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Archive for January, 2013

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, as I manage, against all odds, to progress two more chapters into Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Mirror Dance, where Miles Vorkosigan’s absence casts a pall over the Emperor’s Birthday celebration, as, to some extent, does his clone Mark’s presence.  With no further ado, here we go:

Chapter Sixteen

Mark dresses for the Emperor’s Birthday celebration, noticing that the outfit he’s wearing had been a little loose when delivered eight weeks earlier, but fits fine now, and wonders if ImpSec has been calculating his weight gain.  Cordelia’s dress is colourful, seeming carefully designed not to suggest mourning in any way.  She tells Mark he will certainly rivet the attention of the Vor crowd, and then gives him his ceremonial bag of gold with some tips on how to present it to the Emperor…a move which will also serve as a formal declaration of Mark as a Vorkosigan heir.

“Whatever your own feelings—whatever the final outcome of the present crisis—don’t let them see you shake,” the Countess advised. “It’s all in the mind, this Vor system. Conviction is contagious. So is doubt.”

“You consider the Vor system an illusion?” Mark asked.

“I used to. Now I would call it a creation, which, like any living thing, must be continually re-created. I’ve seen the Barrayaran system be awkward, beautiful, corrupt, stupid, honorable, frustrating, insane and breathtaking. Its gets most of the work of government done most of the time, which is about average for any system.”

“So . . . do you approve of it, or not?” he asked, puzzled.

“I’m not sure my approval matters. The Imperium is like a very large and disjointed symphony, composed by a committee. Over a three-hundred year period. Played by a gang of amateur volunteers. It has enormous inertia, and is fundamentally fragile. It is neither unchanging nor unchangeable. It can crush you like a blind elephant.”

Cordelia reminds him that not everyone there will be a stranger–the Vorpatrils, and several others that he’s met over the past several weeks’ full schedule of private dinner parties.  Mark asks what to say to those who will be fishing for information about Aral’s condition, and Cordelia advises the truth, which is easiest to keep track of, though he needn’t go too deeply into the details, which might reveal how serious his situation is.  Mark asks what if they ask him about Miles, and Cordelia says they’re not near to being ready to declare him dead yet, and as far as most people know he’s just on a long courier mission.

Mark tells her how Galen had briefed him on the Emperor’s Birthday and other major festivals.  He tells her some of the things Ser Galen had said about Aral–that he was a murderer, a torturer, a madman, and a sodomite.  Cordelia says that Aral was a soldier and killed many people, but insists that he was innocent of the Solstice Massacre, where he gained his sobriquet of “Butcher”, though he did kill his political officer (who had ordered the massacre) afterwards.  The torture could be blamed on Ges Vorrutyer and Prince Serg, now dead; the sanity of anyone of Barrayar was seriously in question; and as for being a sodomite, Cordelia says she’s always thought Aral was strongly attracted to soldiers, which led to homosexuality on Barrayar, but made Cordelia herself an ideal compromise.  Mark is relieved to hear the Count’s personality being picked apart the way his own was earlier.

Mark asks what Miles thought of all this, and Cordelia admits that Miles never asked, and may have discounted a lot of what he’d heard as being vicious rumour.  She’s told Mark, because she thought he needed to know, especially with Galen’s exaggerations and misinformation cluttering up his mind.  She also points out that since everyone has flaws, then having flaws is no excuse not to work wonders.

“I’ve never heard you analyze yourself, ma’am,” he said sourly. Yes, who shaved the barber?

“Me?” She smiled bleakly. “I’m a fool, boy.”

She evaded the question. Or did she? “A fool for love?” he said lightly, in an effort to escape the sudden awkwardness his question had created.

“And other things.” Her eyes were wintry.

Pym drives them to the Imperial Residence; Cordelia tells Mark that the armsmen will have a bit of a night off, since ImpSec will be taking charge of security for everyone at the residence.  They meet Simon Illyan in the vestibule, in uniform and carrying real energy weapons.  Cordelia gives him a real report on Aral’s condition–edemic, and mentally drifty–and hopes that he’ll last long enough for the organic heart to be grown without needing an extra transplant operation to install a mechanical replacement.  She advises Simon not visit him, or he’ll try to get work done, and probably not able to manage it…although good news about Miles could always be shared.  Mark asks why he’s not on Komarr, and Illyan says he still needs to run the security for the Birthday Dinner, or else someone could take out the entire government with one bomb.  Mark asks about the search for Miles, and gets the impression that they might be dropping the priority, convinced that Miles is already dead.

Mark took a disturbed breath. “So how many agents do you have searching Jackson’s Whole?”

“As many as can be spared. This new crisis,” a jerk of Illyan’s head indicated Count Vorkosigan’s dangerous illness, “is straining my resources. Do you have any idea how much unhealthy excitement the Prime Minister’s condition is going to create on Cetaganda alone?”

How many?” His voice went sharp, and too loud, but the Countess at least made no motion to quiet him. She watched with cool interest.

“Lord Mark, you are not yet in a position to request and require an audit of ImpSec’s most secret dispositions!”

Not yet? Not ever, surely. “Request only, sir. But you can’t pretend that this operation is not my business.”

Illyan excuses himself, and Mark and Cordelia ascend the stairs into the reception room, where Mark is momentarily dazzled by the splendour of the outfits, the Vor lords almost more than the women.  He does note that most of the servants are probably ImpSec agents.  His arrival is noticed, and Ivan and Lady Alys come over to greet them in the momentary conversational lull.  Alys pulls Cordelia away for a private conversation, leaving Ivan to keep an eye on Mark.

Ivan describes the event as a “cattle drive”, with the young Vor heifers being brought out for matchmaking purposes.  Even Mark, he allows, might be someone’s target, as a Count’s heir, no matter what he looks like.  Mark is cheered momentarily by the prospect that women might actually come after him, even if only for his family connections.  Ivan says that Miles never could take advantage of it, being too discouraged by momentary rejections, no matter how Ivan told him of the value of persistence.  Mark wonders if Admiral Naismith was significantly different from Lord Miles Vorkosigan in that respect.  Notwithstanding, Ivan tries to dodge the girls here, since it’s all “look don’t touch”; Mark recalls Barrayar’s antiquated attitudes towards sex and reproduction, and cheers further at the thought that here he might be able to interact with girls without the spectre of his sexual dysfunction coming up.

A girl that Ivan puts down as subpar, Cassia Vorgorov, comes over to talk to them, and Mark gets indignant on her behalf for how much Ivan is pointedly ignoring, and squandering, her look of hopeful adoration.  Ivan introduces her to Mark, and she notes that he doesn’t quite look like Miles before belatedly introducing herself.  Ivan takes the opportunity to excuse himself, and leaves the two of them to awkward conversation, which leads to Mark’s clone background before Cassia herself flees.

Cordelia comes back over to him and they discuss Ivan and Alys’s relationship; how Alys is trying to secure Ivan’s future, and he lazily goes along with it, except for the part where she wants him to settle down and start a family.  She opines that if Ivan really wants to get his mother off his back, having children would be the best way to do it.  Mark notes her own hands-off maternal attitude, and she wonders if that was a mistake, desolation shadowing her eyes for a second.

Changing the subject, she tells him how the real agenda of the ball is the genetic one of the mothers, arranging for the next generation of Vor.  The big issue in question there is the uterine replicator–the ones who are more and more willing to let their daughters use it, and the ones who are jealous that they didn’t get to use it and are willing to forbid it to their daughters.  She thinks that Vor society is going to change in the next decade, and they’re not going to see it coming.

The Major of Protocol comes to fetch them, and arrange for Mark’s presentation.  Mark is surprised to see the Emperor seated on a camp-stool, which Cordelia explains as a symbol, and an old Barrayaran tradition.  Panicking briefly, Mark retrieves the bag of gold and makes the presentation correctly, to the whispers of the rest of the hall.  Gregor dismisses his financial minister to have a brief chat with Mark.

“So here you are after all—Lord Vorkosigan,” murmured Gregor.

“Just Lord Mark,” Mark pleaded hastily. “I’m not Lord Vorkosigan till Miles is, is . . .” the Countess’s searing phrase came back to him, “dead and rotted. This doesn’t mean anything. The Count and Countess wanted it. It didn’t seem like the time to give them static.”

“That’s so.” Gregor smiled sadly. “Thank you for that. How are you doing yourself?”

Gregor was the first person ever to ask after him instead of the Count. Mark blinked. But then, Gregor could get the real medical bulletins on his Prime Minister’s condition hourly, if he wanted them. “All right, I guess.” He shrugged. “Compared to everybody else, anyway.”

“Mm,” said Gregor. “You haven’t used your comm card.” At Mark’s bewildered look he added gently, “I didn’t give it to you for a souvenir.”

Mark says he doesn’t feel he’s earned it, and Gregor says the Vorkosigan family has an account that they could never exhaust.  Mark says he doesn’t want to ask for anything, and Gregor reminds him that a new business often starts with borrowed capital.  Mark says he tried that, with the Dendarii, and it didn’t work out that well.  Gregor says they’ll talk again, and dismisses him, and Mark withdraws.

Comments

Aral, Alys and Ivan get the Cordelia analysis in this chapter.  I’ll have to think about whether her opinion of Ivan is borne out by his viewpoint chapters in A Civil Campaign and, of course, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.  Aral’s does seem plausible, at least, but then Cordelia has had a long time to observe him, and may even be able to muster sufficient objectivity on the subject.  One hopes she hasn’t shared it with him; I’m not sure how he’d be able to deal with it.  Of course, he probably does remember his earlier relationship with Ges Vorrutyer well enough, so he may have a bit of a clue on the matter.

Poor Mark is a little starved for affection, but he doesn’t know how to respond to it when he receives it, so he’s got a ways to go yet.  If only he could meet somebody who was willing to overlook his appearance, and maybe even give him a second chance if he gets too defensive…

Chapter Seventeen

After the taxation ceremony, everyone sits down to a huge banquet.  Mark is happy enough to eat and drink, rather than engage in idle conversation, and ends up a little tipsy before he picks up on Cordelia’s trick of not actually taking a drink with every toast.  At least, he thinks, he doesn’t have to pretend to be Miles right now too.  Afterwards they head into a large ballroom, where Cordelia and Gregor lead off the dancing.  Mark notes that Barrayaran dances tend to be complex patterns involving multiple couples at once.

He flees to a side chamber, and considers getting drunk, but doesn’t want to embarrass Cordelia by getting sick, so he refrains.  Nestled in a window nook, he watches her working the crowd, pursuing her goals ruthlessly even under the strain of her husband ill and her son missing and dead.  His contemplations of what might have happened to Miles’s body are interrupted when he’s addressed by name.

He raised his eyes from blind contemplation of his boots to find himself facing a lovely cleavage, framed in raspberry pink gauze with white lace trim. Delicate line of collarbone, smooth swelling curves, and ivory skin made an almost abstract sculpture, a tilted topological landscape. He imagined himself shrunk to insect size, marching across those soft hills and valleys, barefoot—

“Lord Mark?” she repeated, less certainly.

He tilted his head back, hoping the shadows concealed the embarrassed flush in his cheeks, and managed at least the courtesy of eye contact. I can’t help it, it’s my height. Sorry. Her face was equally rewarding to the eye: electric blue eyes, curving lips. Short loose ash-blonde curls wreathed her head. As seemed the custom for young women, tiny pink flowers were braided into it, sacrificing their little vegetable lives for her evening’s brief glory. However, her hair was too short to hold them successfully, and several were on the verge of falling out.

