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Archive for December, 2012

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…

Chapter Seven

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.”

What?

“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.

Comments

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…

Chapter Eight

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.

“Partly.”

Right.

“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.

Comments

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…

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Welcome back again, somewhat belatedly, to this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  We continue on through Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Mirror Dance, one of the highlights in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan, though in this book he’s sharing fairly equal time with his clone-brother Mark.  Today’s post covers chapters Five and Six, which portend a potential change in the proportion of chapters allotted to the two viewpoint characters.

Sorry for not having this up yesterday, but I wasn’t feeling well on Monday, and as usual I was relying on doing one chapter each on Monday and Tuesday, so I fell behind.  I contemplated putting up just one chapter on Tuesday instead, but Chapter Six is fairly crucial to our story, and I wanted to get it out there this week, so instead you just get two chapters a day late.  And here they are, with no further ado…

Chapter Five

Mark dons his “half-armour”–though he thinks of it as more like “triple armour”.  It includes protection from nerve disrupters and stunners, torso armour that resists needlers and small missiles, and a plasma arc mirror field.  It’s a little tight on him, though, his weight rising after only a week of inactivity, since he’s not a hyperactive anorexic like Miles.  His biggest weapon, though, is the command helmet, which he can use to command greater forces than he could ever carry on his person.

Thorne buzzes and Mark lets him in; it inspects his armour carefully, and Mark wonders if this is usual treatment for Miles.  It asks Mark if he thinks he can handle the command helmet, and Mark says he has before…

“These things,” Thorne lifted his own, “can be pretty overwhelming at first. It’s not a data flow, it’s a damned data flood. You have to learn to ignore everything you don’t need, otherwise it can be almost better to switch the thing off. You, now . . .” Thorne hesitated, “have that same uncanny ability as old Tung did, of appearing to ignore everything as it goes by, and yet being able to remember and yank it out instantly if it’s needed. Of somehow always being on the right channel at the right time. It’s like your mind works on two levels. Your command-response time is incredibly fast, when your adrenaline is up. It’s kind of addictive. People who work with you a lot come to expect—and rely—on it.” Thorne stopped, waited.

What was it expecting him to say? He shrugged again. “I do my best.”

Thorne offers to take over the raid, if Mark is still not feeling well, and Mark tells it to back off.  Thorne tells him that everything’s ready; at midnight they’ll drop from parking orbit directly down to Bharaputra’s facility, before people start wondering what they’re doing, and if everything goes according to plan they should be done in an hour.  They do a helmet communication check, going through all the channels, including those for eavesdropping on their enemies’ transmissions and for local entertainment.

Mark notices that Thorne seems apprehensive, and wonders again if he’s been found out, but reminds himself that Thorne would have pulled the plug if it knew who Mark really was.  He kids Thorne about it, and it snaps out of its reverie; they agree that it’s time to get moving.  They meet the commandos in the corridor to the shuttle, getting ready to board.  He considers Taura, thinking that they must have been at House Bharaputra at the same time, though their paths would never have crossed.  He also reminds himself that nobody he knew at the creche eight years ago would still be alive.

He stepped up to her. “Sergeant Taura—” She turned, and his brows climbed in startlement. “What is that around your neck?” Actually, he could see what it was, a large fluffy pink bow. He supposed his real question was, why was it around her neck?

She—smiled, he guessed that repellent grimace was, at him, and fluffed it out a bit more with a huge clawed hand. Her claw-polish was bright pink, tonight. “D’you think it’ll work? I wanted something to not scare the kids.”

He looked up at eight feet of half-armor, camouflage cloth, boots, bandoliers, muscle and fang. Somehow, I don’t think it’ll be enough, Sergeant. “It’s . . . certainly worth a try,” he choked.

He asks her if she knows much about this part of the complex, but she tells him she mostly lived in the genetics facility, except during a couple of years of fostering.  He asks her if she hates them; she says when she was growing up, they did a lot of tests, but she thought it was just science, not malicious.  Then they sold her to Ryoval–Ryoval mistreated her, but Bharaputra’s indifference hurt her more.  Then she was rescued by her knight in shining armour…  Mark is annoyed by this glowing reference to Miles, always the hero–well, now it’s his turn to be the hero.  But she admits that without House Bharaputra she wouldn’t even exist, and wonders if she should return there to kill.  Mark reminds her that they’re there to rescue clones, not to kill unless they have to.  She tells him she’s glad he feels better, and he promises they’ll have a chance to talk after the mission, only realizing after he’s said it that she’s misinterpreted as a completely different kind of invitation.

They enter the shuttle, and Mark examines the space, figuring out where the rescued clones can be put on the return flight.  There’s room for two squads, plus lots of medical equipment or vehicles, so it shouldn’t be a problem.  The medic is organizing his supplies, which include a portable cryo-chamber.  Thorne sits next to the shuttle pilot, and Mark sits right behind them.  Taura confirms that they’re all ready for drop, and as soon as Ariel reaches its orbit, the shuttle drops.

Literally drops, as Mark learns, nose-down into the atmosphere.  The pilot cheerfully hopes that they don’t happen to run into anybody, since nobody’s cleared any airspace for them.  They plunge across the terminator into night, through the clouds, and then all too suddenly over a city, and the Bharaputra facility, to land in a playing field.  Thorne barks an order and they debark, as silently as possible.  One of the commandos goes into the air on a float-bike, two stay in the shuttle, and two more as perimeter guards–fewer than Thorne had wanted, but Mark wants as many troopers as he can in the creche, to get the clones out before the Bharaputrans’ response stiffens up.  He wishes he’d ordered another commando squad back on Escobar, but he’d been concerned about life support for the clones on the return trip.

