barrayarans and Cetagandans, but Miles claims to have a “cloak of invisibility”.  He leads them back towards the Barrayarans.

“No!” Mark balked. “The Barrayarans might kill you by accident, but they’ll kill me on purpose!”

“The ones back there,” Miles jerked his head over his shoulder, “would kill us both just to make sure. The Dagoola operation left the Cetagandans more peeved with Admiral Naismith than I think you have grasped. Come on.”

Miles, hoping his plan will actually work, finds a pumping station, quiescent now that high tide is receding.  To be certain, Miles checks the control panels, and, retrieving his grandfather’s knife from Mark, disables the warning lights.  He opens the pump chamber, puts his grappler on the inside of the door as a handler, reassures himself that he’ll be able to reopen it from the inside even if locked from outside, and puts a fisheye scanner on the control panel.  Then he urges them all inside the pumping station; Ivan is far from thrilled, and neither is Mark.  Miles tells Ivan he does have a chance of making it past Destang’s squad, although he might still get arrested when the police show up, but, ­sotto voce, he asks Ivan not to leave him along with Mark.  The appeal for help persuades Ivan to stay, though he still protests it’s like a trap.  Miles says it’ll be like a tactics room with the power out, and besides, Mark will get to share the experience.

The three of them clamber down into the chamber, Ivan closing the door so Miles can turn on his light.  Ivan says at least they won’t be heard in there, and Miles says he went past it twice without really noticing it.  He sets up his receiver to project the view from the fisheye lens, and says now they just have to wait.  He calls Nim back, who tells him that the police have arrived, and they’re withdrawing; no update on Quinn, and, when Miles asks, they haven’t heard from Captain Galeni either.

Miles now wished he’d kept Galeni by him as heartily as he wished he’d kept Quinn. But they hadn’t yet found Ivan then; Miles hardly could have done otherwise. He felt like a man trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle of live pieces, that moved and changed shape at random intervals with tiny malicious giggles.

A Cetagandan scout appears in the display, now wielding a stunner, withdrawing just before a pair of Barrayarans appear from the other end, also getting out their stunners, both sides apparently aware of the police and wanting to de-escalate the situation.  Soon three Barrayarans and two Cetagandans are approaching each other in the corridor.  Miles wonders if the Cetagandans have Elli captive, if they’ll let her go or decide to cut her throat to keep her quiet, if he should charge out with his few troops and attack them; he restrains himself.

The lead Cetagandan and Barrayaran catch sight of each other and each fires, stunning the other.  The second Cetagandan is stunned trying to check on his fallen companion, and the remaining Barrayarans go to inspect their downed opponents, trying to identify them.  Just then the amplified, unintelligible voices of the police blare down the corridor; the Barrayarans pick up their stunned comrade and carry him onward.  They encounter another pair of Cetagandans, firing behind them, and stun one of them, the other stunning one of the Barrayarans.  As they try to shoot the other Cetagandan, a mass of stunner fire from the police takes out everyone but the Barrayaran carrying his unconscious comrade; when the police come into view he puts up his hands and surrenders meekly.

The two converging police squads came within a breath of repeating the mutual annihilation of their fleeing suspects, but managed to get their true identities communicated just in time. Miles was almost disappointed. Still, nothing could go on forever; at some point the corridor would have become impassable due to the piles of bodies, and the havoc trail off according to the typical senescence curve of a biological system choked on its own waste.

Once the police have cleared the place, the Tidal Authority and the bomb squads would go over the whole place with a fine-toothed comb; if Miles and his friends get discovered in the process, it won’t be fatal, as long as nobody panics.  Mark asks whose side Miles is on, and Miles says this is all for Mark’s benefit.  He and Mark consider each other; Miles understands the fascination with a clone of oneself, but he thinks he would really prefer actually combining his genes with those of a woman who is, preferably, smarter, faster and more attractive and than he is.