She introduces herself as Kareen Koudelka, daughter of Clement, who of course is known to Mark from his briefings.  Her father’s not present, called away to work at HQ.  She asks after Miles, obviously not in the loop about his real situation; Mark asks if she’s in love with Miles too, but she says that with three older, and taller, sisters, she never stood a chance.  Mark wishes she could be his, but after what his screwups he knows he doesn’t stand a chance, and even if he did, his sexual dysfunction would doubtless crop up.  He tells her to go away, and she shrugs, saying she was warned he was moody, and turns to go.  Mark rescues a couple of flowers fallen from her hair and calls her back, attempting to salvage the conversation.

She tells him she’s a student right now, and Countess Vorkosigan has promised her a chance to study on Beta Colony if she works hard.  She finds Miles an inspiration, even just the fact that he made it through the Imperial Service Academy, and at the top of his class (obviously not knowing anything about the Dendarii or his real ImpSec duties).  She excuses his poor temper on account of the Count’s condition.

“Have you made any friends here?”

“I . . . don’t quite know.” Ivan? Gregor? His mother? Were any of them friends, exactly? “I’ve been too busy making relatives. I never had any relatives before, either.”

She mentions that Miles always seems to have a lot of friends, which sets him off again, but she doesn’t seem fazed, and invites him to dance.

“I don’t know any of your dances.”

“That’s a mirror dance. Anybody can do the mirror dance, it’s not hard. You just copy everything your partner does.”

Mark doesn’t want to join the actual dance floor, though, and suggests dancing outside instead, but Kareen grabs him and tows him to the dancefloor.  Mark asks her if she’s sure she wants to be seen dancing with a “toad”, as Ivan had called him earlier, and Kareen dismisses Ivan airily, which makes him feel better.  It doesn’t take Mark long to get the hang of the dance, and he finds himself amused by the antics of some of the younger dancers.  Kareen says he seems different when he laughs, and tells him dirty jokes to get him to laugh again.

After the dance finishes, he gets them drinks and leads her outside, conscious once again of the eyes on him.  He is attracted by her warmth and her scent, but is afraid to get too close.  She asks him, as a near-galactic, how he feels about uterine replicators, and he replies that he doesn’t see why any woman would want to not use one, and any man who wouldn’t let his wife use one would be a barbarian.  He asks why she’s interested, and she says it’s still hypothetical.  She and her sisters were born right around the time that sex-determination pills had become available, and many of the Vors chose to have sons around the time, so there’s a girl-drought, and Cordelia says that they could all marry Vors if they play their cards right; certainly none of the men would risk alienating potential candidates by insisting on body-births.

Ivan passes by, carrying a bottle and looking a little hunted as he descends to the garden.  Mark asks Kareen if he has a chance at all–short, getting fat, and a clone.  Kareen says that may be true, but as Miles’s clone he should have Miles’s intelligence, and the smart women will appreciate that too.  Mark says morbidly that he wonders if the Jacksonians changed that about him, because he doesn’t feel that smart.

Kareen’s sister Delia arrives and says their mother wants her, and Kareen bids Mark farewell and says it was nice meeting him.  When she’s gone, he collects the rest of the flowers she’d shed from her hair and puts them in his pockets.  He relishes her parting smile, though once again reminds himself that after Jackson’s Whole he’s personally bankrupt.

He descends to the garden looking for Ivan, and runs into a man in Imperial uniform who calls him “Vorkosigan’s clowne“.  Mark rises to the baiting, feeling as belligerent as he had in the caravanserai, agreeing that he has no sense of honour and is really more of an assassin than a soldier.  The Vor tells him that if Aral dies, he won’t become Count Vorkosigan, and Mark agrees, but wonders how this fellow discovered that Miles was missing/dead.  Mark is warning him not to annoy ImpSec when a servant walks by and offers them drinks; the Vor strides off into the garden.  Mark, sure that the servant is ImpSec sent to rescue him, castigates him for his timing, saying he hadn’t had time to dig anything interesting out of him yet; the servant doesn’t break his cover, if any, but does identity the man as Captain Edwin Vorventa.  Before he goes, Mark asks him where Ivan might be, and the servant gives him rough directions.

Ivan is in a gazebo near a fountain, alone, and doesn’t seem to want to talk, but as Mark turns to go he offers Mark a drink from the bottle.  Mark asks if he’s safe to drive, and Ivan says he’ll just stay there to be swept up with the garbage in the morning.  Mark realizes that Ivan is crying, but doesn’t mention it; Ivan says he’s trying to get very drunk, a traditional kind of Emperor’s Birthday challenge.  Ivan starts reminiscing about previous Emperor’s Birthdays with Miles, and admits he’s heard about the empty cryo-chamber.  Mark offers to help him back to his car, and Ivan accepts; at the edge of the garden they meet Cordelia, who arranges for some armsmen to take Ivan home.

Cordelia takes Mark himself home, then goes to call ImpMil.  On impulse, Mark goes up to Miles’s room for a look around.  It’s fairly bare, but there are several mementos around, which Mark examines.

Reasonably enough, the few mementos that had been retained tended heavily to reminders of successes. Miles’s diploma from the Imperial Service Academy, and his officer’s commission, were normal enough, though Mark wondered why a battered old Service issue weather manual was also framed and placed exactly between them. A box of old gymkhana awards going back to youth looked as if they might be heading for an attic very soon. Half a wall was devoted to a massive book-disk and vid collection, thousands of titles. How many had Miles actually read? Curious, he took the hand-viewer off its hook on the wall nearby and tried three disks at random. All had at least a few notes or glosses entered in the margin-boxes, tracks of Miles’s thought. Mark gave up the survey, and passed on.

One object he knew personally; a cloissoné-hilted dagger, which Miles had inherited from old General Piotr. He dared to take it down and test its heft and edge. So when in the past two years had Miles stopped carting it around, and sensibly begun leaving it safely at home? He replaced it carefully on the shelf in its sheath.

One wall-hanging was ironic, personal, and obvious: an old metal leg-brace, crossed, military-museum fashion, with a Vor sword. Half joke, half defiance. Both obsolete. A cheap photonic reproduction of a page from an ancient book was matted and mounted in a wildly expensive silver frame. The text was all out of context, but appeared to be some sort of pre-jump religious gibberish, all about pilgrims, and a hill, and a city in the clouds. Mark wasn’t sure what that was all about; nobody had ever accused Miles of being the religious type. Yet it was clearly important to him.

Some of these things aren’t prizes, Mark realized. They are lessons.

He looks through a portrait collection–Bothari, Quinn, Elena, Miles’s parents, Ninny, Ivan, Gregor, and then dozens of people Mark doesn’t even recognize.  He finds Kareen’s flower-buds in his pockets, throws them to the floor, then picks them up again before starting to weep.  Ten minutes on Jackson’s Whole would have made all the difference–how many ten-minute spans have passed without him even noticing, when that one has screwed up his life forever?

He recovers himself, washes his face, and sits at Miles’s comconsole; though his palmprint is beginning to become distinct from Miles’s, he is eventually able to access at least the top layer.  He calls ImpSec and asks to speak to Simon Illyan.  When he has Illyan on the line, he mentions the encounter with Vorventa, and points out that Vorventa seemed to know about Miles, which Illyan didn’t expect.  Illyan isn’t happy to have yet another problem to look at, but he’s glad to know about it; Mark asks if he can get in on the investigation of Miles.  After some consideration, Illyan turns him down, not wanting Mark to have that kind of access to secure files.

“What do you imagine you can do that ImpSec hasn’t?” Illyan snapped.

“The point is, sir—ImpSec hasn’t. You haven’t found Miles. I can hardly do less.”

He hadn’t put that quite as diplomatically as he should have, Mark realized, as Illyan’s face darkened with anger. “Good night, Lord Mark,” Illyan repeated through his teeth, and cut the link with a swipe of his hand.

Mark thinks about the Vorventa incident, and notes that Illyan hadn’t picked up on Vorventa’s illicit knowledge, and so isn’t as smart as Mark had once thought.  He contemplates Miles and all his supporting cast, and how he can never catch up to him, and then he takes out Gregor’s comm card.  Finally he puts the call through, and asks to be put through to Gregor; Gregor informs him that it’s five in the morning, and Mark feels foolish, but asks him to override Illyan and let Mark in on the search for Miles.  After some consideration, Gregor says, “Let’s see what happens” and agrees to call Illyan–right away, as Mark’s urging.  Illyan calls Mark back shortly afterward and tells him to be at ImpSec in the morning–in less than three hours–and he’ll have the access he desires.  Mark realizes what Gregor already had, that Lord Mark Vorkosigan is a real person with something to offer after all.

Comments

Oh, look, it’s the actual mirror dance!  It came up earlier, of course, back in Barrayar, and was heavily symbolic there, too, as Cordelia discovered that she could lead the dance just as easily as Aral…  We haven’t seen Koudelka in a few books, but here we finally get to see some of the next generation, Kou and Drou’s kids–Kareen and Delia, at least; I think the other two don’t show up until A Civil Campaign.  Kareen has enough of Cordelia’s influence, and familiarity with Miles, that she’s not put off even by Mark’s moodiness.  One dares to hope that the two of them may have some kind of a future…

It’s funny looking at Miles’s souvenirs from Mark’s point of view.  The weather manual from Kyril Island, Count Piotr’s dagger (when did Miles stop carrying it around?), the page of text that was Suegar’s inspiration in the Dagoola prison camp…fairly personal, so much so that Galen and his intelligence didn’t have a clue about them.  Though I would have thought that Mark would know about Kyril Island, at least, but I guess he didn’t realize its significance to Miles.  Dagoola was probably a bit too recent for Galen to have much intel on it, apart from the TV-movie they’d made, of course, which might have glossed over the religious tract…unless they interviewed Suegar, of course.  One suspects that they did not.

Ivan’s grief about Miles is affecting, given how much of a facade he puts up most of the time.  When Mark is shedding his own private tears, he apologizes silently to Ivan for interrupting his.  And then he finally begins to _do_ something about it, calling Illyan, and then Gregor, in his determination to help find Miles.  The late-night conversation with Gregor is fun, especially when Gregor remarks how much he sounds like Miles when apologizing for waking him…


Things are a little turbulent here right now, and I’m having more trouble finding time, opportunity and inclination for doing two chapters a week here.  I wanted to do these two together because of the unity of time, but I might drop back to one chapter, or maybe even change the day of the week I post, because somehow I almost always arrive at Monday evening without having done more than read the two chapters in preparation, and then I have to spend most of two evenings working on it.  But I will persevere, fear not, even if it’s only one chapter at a time.

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The Vorkosigan Saga Reread continues, leaving memories that become legend.  Legend becomes myth, something something something, oh wait, this is Lois McMaster Bujold, not Robert Jordan….  Somewhere a few hundred years in the future, or possibly a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Mark Vorkosigan was on the planet of Barrayar, while his brother’s frozen body was still missing.  There are neither beginnings nor endings in the Vorkosigan Saga, and, quite frankly, this is kind of in the middle, because it’s Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen in the novel Mirror Dance, so here we go.

Chapter Fourteen

Ivan takes Mark to the caravanserai for lunch; most of the area has been cleaned up and renovated since its seedier days.  Ivan points out the building where he was born during Vordarian’s Pretendership, and after lunch he takes Mark to the street where Padma Vorpatril’s death is commemorated by a plaque.  Ivan says they usually went to a nearby pastry shop after burning death offerings, and takes Mark there for dessert.  While Ivan is flirting with the counter-girl, Mark steps back outside with a bag of pastries and is seized with an impulse to look for a former underground Komarran spy contact a couple of blocks away, just out of idle curiosity.