He watches his helmet displays for a little while, but finds it hard to focus on them, so he dims them down, as Thorne had recommended to him earlier.  He follows Thorne, Taura, and the rest of her squad as they trot through the complex, listening in on the Bharaputran guards’ channels as they begin to react to the noise of the shuttle’s arrival.  They reach the house–smaller than Mark remembered–and Taura blasts the doors open with a plasma arc.  The commandos rush inside, taking out alarms as they pass.  They stun the first guard they encounter and head up the lift tubes.  Taura takes two female troopers to the third floor, another trooper heads up to the roof, and Mark leads the rest to the second floor.  They stun two unarmed adults before reaching the doors behind which the male clones are locked, though they can hear pounding from the other side.  Thorne yells that they’re going to open the door, and the pounding stops; they cut the bolt and kick the doors open.

The clone nearest the door expresses surprise that they’re not firemen.  Thorne pushes Mark forward to address them; Mark asks him for a headcount.

He’d practiced the speech for this supreme moment in his mind ten thousand times, every possible variation. The only thing he knew for certain that he was not going to start with was, I’m Miles Naismith. His heart was racing. He inhaled a huge gulp of air. “We’re the Dendarii Mercenaries, and we’re here to save you.”

The boy’s expression was repelled, scared, and scornful all mixed. “You look like a mushroom,” he said blankly.

It was so . . . so off-script. Of his thousand rehearsed second lines, not one followed this. Actually, with the command helmet and all, he probably did look a bit like a big gray—not the heroic image he’d hoped to—

He tore off his helmet, ripped back his hood, and bared his teeth. The boy recoiled.

Mark yells at them that the rumours they’ve heard are true, that they’re going to be used for brain transplants, killed so someone can steal their body.  The boys starts to babble and scatter; one of them tries to escape past the troopers, but a trooper grabs him in an armlock.  Mark tells them to follow him, but Thorne doesn’t think they’re buying it.  It suggests stunning them all, which might be quicker, but Mark refuses.  Then Taura calls him to ask for help on the next floor, followed by the float-bike commando, who tells him several people are climbing down the balconies, and a Bharaputran patrol is getting close.  Frantically, he tells her to stop them, stun them if necessary, but not while they’re climbing down.  Then he responds to Taura, who says she needs him to talk to a “crazy girl”.  Mark tells her that everything’s not under control down here either; Thorne rolls its eyes and applies a light stun to the boy struggling in the trooper’s armlock.

Mark tells Thorne to round up the male clones and flees up to help Taura.  It’s less crowded up there, since male clones continue to predominate over female.  The girls are seated on the floor, a stunner trained on them, but at least are sitting still and quiet.  Taura is in a side room with a Eurasian girl sitting in front of a smoking comconsole; the girl expresses contempt for the whole affair.  Mark tries to explain the clone situation to her, and the girl says she knows perfectly well what’s going to happen, and accepts it as her destiny, to serve “her lady”.  Taura says the girl has already called House Security and told them a lot about the commando team; the girl says she’s “very important” and the guards will save her.  Mark tells Taura to stun her.

Mark asks if they have all of the girls; Taura says two of them fled down the back stairs, and she’s worried they’ll hide in the basement or something, and says they don’t have time to hunt them down.  Mark finds Thorne’s channel and asks if he has a head count; Thorne says they found it on a comconsole, and they’re missing four boys, three of whom have been seen going down the balconies.  Mark checks the girls’ count, and says they’re still missing one; Taura sends a trooper out to check, even as Thorne is complaining that they don’t have time to round up strays.

In the third room the trooper checked, she bent to look under a bed and said, “Ha! Got her, Sergeant!” She swooped, grabbed a couple of kicking ankles, and yanked. Her prize slid into the light, a short girl-woman in the pink crossover tunic and shorts. She emitted little helpless muted noises, distress with no hope of her cries bringing help. She had a cascade of platinum curls, but her most notable feature was a stunning bustline, huge fat globes that the strained pink silk of her tunic failed to contain. She rolled to her knees, buttocks on heels, her upraised hands vaguely pushing and cradling the heavy flesh as if still shocked and unaccustomed to finding it there.

Ten years old. Shit. She looked twenty. And such monstrous hypertrophy couldn’t be natural. The progenitor-customer must have ordered body-sculpture, prior to taking possession. That made sense, let the clone do the surgical and metabolic suffering. Tiny waist, flare of hip . . . from her exaggerated, physically mature femininity, he wondered if she might be one of the change-of-sex transfers. Almost certainly. She must have been slated for surgery very soon.

The girl whimpers that she can’t leave, her mother’s coming tomorrow; Mark tells them to stun her too, and a trooper does, gently.  Another trooper calls him on the helmet and says they just stunned a bunch of firefighters, but security people with anti-stun suits and heavier weapons are on their way; the commando in the air confirms that a heavy weapons team is coming from the south.  Taura picks up the two stunned girls and they herd the rest down the stairs.  Thorne has six boys stunned and the rest against the wall; Taura suggests having some of the boys carry the others, to keep them busy.

“Good,” said Thorne, jerking its gaze, with difficulty, from fascinated fixation on the doll-woman. “Worley, Kesterton, let’s—” its voice stopped, as the same static-laden emergency message over-rode channels in both their command helmets.

It was the bike-trooper, screaming, “Sonofabitch, the shuttle—watch out guys, on your left—” a hot wash of static, and “—oh holy fuckin’ shit—” Then a silence, filled only with the hum of an empty channel.