He knew what Mark was. Maybe it was more important to realize what he was not. Mark was not a duplicate of Miles himself, despite Galen’s best efforts. Was not even the brother of an only-child’s dreams; Ivan, with whom Miles shared clan, friends, Barrayar, private memories of the ever-receding past, was a hundred times more his brother than Mark could ever be. It was just possible he had under-appreciated Ivan’s merits. Botched beginnings could never be replayed, though they could be—Miles glanced down at his legs, seeing in his mind’s eye the artificial bones within—repaired. Sometimes.

Ivan wonders about Miles’s motivations too; he says one Miles is enough, when they both keep trying to lock him in closets.  He recalls how Miles used to bully him and Elena around all the time, which image baffles Mark.

Miles asks Mark if he thinks he’s Evil; Mark says he’s a murderer, isn’t that enough?  He admits that the weapon went off while he and Galen were struggling for it, but that he’d wanted it to.  Miles asks Mark what he’d do if he were free; he points out that Galen’s body may well have washed out to sea by this point.  Mark says that Miles is the free one; Miles blinks in surprise, pointing out that Mark’s only restraint was Galen, and he’s now gone.  Miles is held by his sense of obligation to Barrayar and to the Dendarii.  Once Mark gets out of Miles’s shadow, he can find out what he truly is.  Miles reiterates his offer to smuggle Mark out with the Dendarii and take him to Barrayar to meet his family.

Mark says he doesn’t want to meet them, and when prodded, admits that what he really wants is to bust up the illegal clone business on Jackson’s Whole.  Miles thinks this is an interesting idea, and asks Mark how he’d go about it.  Mark says he’d blow up the labs and rescue the kids, but Miles says that that wouldn’t achieve much unless Mark could deal with the underlying demand.  The best way to stop rich people from wanting to buy clone-bodies, he points out, would be to provide them another way of extending their lifespan.  Mark says he could just kill them, but Miles counters that rich people tend to have good bodyguards.  Mark really needs power, money and training, all of which he could get on Barrayar…

Mark repeats that he doesn’t want to go to Barrayar.  Ivan tells Miles that he’s completely crazy; Miles says it’s time somebody took the clone-merchants on, and while he can’t spare the time and attention to do it himself, he could support Mark’s efforts, as long as he’s willing to stop trying to take his place.  Mark says that, if anything, Miles should be trying to take his place, and looks at him suspiciously.

Miles laughed, painfully. What a temptation. Ditch his uniform, walk into a tubeway, and disappear with a credit chit for half a million marks in his pocket. To be a free man . . . His eye fell on Ivan’s grimy Imperial dress greens, symbol of their service. You are what you do—choose again. . . . No. Barrayar’s ugliest child would choose to be her champion still. Not crawl into a hole and be no one at all.

Miles spots the police patrols receding, and judges it’s time to leave before the techs come with their scanners.  Ivan opens up the door and boosts Miles out; Mark has a moment of panic when he thinks he might be left behind, but Miles lowers the grappling line for him and he subsides.  Miles calls Nim and asks for a status update; Nim says they’ve pulled back into the air, and the place is crawling with police, and still no sign of Elli.  He gives Miles Elli’s coordinates and Miles says he’ll try to pick her up on their way out.

They sneak past a group of techs at the T intersection, and find a policeman guarding the lift-tube in the nearest tower.  Miles reluctantly stuns him, having hoped to make their exit without a trace, and they go up to the level where Quinn’s signal has been coming from.  They trace it to a locked utility closet, and Miles, with visions of slow deathtraps left by the Cetagandans, manually overrides the door and pushes it open to find her limp body inside.  Checking for a pulse, he finds that she’s only stunned, and almost collapses in relief.