On his way back, he takes a wrong turn and ends up in a cul-de-sac; turning to leave, he is spotted by an old woman, who calls him a “mutie” and goads her grandson into attacking him.  When confronted, Mark switches to an Earth accent, but apparently they don’t like offworlders either.  Mark takes the opportunity to vent and slag off on Barrayar, and soon finds that two of the youth’s friends have come up behind him.  They attack before Mark is sure that the insult content has ended.  Mark diverts the first two attacks, directing the attackers away, but blocking himself in the alley.

They jumped him both together, telegraphing every move. The purely defensive katas continued to work charmingly; they flowed into, and out of, his momentum-gate to end up both on the ground, shaking their heads dizzily, victims of their own aggression. Mark wriggled his jaw, which had taken a clumsy blow, hard enough to sting and wake him up. The next round was not so successful; he ended up rolling out of reach, finally losing his grip on the bakery bag, which promptly got stomped. And then one of them caught up with him in a grapple, and they took some of their own back, pounding unscientific blows of clenched fists. He was getting seriously out of breath. He planned an arm-bar and a sprint to the street. It might have ended there, a good time having been had by all, if one of the idiot punks, crouching, hadn’t pulled out a battered old shock-stick and jabbed it toward him.

Mark almost killed him instantly with a kick to the neck; he pulled his punch barely in time, and the blow landed slightly off-center. Even through his boot he could feel the tissues crush, a sickening sensation richoceting up through his body. Mark recoiled in horror as the kid lay gurgling on the ground. No, I wasn’t trained to fight. I was trained to kill. Oh, shit. He’d managed not to quite smash the larynx. He prayed the kick hadn’t snapped a major internal blood vessel. The other two assailants paused in shock.

Ivan arrives then and demands to know what’s going on; Mark claims to have been jumped, and one of the kids runs though the other stays with his injured friend, and the old woman screams insults at them until the municipal guards arrive.  Ivan manages to keep Mark’s name out of the incident, and Mark doesn’t want to press charges anyway, so they are soon back in Ivan’s car.

Mark complains about the absence of “outer perimeter”, and Ivan points out that they were the ones who called the guards.  Mark asks if Miles had to put up with this, and Ivan says that Miles wouldn’t have gone there in the first place, and would have talked his way out if he had.  Mark wonders why the great and powerful Vor have to be so careful around scum like that, why they can’t just get rid of them.  Mark wonders about the kid he kicked, if he’s going to be okay, and realizes that maybe he should have backed off because the punks weren’t in his “weight class”.

They stop at Ivan’s apartment so Mark can clean himself and his clothes; Mark will still have visible bruises for a few days, but Miles would have ended up with broken bones in the same situation.  When they return to Vorkosigan House, Ivan downplays the incident, but Aral and Cordelia have the full report by evening.  She tells Mark that his victim will be on liquid food for a little while, but will regain his voice; Ivan has already paid his medical bills, beating her to it.  The next day, she says, Elena and Pym will escort Mark instead.

Aral says that Gregor, apparently impressed with Mark, has given permission for him to be officially presented as one of House Vorkosigan’s heirs–as the heir, if and when Miles’s death is confirmed.  He hasn’t decided yet if it would be better to ram Mark’s confirmation as heir through the Council of Counts, or wear them down slowly, which might leave Mark’s position more secure in the long run.  Mark asks if he could be rejected, and Aral says that heirs to Countships need to be approved, though personal property is outside their jurisdiction.  Approval is usually a formality, if it’s a relative, but there are odd cases, including the case of one Count Vortala who had quarreled with his son and had his horse, Midnight, declared his heir instead.

“What . . . a hopeful precedent for me,” Mark choked. “How did Count Midnight do? Compared to the average Count.”

“Lord Midnight. Alas, no one found out. The horse pre-deceased the Vortala, the war petered out, and the son eventually inherited after all. But it was one of the zoological high points of the Council’s varied political history, right up there with the infamous Incendiary Cat Plot.” Count Vorkosigan’s eye glinted with a certain skewed enthusiasm, relating all this. His eye fell on Mark and his momentary animation faded. “We’ve had several centuries to accumulate any precedent you please, from absurdities to horrors. And a few sound saving graces.”

After supper, Mark flees to the library, where he looks at a few paper books before settling down with a large volume of arms and armour, fascinated by the bizarre distinctions between types down to the minutest differences.  When Count Vorkosigan enters, Mark instinctively stays quiet, hoping the Count will leave again, not wanting to end up in conversation with him again.  Instead, Aral sits at a comconsole and settles in; Mark is just considering making some noise to reveal his presence when Cordelia enters as well.  Aral turns to her, and they have a conversation which quickly turns to Mark himself.

They discuss how Mark is getting a “crash course” in Barrayar, including its fear of mutants, which Aral hopes he will understand more with the proper historical background.  He notes that Mark seems to be more confrontational than Miles, inclined to push through resistance rather than dance around it, noting his tendency to dress to emphasize his height rather than downplay it.  Cordelia asks if Mark’s weight gain embarrasses him, but says it’s an obvious move; Aral asks her to explain it.

She tells her there’s three factors–first, that unlike Miles, Mark could easily have grown up to a healthy Ivan-sized adult, but has been artificially cut down, without his metabolism having been retooled to fit, so he’ll end up more heavyset by nature.  Second, it’s a way of asserting control over his body shape, which others have been manipulating without his consent all his life.  Third, he’s using it to distance himself from Miles, to make himself more distinct from his brother and carve out his own identity, for fear of being overshadowed all his life.  Once he works through his fear and control issues, he should settle down, Cordelia judges.

“If Miles is dead,” he began.

“If Miles is not recovered and revived,” she corrected sharply.

“Then Mark is all we have left of Miles.”

“No!” Her skirts rustled as she rose, stepped, turned, paced. God, don’t let her walk over this way! “That’s where you take the wrong turn, Aral. Mark is all we have left of Mark.”

Aral asks if, in that case, Mark is really ready to be the next Count Vorkosigan, and Cordelia asks if Aral will only accept Mark as a potential heir, like his own father disapproved of Miles.  She notes that many current Counts are no great shakes either, so he wouldn’t have that much to live up to.  Aral says it’s also the Vorkosigan District that would need to accept him, deformed and a clone, as their Count.  Miles has earned their affection to some extent through his own efforts, but Mark doesn’t seem to radiate the same kind of personality; Cordelia speculates Mark is still working through guilt over having been trained to assassinate Aral.

Aral begins to contemplate Ivan’s possible virtues as Count, though he knows that Ivan is capable of much more than he’s ever exhibited.  Cordelia says that Ivan is being careful not to shine too brightly, not being that far away from the Imperial Throne, so he won’t attract conspiracies to put him on it.  Mark would do well enough on Beta Colony, she says; Aral points out sadly that on Beta Colony he wouldn’t be able to get to know Mark at all.  Cordelia says that he should then try to spend some time with Mark while he’s on Barrayar.

“I cannot stop all government business for this personal crisis,” said the Count stiffly. “As much as I might like to.”

“You did for Miles, as I recall. Think back on all the time you spent with him, here, at Vorkosigan Surleau . . . you stole time like a thief to give to him, snatches here and there, an hour, a morning, a day, whatever you could arrange, all the while carrying the Regency at a dead run through about six major political and military crises. You cannot deny Mark the advantages you gave Miles, and then turn around and decry his failure to outperform Miles.”

She tells him that he doesn’t need to be the parent he was for crippled baby Miles, but he can try to be the father for a Mark in his twenties.  She also urges him to retire as Prime Minister, but Aral says that he can’t, because he needs to be in the loop with Illyan and ImpSec during the search for Miles, to make sure they search hard enough.  Cordelia says there’s no fear of that in any event.

When the Count spoke again at last his voice was weary. “I was ready to step down three years ago and hand it off to Quintillan.”

“Yes. I was all excited.”

“If only he hadn’t been killed in that stupid flyer accident. Such a pointless tragedy. It wasn’t even an assassination!”

The Countess laughed blackly at him. “A truly wasted death, by Barrayaran standards. But seriously. It’s time to stop.”

They leave the library; Mark, curled up on the chair still, is in pins and needles from the cramped position, but emotionally feels even more worked over by Cordelia’s frank opinions, wondering how transparent he really is.  What he realizes is that he no longer feels afraid of the Count and Countess, since they don’t seem to be different in private than they are in public, and embody that word “integrity” that he’s always heard about.

Comments

Lest we think that Mark was some kind of physical nincompoop…he does have mad fighting skills, but they are kind of skewed a certain way–towards fatal blows and the like.  Admittedly, his judo throws, or whatever (“momentum-gate”?  Is that a real term?) were effective, but it doesn’t take long for him to accidentally almost kill someone.  It’s true that he is a little more confrontational than Miles, but he does still have a big chip on his shoulder.  Despite Aral’s best efforts, Mark isn’t necessarily warming to Barrayar.  He’s the guy who obstinately refuses to get out of the way just to be stubborn.

I find myself wanting now to try to poke holes in what Cordelia says–does Bujold really intend her to always be right?–but she is right about an awful lot.  She certainly sees the reasons for Mark’s weight gain, and she does see that Aral is not necessarily trying the right approach to Mark, that he’s more interested in making Mark into the backup heir, and maybe even backup Miles.  And he’s completely at a loss about how to even proceed, so he chickens out, avoids Mark and makes excuses that he never let himself make about Miles.

Chapter Fifteen

Mark spends the next few weeks being taken by Elena to places of cultural and historical significance in Vorbarr Sultana and surrounding districts, as well as a number of schools and universities; he’s heartened to note that the Agricultural & Engineering Institute, rather than anything military, is the largest school in the capital.  Elena does her duty but keeps to herself, giving Mark lectures rather than conversation.  One evening the Count arrives at Vorkosigan House and takes Mark and Elena off to Vorkosigan Surleau.  Mark wonders why he’s bring brought to the Vorkosigans’ most private retreat–as a test, or a reward?

The next morning he comes across Aral and Elena, dressed in their formal uniforms, burning an offering in the cemetery; Mark watches quietly rather than disturb them.  Elena leaves shortly after, though looking a little less strained than she had before, and Aral summons Mark inside.  He explains that Elena was burning a death-offering to her father, which she hadn’t had the chance to before; Mark is familiar with Sergeant Bothari from his briefings, but Galen didn’t spend much time on him as he was already dead by that point.

“He should have. Sergeant Bothari was very important to Miles. And to us all. Bothari was . . . a difficult man. I don’t think Elena ever was quite reconciled to that. She’s needed to come to some acceptance of him, to be easy with herself.”

“Difficult? Criminal, I’d heard.”

“That is very . . .” The Count hesitated. Unjust, Mark expected him to add, or untrue, but the word he finally chose was ” . . . incomplete.”

The Count shows Mark around the graveyard, pointing out ancestors, relatives and retainers, though they don’t go back past the destruction of Vorkosigan Vashnoi.  The Count says he wants to be buried here, rather than in Vorbarr Sultana, as he managed to do for his own father.  He says some of the happiest moments of his life were spent here, including his marriage and honeymoon, and Miles’s conception, and so, in a way, Mark’s.  Mark notes that they must have brought their uniforms specifically to do this offering, and asks if that was the purpose for the trip; Aral replies, among others.

After breakfast, Aral takes Mark on a walk up the hill to the horse pasture.  He asks Mark to try calling over Miles’s horse, Fat Ninny, admitting he’s curious if the horse will be fooled by Mark’s voice.  Mark calls the horse over, and it comes; Aral explains that Miles always gave it sugar, and gives him some for the horse.  Mark diffidently gives it to Fat Ninny, and Aral shares some out to the other horses as well.  He asks Mark if he wants to ride, but Mark doesn’t.