Mark realizes she must have lost her helmet, and who knew what else, and neither he nor Thorne can make contact with her, the shuttle pilot or the rear guards.  Thorne takes charge, telling Mark and one trooper to come with him to check things out, while Taura organizes the clones.  Outside, they reach the shuttle, apparently undamaged, though there is a body beneath one wing.  Thorne remotely opens the hatch and says it’s going in, overriding the trooper who insists he should go instead.  Mark and the trooper follow after Thorne gives the okay; the shuttle seems empty, but the pilot’s compartment is sealed.  Thorne opens it, and flames burst out until the trooper extinguishes it; the pilot and controls are burnt and slagged.  Thorne says that somebody must have taken a couple of the shuttle’s own thermal mines and tossed them in, after luring away or killing the shuttle’s few guards.

Thorne says all they can do now is pull back to the creche building and try to negotiate surrender terms.  The trooper says that Admiral Naismith will be able to come up with something, but Thorne reveals that they don’t have the Admiral with them, just his clone-brother.  Thorne’s known since before they reached Jacksonian space, but though it could bring the plan off anyway.

“We can’t—we can’t betray those children back into Bharaputra’s hands,” Mark grated. Begged.

Thorne dug its bare hand into the carbonized blob glued to what used to be the pilot’s station chair. “Who is betrayed?” It lifted its hand, rubbed a black crumbling smear across his face from cheek to chin. “Who is betrayed?” Thorne whispered. “Do you have. A better. Idea.”

Comments

Miles was pretending to sell the nerve disrupter shields back in The Vor Game, and the plasma mirror shields were ship-sized back in Shards of Honour, and now his armour’s got that and more.  Except, of course, that Mark’s got his armour.  Still, apparently if you have the budget for it, all of the standard hand weapons are useless against you, which means the stage is set for another round of escalation…gravitic hand lances?

I’m not sure if this scheme would have gone better if Miles had been in charge, but it probably would have.  He would have brought the extra commando squad, probably, or at least half of one, he’d have protected the shuttle better, he’d have had some better contingency plans for unruly clones.  And I can’t help but think that while there may not be any faster way to get into the complex than by brute shuttle drop, there might have been quieter ones…  Of course, this isn’t any worse trouble, really, than Miles got himself into in “Labyrinth”, but he had a little more…charisma, I guess, working for him.

And Thorne did indeed know at least part of the time, as we see by its increasingly bold attempts to help out someone who’s obviously not Miles, with the command helmet and the half-armour.  So Mark’s failure is in the assumption that Thorne would immediately expose him once it cottoned on to the deception.  Instead, Thorne decided to take over the plan anyway.  Maybe it thought that Mark was more competent than he actually was, or just that the plan was actually more foolproof.  A bad miscalculation, which will cost it…

Chapter Six

Miles and the Peregrine arrived at Jackson’s Whole about nine hours too late to prevent Mark and Bel Thorne’s debacle.  Now he waits as Elli works her way up to the chain of authority for House Bharaputra, hoping to reach the Baron.  He’s wearing ill-fitting clothing from a five-foot-tall female engineer.  The Ariel has fled to Fell Station, which several Bharaputran ships are blockading, and more are escorting the Peregrine in orbit.  He hopes to convince the Baron that they don’t need to send more.

Bel, Mark, and the rest of Taura’s squad are trapped in the clone’s dormitory, with the clones as de facto hostages; the rest of the civilians have been evacuated from the complex, and heavier troops are moving in.  Miles doesn’t have enough information to risk a frontal assault to free them, so he’s going to try negotiation and bribery.  Quinn signals him that he’s about to be on with the Baron, and he tries to make himself look as presentable as he can manage in his borrowed uniform.

Miles introduces himself to Vasa Luigi, Baron Bharaputra, and they begin by sparring about whether the raid was unauthorized, or if Miles is just trying to distance himself from the failure of his subordinates.

He’s baiting you. Cool. “We need to have our facts straight. I have not yet established if Captain Thorne was actually suborned, or merely taken in by my fellow-clone. In any case, it is your own product, for whatever sentimental reasons, who has returned to attempt to extract some personal revenge upon you. I’m just an innocent bystander, trying to straighten things out.”

“You,” Baron Bharaputra blinked, like a lizard, “are a curiosity. We did not manufacture you. Where did you come from?”

“Does it matter?”

“It might.”

The Baron doesn’t pursue the matter, and asks Miles what he wants.  Miles offers his aid in cleaning up the mess his people have made, and of course paying reasonable damages.  Bharaputra says he doesn’t need Miles’s help, and Miles says it’ll help keep his costs low.  The Baron puts Miles on hold; Elli asks if they’ll be able to rescue the clones, and Miles says they’ll be lucky to get the commandos out.  He adds that more children than this batch of clones are killed on suspicion of mutation on Barrayar every year.  Elli says saving the clones will help him win Mark’s trust; Miles says at the moment he’s planning to strangle Mark and Bel, but his mind insists on offering him visions of total victory, Mark won over and gratefully coming back to Barrayar with him.

The Baron returns, and he tells Miles he will allow the Dendarii to surrender to him, though their “fines” are still to be determined.  Miles insists the prices be nailed down, and Bharaputra gives the prices–ten thousand Betan dollars per trooper, twenty-five per officer, and fifty for Bel Thorne.  No charge for the property damage, and Bharaputra also tells Miles he’ll save him the trouble of getting rid of his clone.  Cringing at the price, Miles asks what the clone’s price would be.

“What possible interest?” Vasa Luigi inquired, surprised.

Miles shrugged. “I’d think it was obvious. My profession is full of hazards. I am the only survivor of my clone-clutch. The one I call Mark was as much a surprise to me as I was to him, I think; neither of us knew there was a second cloning project. Where else would I find such a perfect, ah, organ-donor, and on such short notice?”