Comments

The farce continues, with Miles luring the Barrayarans and Cetagandans into firing at each other, and watching from their hidden location as people stun each other.  I like the way that Bujold keeps consistent with her technology–stunners, nerve disrupters, and plasma arcs were introduced right from the beginning, in Shards of Honour.  It’s a nice group of weapons–the ones that only knock out your opponent, the ones that damage people but, presumably, nothing else (unless there’s some kind of computer systems made out of neural tissue, perhaps), and then the ones that do physical damage and burn things.  There are no easy defenses against any of them, that I recall (though Miles was supposedly selling some kind of personal shield in The Vor Game, wasn’t he, perhaps for nerve disrupters?).  The horrific potential of nerve disrupter damage was also brought up very early in Shards of Honour, between Dubauer and Koudelka, but stunners still seem to be nice and safe (except for the hangover, of course).  Admittedly she doesn’t waste a lot of time describing how they work–this is space opera, after all–but having their effects well-defined makes it easy for the reader to keep her honest…

I may have mentioned before how helpful the reread is for helping me make sense of confusing scenes.  The whole sequence at the tidal station is so complex, with people splitting up and going in different directions, going up and down, etc., that going through it more slowly rewards you with actually being able to keep track of what’s going on.  There’s two towers mentioned, for instance, Tower Six and Tower Seven, which I had trouble keeping straight, but apparently Six has the Barrayarans and Seven has the Cetagandans.  Similarly, I kept somehow missing Miles actually placing his fisheye camera on the wall and had to go back and check for it when they were using it to watch the combatants.

Miles’s conversation about Mark and his goals, to get rid of cloning, is more foreshadowing of Mirror Dance–or, more likely, plot seeds that were later incorporated into Mirror Dance.  Miles’s points are well taken, about the difficulty of eradicating the trade by taking direct action against its participants, rather than just trying to make it obsolete.  In some ways, though, that’s like trying to get rid of homelessness by giving them all free accomodation–effective (and even cost-effective according to some studies), but yet seeming somehow ethically wrong anyway.  It seems like it should be possible to make it economically unfeasible through repeated sabotage (though that is more dangerous); making it socially unacceptable doesn’t work when cultures are scattered so widely that there’s a lack of cultural consensus on right and wrong.

Chapter Sixteen

Miles, Mark and Ivan pause at the exit of the tower with the unconscious Elli, trying to gauge how to get to the shelter of the bushes past the police vehicles scattered around.  Miles wishes they had some alcohol (Ivan had neglected to bring his hip flask), because a splash of that would have made them carrying Elli’s limp form seem more acceptable.  They make it to the bushes, Ivan complaining that Miles should date lighter women.

Miles looks around, telling Ivan they still haven’t seen the man in face paint that Mark had told them about earlier.  Miles quizzes Mark about the precise colours of the paint, and Miles tells him that means a century-captain (Mark having misidentified it).  As a full ghem-lord, he won’t want to risk being captured and shamed, so he’ll have hung back, but be more committed to carrying out his mission.

They pass through the woods and find a utilitarian kiosk with a single door, the lights above it knocked out.  The door opens and they aim their stunners tensely until Miles recognizes Captain Galeni and calls out to them; Galeni comes over to join them, somewhat surprised to find them all alive.  Miles notices that Galeni seems to be in a state of mild exhilaration, his face is slightly bruised, and he’s carrying a Cetagandan plasma arc.  They ask about the ghem-lord, and Galeni says he’s run into him already.

Galeni tells them that he’d gone into utility tunnels through the kiosk when he couldn’t find another way into the Barrier, but got turned around and ended up on a nearby pedestrian crossing, where he found Ghem-Lieutenant Tabor from the Cetagandan Embassy standing by a car.  He soon realized that Tabor was serving as a perimeter man for a Cetagandan team; Tabor couldn’t figure out what Galeni was doing there, thinking he was drugged or something (which Miles could well believe, given Galeni’s fey state).  Tabor received a message and tried to shoot Galeni with a stunner; Galeni was only half-hit but pretended to be out cold.  He waited, biding his time and eavesdropping on Tabor until the century-captain showed up; his arrival distracted Tabor and Galeni was able to get the jump on them.

Miles’s brows rose. “How the devil did you manage that?”

Galeni’s hands were flexing as he spoke. “I don’t . . . quite know,” he admitted. “I remember hitting them. . . .” He glanced at Mark. “It was nice to have a clearly defined enemy for a change.”