After they leave the pasture, Aral mentions a riding trail through the woods to an old picnic spot, and asks if Mark would like to see it.  Mark doesn’t want to refuse another overture, so he agrees, noticing a complete lack of armsmen or bodyguards, heralding a private chat to come.  As they walk, Mark asks if Cordelia put him up to this.

“Not really,” said the Count, ” . . . yes.”

A thoroughly mixed reply and probably true.

“Will you ever forgive the Bharaputrans for shooting the wrong Admiral Naismith?”

“Probably not.” The Count’s tone was equable, unoffended.

Mark asks if ImpSec would be going to all this trouble if it were his dead body in the cryo-chamber, not Miles’s, and Aral says that Miles would probably be spearheading the ImpSec search himself.  Aral would probably be less forceful, but Cordelia would care just as much.  Mark comments on his brutal honesty, and Aral says they need to build their relationship on it from the start.

After a while longer, the Count brings up the cryo-chamber again.  Mark has been kept mostly in the dark, except for what he could get out of Cordelia, which is mostly negative reports of an ever-growing number of places where the cryo-chamber isn’t.  Aral tells him they’ve found the cryo-chamber, and Mark is excited before he realizes that there must be something wrong, or Aral would have mentioned it sooner.  Aral says it was found, empty, cleaned and reconditioned, and up for sale by a medical supply company in the Hegen Hub; the ImpSec agent who found it bought it and shipped it for Komarr.

They investigated the company and found that they may have bought it from someone who bought it on the black market, so it’s a bit of a dead end.  It may have come directly from Jackson’s Whole, but it could as easily have gone via Cetaganda; they’ve calculated there are nine planets, seventeen stations, and a large number of ships where it could have been taken.  Aral says he’d almost rather the Cetagandans had taken Miles’s body as part of some nefarious plan than some other possibilities, like some Jacksonian petty thief dumping him on a midden.

Mark says that Norwood had more on the ball than that, he would have sent it to somewhere he had confidence in.  Aral admits that it was reconditioned before being bought in the Hegen Hub, so Mark says that there must have been another medical facility involved in that, so Miles might be in storage somewhere.  Mark knows that kind of altruism is rare on Jackson’s Whole, unfortunately.  Aral says that it wouldn’t take that much to clean up the chamber if the body had just been dumped.

“The report came in yesterday afternoon. So you see . . . it becomes measurably more important that I know where you stand. In relation to Barrayar.” He started again up the trail, then took a side branch that narrowed and began to rise steeply through an area of taller trees and thinner brush.

Mark toiled on his heels. “Nobody in their right mind would stand in relation to Barrayar. They would run in relation to Barrayar. Away.”

The Count grinned over his shoulder. “You’ve been talking too much to Cordelia, I fear.”

“Yes, well, she’s about the only person here who will talk to me.”

Aral admits his failure and apologizes, wondering ruefully if his own father felt as frustrated.  He begins to ask Mark again, then gets a funny look on his face and sits down abruptly against a tree, muttering about something feeling strange, and saying he needs a rest.  Mark agreeably sits nearby, but soon gets the impression that all is not well with the Count.  He says it’s not a perforated ulcer, but his breathing is getting shallow, and he admits to chest pain.  Mark says he should call for help on the commlink, and Aral says he left it behind, wanting a truly private conversation.  As Aral gets worse, Mark begins to wonder if he did somehow do something.

Aral tells him to go fetch help from the house.  Mark isn’t sure he was paying attention on the way up, and briefly considers trying to carry the Count, but abandons that idea swiftly.  He runs pell-mell down the path, trying to remember where they turned, and wondering if they’re going to blame him for whatever happens to the Count.  Finally he finds Elena and gets her attention; once he catches his breath, he tells her how Aral took sick up in the woods.  She asks what he did, then cuts herself off and says there’s a commlink in the stable.  She asks where the Count is, and Mark gives her what directions he can, then she runs for the barn and Mark staggers back up the path towards Aral.  He finds the Count on the ground behind a fallen log, breathing in gasps.

“Hello. Boy,” he huffed in greeting.

“Elena’s bringing help,” Mark promised anxiously. He looked up and around, and listened. But they’re not here yet.

“Good.”

“Don’t . . . try to talk.”

This made the Count snort a laugh, an even more horrible effect against the disrupted breathing. “Only Cordelia . . . has ever succeeded . . . in shutting me up.” But he fell silent after that. Mark prudently allowed him the last word, lest he try to go another round.

Shortly thereafter, Elena arrives with an ImpSec medic on a float bike.  The medic is also suspicious of Mark; after a quick examination of Aral, he tells Elena to get the Count’s physician to meet them at the hospital in Hassadar.  Mark tries to help them load the Count on the float-bike, and the medic tells him to keep away, until the Count tells the medic that Mark’s all right.  Elena tells Mark where they’re meeting the aircar, and after the float-bike takes off, Mark runs towards the clearing and just makes it there in time to get in.

In the aircar, the medic begins working to try to stabilize Aral, as Mark pants, desperately trying to regain his breath, and eventually succeeding.

Despite the synergine the Count’s eyes were going shocked and vague. He pawed at the little plastic oxygen mask, batted away the medic’s worried attempt to control his hands, and motioned urgently to Mark. He so clearly wanted to say something, it was less traumatic to let him than to try and stop him. Mark slid onto his knees by the Count’s head.

The Count whispered to Mark in a tone of earnest confidence, “All . . . true wealth . . . is biological.”

They make it to the hospital in Hassadar, where the Count is whisked away by a swarm of medical personnel, while Mark and Elena are sent to a private waiting room.  The Countess arrives a few minutes later and heads right into the medical area.

Some clueless passing doctor on the other side actually tried to stop her: “Excuse me, ma’am, no visitors beyond this point—”

Her voice overrode his: “Don’t give me that crap, kid, I own you.”

Elena tells Mark that is literally true; Cordelia has put a lot of money into the medical program, and half of the staff are oath-sworn to her personally.  Mark looks out the window at Hassadar, a New City, mostly built after the Cetagandan invasion and looking not unlike a galactic city of similar size, and is surprised to note that it’s still morning.  It’s close to noon before Cordelia emerges, to tell them that Aral is stabilized, but his heart is badly damaged and will need a transplant, and he’s being transferred to ImpMil.

Mark asks Cordelia, who had been at ImpSec HQ waiting for more news, if there was any, and she says no.  She notes that at least the news seems to have driven Aral to try to connect with Mark.

“Did he?”

“No . . . I don’t know. He took me around, showed me things. He tried. He was trying so hard, it hurt to watch.” It hurt still, a knotted ache somewhere behind his solar plexus. The soul dwelt there, according to somebody-or-other’s mythology.

“Did it,” she breathed.

It was all too much. The window was safely shatterproof, but his hand was not; his soul-driven fist bunched, drew back, and struck.

The Countess caught it with a quick open hand; his self-directed violence smacked into her palm and was deflected.

“Save that,” she advised him coolly.

Comments

Loads of little references here–Mark sees Amor Klyeuvi, from _Barrayar_, buried in the cemetery, and feels a scar on Fat Ninny’s neck from “The Mountains of Mourning”.  And the offering for Bothari, of course, long overdue for Elena.  I often wonder, given how Elena must have felt about finding out the truth about her father’s true past, why she didn’t just become Elena Jesek, but kept the “Bothari” in there as well.  She must have been highly conflicted, and burning the offering seems to have released something.  I sometimes wonder what these Barrayar chapters would look like from Elena’s point of view; she’s so reserved that it’s hard for Mark to know what she’s really feeling, or for the reader to get the cues that might let us, with our potentially greater knowledge of backstory, to figure it out.  I’m not even sure why she’s still on Barrayar, why she hasn’t fled back to the Dendarii Mercenaries, but maybe she feels that she can also help on the ImpSec side of things…?

I find that as I read this chapter by chapter, I try to tease out what the purpose for each chapter is.  When I read it straight out, it’s more just reading event after event, scene after scene, but now it’s like trying to figure out how the chapter is composed.  I could conceivably summarize each chapter in one sentence, and maybe not even a run-on one; you lose a lot that way, but you can also figure out what the novel may have looked like as an outline…  This one is obviously “Aral has a heart attack while in the woods with Mark”.  The heart attack is of course important, but the fact that it happens when he’s alone with Mark is also significant.  The suspicion that Elena and the medic (who does have a name, Jasi, I just didn’t include it) have of Mark is telling, but maybe after this he’ll be able to put that behind him, at least a little bit.  The news about the cryo-chamber is designed to be devastating, since it adds that extra element of uncertainty–it’s turned up, but empty, so what happened to Miles?  I can think of at least a couple of major scenes coming up with Mark, so probably at least two more chapters before we find out anything more about Miles’s fate.


Which is a good place to end it, I guess.  Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up the two-chapters-a-week pace, but we’re moving house soon, so things will get more chaotic around here for a while.  Wish me luck.

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Tuesday again?  Right…Vorkosigan post…got one chapter done last night…and I guess that’ll be all for this week.  Sorry, folks, I’m a little under the weather, so if you want my treatment of Mirror Dance Chapter 14 to be at all coherent, you’ll let me do it next week, okay?  So yeah, anyway, Mirror Dance continues to mostly be about Miles Vorkosigan’s brother Mark, because Miles is dead and MIA for now, but Mark’s on Barrayar and gets to talk to cool people and have great scenes, so yay.

Chapter Thirteen

Mark gets two days mostly to himself, to recover from jump-lag as well as give him some space to acclimatize.  He wanders the house, noticing the difference between knowing the layout and actually being there.  There are guards at the gates, whose orders with regards to him he doesn’t explore, and the windows have armor-glass and automatic shutters for protection from attack; he’s not sure he wants to spend his life cooped up and protected inside its shell.

The third day, Cordelia helps him pack the new clothing which has arrived for him from the tailors’.  It includes a gaudy cadet uniform for the House, which disquiets him, though Cordelia informs him he’d only need to wear it for official functions, such as the upcoming Emperor’s Birthday ceremony.  This leads to discussion of Mark’s own birthday, or lack thereof; Cordelia opines that being decanted from a uterine replicator is a real birth as far as she’s concerned, and though Mark doesn’t know it himself, his file contains the date of this birth, which she tells him was the month before.

“I missed it anyway, then.” He closed the bag and stuffed the uniform far back in his closet. “Not important.”

“It’s important that someone celebrate our existence,” she objected amiably. “People are the only mirror we have to see ourselves in. The domain of all meaning. All virtue, all evil, are contained only in people. There is none in the universe at large. Solitary confinement is a punishment in every human culture.”

“That’s . . . true,” he admitted, remembering his own recent imprisonment.

Though Mark is tempted by an all-black outfit, Cordelia informs him flatly that it’s for funerals, and he chooses something as unmilitary as he can find.

The next day, Ivan shows up for breakfast, commenting on Mark’s bloated appearance as he chows down; Mark replies that Ivan hasn’t changed.  Ivan complains that because of Mark he still has trouble with claustrophobia.

“Sorry,” muttered Mark, hunching. But something in him resisted being cowed by Ivan, and he added, “I only had Galen kidnap you to fetch Miles.”

“So that was your idea.”

“It worked, too. He came right along and stuck his head in the noose for you.”

Ivan’s jaw tightened. “A habit he has failed to break, I understand,” he returned, in a tone halfway between a purr and a snarl.

Mark is surprised to find Ivan’s behaviour mildly comforting, since he feels like he deserves the punishment.  When Mark asks, Ivan tells him he’s there to take Mark out of the day.  Cordelia is surprised, but Aral tells her that it’s by request, which enlightens everyone but Mark.  Ivan will be his guard, but there will be an unseen “outer perimeter” as well.  (Mark wonders if outer perimeter guards ever just blow off their job and claim they were there anyway.)