Vasa Luigi opened his hands. “We might arrange to keep him safe for you.”

“If I needed him at all, I’d need him urgently. In the circumstances, I’d fear a sudden rise in the market price. Besides, accidents happen. Look at the accident that happened to poor Baron Fell’s clone, in your keeping.”

Bharaputra’s demeanour chills noticeably, and Miles immediately regrets mentioning Fell.  Bharaputra says he can grow Miles a new clone if he desires, but Mark is not for sale.  Miles tries to persuade Bharaputra that he doesn’t want to wait ten years for the clone to be ready, but Bharaputra won’t budge, claiming to want to punish Mark, and use him as a warning.  Miles warns him that Barrayar is already aware of “both” clones, and Bharaputra asks him what relationship Admiral Naismith has with Barrayar.  Miles says he’s tolerated, and does them a favour now and again.  Bharaputra ruminates on the possibilities of three identical copies; Miles says they’re not identical–Lord Vorkosigan is a “dull stick”, and Mark’s already demonstrated his limitations, leaving Naismith himself as the “improved” copy.  Bharaputra tells Miles that the clone is not negotiable, but the rest of the fines will double every half hour until Miles accepts the deal.  Miles says he has to talk to the accountant, and ends the call.

Miles is sick and angry after the conversation.  Quinn points out that the accountant isn’t with them, and Miles says he doesn’t like the deal, and as an ImpSec representative it’s his job to rescue Mark.  Heartily missing the armour that Mark took with him, he tells Quinn to get him a squad leader’s helmet, at least, so he can cut himself a better deal.

He manages to borrow Elena’s helmet instead, as well as a variety of ill-fitting borrowed equipment, and within the half hour launches his attack–in one combat drop shuttle, with another one on a different trajectory as a decoy.  The shuttle’s fighter escort destroys one of the Peregrine‘s Bharaputran escorts, and the other retreats.  Their best possible drop zone–Thorne’s shuttle still blocking the only better choice–is still a bit of a hike away from the dormitory, but he hopes the commando squad in the other shuttle will give the Bharaputrans something else to think about.  They round the planet, but can’t contact Thorne’s group, since the Bharaputrans are blocking most of the channels, and they can’t contact Thorne on the others.

Once they’re on the ground, Quinn manages to contact Thorne on audio.  Thorne asks them to bring the portable cryo-chamber for Trooper Phillipi, who died fifteen minutes ago but was packed in ice.  They debark with two commando squads, two troopers in hovercars heading up to clear the roofs of snipers.  Once they clear it, Miles and Quinn head out with one squad, leaving half of the other one to guard the shuttle against the fate of Thorne’s, while the other half holds the perimeter.  They pass several buildings without incident, but Miles wonders if getting out will be as easy.  The Bharaputrans are already engaging them on the perimeter, and hearing a sonic grenade makes him wish he’d managed to find chest armour that fit.

They reach the clone-creche and join its defenders.  The medic heads off for Phillipi with the cryo-chamber, and Miles is greeted by a defeated-looking Bel Thorne with Mark at his side.  Mark defiantly tells Miles they have to take the clones with them, and Miles agrees, angrily telling Mark that having the clones as hostages is their only chance of getting off the ground alive.

Mark’s face lit, torn between hope and hatred. “And then what?” he demanded suspiciously.

“Oh,” Miles caroled sarcastically, “we’re just going to waltz right over to Bharaputra Station and drop them off, and thank Vasa Luigi kindly for the loan. Idiot! What d’you think? We load up and run like hell. The only place to put them would be out the airlock, and I guarantee you’d go first!”

Mark flinched, but took a deep breath and nodded. “All right, then.”

“It is not. All. Right,” Miles bit out. “It is merely . . . merely . . .” he could not come up with a word to describe what it merely was, aside from the most screwed-up mess he’d ever encountered. “If you were going to try and pull a stupid stunt like this, you might at least have consulted the expert in the family!”

One of the boys exclaims in surprise that Mark and Miles are really clones, and Miles confirms it; Mark complains that they didn’t believe _him_ when he told them.  Quinn interrupts that Medic Norwood has Phillipi and the wounded ready to go, and Miles tells them it’s time to head out.  The commandos are not happy to be herding the clones in front of them as human shields, but go along with it as defense against Bharaputran snipers.  As the first batch heads out, Miles greets Taura, both happy to see each other, thinking he might not have been able to forgive Mark for getting her killed.

Miles, Mark, Taura, Thorne and the last of the commandos and clones head out; the first group has already reached the shuttle.  The squad leader from the other shuttle tells him that the Bharaputrans aren’t taking them seriously, and Miles tells her to try.  Just then, a sonic grenade hits nearby, and Bharaputran fire picks up, intentionally passing on either side of them to try to panic the clones into running, and it’s very close to working.  Miles calls for air cover, and Taura blows open the nearest building and tells them to go inside.  Miles approves, if it keeps them from scattering in different directions, but adds that they need to continue out the other side, thinking to himself that it looks more like a trap than safety.

Thorne volunteers for rear guard, obviously hoping for a heroic sacrifice, but Miles tells it to take charge of its own mission and get the rest of the clones to the shuttle.  They emerge into a big concrete-floored room that occupies most of the building, dimly lit with catwalks near the ceiling.  Quinn and Mark are waiting for him, though Miles yells at them to keep going.

“Look out!” someone yelled. Quinn spun, raising her plasma arc, seeking aim. Mark’s mouth opened, the “o” foolishly echoing the circle of his gray hood around his face.