Upon whom, Miles guessed, Galeni had just unloaded all the accumulated tensions of the last impossible week and this mad night. Miles had witnessed berserkers before. “Are they still alive?”

“Oh yes.”

Miles asks if Tabor’s call is still nearby; Galeni says the police may have found it by now, he heard them in the tunnels, but Miles says they’ll have to chance it.  Mark grumbles that he doesn’t have diplomatic immunity.  Miles asks him if he’d like to really earn that credit chit; Mark says it doesn’t exist, but Miles counters that that was what Ser Galen thought, and he’d been wrong about other things.  Miles asks Galeni if the Cetagandans can be roused, and is pleased when told they should be conscious by now.  He tells Mark to be Lord Vorkosigan, and he’ll be Admiral Naismith, since Mark doesn’t have the Betan accent down yet.  Galeni agrees that Mark owes them this much cooperation.

They make their way through the tunnels, dodging police, until they reach the Cetagandan groundcar, unadorned with any incriminating embassy markings; Miles notices the blood on the pavement and dents in the side.  The two Cetagandans in the backseat are bound and gagged; Tabor is awake, the century-captain is still out cold, and Miles gets the medkit while Ivan loads Elli into the vehicle.  The others get in the back with the Cetagandans and Ivan lowers a reflective canopy to hide them from outside viewers.  Miles injects the century-captain with synergine to rouse him, and gives Elli one too for good measure.  Ivan drives off, and Miles calls NIm to signal him to withdraw and follow them.

“Hello, Tabor,” said Mark, carefully coached, in his best Barrayaran Vor tones—did it really sound that snide?—”How’s your bonsai?”

Tabor recoiled slightly. The century-captain stirred, staring through slitted but focusing eyes. He tried to move, discovered his bonds, and settled back—not relaxed, but not wasting energy on futile struggle.

Galeni reached over him and loosed Tabor’s gag. “Sorry, Tabor. But you can’t have Admiral Naismith. Not here on Earth, anyway. You can pass the word up your chain of command. He’s under our protection until his fleet leaves orbit. Part of the agreed price for his helping the Barrayaran Embassy find the Komarrans who had lately kidnapped some of our personnel. So back off.”

Tabor’s eyes shifted, back and forth, as he spat out his gag, worked his jaw, and swallowed. He croaked, “You’re working together?”

“Unfortunately,” growled Mark.

“A mercenary,” caroled Miles, “gets it where he can.”

The century-captain tells “Naismith” that taking the Dagoola contract was a mistake; Miles agrees amiably, claiming that the Dagoolans stiffed them, too.  He can’t afford personal vengeance, though, having been driven to work with his “old friends” the Barrayarans.  Tabor is surprised that “Naismith” really seems to be a clone; “Lord Vorkosigan” says they thought he was a Cetagandan clone, but they now know he was made by the Komarrans.  Miles says they promised to cover him until he leaves Earth, as long he avoids Barrayar in future, which he has no interest in anyway.  Elli awakens and looks around in surprise at her surroundings, but decides to keep quiet until they can brief her more fully.

Ivan asks where he should drop off the Cetagandans, and Galeni says cheerfully that there’s no need for an incident, for him to reveal what the Cetagandans were really doing at the Tidal Barrier; he tells Ivan to take them to a hospital, since Tabor has a broken arm and his comrade has a concussion…unless Tabor prefers treatment at the Cetagandan embassy instead?  Tabor chooses the embassy, to keep either of their ambassadors from having to get involved in the messy exchange of charges that would result at the hospital.  They drop the two Cetagandans off, tossing the key after them once they’re out of the car, Galeni promising to return the car…after the Barrayarans have examined it thoroughly, of course.