Ivan admits in the car that he doesn’t really want Mark dead, since Mark’s another warm body between him and being Count.  He asks for more details on Miles’s situation.  Mark tells him about the wound he saw Miles suffer, and adds that they won’t know about brain damage until after revival…if they ever find him to revive in the first place.

Mark crouched down and shut his mouth. Better the conversation should die than him; his life could depend on not distracting the driver. His first impression of the city of Miles’s birth was that half the population was going to be killed in traffic before nightfall. Or maybe just the ones in Ivan’s path. Ivan did a violent U-turn and skidded sideways into a parking space, cutting off two other groundcars maneuvering toward it, and coming to a halt so abruptly Mark was nearly launched into the front panel.

Ivan tells him they’ve arrived at Vorhartung Castle, where the Council of Counts has its sessions, and the rest of the time, like today, it’s open as a museum.   Mark asks what’s really going on, and Ivan says Mark is to meet a man, and that’s all he can say.  They visit the museum of grisly Barrayaran cultural artifacts.  Mark ponders briefly on Ivan’s true self, which he surmises is well-hidden under the layers of upper-class lout, Imperial lieutenant, and probably more.  He also wonders about this man he is to meet–someone from ImpSec, or from the government?  If so, why not meet him at Vorkosigan House?

A nondescript middle-aged man appears and summons the two of them, where they pass through a door marked “No Admittance”, up two flights of stairs and into a former guard post turned office, where a man in plain clothing awaits them.  When ivan greets him as “Sire”, Mark realizes this must be Emperor Gregor Vorbarra.  Gregor dismisses Ivan; Ivan lingers, pointing out that Mark is not Miles, and is trained as an assassin.  Gregor asks Mark if he wants to assassinate him, and Mark says no, so Gregor tells Ivan again to take a hike, and this time he obeys.

“So, Lord Mark,” said Gregor. “What do you think of Vorbarr Sultana so far?”

“It went by pretty fast,” Mark said cautiously.

“Dear God, don’t tell me you let Ivan drive.”

Gregor invites Mark to sit down, and studies him for a minute.  Mark asks about the office, and Gregor says he usually retreats here during Council of Counts meetings, or for other business.  Mark asks this is personal or official, and Gregor says everything he does is official.  He says that Miles was a peer, an officer, the son of an important official, a personal friend, and heir to a Countship.  He also points out that he is merely the captain of the Empire, an interchangeable part of it–a fulcrum which is useless without a lever.  Counts are also interchangeable, like links in a chainmail, where one broken link will not break the whole thing, but you want as many intact as possible anyway.

He then asks Mark about what happened on Jackson’s Whole.  Mark tells the whole story, going back to Earth; Gregor interrupts him at one point to comment on how much Mark thinks he achieved by rescuing one batch of clones.  Mark says that just because he didn’t stop the entire operation doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth making a little bit of progress, though he’d been hoping to bring them back to Escobar and create a big media stir if the Bharaputrans tried to reclaim them.  Mark goes on to tell the story of how things went downhill, Miles’s death, losing the cryo-chamber, and getting kicked out of Jacksonian space.  Noticing that he seems to be telling Gregor than he would normally have, he even mentions the incident with Maree and his solitary confinement.

Gregor tells Mark that he undervalues his strengths, that he has the core abilities he would need to be a Count of Barrayar; Mark tells him he doesn’t want to be a Count, and even less Emperor, not for real.

“I’ve only studied the outsides. The inner surface I can barely imagine.”

“But you see,” said Gregor, “we all start out that way. Faking it. The role is a simulacrum, into which we slowly grow real flesh.”

“Become the machine?”

“Some do. That’s the pathological version of a Count, and there are a few. Others become . . . more human. The machine, the role, then becomes a handily-worked prosthetic, which serves the man. Both types have their uses, for my goals. One must simply be sure where on the range of self-delusion the man you’re talking to falls.”

Mark reminds himself that Gregor has been trained by Lady Cordelia, and it shows.  He asks about Gregor’s goals, and Gregor says to keep foreign invaders off of Barryaran soil, keep the peace, and foster economic progress.  Opening up Sergyar and the second continent on Barrayar for colonization seems to bleeding off excess energy and keeping things quiet, but Gregor is still studying various colonial histories in hopes of avoiding their mistakes.  Mark says he still doesn’t want to be Count, and says that even without Miles, they still have Ivan, if they’re all interchangeable.  Gregor muses that he’s said the same thing to those who want him to marry and produce heirs, when he doesn’t want a wife who, like most high Vor, will be a none-too-distant relative.

Gregor asks Mark what his passion is, and Mark says he wants to stop the “cannibals” that consume House Bharaputra’s products.  Justice, though not really law, because it’s legal on Jackson’s Whole–he disabuses Gregor of any notion that this might lead him to a career in security.  He realizes that the best job description for someone fighting for justice on other planets like that is “knight errant”.  Gregor notes that for Mark to be free to pursue such a passion, Miles would need to be recovered safely, and Mark says that there’s no way they’ll let him help.  Gregor agrees that it must be frustrating to have so little control.

“Ah.” Gregor turned away from the window, taking a small plastic card from his inner jacket pocket. He handed it across the desk to Mark. “My Voice carries only to the borders of Barrayar’s interests,” he said. “Nevertheless . . . here is my private vidcom number. Your calls will be screened by only one person. You’ll be on their list. Simply state your name, and you will be passed through.”

With that, the interview is over, and Ivan returns to retrieve Mark.  Mark tells Ivan that he feels drained, and Ivan says that’s normal when talking to Gregor-the-Emperor.  Mark tells Ivan about the card, and Ivan says that Mark is on a very short list of people to be so honoured, as in single digits, which of course included Miles.

Comments

This is our first time seeing Gregor since The Vor Game, and he seems much more at ease here.  He’s come to terms with his role, and while he does still seem a little wistful about the aspects of his life that he can’t control, he doesn’t seem like a flight risk anymore.  I remember Cordelia being incredulous back in Barrayar that they thought she had so little power when she had the child Emperor to raise, and now it’s truly evident that he’s her protégé in many ways.  It does take a few books to settle his love life, though.

We don’t really get to see enough of Ivan in this chapter, though the book’s not over yet, of course.  They never really warm to each other, but as Mark notes that can be more bracing than being surrounded by people who are trying to be careful to be nice to you.  Ivan is a known quantity, in a way that Cordelia and Aral, and even Elena, are not.

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And that’s all for this week, sorry folks.  I don’t even know offhand how many chapters Mirror Dance has, though it seems to be a lot, but at least one of them is less than a page, so I don’t know if this will throw off my schedule or if I was due for a one-chapter post somewhere in here anyway.  Anyway, hoping to feel better next week…

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where we’ll be getting another couple of chapters into Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mirror Dance, following Miles Vorkosigan’s clone-brother Mark while his brother’s frozen body is still missing in action…

You should be happy I’m posting this today, and that it’s not just one chapter, because a few feet away from me is a copy of the latest Wheel of Time novel, bookmark at the beginning of Chapter 6, and I seriously considered just blowing this off.  But I’m trying to keep my regular schedule going, and I managed to scrape up the motivation from somewhere, so here it is, Chapters Eleven and Twelve of Mirror Dance for you.  I should be finished in plenty of time for next week…I hope.

Chapter Eleven

Mark begins his solitary confinement on the ship contemplating the lives his heroic mission has cost–Phillipi, Norwood, the shuttle pilot, Kimura’s trooper–not to mention the wounded, and the Bharaputrans, most of whom were probably just working as guards to pay their bills.

He was shaken by an unwelcome insight. Lives did not add as integers. They added as infinities.

He berates himself for his treatment of Maree, how he let her body fool him even though he knew better than most that she was just a child inside.  He starts to wonder whether some of Miles’s friends will begin considering him as brain-transplant fodder, but of course until they actually find Miles’s brain there’s not much they can do about that.  He begins to realize that Miles was the one he’d most hoped to impress with his clone-rescue scheme.

With nothing else to do, he eats, asking for and receiving more and more of the Dendarii field rations, until he can no longer fit into most of Miles’s clothes.  His plan is to keep from being used as Miles’s double by making himself look as unlike Miles as he can, desperately trying to pile on the kilograms.

They arrive at Komarr half a day earlier than he expects, but when Quinn enters with a Barrayaran uniform, Mark refuses to put it on and try to impersonate a Barrayaran officer.  Quinn is dismayed by his weight gain, but still tries to stuff an unwilling Mark into the uniform before giving up and letting him put on loose civilian clothes.

She tells Mark they’re in orbit over Komarr, about to travel to a Barrayaran military station and meet secretly with Simon Illyan.  Quinn’s message to him was somewhat ambiguous, but enough to bestir him off of Barrayar.  She will, of course, have to be the one to tell him about Miles.  She leads Mark through the corridors of Peregrine, cleared of personnel, to a personnel pod with Elena Bothari-Jesek at the controls; Elena is also unimpressed with Mark’s appearance.

Once on the orbital station, they are led to a small office where Mark recognizes Simon Illyan from his training vids.  Illyan greets Elena fondly, then address Mark as “Miles”, in some surprise at his appearance, before realizing his mistake and calling him “Lord Mark” instead.  Illyan asks if they got his message about Mark’s disappearance from Earth, then, and Quinn’s answers are somewhat evasive.

Illyan leaned forward, growing more serious, though still tinged with a slight irony. “So what half-cocked, insubordinate, I-thought-you-wanted-me-to-use-my-initiative-sir scam has he sent you to try to con me into paying for this time?”

“No scam, sir,” muttered Quinn. “But the bill is going to be huge.”

The coolly amused air faded altogether as he studied her gray face. “Yes?” he said after a moment.

Quinn leaned on the desk with both hands, not for emphasis, Mark fancied, but for support. “Illyan, we have a problem. Miles is dead.”

Illyan turns away for a moment, then turns back, looking years older and says it’s more than a problem, it’s a disaster.  Quinn tells him that Miles is in a cryochamber, and Illyan relaxes, asking questions about how good the preparation was; Quinn says she did it herself, and she thought his chances were good.  Illyan, relieved, tells them to transfer the cryochamber to a fast courier and they’ll send it to ImpMil; Quinn tells him that they don’t have it, and explains how they got separated and, through miscommunications, didn’t realize they’d left it behind until later.  That leads to Quinn explaining how they happened to be on Jackson’s Whole, also giving him a complete report and Miles’s personal log.

“Miles’s personal log tends to be a fairly useless document, in my experience,” observed Illyan distantly. “He is quite canny about what to leave out.” He grew introspective, and fell silent for a time. Then he rose and walked from side to side across the little office. The cool facade cracked without warning; face contorted, he turned and slammed his fist into the wall with bone-crunching force, shouting, “Damn the boy for making a fucking farce out of his own funeral!”

Calming down, he says he’ll want to stay on Komarr to organize the search effort without the added delay being on Barrayar would bring.  He says he’ll send the Count and Countess an official “missing in action” report right away, but he wants Elena to bring Lord Mark to Barrayar to meet them.  Elena is reluctant, but Illyan insists, saying that they’ll want details, and she is the ideal messenger.  Elena mentions her command duties, and her dislike of Mark, and Illyan offers her literally anything if she cooperates.  She tells Illyan that she’s given her word that the clones will be cared for, and Illyan agrees that he will take care of them, launder their identities and find places for them, somehow.

“They’re children,” Mark blurted. “You have to remember they’re only children.” It’s hard to remember, he wanted to add, but couldn’t, under Bothari-Jesek’s cold eyes.

Illyan averted his glance from Mark. “I shall seek Countess Vorkosigan’s advice, then. Anything else?”