Miles saw the Bharaputran because they were looking square at each other, in that frozen moment. A team of brown-clad Bharaputran snipers, probably come up through the tunnels. They were scrambling along the girders, barely more prepared than the Dendarii they pursued. The Bharaputran had a hand-sized projectile weapon launcher of some kind pointed straight at him, its muzzle bright with flare.

Miles could not, of course, see the projectile, not even as it entered his chest. Only his chest, bursting outward like a flower, and a sound not heard but only felt, a hammer-blow launching him backward. Dark flowers bloomed too in his eyes, covering everyone.

He was astonished, not by how much he thought, for there was no time for thought, but by how much he felt, in the time it took for his last heartburst of blood to finish flowing through his brain. The chamber careening around him . . . pain beyond measure . . .  rage, and outrage . . . and a vast regret, infinitesimal in duration, infinite in depth. Wait, I haven’t—

Comments

“Wait, I haven’t–” seem like they should be the last thoughts of everyone who dies suddenly.  But especially Miles.  I can’t imagine the shock of reading this when the book first came out, and nobody knew if there were going to be any more…

So here we are, six chapters into the book, and Miles Vorkosigan is dead.  What, are you surprised?  Did you think he was going to survive to carry on the series?  Well, I call it the Vorkosigan Saga, not the Miles Vorkosigan Saga…  After all, it’s not like you can take someone who’s been killed in combat and just, like, freeze their body or something to resurrect them later, can you?  Okay, sure, it’s theoretically possible, but it’s not like they’re going to be able to manage it under these kind of conditions.  It’s not anybody cares about the little weasel that much anyway, do they?  What, really?  I mean, yes, in other words, it’s possible that some of that foreshadowing with the cryo-chambers, like the previous mention in this chapter, and the people we met back in Chapter Two, and even the bizarre brief mention back in Brothers In Arms, is going to pay off here.  “Chekhov’s Cryo-Chamber”?

On a lighter note, I’m always amused that the Baron of a House with such an Indian-sounding name as Bharaputra has such an Italian-sounding name as “Luigi”.  But, of course, a fair amount of mongrelization of names and cultures has doubtless taken place on any planet which is not a xenophobic monoculture, and I’d lay you odds that Jackson’s Whole is not one of those.  Hell, lots of names that, a hundred years ago, would have had distinct ethnic connections, like, say, “Sean”, are now considered fairly innocuous in English-speaking culture, and I’m sure more of them will get integrated over time.  And, of course, one must assume that the title of Baron of a Jacksonian House is not always passed down in a strictly hereditary fashion…there might be the occasional coup, here and there.  How would Baron Fell and Baron Ryoval be brothers, otherwise?


Quite a punch at the end of the chapter there, and now Mark and the others have to try to bounce back from this.  Everybody’s really happy with Mark, you can bet.  Next week, on time, with any luck, we’ll see what we shall see.  Until then…

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So, you know that clever interactive-fiction-style intro I did last week?  Yeah, that was probably a mistake, because this week, like most weeks, I got nothin’ resembling a clever idea about this opening.  So instead you just get this thing, which is a kind of apologetic introduction to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  What else do I usually say?  Right, it’s a series by Lois McMaster Bujold.  We’re in the book Mirror Dance now, but that was already in the title, along with the fact that this is the second installment.  I almost always do two chapters per post, so simple math could probably lead you to conclude that this post will contain Chapters Three and Four, which in fact it does.  So, intro schmintro, here’s the stuff you came to read.

Chapter Three

Mark feels the sensations of wormhole jump, fourth out of nine in the voyage, three days after leaving Escobar for Jackson’s Whole.  He knows it’s almost time to emerge and deal with the ­Ariel‘s crew again, though by now he’s read up on enough of the Dendarii logs to feel more confident in dealing with them.  He doesn’t find many references to what happened with him and his clone-progenitor on Earth, though.  Many of Miles’s orders, especially within his inner circle, are verbal and not logged, to keep the details from the Dendarii themselves, which Mark has used to his own advantage, but makes it harder to fill in the gaps.

He leaned back in his station chair and glowered at the comconsole display. The Dendarii data named him Mark. That’s another thing you don’t get to choose, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan had said. Mark Pierre. You are Lord Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, in your own right, on Barrayar.

But he was not on Barrayar, nor ever would be if he could help it. You are not my brother, and the Butcher of Komarr was never a father to me, his thought denied for the thousandth time to his absent progenitor. My mother was a uterine replicator.

But the power of the suggestion had ridden him ever after, sapping his satisfaction with every pseudonym he’d ever tried, though he’d stared at lists of names till his eyes ached. Dramatic names, plain names, exotic, strange, common, silly . . . Jan Vandermark was the alias he’d used the longest, the closest sideways skittish approach to identity.

He vehemently denies to himself that he’s Miles’s brother, but it still seems to leave a gap inside him.  He thinks about how they had shaped him to be so much like Miles, how every visit to the doctor had left him more stunted and twisted to match his original.  They’d even replaced perfectly healthy bones with plastic because Miles’s brittle ones had been replaced.  At least, growing up on Jackson’s Whole, he had been given hope by his deformed body that he wouldn’t be used for brain transplanet like his crechemates.  After the Komarrans had picked him up, and he’d learned his true purpose, he had striven to become like Miles, but somehow Miles seemed to change faster than he could keep up.

Once the real pursuit of Miles had begun, repeatedly losing him until bumping into him by accident on Earth, the clone had become disillusioned with his Komarran masters and their continued lack of success.  His education had taught him how to think, and the painful operation to replace his leg bones made him wonder if even worse could lie in store.  He began to resent the Komarrans for having stripped him of his own identity to replace him with a copy of Miles, and Miles himself for existing so they could do it.
Deciding the time has come, he cleans up and heads down to Thorne’s quarters.  After Thorne admits him he discovers that he’d woken the hermaphrodite from sleep, and the flesh revealed by the frilly nightgown is somewhat unsettling.  He apologizes and says it’s time for the detailed mission briefing, and Thorne brushes off the apologies and says that what it’s been waiting for.