Ivan asks Miles if he thinks the Cetagandans are convinced; Miles says he’s not sure they bought the idea that Barrayar had nothing to do with Dagoola, but they should now be easy to convince that Vorkosigan and Naismith are two different people.  Ivan wonders if Destang will approve, and Galeni says that he “doesn’t give a good goddamn” about what Destang thinks; Miles agrees, though he realizes they are all very tired.  He asks Mark where he wants to be dropped off; Mark says any tube station, and Galeni doesn’t object.  Ivan takes them to the nearest one and Miles and Mark get out and go down the lift tube.

In the station, Miles pulls out the coded card with the hundred thousand Betan dollars on it and gives it to Mark, telling him that he should be able to use that to disappear easily enough.  Mark asks what Miles wants of him; Miles says he’s a free man, they won’t be pursuing him over Galen’s death.  He admits he’d like more from Mark than that, but he’ll settle for what he can get.

“What is it that you want me to do?” Mark demanded. “What are you setting me up for? Did you really take that Jackson’s Whole garbage seriously? What do you expect me to do?”

“You can take it and retire to the pleasure domes of Mars, for as long as it lasts. Or buy an education, or two or three. Or stuff it down the first waste chute you pass. I’m not your owner. I’m not your mentor. I’m not your parents. I have no expectations. I have no desires.” Rebel against that—if you can figure out how—little brother. . . . Miles held his hands palm-out and stepped back.

Mark swung into the lift tube, never turning his back. “WHY NOT?” he yelled suddenly, baffled and furious.

Miles threw back his head and laughed. “You figure it out!” he called.

Miles returns to the car, and Elli asks if that was a good idea.  Miles says Galen twisted Mark so much that Miles couldn’t help any more, so the best he can do is deprive Mark of the object of his obsession and see if he can untwist himself.  He calls Nim and dismisses them back to the shuttle, but decides that he and the others have to go back to the embassy and face the music.  No point in lying any more, either, he says, and Galeni agrees.  “I do not care for doctored reports anyway. Eventually, they become history. Embedded sin.”

Miles apologizes for Galen’s death, and Galeni says he never thought Miles was omnipotent.  Miles tells Ivan to drive slowly, and they enjoy a leisurely drive through London’s summer dawn.  All too soon they are lined up in Galeni’s office, facing a disgusted-looking Destang.

“Vorkosigan.” Miles’s name hung in the air before them like a visible thing. Destang regarded it without favor, and went on, “When I finished dealing with a certain Investigator Reed of the London Municipal Assizes at 0700 this morning, I was determined that only divine intervention could save you from my wrath. Divine intervention arrived at 0900 in the person of a special courier from Imperial HQ.” Destang held up a data disk marked with the Imperial seal between his thumb and forefinger. “Here are the new and urgent orders for your Dendarii irregulars.”

Destang tells him that a mercenary fleet in a system in that sector has slipped over the edge from blockade into outright piracy.  They captured a passenger liner to convert into a troop transport, and had the bright idea to hold the passengers for hostage.  While many of the governments whose citizens were captured are involved in negotiations, Barrayar had only a few, including the wife of one Lord Vorvane, Minister for Heavy Industries, and were unable to get a representative onto the team.  The Barrayaran fleet is blocked from the shortest route, but the Dendarii are only a couple of weeks away.  Their orders are to rescue the Barrayarans and as many other citizens as possible, and convince the pirates that they should reconsider their career choices, as usual without revealing who hired them, method left entirely to Miles’s discretion.  Destang hands over the most recent intelligence information they have, as well as, somewhat grudgingly, another eighteen-million-mark credit chit.  After that he can report to Commodore Rivik at Orient Station, and, with any luck, he’ll stay out of Destang’s sector until he’s had the chance to retire.

Destang turned his eye on Ivan. “Lieutenant Vorpatril.”

“Sir?” Ivan stood to attention with his best air of eager enthusiasm. Miles prepared to protest Ivan’s complete innocence, ignorance, and victimhood, but it turned out not to be necessary; Destang contemplated Ivan for a moment longer, and sighed, “Never mind.”