Elena asks about her ships, and Illyan says they’ll have to stay there, in communication blackout, but he promises to, once again, cover the Dendarii’s costs, and to do his best to find Miles.  He tells Elena to use his fast courier, and offers her guards, which Elena accepts, obviously still not trusting Mark.  Elena says she needs to give orders to her troops.

Illyan stood, to see Bothari-Jesek out. “Tell Aral and Cordelia,” he began, and paused. Time stretched.

“I will,” said Bothari-Jesek quietly. Mutely, Illyan nodded.

Mark has to trot to keep up with her when she leaves.

The cabin he’s locked into on the fast courier is tinier, and the food delivery is entirely automated, so he continues his compulsive overeating.  On the day they arrive in Barrayar he becomes sick, which is initially diagnosed as zero-gravity sickness, and he gets a medical patch for it on the trip down to the surface.  In the groundcar headed for Vorkosigan House he begins to have a panic attack, telling Elena that he’s scared.  She tells him that Aral and Cordelia are not going to hurt him; he may even be the next heir to the Countship, upon which he passes out, coming to a few minutes later.

He wishes he’d been able to bring himself to meet the Vorkosigans on his own terms before this debacle; now, he’s ruined everything.  Elena assures him that they’ll give him the benefit of every doubt, but he’ll have to do his part too.

They arrive at the house and Elena leads him inside; Mark wonders how many times Miles has crossed this threshold, and thinks of himself as some faerie changeling being brought into the house.

Comments

Now the overeating starts–Mark has always had trouble maintaining Miles’s weight, since he’s not naturally as hyperactive, for whatever reason, or possibly he’s just less sickly.  It is the one thing he can control, how much he eats, at least for the moment, so he’s doing what he can.  (Maybe Miles would already have tunneled through the floor tiles of his room, but Mark still isn’t Miles…)

The meeting with Illyan is a fairly affecting scene, the first of our Barrayaran cast to react to Miles’s death/disappearance.  He tries to keep himself contained, but when he slams the fist into the wall…  The way he expresses it, as anger at Miles, is a little unfair, but I’m sure that everybody present knows exactly what he means anyway.  He could also blame Mark, with some justice, but he’s a bit more cautious with “Lord Mark”, not wanting to alienate him right off the bat, I imagine, especially given Aral and Cordelia’s doubtless-strongly-expressed desires for him.  It’s not clear whether Quinn told him about the incident with Maree, or if it’s in her report, but even with that Illyan seems to be reserving judgement.  Miles knew about the shock-stick incident, so doubtless Illyan does as well.

Chapter Twelve

A pair of liveried servants appear and one leads Elena away, leaving Mark, feeling alone and defenseless, to follow the other one.  He knows the layout of the house intimately from his studies with Galen, so knows he’s being led to the First Parlour; inside he sees Cordelia waiting for him.  He is surprised by her unassuming clothing, and doesn’t spot any resemblance with himself at first, but begins to pick out a few before the armsman, Pym, announces him.

Cordelia invites him to sit, apologizing for the awkwardness of the situation.  He asks where her husband is, and she says he’s meeting Elena, having chickened out on meeting Mark first.  She says he’s been drinking a lot of stomach medicine for the last two days, as the information has come trickling in–the initial “missing in action” report was not too alarming, but Illyan’s full report was more disturbing, and left them three days to mull it over before Mark’s arrival.  She notes that Illyan managed to never refer to Miles as being “dead”, and Mark guardedly affirms that the cryo-treatment seemed successful.  Cordelia says that, unfortunately, this leaves them in limbo, emotionally and legally, and many of the possible contingencies will involve Mark.

She mentions Mark’s supposed resemblance to Miles, looking askance at him, and Mark reluctantly tells her that he’s put on some weight recently.  Cordelia asks him if it was on purpose, and then says it’s one of the cleverest things he could do.  It’s vitally important at this point that he establish an independent existence for himself as Lord Mark; Cordelia opposed any plans to try to substitute Mark to conceal Miles’s absence, which was not unusual in any case.  Mark protests that he’s only a clone.

“I’m from Beta Colony, kiddo,” she said tartly. “Betan law is very sensible and clear on the topic of clones. It’s only Barrayaran custom that finds itself at a loss. Barrayarans!” She pronounced it like a swear word. “Barrayar lacks a long experience of dealing with all the technological variants on human reproduction. No legal precedents. And if it’s not a tradition,” she put the same sour spin on the word as had Bothari-Jesek, “they don’t know how to cope.”

“What am I, to you as a Betan?” he asked, nervously fascinated.

“Either my son or my son once removed,” she answered promptly. “Unlicensed, but claimed by me as an heir.”

She says that if she’d commissioned him as a clone, he’d be unambiguously her son; if Miles had had it done as an adult, then he’d be Mark’s parent and Cordelia would be “mother-once-removed”.  Since Miles was a minor when Mark was created, there would have been a hearing to determine guardianship, but Mark is past the age of guardianship now.  Barrayar will have to puzzle out inheritance when the time comes, and Aral can tell him more about the Barrayaran traditions; that leaves the emotional relationships.  Mark asks if they have one, somewhat reassured by her matter-of-factness; Cordelia says that it remains to be seen, but since he bears half her genome and half of her husband’s she is genetically programmed to have regard for him.

But she reiterates that he needs to establish his own identity as Mark, and she asks who Mark is; Mark replies, anguished, that he doesn’t know.  She says there will be time for him to find out.  She tells him that Miles had all sorts of plans for him, like teaching him horseback riding, which Mark tells her Galen gave up on trying.

“Ah?” She brightened slightly. “Hm. Miles, you see, has . . .  had . . . has these only-child romantic notions about siblings. Now, I have a brother, so I have no such illusions.” She paused, glanced around the room, and leaned forward with a suddenly confidential air, lowering her voice. “You have an uncle, a grandmother, and two cousins on Beta Colony who are just as much your relatives as Aral and myself and your cousin Ivan here on Barrayar. Remember, you have more than one choice. I’ve given one son to Barrayar. And watched for twenty-eight years while Barrayar tried to destroy him. Maybe Barrayar has had its turn, eh?”

“Ivan’s not here now, is he?” Mark asked, diverted and horrified.

Cordelia says he’s not in the house, but he does live in Vorbarr Sultana, and suggests that Ivan could show him some of the sights.  Mark says Ivan is probably still mad about what happened on Earth.  Cordelia begins to talk about the changes she’d like to see on Barrayar, and Mark realizes for the first time that in her he has an ally, and if she could survive for so long on Barrayar, then maybe he could too.

There is knock on the door; Count Vorkosigan pokes his head in and asks if he may come in.  Mark’s control is shaken at Aral’s appearance, but he holds it together as he contemplates Prime Minister Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan, the person he’d been brought up to hate, whose genome he also carries.  His hair is grayer than Mark expects from having seen so many vids of him as a younger man.  Aral sits down and says that Elena is settled in, but somewhat disturbed by the memories the house is stirring up; Cordelia promises to talk to her.

After Aral makes the expected comment about Mark’s weight, Mark blurts out that he was supposed to kill him, and says the main plan was to use an untraceable drug to induce heart failure.  Aral says he heard most of this from Illyan’s reports, though the plan for Mark to aim for the Imperium was mostly a plan to sow chaos on Barrayar to give the Komarrans an opportunity to revolt.

“Killing you was the entire reason for my existence. Two years ago I was all primed to do it. I endured all those years of Galen for no other purpose.”

“Take heart,” advised the Countess. “Most people exist for no reason at all.”

Aral asks if his programming and training led to the Jackson’s Whole misadventure, and Mark says that he would have known if it was.  Cordelia disagrees, saying that it was Miles who set him up for it, not Galen.

“I’m not sure you’re ready for this, but here goes. You had exactly three role models to learn how to be a human being from. The Jacksonian body-slavers, the Komarran terrorists—and Miles. You were steeped in Miles. And I’m sorry, but Miles thinks he’s a knight-errant. A rational government wouldn’t allow him possession of a pocket-knife, let alone a space fleet. And so, Mark, when you were finally forced to choose between two palpable evils and a lunatic—you upped and ran after the lunatic.”

“I think Miles does very well,” objected the Count.

“Agh.” The Countess buried her face in her hands, briefly. “Love, we are discussing a young man upon whom Barrayar laid so much unbearable stress, so much pain, he created an entire other personality to escape into. He then persuaded several thousand galactic mercenaries to support his psychosis, and on top of that conned the Barrayaran Imperium into paying for it all. Admiral Naismith is one hell of a lot more than just an ImpSec cover identity, and you know it. I grant you he’s a genius, but don’t you dare try to tell me he’s sane.” She paused. “No. That’s not fair. Miles’s safety valve works. I won’t really begin to fear for his sanity till he’s cut off from the little admiral. It’s an extraordinary balancing act, in all.” She glanced at Mark. “And a nearly impossible act to follow, I should think.”

Aral says that the Dendarii are a useful covert arm of ImpSec; Cordelia says of course they are, because other Miles wouldn’t get to keep them.  She predicts that the Dendarii will be cut off by ImpSec as soon as Miles doesn’t need them anymore.

Mark asks why they aren’t blaming him for Miles’s death.  Aral says that it was a Bharaputran who killed Miles, and they won’t let Mark blame himself for being the reason Miles was in the line of fire–it was Miles’s choice to be there.

Aral says that, in the long view, it may be Mark’s son, his and Miles’s genetic heritage, that may be what Barrayar needs; Cordelia says that perpetuating the Vor is a dubious goal, and recalls Aral’s own father’s grandfatherly behaviour.  Cordelia admits to Mark that if they don’t find Miles, he may be faced with inheriting the Countship, and acquiring responsibility for millions of subjects, and he doesn’t have quite the same training Miles for the job.  Aral points out that he wasn’t the heir until he was eleven, when his brother was killed at the beginning of Mad Yuri’s War, but he admits that it’s hard to tell when the Countship will descend to the next generation.  Mark thinks to himself that Aral is 72 years old, old for Barrayar but only middle-aged for most galactics, and Count Piotr lived twenty years longer than that.

He asks if the Barrayarans will even accept him as a potential heir, and Aral says it’ll be a good test case, but it’s premature to worry about that until the fate of the cryo-chamber is known.  Mark says that Ivan would inherit if he weren’t there, and Aral says that would mean the end of House Vorkosigan after eleven generations, and the question is academic now that Mark is there.  He adds that there is rather a lot of property attached to the Countship, even if a lot of it is still radioactive.  Mark says he’ll willingly sign away his claim; Aral winces, and Cordelia says that other people will be thinking the same thing.

Aral brings up another problem, which they hardly dare speak of–the dubious claim that Aral is next in line to inherit the Imperium, and of course Miles after him.  Mark says that Galen’s plans for him were certainly based on that claim, but Aral says that now Mark would be in that line of succession in his own right, between Miles and Ivan.  Mark says that’s rubbish, and Cordelia advises him to hold that thought.  Aral says that anyone trying to discuss this with him should be reported to them or Simon Illyan.

Aral shows Mark up to his room–not Miles’s old room, as he dreads, but the one Aral himself had as a child, now just a guest room.  He meets Aral’s searching gaze, angrily declaring that he’s not Miles; Aral admits he was looking for himself in his son, and Mark reciprocates, looking for bits of himself in Aral’s appearance.  Mark asks if he isn’t scared that Mark is still going to try to kill him; Aral says Mark chose his side back on Earth, and notes that he saved Miles’s life there.

The Count shrugged. “Whatever Miles is, we made him. You are perhaps wise to approach us with caution. We may not be good for you, either.”