While Thorne putters around in its nightgown making tea, Mark brings up the map of House Bharaputra’s medical complex.  He tells Thorne that there is more security than most hospitals, but mostly against ordinary burglars or inmates trying to escape.  Thorne examines it and suggests they capture the shuttle bays first, but Mark says the clones are on the other side of the complex and he’d rather just land on the nearer exercise court instead.  They should drop at night, because during the day they’ll be more spread out at various activities–not education, though, because nobody cares about the clones’ brains, just their bodies.  Mark thinks to himself that that was one of the ways he knew he was different–he actually had tutors.  He tells Thorne that the clones will mostly be about ten or eleven years old, but they’ll look like they’re in their late teens because of their artificially accelerated growth.

“Do they . . . know? Know what’s going to happen to them?” Thorne asked with an introspective frown.

“They’re not told, no. They’re told all kinds of lies, variously. They’re told they’re in a special school, for security reasons, to save them from some exotic danger. That they’re all some kind of prince or princess, or rich man’s heir, or military scion, and someday very soon their parents or their aunts or their ambassadors are going to come and take them away to some glamorous future . . . and then, of course, at last some smiling person comes, and calls them away from their playmates, and tells them that today is the day, and they run . . .” he stopped, swallowed, “and snatch up their things, and brag to their friends. . . .”

Thorne was tapping the vid control unconsciously in its palm, and looking pale. “I get the picture.”

“And walk out hand-in-hand with their murderers, eagerly.”

Thorne asks him to stop, and Mark mocks it for its squeamishness, since it must have known about this for years.  Thorne tells him that last time it wanted to fry them from orbit, and Mark wonders what it’s referring to.  Thorne wonders if the clones are going to be scared of them, but Mark says that the clones do have their own culture, and there are whispers of what’s really going on, which their handlers have tried to stamp out.  He stops himself short of revealing how he knows all this, but tells Thorne that he should be able to convince them.  Thorne notes that there are two dormitories, and Mark tells him that there is sexual segregation, since the female clients are expecting their new bodies to be virginal.

Thorne notes that the clones won’t be as practiced in shuttle loading as the Marilacans were, and asks what they’ll do if the Bharaputrans show up before they’ve escaped.  Mark says that the clones will act as hostages, since the Bharaputrans won’t want to risk them if there’s any hope of retrieval, but Thorne points out that they’ll also want to discourage similar activities in future; they may try to blow up the Ariel to prevent their escape.  Thorne suggests that, if speed isn’t enough, they try to take refuge with Baron Fell, which puzzles Mark, who doesn’t know what Fell has to do with all this, and says that no Jacksonian is to be trusted.

Thorne says that they won’t be able to jump out of the system the way they entered, since Bharaputra has a lot of influence at the that jump point; Jumppoint Five, which is more Fell-controlled, might be an easier option.  Mark is less enthused about it, since it passes through Pol, Komarr and Sergyar, and he wishes to avoid the Barrayaran Empire if at all possible, though of course he can’t tell Thorne that.  Thorne turns pensive and asks if any clones have escaped before, besides his own; Mark points out that “his clone” was just picked up by those who bought him in the first place.

“Fifty kids,” Thorne sighed. “Y’know—I really approve of this mission.” It waited, watching him with sharp and gleaming eyes.

Acutely uncomfortable, he suppressed an idiocy such as saying Thank you, but found himself with no remark to put in its place, resulting in an awkward silence.

“I suppose,” said Thorne thoughtfully after the too-long moment, “it would be very difficult for anyone brought up in such an environment to really trust . . . anyone else. Anyone’s word. Their good will.”

“I . . . suppose.” Was this casual conversation, or something more sinister? A trap . . .

Thorne, still with that weird mysterious smile, leaned across their station chairs, caught his chin in one strong, slender hand, and kissed him.

Mark, not knowing how to react, does nothing, wondering if Miles is sleeping with Thorne as well, and trying to decide if he’s at all tempted.  Thorne eventually withdraws, apologizing for “teasing” him, admitting that it’s cruel, and goes off to change into its uniform.  Mark is left wondering if it was a test, and if he’d passed or failed, but concludes that since Thorne hasn’t called in security, he must have passed.  Thorne returns and takes the data cube, saying it needs to plan the assault with Sergeant Taura.  Thorne also suggests going on a communications blackout, which Mark heartily agrees with, having wanted to do that himself but considering it too suspicious.  He’d been half-expecting messages from the real Admiral Naismith demanding their return, since Miles had obviously been due back soon.

Thorne asks if his “black miasma” has passed over yet, or if it should tell the crew to leave him alone for a while, which offer Mark also accepts eagerly.  Thorne tells him not to worry about the mission, it’ll take care of all the details until it’s time for him to deal with the clones.  Mark returns to his cabin, and finally finds the references to the last Jackson’s Whole mission, which started out as a routine arms deal.

Completely without preamble, Thorne’s breathless voice made a cryptic entry, “Murka’s lost the Admiral. He’s being held prisoner by Baron Ryoval. I’m going now to make a devil’s bargain with Fell.”

