The weather outside is frightful (depending on your location, of course), but at least it’s better than Kyril Island, right (also depending on your location)? So let’s snuggle up inside with a nice, warm, toasty Vorkosigan Saga Reread post, though I’ll have to say that the experiences of Miles Vorkosigan, his clone-brother Mark, and the rest of the supporting cast are not always precisely warm and toasty. What with cryo-freezing and shocky shivering and all that. But let’s just get going into the next two chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Hugo-winning novel Mirror Dance and see what happens next…
The sound of the explosion next to Mark deafens him, and it’s over too fast for him to comprehend–one minute Miles is yelling, and the next he’s crumpling backwards. Mark and Elli Quinn are covered with blood, and his first thought is that Miles isn’t perfect after all. Quinn screams and begins spraying plasma arc fire at the Bharaputrans above them, until someone grabs her arm to stop her because of the hazardous bits of ceiling falling down towards them; then she calls for Taura to get them. Taura shoots her grapnel upwards and rises up to the catwalks, where Mark loses trap of her except for the Bharaputrans that begin to rain back down. Mark can only think that modern warfare isn’t supposed to be this bloody.
Quinn, meanwhile, hesitates for a moment before grabbing Miles’s command helmet and putting it on her own head. She calls the medic, Norwood, back to the building, telling him to bring the cryo-chamber, and then orders Taura to secure the building. Quinn begins cutting Miles free of his clothing, and soon Norwood is there with the float-pallet, a few clones still in tow. He protests that they can’t fit two people into the cryo-chamber at the same time, and Elli orders him, bleakly, to dump Phillipi.
“Quinn, I can’t!”
“On my order. On my hands.”
“Quinn . . .” The medic’s voice was anguished. “Would he have ordered this?”
“He just lost his damn vote. All right.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll do it. You start prepping him.”
Norwood accedes, under protest, and begins getting out his equipment while Quinn opens the chamber. Freezing her own hands, she wrestles the body of Phillipi, the bike trooper from Taura’s squad, out of the cryo-chamber, then brusquely tells Mark to wrap her up. Mark grabs some insulating foil and wraps Phillipi up as best he can. Norwood is muttering to himself, having difficulty finding the ends of the some of the blood vessels in Miles’s shattered chest cavity; Quinn bends to help, cutting Miles’s throat to look for the carotid artery, and beginning to pump the green cryo-fluid in and blood out. By the time Miles’s vessels are running green and not red, they’re almost out of the fluid; Quinn and Norwood heave Miles into the chamber and Norwood finishes up while Quinn returns to command duties.
Thorne tells Quinn that the Bharaputrans came up from tunnels underneath, which are secured now; Quinn, Thorne and eventually Mark start listening to comm feeds from their perimeter squads, who are seeing increased fire from the Bharaputrans as Quinn and her squad remain in one place. Most of the clones are on the shuttle, except for Norwood’s batch, so it’s safe, but Quinn and her group are in danger of being trapped. Quinn contacts Kimura in the other shuttle, who is also seeing stiffened resistance, but has “achieved her objective”. Quinn tells Kimura she may have to come back for them. Kimura asks where the Admiral is, and Quinn tells her that he’s “out of range”. Mark wonders what Kimura’s objective was, but whatever it was, it was outside of the medical complex.
Quinn asks for options. She suggests landing the shuttle on the roof, but Thorne says it would probably collapse. Mark suggests going into the tunnels, since Taura’s squad all have the maps loaded into their helmets. Thorne checks the maps and confirms a route which will bring them up close to the shuttle, and able to hit the Bharaputran forces from behind. Quinn, muttering to herself about dirtside operations, orders them to move out. Taura’s squad leads them into the tunnels, still carrying Phillipi’s body, though Mark isn’t sure why they’re bothering.
Mark found himself pacing beside the cryo-chamber on its float pallet, tugged along by the anxious medic. He glanced from the corner of his eye through the transparent cover. His progenitor lay open-mouthed, pale and gray-lipped and still. Frost formed feathers along the seals, and a blast of waste heat flowed from the refrigeration unit’s radiator. It would burn like a bonfire on an enemy’s infra-red sensor ‘scope. Mark shivered, and crouched in the heat. He was hungry, and terribly cold. Damn you, Miles Vorkosigan. There was so much I wanted to say to you, and now you’re not listening.