His belly shivered with a terrible longing, restrained by a terrible fear. Progenitors. Parents. He was not sure he wanted parents, at this late date. They were such enormous figures. He felt obliterated in their shadow, shattered like glass, annihilated. He felt a sudden weird wish to have Miles back. Somebody his own size and age, somebody he could talk to.

Aral says his things should have been brought up, but Mark says he doesn’t have anything–he doesn’t fit Miles’s clothes anymore, and he left his own behind on Escobar.  Aral says they’ll get him measured and have a tailor make up some clothes for him, and hopes they can show him around town sometime.  He says lunch will be in an hour, and Mark says he knows his way around the house.

“I’m sorry,” Mark blurted. For Miles? For himself? He scarcely knew.

The Count looked as if he was wondering too; a brief ironic smile twitched one corner of his mouth. “Well . . . in a strange way, it’s almost a relief to know that it’s as bad as it can be. Before, when Miles was missing, one didn’t know where he was, what he might be doing to, er, magnify the chaos. At least this time we know he can’t possibly get into any worse trouble.”

Comments

This is a great chapter, but one of those talky ones that’s hard to summarize.  I always love Cordelia’s assessments of things, the way she dissects and psychoanalyzes everyone.  Her assessment of Miles may not be quite on target, but nonetheless it’s disquieting to think of things her way, Miles as a borderline-dissociated personality allowed to escape into his fantasy life with the Dendarii.  Not that Miles hasn’t wondered himself, of course…  That’s a bit of a foreshadowing of Memory, too.  Anyway, Cordelia’s sufficiently authoritative in her judgements that it’s tempting to take what she says as the Voice of God, or at least of The Author, but I keep having to remind myself that she always sees things from the Betan perspective, and the Betans aren’t always right…though they are a little more progressive by the standards of our society.

She sees Mark’s weight gain, too, for what it is, and at least she approves of his trying to establish his own identity.  She’s giving him a little more space for it than Aral is–Aral is a little too focused on Mark’s dynastic role, as the long-desired “spare” for his heir.  This bit gives Mark a lot more motivation to find Miles, so that he doesn’t get stuck with it.  Cordelia is at least willing to let Mark escape from Barrayar’s gravitational pull if possible; Beta Colony at least has a place for him in its society, a slot for him to fit into.  And they (the Betans, that is) might even have been able to do something about Mark’s sexual performance issues, if he’d let them, since it’s the kind of thing they do.  As long as they didn’t decide he was spying for Barrayar or something…

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Okay, so, back to A Memory of Light now.  See you next week!

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It is a new year, at least by some calendars, and my holidays are coming to an end, and it’s also time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This week we continue through Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Mirror Dance, covering chapters Nine and Ten, wherein a body is not found, and someone does something reprehensible.

Chapter Nine

Bel Thorne, Elli Quinn, and Elena Bothari-Jesek are trying to prepare Mark for his impending talk with Baron Fell.  Quinn dressed Mark in Admiral Naismith’s uniform, and all three of them have been giving him advice on how to pretend to be mark, sometimes contradictory; Mark thinks he knows how to play his clone-brother well enough, thank you.  Thorne tells him specifically not to mention the non-existent Betan rejuvenation treatment, but doesn’t explain why.  They’ll be sitting out of camera view in the conference room during the video call, ready to prompt him via ear-bud.

Quinn hasn’t stopped to change out of her blood-spattered uniform, and Thorne hasn’t slept yet either; Mark himself is suffering under the side effects of a stimulant that Quinn gave him.  She warns him through the earpiece that the call is about to come through.

The image of Baron Fell materialized, and frowned at him too. Georish Stauber, Baron Fell of House Fell, was unusual for the leader of a Jacksonian Great House in that he still wore his original body. An old man’s body. The Baron was stout, pink of face, with a shiny liver-spotted scalp fringed by white hair trimmed short. The silk tunic he wore in his House’s particular shade of green made him look like a hypothyroid elf. But there was nothing elfin about his cold and penetrating eyes. Miles was not intimidated by a Jacksonian Baron’s power, Mark reminded himself. Miles was not intimidated by any power backed by less than three entire planets. His father the Butcher of Komarr could eat Jacksonian Great Houses for breakfast.

He, of course, was not Miles.

Mark starts off with monosyllabic responses to Fell’s jabs until Quinn tells him to start talking.  Mark tells Baron Fell he hadn’t planned on using Fell Station in this raid, and requests the Baron’s help to expedite their departure by assisting in negotiations with House Bharaputra.  Fell says that while his house and Bharaputra have been in vendetta, they’d been on the verge of bringing it to an end, and now Fell’s suspected of taking part.  Mark says Baron Bharaputra is alive and well, and encourages Fell to show good faith by helping to get him back.  All they want, he says, is to retrieve the body of his clone (“brother”, correct all three of his advisors–Thorne says that’s Miles always insists on it, which was his first clue to Mark’s identity when he didn’t), unfortunately left behind in the raid.

Baron Fell he has no such warm feelings about his own brother (Baron Ryoval, as Mark’s advisors unnecessarily inform him).  Ryoval’s resources are somewhat reduced by Miles’s last venture to Jackson’s Whole, but he’s still dangerous.  Mark asks slyly if Ryoval’s agents work so freely on Fell Station.

Thorne whispered, (“Yes, remind him you helped him with his brother.”)

What the hell had Miles done here, four years ago? “Baron. I helped you with your brother. You help me with mine, and we can call it square.”

“Hardly that. The apples of discord you threw among us on your last departure took far too much time to sort out. Still . . . it’s true you dealt Ry a better blow that I could have.” Was there a tiny glint of approval in Fell’s eye? He rubbed his round chin. “Therefore, I will give you one day to complete your business and depart.”

Mark gives Fell their best information on the cryo-chamber and its last known location, to pass on to the Bharaputrans, and that it may have been disguised or hidden.  He says they want it returned in good condition, so that their Baron will be, too.  Baron Fell tells Mark to be aware that he’s not on Mark’s side, though Mark detects a certain level of respect.  Fell asks about the other clones, and Mark says that they are not on the table, just Vasa Luigi.

“Yes, the trade seems uneven. What is so valuable about your late clone?”

Three voices chorused in his ear, (“Brother!”) Mark yanked the ear-bug out and slapped it to the counter beside the vid plate. Quinn nearly choked.

“I cannot trade back fractions of Baron Bharaputra,” snapped Mark. “Tempted as I am to start doing so.”

Baron Fell raised a placating plump palm. “Calm, Admiral. I doubt it will be necessary to go so far.”

“I hope not.” Mark trembled. “It’d be a shame if I had to send him back without his brain. Like the clones.”

The Baron promises to see what he can do and ends the call; Elena admits, with some surprise that Mark did that well.  Quinn muses that they can’t exactly trust Baron Fell, and tells Thorne to see if anything else has changed about the Jacksonian political situation that will jeopardize their negotations and departure.  After it leaves, Quinn and Elena talk about how and when to report back to Barrayar.  Quinn says there may be some deep-cover ImpSec agents in the fleet, but she doesn’t know how to contact them, and she’d rather have Miles’s body back first; they can’t risk sending anything by the standard jump-couriers anyway.

Mark asks how long he’ll have to keep playing Miles; Quinn says she’d prefer to wait until they can deliver Mark and Miles’s body to ImpSec HQ on Komarr.  Mark protests that a lot of people know what really happened; Quinn says the Dendarii will maintain discipline, and they’ll keep the clones under wraps.  Mark insists on seeing the clones, and Elena volunteers to take him down; Quinn agrees, reluctantly, as long as they put Mark back in his quarters under guard afterwards.

The clones are quartered on the Peregrine in some hastily-converted storage chambers with field-latrines and showers.  The boys glare at him like he’s their jailer; they all seem subdued, not like they’re happy to be freed.  He tries talking to them, but doesn’t make much progress.  Elena takes him to the girls’ chamber, where Sergeant Taura is taking them in hand, and seems to be winning them over.

Of all the Dendarii Taura had never, even in the most frantic moments, addressed the clones with anything but politely-worded requests. She now had all the air of a fairy-tale heroine trying to make pets of wild animals.

And succeeding. As Mark came up, two of the clone girls actually skittered around behind the seated sergeant, to peek at him over the protection of her broad shoulders. Taura frowned at him and looked at Bothari-Jesek, who returned a short nod, It’s all right. He’s with me.

Mark finds the platinum-blonde clone sleeping peacefully, and pulls her covers up.  He sees the Eurasian girl watching him, and warns Taura and Elena about her and her special conditioning.  Elena tells the guard outside to use wide-dispersal stun if necessary, and endorses Mark’s warning about the Eurasian girl.  As they leave Elena asks Mark if their treatment meets with his approval.  Mark says it does, but then bursts out that it’s not fair that they’re treating their rescuers like kidnappers.

“They’ve been rather traumatized. I wouldn’t expect too much if I were you, till they get a chance to see more evidence.” She paused, in speech and stride, and swung to face him. “But if you ever figure it out—figure out how to make an ignorant, traumatized, paranoid stupid kid trust you—tell Miles. He urgently wants to know.”

Mark stood, nonplused. “Was that . . . directed to me?” he demanded, dry-mouthed.

Elena escorts him to his quarters, where he sleeps heavily.  Quinn comes to wake him, changed finally out of her bloodstained fatigues; she says she needs him to talk to Fell, since either he or Bharaputra is giving them the runaround.  Quinn stands behind Mark, on-camera this time; Baron Fell is not best pleased to be contacted by them, but Mark says they’re merely concerned, and want to know any information about the search for the cryo-chamber, however flimsy.  Fell says point-blank that the Bharaputrans claim that they can’t find the cryo-chamber.  Mark quiets Quinn’s insistent outburst and asks Fell if he thinks the Bharaputrans are lying.  Fell says that they do seem to be really scrambling, and trying to marshall all their resources in the search.  He adds that the value of Baron Bharaputra will decrease over time, as some ambitious subordinate will eventually decide they don’t need to get their old Baron back after all–or, more likely, several, and House Bharaputra’s position will be affected severely by the turmoil; Jacksonians aren’t fond these kinds of changes to the balance of power.  Fell says that they will have about another day before Fell Station will no longer be able to harbour them, nor will he allow them to take Vasa Luigi out of Jacksonian space.

Quinn protests that they won’t give up Baron Bharaputra, their only card to retrieve the cryo-chamber, and threatens them with other allies, who’ll be perfectly happy to raze the entire planet until they find what they want.

Fell grimaced angrily. “Don’t be absurd, Captain Quinn. You speak of a planetary force.”

Quinn leaned into the vid pick-up and snarled, “Baron, I speak of a multi-planetary force!”

Bothari-Jesek, startled, made an urgent throat-slicing gesture across her neck, Cut it, Quinn!

Fell, unsettled, says she’s bluffing, that nobody would do that for a single dead body, and Quinn gets herself under control, only saying that he’d better hope she is.  After Fell signs off, Mark tells Quinn that she just about let slip Miles’s real identity, and upped the price for the cryo-chamber by letting him know how valuable it is.  They discuss whether Fell and Bharaputra are telling the truth or not; they are interrupted by Thorne saying that he has an informant for them to question.  Quinn tells Elena to make sure Mark is back in his quarters, and Elena tells Quinn to make sure she gets some sleep before she loses it completely.

While Elena is otherwise occupied, Mark tries the palm-lock on the briefing chamber door, and to his surprise, it opens, since it matches Miles’s palmprint.  Elena glances over, but doesn’t stop him, so he goes inside.  Mark wonders if there’s something he can find in the helmet recordings that the Dendarii would have missed, with his greater familiarity with the Bharaputran facility.  He checks for helmet recordings and discovers that Tonkin, Norwood’s escort, had a real-time audiovisual recording of their time together.  He loads it up and begins to watch it.