Then records of an emergency combat-drop shuttle trip downside, followed by the Ariel’s abrupt departure from Fell Station with cargo only half loaded. These events were succeeded by two fascinating, unexplained conversations between Admiral Naismith, and Baron Ryoval and Baron Fell, respectively. Ryoval was raving, sputtering exotic death threats. He studied the baron’s contorted, handsome face uneasily. Even in a society that prized ruthlessness, Ryoval was a man whom other Jacksonian power-brokers stepped wide around. Admiral Naismith appeared to have stepped right in something.

Fell was more controlled, a cold anger. As usual, all the really essential information, including the reason for the visit in the first place, was lost in Naismith’s verbal orders. But he did manage to gather the surprising fact that the eight-foot-tall commando, Sergeant Taura, was a product of House Bharaputra’s genetics laboratories, a genetically-engineered prototype super-soldier.

Mark almost feels like comparing notes and reminiscences with Taura, but that would, of course, be foolish.  He also discovers that Baron Fell had been planning a brain-transplant of his own, which reinforces his desire to avoid working with Fell if at all possible.  He returns to training with the command helmet, determined to bring this mission off somehow.

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At what point does Bel Thorne figure it out, I wonder?  Obviously by the end of the scene, it’s actively working to help Mark, offering radio blackout and giving him an excuse to hide out from the crew.  Did it know before then, though?  It must have its own reasons for going along with the scheme, though; its enthusiasm for the idea is unfeigned, though I’m not sure exactly how it thinks it’s going to get away with it.  I guess, if Mark succeeds, and then leaves, and Bel can claim to have been fooled…  This is, of course, not what happens, because, you know, Bujold.

I do wonder that Thorne’s order of communication silence is actually effective–how does it work, precisely?  Do they just shut down all their receiving equipment?  Surely they must have some automated systems which rely on it, like navigational equipment which uses beacons and the like.  So maybe they just ignore any actual communications?  Or do they record them all to look at later?  If they have someone listening but not responding, then what would that person do when they receive a message that claims to be from the real Admiral Naismith?  Yeah, I think that Thorne would try to avoid that if at all possible.

I can’t remember if it was ever established whether Bel and the other Betan hermaphrodites have both female and male genitalia, or if they just have male genitalia and breasts, which is what Mark seems to have concluded.  Mark is still a virgin, and apparently his treatment by Ser Galen is likely to have given him a few sexual hangups, so while he feels a certain sympathy with Bel Thorne as a fellow genetic experiment, he probably doesn’t know how to deal with any stirrings of desire for a hermaphrodite…

Chapter Four

Miles has been trying to get in contact with Bel Thorne, but communication through wormholes can be slow; the only way to do it is to send your message to a courier which will jump through and beam them to other couriers at other jump points, and between Escobar and Jackson’s Whole the couriers only jump every four hours.  Miles has sent the message through with three couriers, and received no response.  He knows that he’s taken advantage of that kind of lag to conceal activities from his superiors in the past, but he’s annoyed that Bel is trying it now, and his orders for Thorne this time were particularly clear.  He considers the possibility that Ariel may have suffered a rare jump malfunction and disappeared or been destroyed, but the couriers would have noticed a missing ship along this route.  Finally he calls a meeting of his inner circle–Elli Quinn and the Bothari-Jeseks.

He paces around the Triumph‘s briefing room as they assemble–Elli first, then Baz, and finally Elena.  He contemplates how Baz and Elena have risen, with his help as well as their own capabilities, and yearns briefly for Elena again.  Then he starts right in, telling them that Ariel is incommunicado, and he wants to go after it.  Quinn points out that Mark will be expecting that, and may have laid a trap.  Miles says that he considered that, and has been waiting for Mark to slip up, and Thorne to notice it and contact Miles again.  He wonders if Thorne has been killed–which seems unlikely, with the commando squad that Mark made a point of bringing along–or suborned, possibly talked into going along with Mark’s scheme.  Baz wonders if they’re really headed for Jackson’s Whole, or through the system to somewhere else; Miles says that Jackson’s Whole is important to Mark, and likely to figure in whatever scheme he’s come up with.

Elena asks why ImpSec didn’t warn them about Mark, since they were supposed to be keeping track of him.  Miles says last he heard Mark was on Earth, but the time-lag in reports that have to go through Simon Illyan on Barrayar means that Mark could easily have outrun them.  He says that every time he’s tried to contact Mark and invite him to meet, or to come to Barrayar, Mark has panicked and vanished from sight, until Illyan told Miles to stop.  Her mother really wants Mark to come to her, but she refuses to let ImpSec kidnap him.

“As your clone, he—” began Baz.

“Brother,” Miles corrected, instantly. “Brother. I reject the term ‘clone’ for Mark. I forbid it. ‘Clone’ implies something interchangeable. A brother is someone unique. And I assure you, Mark is unique.”

“In guessing . . . Mark’s next moves,” Baz began again, more carefully, “can we even use reason? Is he sane?”

“If he is, it’s not the Komarrans’ fault.”

Miles tells them what Illyan has found out about Mark’s background.  His childhood in the creche wasn’t too bad, but once the Komarrans picked him up…  Ser Galen seemed to flip back and forth between treating Mark as their last great hope of destroying the Barrayaran Empire and treating him as a stand-in for the hated Aral Vorkosigan which he would inflict imaginative punishments on, supposedly in the name of “training”.  He gives the example of how they tried to control Mark’s weight, which always tended much higher than Miles’s, because of his different metabolism:  Galen would starve him for days, then let him stuff himself and then overwork him until he threw it up again.  Miles admits that Galen may have actually been intending to create a Mad Emperor Miles.

Elena tells Miles he can’t blame himself for not stopping this, when not even ImpSec had known about his existence, but Miles says they should have.  He admits he’s not entirely rational on the subject of Mark, which is one reason he wanted to talk to them all, as a sanity check.  The other reason was to tell them about the actual mission he’d been going to send them on when the whole Mark/Ariel/Bel Thorne thing distracted him.

