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