It’s jittery and disorienting to watch, but he sees his own separation from the two of them, Norwood’s departure and return without the chamber, and then his death by grenade.  Mark watches it through another time, slower, then slower again.  Finally he catches a glimpse of a sign on the wall, “Shipping And Receiving”.  He looks up to find Elena there, and tells her that he knows those corridors, he used to play hide-and-seek in them.  Norwood must have taken the cryo-chamber there and had the automated systems pack it up and ship it out to somewhere–some address he was familiar enough to come up with at short notice.  It must have gone out already, because otherwise the Bharaputrans would surely have run across it.

Elena notes with some surprise that Mark seems to do well enough when left alone in a quiet room by himself.  Mark says he’s not an adrenaline junkie like his brother–he can’t think when he’s scared or people are shouting at him.

“Then why do you . . .” she hesitated, as if choosing her words very cautiously, “why do you keep trying to be Miles?”

“I’m not, you’re making me play him!”

“I didn’t mean now. I mean generally.”

“I don’t know what the hell you mean.”

Comments

So Mark does a pretty good job playing Miles in this chapter, and I love the part where he pulls out his earpiece.  That could have been a preparation for confessing to the whole thing, but instead it gives him one of the most convincing Miles moments in the entire scene.  And then, at the end of the chapter, Elena calls him on how deeply he’s assimilated that trying to be Miles is the best thing to do.  That was drilled into him by Ser Galen for years, and while he’s consciously trying to avoid being Miles, he’s internalized it enough that his subconscious still seems to push him that way.  But he does make a crucial discovery, when left to himself, so he’s not a total loser, at least.  And that’s a good thing to discover about yourself.

Quinn really loses it in this chapter, coming close to outright threatening Jackson’s Whole with the wrath of Barrayar.  Would it really come to that, I wonder, if it came out that the Jacksonians were holding Miles hostage?  Would Aral, Cordelia or Gregor be prepared to actually invade?  It’s a bit of a stretch for them, though they did send troops just as far when they sent their fleet to Vervain back in The Vor Game.  This would be much less justified, and they’d have more trouble convincing Pol and other Hegen Hub folks about it.  Cetaganda would be watching eagerly for an opportunity out of the whole thing, and may even win Vervain back if they get scared enough about the Barrayaran threat.  If it did come out that it was the actual Miles Vorkosigan being held on Jackson’s Whole, they’d probably try diplomacy first, with the threat of a big fleet behind them.  So…it would probably be best if that doesn’t actually happen.

Chapter Ten

Peregrine and Ariel undock from Fell Station and head for Jumppoint Five, escorted by House Fell security ships, with no jump capacity but extra weapons and shields.  A Bharaputran ship trails them, ready to receive Baron Bharaputra when they reach the jump point.  Miles’s cryo-chamber is still missing; Quinn was on the verge of spacing Baron Bharaputra rather than leave without him, but Elena talks her down, convincing her that by this point they need the resources of ImpSec to have any chance of finding Miles.

“I will be back,” Quinn swore.

“That’ll be between you and Simon Illyan. I promise you, he’ll be just as interested as we are in retrieving that cryo-chamber.”

“Illyan’s just a Barrayaran,” Quinn sputtered for a word, “bureaucrat. He can’t care the way we do.”

“Don’t bet on that,” whispered Bothari-Jesek.

Mark is once again, he hopes for the last time, in his Admiral Naismith costume, at Elena’s insistence, to help convince the Bharaputrans that it isn’t the real Naismith in the cryo-chamber.  It doesn’t fit as well as it used to, as his weight continues to creep up.  They meet up with Quinn, Vasa Luigi and his Dendarii guards at the airlock, where they wait in silence until the shuttle docks.  A Captain from House Fell enters and says he’s returning something they “accidentally left behind”; it’s not the cryo-chamber, though, but the Dendarii spies Quinn had tried to leave behind on the station.

As Baron Bharaputra is beginning to walk toward the shuttle hatch, the Eurasian clone-girl rushes out of a corridor with the blonde clone, calling out for the Baron to wait.  Mark tackles the blonde girl to the ground, visions of her brain-removal surgery in his head, while the other girl makes it past the Baron and through the shuttle hatch.  She pleads to be united with her lady, and while Quinn protests, the Baron says she is clearly coming of her own free will, and if they try to remove her from House Fell’s shuttle, they will be jeopardizing their departure.  Mark passes the blonde girl to a Dendarii guard and lunges forward.

“Admiral?” The Baron raised a faintly ironic brow.

“You’re wearing a corpse,” Mark snarled. “Don’t talk to me.” He staggered forward, hands out, to face the dark-haired girl across that little, dreadful, politically significant gap. “Girl . . .” He did not know her name. He did not know what to say. “Don’t go. You don’t have to go. They’ll kill you.”

Growing more certain of her security, though still positioned behind the Fell captain and well out of reach of any Dendarii lunge, she smiled triumphantly at Mark and tossed back her hair. Her eyes were alight. “I’ve saved my honor. All by myself. My honor is my lady. You have no honor. Pig! My life is an offering . . . greater than you can imagine being. I am a flower on her altar.”

She extends a hand to the Baron, who shrugs and steps forward.  Mark implores Quinn to do something, but she says they need to jump away.  Baron Bharaputra turns back at the hatch and says the girl is his wife’s clone, and announces their tally at 49 to 1; he promises to even the score if they ever return to Jackson’s Whole, before stepping through the hatch.

Taura appears a minute later, and tells them that the Eurasian girl spread rumours that the clones were being sold into slavery, and organized a mass breakout.  Seven of them got away, and Taura kept them from heading for the escape pods, but Quinn tells her that the one girl actually managed to escape; at Taura’s objection, Quinn says that they chose not to start a firefight over her.  Taura says that only leaves one, and Quinn sends the former prisoner guards to help her track that one down.  Quinn says she has to go debrief the returned spies, and Mark volunteers to return the blonde clone to her quarters.  Elli frowns at him, and then says that, back on the planet, Mark’s plasma mirror would only have been able to absorb one more shot; her own was completely overloaded, so Mark did save her life when he jumped in front of her.  Mark doesn’t know what to say to that, and Quinn tells him he can take the clone back.

Mark asks her her name, and she says it’s Maree.  Even though he knows how engineered her beauty is, he is still captivated by it, and thinks that if he were the hero, she might be his heroine and reward.  He takes her arm and leads her back toward her quarters, reassuring her that although Taura may seem scary, she’s really there to keep the clones safe.  He says they’re not a slave ship, but thinks that as a near-prisoner himself, he can’t promise her freedom.  She coughs and says she needs a drink of water; they’re near Mark’s quarters, so he takes her there and they sit down on the bed.

He tells her that he’s not the real Admiral, just a clone, then gets her a glass of water from the bathroom.  He asks about her life, and she says she never got much schooling, though she did a lot of exercise…until her breast augmentation, after which she only swam.  She asks if it was really a lie about her mother coming, and Mark says it probably was.  She asks why he’s not good-looking like the other clones, and Mark, approving of her using her brain, tells her that he was made as a part of a plot against his progenitor.  He explains that since he couldn’t rescue his own clone-friends, he wanted to rescue another group of clones.  They feel an odd sensation, which Mark explains to Maree means they just went through hyperspace; he’s relieved that the Jacksonians hadn’t double-crossed them.

Mark thinks that he hasn’t gotten any reward for his rescue, or attempted rescue, of the clones, and wonders if he can at least get some recognition from one of them, from Maree.  He asks her for a kiss, for “pretend”, and she obliges.  Mark begins to lose control of himself, wanting more, kissing her again and wondering if he dared do more.  He begins to loosen her clothes, and his, and rolls her back onto the bed, and then his throat closes up, as he begins flashing back.

He rolled off her, icy sweat breaking out all over his body. He fought his locked throat. He managed one asthmatic, shuddering, indrawn breath. The flashbacks of memory were almost hallucinatory in their clarity.

Galen’s angry shouting. Lars and Mok, pinning him at Galen’s command, pulling off his clothes, as if the beating he’d just taken at their hands was not punishment enough. They’d sent the girl away before they’d started; she’d run like a rabbit. He spat salt-and-iron blood. The shock-stick pointing, touching, there, there, pop and crackle. Galen going even more red-faced, accusing him of treason, worse, raving on about Aral Vorkosigan’s alleged sexual proclivities, turning up the power far too high. “Flip him.” Knotting terror deep in his gut, the visceral memory of pain, humiliation, burning and cramps, a weird short-circuited arousal and horribly shameful release despite it all, the stink of searing flesh. . . .

Maree asks him, puzzled, what the matter is, if he’s dying…Mark is unable to speak.  He thinks how unfair it is that this incident, barely four years ago, seems to have crippled his sex life, as he tries to regain control of his breathing.  Taura and Elena open the cabin door and stop short at the scene inside.  Maree tells them that she only wanted a glass of water, and than Mark made her kiss him.  Elena asks Mark if he was trying to rape her, and his denial is ambivalent; Taura picks him up and shoves him against the wall and tells him to answer the question.

Mark remembers the second half of the Galen incident, how, when Galen had been forced to take him to the doctor, they’d claimed that the shock-stick wounds to his genitals were self-inflicted, and made Mark go along with it.  He tries to explain himself as clearly as he could, ugly as it sounds, though he leaves out the panic attack and the reason for it.  What he sees in Elena’s eyes tells him he’s probably lost the one ally he had among the Dendarii.  Elena confines him to quarters and they escort Maree away.

Comments

This is a difficult chapter to read, because of the scene with Mark and Maree.  It’s not quite a rape scene, but it’s very close to one, so it’s prone to make the reader lose their sympathy for Mark.  He’s a bit of an underdog, a screwup but with good intentions, trying to redeem himself and just digging himself in deeper…and now it turns out he’s got sex issues as well.  The shock-stick flashback, alluded to briefly earlier, explains some of his hangups, but it doesn’t really excuse his making a pass at Maree, who he knows is emotionally and chronologically underage.

It occurs to me that there are some parallels between the other clone-girl, the unnamed “Eurasian” who escapes with Baron Bharaputra, and Mark, if only because they were both clones that were screwed up by their upbringing.  Mark is still struggling to separate his identity from his imitation of Miles, whereas the girl has completely subsumed herself to her destiny.  Is there a reason why her brainwashing took to deeply while the others seemed able to overcome it a bit better?  Maybe we’ll find out more later, because we’re not done with her.

Is it just me who hates the term “Eurasian”?  These days you’re more likely to hear just “Asian”, which I confess I’m not at peace with either, though I’ve mostly come to terms with it.  But “Eurasian” literally means someone from Eurasia…which means Europe and Asia.  So everyone who looks like they come from anywhere in Europe or Asia should be able to be “Eurasian”…and yet somehow it always means people who look like they come from countries in eastern Asia–China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, maybe Mongolia…what used to be called “Oriental”, but apparently that’s not considered politically correct these days.  “Asian” excludes Europeans, at least, but still…what about people from Arabia, or India, or Kazakhstan?  Is Indonesia included in Asia, or the Philippines?  Of course, “Caucasian” isn’t much better, since as I understand it it relies on some deprecated historical theory that the great Indo-European conquest sprang from the horselords of the Caucasus, who swept away the hapless former inhabitants in glorious battle.  Considering that they don’t even speak Indo-European languages in the Caucasus these days, it seems nonsensical to me.


And that’s it for another week, and I suspect that will take us back to Barrayar at last, for what I recall are some of my favourite scenes in the book…but then, I’m a sucker for scenes involving Cordelia.  Until then, keep looking for that cryo-chamber…

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