They pass under another building, and suddenly the power cuts out and they find themselves split in two by a Bharaputran squad coming down a lift-tube. As plasma arc fire surrounds them, Norwood says that the cryo-chamber isn’t shielded. Mark suggests they take a lift-tube to get out of the way, and Norwood agrees. He drops down one on the float-pallet, and Mark, taking plasma fire on his shields, follows a trooper down an emergency ladder. They scramble away from the bottom of the lift-tube, Mark wondering how many shots his shield has left.
They find themselves in an island of quiet, but Norwood wonders if they’ve found a dead end. Mark finds a circuitous but still navigable route out, and Norwood takes Mark’s helmet to confirm. Mark considers staying with Norwood and the trooper, which might be safer, but gathers himself and tells them he’s going back to meet up with Quinn, taking Norwood’s helmet. They are glad enough to see him go, and Mark climbs back out of the lift tube. The battle has moved on, and he follows in their planned track, almost running into more Bharaputrans; he laboriously contacts Quinn through Norwood’s helmet and informs her of the pursuit and Norwood’s situation. Quinn tells Mark she’s going to drop the roof on the Bharaputrans, and that he should go back to Norwood. Mark climbs frantically up the nearest lift-tube, not wanting to be trapped underground; as it is, the tube buckles when the roof collapses, but Mark clings to the ladder and makes his way out into an office, where he can see the collapsed roof of the next building, with the Bharaputrans doubtless trapped underneath.
Tuning back into Quinn’s frequency, he hears her order Norwood to rendezvous with the first shuttle, and tell Kimura to land on the new drop zone she’d just made in the crater from the collapsed building. Mark heads for the crater too, hesitating briefly under a sagging balcony, running out from under it just before it collapses. Quinn’s group also heads into the open; Bharaputran snipers on the next building are having to shoot carefully, because of the clones in their midst. The shuttle lands and opens its hatch, and the Dendarii begin loading the clones into it.
The Bharaputrans change their tactics and focus their fire on Quinn, whose plasma shield begins to overload. Mark, in desperation, throws himself in front of her, and as his mirror field begins to take the load, Quinn has a chance to recover and the two of them are able to board the shuttle, which takes off as soon as they’re aboard.
Mark rolled over on his back and lay gasping for air, lungs on fire. Quinn sat up, her face red in its circle of gray. Just a sunburn. She cried hysterically for three breaths, then clamped her mouth shut. Fearfully, her fingers touched her hot cheeks, and Mark remembered that this was the woman who had had her face burned entirely away by plasma fire, once. But not twice. Not twice.
Quinn gathers herself and heads forward; Mark looks around at the Dendarii–Taura’s familiar squad, and the strange one that Kimura had on her shuttle. Their wounded seem to be under control, but their cryo-chamber is also occupied, and he wonders again if Phillipi has any chance at all. He heads off after Quinn and stops short at the sight of their prisoner–Vasa Luigi, Baron Bharaputra himself. He addresses Mark as “Admiral” and Mark automatically assumes the role, though he doesn’t answer the Baron’s question about the source of the blood on his shirt. In the pilot’s compartment, Quinn is talking to Framingham on the other shuttle, who’s still on the ground, waiting for the squad to return from a “downed-man recovery”.
“Do you have everyone else? Do you have Norwood? I can’t raise his helmet!”
There was a short delay. Quinn’s fists clenched, opened. Her fingernails were bitten to red stumps.
Framingham’s voice at last. “We’ve got him now, ma’am. Got everyone, the quick and the dead alike, except for Phillipi. I don’t want to leave anyone for those bloody bastards if I can help it—”
“We have Phillipi.”
Framingham, relieved, says they’re ready to take off. Quinn tells them to head for Fell Station, where they will find a welcome; Ariel is docked there, though damaged. The Dendarii form up, the fighters still taking fire from Bharaputrans ships and one of them damaged, but they all manage to make it to orbit. They arrive at Fell Station under armed escort to dock with Peregrine, which docks with the station. Mark follows Quinn and Thorne as they head off to meet the other shuttle. The wounded are being rushed out, and Mark is disturbed to see Tonkin, the trooper who’d accompanied Norwood, among them. The flow of wounded stops, and Quinn, frowning, heads into the shuttle, which is full of clone-children, nauseous and crying.
