While surfing the web, you hear a knock on the door.
You see a Vorkosigan Saga Reread here.
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.
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.
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?
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…
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.”
“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.”
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.