The mission is a “no-combat special”, practically a paid vacation.  ImpSec wants to provide aid to Vega Station, near the borders of the Cetagandan Empire, but its neighbours are not too receptive to the idea.  One is an outright Cetagandan satrapy, one is at least an occasional Cetagandan ally, and the third wants to maintain their neutrality.  Miles tells them they’re “smuggling pack-horses”.

“You’ve never heard that story? From Barrayaran history? It goes, Count Selig Vorkosigan was at war with Lord Vorwyn of Hazelbright, during the First Bloody Century. The town of Vorkosigan Vashnoi was besieged. Twice a week Lord Vorwyn’s patrols would stop this crazy, motley fellow with a train of pack horses and search his packs for contraband, food or supplies. But his packs were always filled with rubbish. They poked and prodded and emptied them—he’d always gather it carefully back up—shook him down and searched him, and finally had to let him go. After the war, one of Vorwyn’s border guards met Count Selig’s liegeman, no longer motley, by chance in a tavern. ‘What were you smuggling?’ he asked in frustration. ‘We know you were smuggling something, what was it?’

“And Count Selig’s liegeman replied, ‘Horses.’

Miles says that what they’re smuggling is spaceships–Triumph, Ariel, and one other, all fleet-owned–taking them to Vega Station and leaving them there, continuing on to Illyrica where they pick three entirely new ships.  ImpSec is taking care of all the permits and visas and so on, so all the Dendarii should have to do is quietly make their way through.  The problem is that the Ariel is, of course, not available, and they have less than a week before the window that ImpSec has opened up for their passage closes.  Miles gives Baz the specs and asks if he thinks they can talk Captain Truzillo into trading his ship, the Jayhawk, for one of these, even though it’s not technically a step up for him.  Baz looks over the specs, exclaiming with delight, and says he thinks he can talk Truzillo into it.

Miles says he’s putting Baz in charge of the Vega Station mission, then, and he’s taking Peregrine, Elena’s ship, and heading off after Ariel.  Elena says they can be ready to go in an hour, and Miles says that they will; speed is essential, and he regrets the extra day, but he had hoped the problem would have solved itself by then.  Quinn will be coming along to help with Jacksonian intelligence, having dealt with House Bharaputra before.  Baron Ryoval is also a danger; he seems to send assassins after Admiral Naismith once a year, and he would happily revenge himself on Mark thinking he’s Miles.

Quinn suggests that they could alert Baron Fell to the problem and have him capture the Ariel and take Mark into custody.  Miles admits he’s considered it, but Mark is paranoid enough already, and if Bel Thorne has been fooled by him, they might resist and get themselves killed.  He also wants to eventually convince Mark to trust him, and that doesn’t seem a good way to go about it.  Quinn asks if Simon Illyan will see it that way when he gets the bill for this mission, and Miles says he’ll gladly pay it.  Miles is, in some views, in line to inherit the Imperial Throne, and if he is, then his clone-brother is as well, so ImpSec has to keep track of him, admittedly as much to keep him from getting involved in plots against the Imperium as to keep him safe.  Baz says that Barrayarans already seem dubious enough over the prospect of Miles becoming Emperor, having his clone on the throne would probably seem even worse.  Miles says that the Komarrans never seemed to realize that in creating a fake claimant to the throne, they’d created a real one as well.

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I’ve heard the “smuggling horses” story done with the guy smuggling wheelbarrows, and I believe it’s supposed to date back at least to Nasrudin or even further.  Snopes has a nice article on it which describes a few variations on the legend.  TV Tropes describes it as a type of “Kansas City Shuffle”, conning someone who’s even expecting to be conned, though in this case I don’t know if anyone will really be that suspicious of the Dendarii, which is probably part of the point.  I confess I was a little sad that they were supposed to be trading in Ariel and Triumph, two mainstays of the Dendarii fleet, or at least the two ships we personally saw the most of.  But then, after this book we don’t spend that much time with the Dendarii any more, so I guess it’s not that bad.  I’ve upgraded enough computers in my day not to be too attached to any of them, despite, or perhaps because of, the number of hours I spend on them, so maybe it’s the same with spaceships…

Foreshadowing here of some of the Mark scenes from later in the book, as they talk about his upbringing and Ser Galen’s abuses of him.  They didn’t really get into this in Brothers In Arms, but I can’t say it really contradicts anything from that book either; it seems entirely in character for Galen.  Miles does have a few complexes himself, but I’m sure Mark’s are even worse, because he also has to pretend to have a lot of Miles’s.

Miles does at least consider the truth–that Thorne has seen through Mark, but is going along with his goals–though he doesn’t have enough information to determine that it is correct.  They touch here on the fact that that would technically be mutiny–knowingly following the orders of someone you know isn’t really your superior officer, and taking steps to avoid receiving any orders from your real superior.  As I said before, Bel is taking a huge risk here.

This chapter was a bit short to summarize, partly because it contained a lot of backstory which, as readers of the whole series, you already know, like Baz and Elena’s histories.  Mark’s backstory covered a bit of what we already knew about him, though it did add more details, so that wasn’t too bad.


I have to say that the beginning of the book is not my favourite part, as Mark goes hurtling into disaster and Miles has to try to pull his fat out of the fire.  But Memory is like that too, starting with a screwup, continuing into inconceivable disaster, and then providing the opportunity to…not quite snatch victory from defeat, but at least get past the defeat and into something positive.  But first you gotta have the low moments, apparently.  I don’t think we’ll get to that next week, but I guess I’ll find out…

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