“Framingham!” Quinn floated over and grabbed him by the ankle. “Framingham! Where the hell’s the cryo-chamber Norwood was escorting?”
He glanced down, frowning. “But you said you had it, Captain.”
“You said you had Phillipi.” His lips stretched in a fierce grimace. “Goddammit, if we’ve left her behind I’ll—”
“We have Phillipi, yes, but she’s—she was no longer in the cryo-chamber. Norwood was supposed to be getting it to you, Norwood and Tonkin.”
Framingham says that Norwood was dead when they found him, and he and Tonkin had no cryo-chamber with them. He asks what’s so important, if Phillipi wasn’t in it. Quinn takes a moment to bite back anger and panic and then gathers herself. She orders a complete communication lockdown, no contact with Fell Station that she hasn’t specifically authorized. Then she tells Framingham that they lost the Admiral; Framingham is confused, then realizes that Mark is the clone. Quinn says that nobody on Fell Station knows that, and Mark realizes that he’s going to have to play the part of the Admiral once again.
Quinn does very well to keep herself going under extreme pressure, and the loss of Miles. Her instincts lead her to call for the cryo-chamber, and even to trade Phillipi’s chance at life for Miles’s, though I’m sure she has to go through a moment of trying to decide if she’s being selfish to want her lover’s life over that of another. Miles wouldn’t necessarily want to have traded his life for someone else’s, but rationally he is a more important individual, so her choice makes sense. She switches plans on the fly, bringing down a building and allowing the other shuttle a chance to land(foreshadowed, I now realize, by Thorne’s prediction that the roof would collapse if the shuttle landed there–well done).
I had forgotten the twist that Kimura’s shuttle mission wasn’t just a distraction, but actual insurance. It is one of Miles’s multi-layered plans, after all–if the Bharaputrans had believed that the kidnapping mission was the main one, then it would’ve made it easier to get Mark and the others out of there, and Kimura could just have aborted once the others were away. If they thought of it as a decoy, then Kimura would be more likely to capture the Baron, which would be a definite asset if the other shuttle bogged down.
A lot of names coming up–the shuttle pilots, and various squad members being named all the time–Tonkin, Norwood, Framingham… Not the easiest to keep track of, but I guess it’s easier than just calling them “the trooper doing such-and-such”. Mark doesn’t know most of them, but Miles did, and Quinn does, of course. I did elide the names of the different commando squads, which were all different colours–Green, Yellow, etc. I was able to get through the retelling without that, and I don’t think it confused things too much, so there you go.
It’s also in this chapter, I believe, that Mark begins thinking of himself as “Mark”. Or maybe that’s just the author needing a way to distinguish him without just using “he” all the time, as she did in the first few Mark chapters…but I think it’s deeper than that. His experiences are finally getting him to the stage where he can begin to separate himself from his brother, not define himself either by being Miles or not being Miles. Miles being dead now means he has nothing to push against.
It’s also somewhat impressive that Mark throws himself in front of Elli at the end there, even though he doesn’t know if his plasma shield will work or not. I think that comes up again later…
They meet in a conference room on Peregrine–Elli Quinn, Elena, Taura, Framingham, Kimura, Lieutenant Hart (Bel Thorne’s second), and Mark, most of them still filthy from the mission and chowing down on painkillers, though Mark isn’t offered any. Elena says they’re there to figure out what happened, and what to do next. Helmet recordings are still on their way, though they’re missing Norwood’s, the most important, since it got blown up with the rest of him. The tiny recorders are brought in on a tray, and Elli loads their records into the computer.
She brings up the positions of the helmets on a holographic map of the Bharaputra facility, and tags the most important ones–Tonkin’s, and Norwood’s original helmet. She asks Mark, without looking at him, when they switched helmets, and Mark haltingly tells her. They follow Tonkin’s helmet from where Elli last was contacted them to where Framingham got in touch with them, and they conclude that the cryo-chamber has to have been left somewhere in between. Tonkin’s voice recordings aren’t helpful, since he never mentions it, just asks for help against the Bharaputran attackers.
Thorne enters the room, and Elli asks it if it got anything out of Tonkin. Thorne said Tonkin was woken up briefly, and told what he knew of the story.