Destang then turns to Galeni.  Galeni is facing charges of disobeying orders in leaving the embassy, but since Miles is already evading those charges, it doesn’t seem fair to punish Galeni for it.  Destang admits that they did end up rescuing Ivan and killing an enemy of Barrayar; anything about Galeni’s motives and thoughts is mere speculation…unless he agrees to fast-penta.  Galeni asks if it’s an order, and Miles can tell he’ll resign if pressed.  Destang says no, and he’s going to pass the whole mess up to Simon Illyan, who can deal with the political questions; in the meantime, Galeni can resume his post on Earth, at the ambassador’s request.

Miles and Elli return to the Triumph, the Dendarii busily preparing for departure.  Miles sends the curious away with instructions to help get things ready.  They encounter Tung, dressed in civilian clothing, who says he’s retiring and getting married.  A distant relative of his, a widow, has a tourist boat on the Amazon which he’s going to help her with, once Miles finishes buying out his share of the Triumph.  Miles is somewhat distressed by this, but Tung assures him that he’ll do fine, he’s earned his rank, and, he says with a wink, the Dendarii don’t have to make a profit.

After Tung leaves, Miles tells Elli they’ll need to send someone to infiltrate the pirate fleet, and he realizes that Elli is the logical choice to send.  Overcoming his reservations, he muses that they need someone able to do “criminally psychotic”, just as Private Danio approaches Miles to thank him for bailing him out.  He tells her to get Thorne to collect any additional information he can from Earth before they leave, and is relieved that this, at least, will be a straightforward mission.

Comments

The pirate mission is one of the great untold Dendarii stories, in that we get a fair number of details about it here, at the end of the book, and then the next we see of it is Miles recovering from it in the Borders of Infinity framing story.  For some authors, this would be a cliffhanger, but for Bujold it just means that the Dendarii are returning to business as usual.  She does lampshade it a bit, actually, when she has Destang refer to it as “divine intervention”.  What would Destang have done with Miles, and Galeni, otherwise?  Punishment details?  Court martials (or is that “courts martial”)?  Even humiliating fast-penta interrogations would be fraught.  He’s wise to push Galeni’s case up to Simon Illyan, where I’m sure Aral Vorkosigan will encourage him to give Galeni the benefit of the doubt.

The scene with Mark and Miles and the Cetagandans is cute, and probably muddied the waters for some time.  Later, when Mark is accepted as a Vorkosigan and Miles’s brother, one might wonder if they figure out that they were had, especially after Admiral Naismith’s forced retirement…  This book was written before Cetaganda, of course, so Bujold may not have realized yet that Miles did have a few allies inside the Cetagandan power structure, who turn up the next time Miles and the Cetagandans cross paths, in Diplomatic Immunity.  So perhaps by then they’ve decided to let bygones be bygones, or just given up..
According to the timelines supplied in most of the books (and in The Vorkosigan Companion), Miles is 24 in Brothers In Arms, 25 by the time of the Borders of Infinity framing story, and 28 for Mirror Dance.  Those three or four years are another gap filled with Dendarii missions for Miles–as, admittedly, were the four years between The Vor Game (age 20) and Brothers In Arms, but since those include Ethan of Athos, “Labyrinth”, and “The Borders of Infinity”, it feels like we know more about them.  I doubt Bujold intends to fill in all of that history, by this point, though it does give her plenty of room to add in any “remember when” backstory scenes or discussions if needed for later plot or character development.  Of course, Mark isn’t idle in that period either, but we’ll find out more about that in Mirror Dance.  Miles is 30, of course, for Memory, where he learns the truth about Galeni’s comment about doctored reports.


I did it!  Brothers In Arms is done, and in plenty of time for me to read Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance…assuming that it doesn’t get delayed like CryoBurn did.  By popular request, I will be doing the Borders of Infinity framing story next, but I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll do that next week, and then give myself a week off before Mirror Dance, or if I’ll do the week off right away and then the framing story.  Chronologically, there is a longer gap before Mirror Dance (and it does look like it has more chapters than Brothers–thirty-two–but we’ll see how I feel next week.  Until then…

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