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.
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.
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.
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…