“He said when they reached this building,” Thorne pointed, “they were cut off. Not yet surrounded, but blocked from a line to the shuttle, and the enemy closing the ring fast. Tonkin said, Norwood yelled he had an idea, he’d seen something ‘back there.’ He had Tonkin create a diversion with a grenade attack, and guard a particular corridor—must be that one there. Norwood took the cryo-chamber and ran back along their route. He returned a few minutes later—not more than six minutes, Tonkin said. And he told Tonkin, ‘It’s all right now. The Admiral will get out of here even if we don’t.’ About two minutes later, he was killed by that projectile grenade, and Tonkin was knocked loopy by the concussion.”
Framingham nodded. “My crew got there not three minutes after that. They drove off a pack of Bharaputrans who were searching the bodies—looting, looking for intelligence, or both, Corporal Abromov wasn’t sure—they picked up Tonkin and Norwood’s body and ran like hell. Nobody in the squad reported seeing a cryo-chamber anywhere.”
Quinn chewed absently on a fingernail stump. Mark did not think she was even conscious of the gesture. “That’s all?”
“Tonkin said Norwood was laughing,” Thorne added.
Elena says that Norwood must have thought of something clever, or at least seemingly clever, but Quinn wonders how he could have pulled off anything clever in five minutes. She notes that it’s been less than two hours, so the cryo-chamber must be down there somewhere; Kimura wryly suggests another drop mission, and Quinn asks if she’s volunteering.
In the meantime, they have Baron Fell to deal with; Elena asks if anybody knew what Miles had planned to do with the Baron, but nobody does, not even Quinn. She does say that they should be able to get a favourable deal out of him somehow anyway, as long as they don’t let on that they lost Miles on the planet. They all turn to look at Mark, and Mark, shivering with cold, tells them he doesn’t want to be Miles any more.
Elli and Elena exchange a glance, then Elli dismisses the rest of them. She tells Thorne that it’s relieved of command, and Hart will take over. Thorne asks if it’s under arrest, and Quinn says they may still need it, so it should place itself under house arrest and move into a visiting officer’s cabin on the Peregrine. Mark makes to follow the rest of them out, but Quinn says that he is to stay, and then turns off all the recorders in the room. The two women regard him silently, and Mark looks back at them, noting their similarities and speculating on whether Elli is, subconsciously at least, a replacement for the Elena that Miles couldn’t have. His own taste in women is more like the little blonde clone, soft, timid and nonthreatening.
Elena asks Mark why he’s shivering, and Mark says he’s cold. Quinn explodes in rage, and Elena says that Mark is obviously in shock, and whether they care how he feels or not, they have to take it into account if they want to make use of him. Elena asks if Miles is really dead, or just misplaced; Quinn says harshly that Miles is dead unless they can get him back. Elena asks if Mark will be able to fool Baron Fell, who’s met him before, and Quinn says that she hopes Bel Thorne, who was there at the time, will be able to help him out. Elena notes that, despite everything, Mark hasn’t mentioned the name “Vorkosigan” and blown Miles’s deep cover; she asks why, and Mark mumbles that it’s really just habit. Miles wouldn’t have slipped up, and so Mark can’t either when he’s playing the part.
“Who are you when you’re not doing the part?” Bothari-Jesek’s gaze was narrowed, calculating.
“I . . . hardly know.”
Trying to firm his voice up, he asks about the clones. Elena quell’s Elli’s response and asks Mark what he wants to happen to them. Mark says he wants them to go free, and out of Bharaputra’s clutches. Elena asks why he was so focused on this mission, and what he hoped to gain by it, and Mark can’t think of a reason. Elli snarls and calls him the “anti-Miles”. Elena says that neither of them really knows what to do with Mark–the only person she can think of who would be up to it is Countess Vorkosigan. Elli asks who gets to tell Cordelia about what happened to Miles, which leads to the question of who is actually in command of the Dendarii and thus has to report to Simon Illyan. Elena is technically the senior shipmaster; Elli just took over under fire when she needed to. Elena says that she’s fine with Elli taking charge, but she’s willing to take on the task of talking to the Vorkosigans.
