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.
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.
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…
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.
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…