That settled, Elena asks Mark if he wants to earn the clones’ freedom. Quinn reminds Elena that they may yet need to trade the clones to get Miles back; when Mark protests, she says she traded Phillipi, she’d trade the clones in a heartbeat, she’d trade Mark himself if Miles wasn’t so damn obsessed with his clone-brother. She tells Mark how they could have bought the rest of them back from the Baron, but Miles refused to leave Mark down there when the Baron wouldn’t sell him. Elena asks if Mark is as dedicated to the clones as Miles was to Mark, if he’s willing to do anything to save them…even pretending to be his brother one more time. Elena promises the clones’ safety, over Quinn’s protests; when Mark asks, she even gives her Barrayaran word of honour, as long as he cooperates with them fully.
Quinn is still doubtful, but Elena says that Mark just needs to be cleaned up and fed. She takes him to an officer’s cabin and promises to send him clean clothes and food. He asks why she’s being nice to him; she says she wants to find out what, and who, he is. She notes that, unlike Miles, he’s very closed; Mark retorts that he doesn’t have a damn army, a harem, following him around all the time.
“You’re doing this for him, aren’t you. Treating me like this because you think he’d want it.” Not in his own right, no, never, but all for Miles and his damned brother-obsession.
“But mostly,” she said, “because someday Countess Vorkosigan will ask me what I did for her son.”
“You’re planning to trade Baron Bharaputra for him, aren’t you?”
“Mark . . .” her eyes were dark with a strange . . . pity? irony? He could not read her eyes. “She’ll mean you.”
He showers until he stops shivering, then emerges to find clothes and food, enough food to fill him up, for once, and he eats until his stomach aches. No longer cold and empty, he doesn’t know what to feel any more. He didn’t even manage to rescue the clones, Miles and Quinn had to finish that for him, and now that he thinks about it, he’s not sure what he’d expected to happen even if he’d been successful. Presenting Miles with a fait accompli on Escobar…and then what?
He tries to unravel his motives for rescuing the clones. He didn’t truly feel free even after Miles set him free back on Earth, or happy either. Did he just want to do something heroic so people would start treating him like a hero, like Miles? To earn the respect of his biological parents, who he’d long since realized weren’t the monsters Ser Galen had painted them as, the Butcher and the Virago. Panicking suddenly at the prospect of being taken to face them, he searches the cabin for some sort of suicide implement, but finds nothing. Remembering Miles’s death again, he starts crying, and wonders why, since he’d hated the little bastard when he was alive. He lies down but only manages an hour’s fitful nap before Quinn wakes him up again.
I myself know from painful experience that it’s a bad idea to put anything somewhere “clever”, because months later, when I’m trying to find it, I’ll never be able to quite recreate the logic that led to the clever thought in the first place. Norwood was also maddeningly coy about what exactly his clever solution was, and then ended up not having the chance to tell anyone else about it. It’ll be a little while before we even get enough information to be able to guess at what he did, so don’t worry about it too much until then.
This is the first even-numbered Mark chapter of the book, for obvious reasons. In some ways it’s a nice touch, to start with that strict alternation and then blow it completely out of the water. So Mark gets a number of consecutive chapters, but he doesn’t get all of the rest of the chapters in the book, either; I don’t remember if we go back to alternation or not, so I guess we’ll find out.
Interesting insight about Elli and Elena being so similar. I don’t picture either of them as being dark-haired, though, as they apparently are–they’re blondes in my head, apparently. Not sure why that is, but I’m sure it doesn’t say anything flattering about me. Mark thinks of Elena as “cool” and Elli as “hot”, in temperament I presume, though maybe it’s just that, in this circumstance, Elli is more hurt by Miles’s loss and fighting hard to keep herself from falling to despair, since she was actually in love with the man. Elena was a childhood friend and loves him more as a sibling, I presume, which doesn’t make her loss any less painful, but it may be less sharp. Elli can only see that Mark is to blame for what happened to Miles, not to mention having a certain grudge against him from Brother In Arms, but Elena has that extra distance, and can spare a thought for Mark as a person, as Miles and Cordelia would want to think of him. I’ll be glad to see a little more of Elena, because Elli has been dominating for the last couple of books, while Elena tends to be more in the background.
So in the next installment we get to find out how they get away from Jackson’s Whole, and then I think maybe even get back to Barrayar, which is where the story really starts…my favourite part of the story, at least. There may even be Ivan! So there’s that. Of course, next Tuesday is Christmas, and while last year I conveniently managed to finish a novel just before Christmas, this year I have to actually decide if I’ll be able to write and post once more this year or not. New Year’s for sure, then, if not Christmas, I promise…