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Archive for February, 2013

Wednesday is the new Tuesday!  Or perhaps Thursday is the new Wednesday.  In any case, it’s the day (or night) of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I make my way through the delectable works of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week we get another couple of chapters into Mirror Dance, which now once again features our usual protagonist Miles Vorkosigan sharing the stage with his clone-brother Mark.

Chapter Twenty-One

Mark and Elena get a ride on an ImpSec courier back to Komarr, and on their arrival Mark discovers that Medic Norwood’s personal effects have been shipped from the Dendarii fleet.  Although reluctant to beg another favour from impSec, Mark pleads to be given access, and is, once ImpSec themselves have been over it.  While Elena prepares their ship, Mark dives into Norwood’s box of effects.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of value, but he gives Norwood’s library and technical notes another go-over, just to be sure.

The second time through he notices a scrawled reference to meeting a “Dr. Durona”, which is a name Mark recognizes.  Norwood’s cryonic training was at Beauchene Life Center on Escobar, and though Mark checks, he finds no reference to a Dr. Durona working or teaching there.  Nonetheless, he’s sure he’s onto something.

He calls Elli Quinn, who is none too pleased to hear from him, and asks her if anyone else was trained at Beauchene around the same time as Norwood.  Elli says that there were a couple, one of whom is dead, but the other is on the _Ariel_.  Mark asks to go over there to talk to him, and Quinn bridles, asking him who he thinks he is to give her orders.

“Elena hasn’t told you much, I see.” Curious. Did Bothari-Jesek’s dubious Armsman’s oath then outrank her loyalties to the Dendarii? Or was she just too busy to chat? How much time had he been—he glanced at his chrono. My God. “I happen to be on my way to Jackson’s Whole. Very soon. And if you are very nice to me, I might ask ImpSec to release you to me, and let you ride along as my guest. Maybe.” He grinned breathlessly at her.

The smoldering look she gave him in return was more eloquent than the bluest string of swear words he’d ever heard. Her lips moved—counting to ten?—but no sound came out. When she did speak, her tone was clipped to a burr. “I’ll have your pod at the station’s hatch ring in eleven minutes.”

The medic is none too pleased to be interrogated again, ImpSec having already been at him, but Mark promises to ask just one question.  Mark asks the medic if he met a Dr. Durona anywhere, and the medic says he met lots of doctors, but doesn’t remember that one.  Mark thinks for a minute and supplies a description instead.  The medic, surprised, says there was, a fellow student that Norwood was pursuing for a while–Roberta or Rowanna, he thought.  He doesn’t recall her being from Jackson’s Whole, but admits that the clinic had people come from all over.

Mark goes to find Quinn, and asks her for a still from Taura’s helmet recorder; Quinn says ImpSec took them all, but reluctantly admits they had copies.  She brings him a disk, and (with her help to log in, because his palm-print is no longer recognized) finds an image of the dark-haired girl from the clone creche.  He shows it to the medic, who agrees that it looks like the same woman, maybe a little younger.  Quinn asks what’s going on, and he promises to tell her only after they’re on his ship and underway.  He doesn’t want to give ImpSec any hints yet.

“Where the hell did you get a ship?”

“My mother gave it to me.” He tried not to smirk.

“The Countess? Rats! She’s turning you loose?”

“Don’t begrudge me my little ship, Quinn. After all, my parents gave my big brother a whole fleet of ships.” His eyes gleamed. “I’ll see you on board, as soon as Captain Bothari-Jesek reports it ready.”

Mark is proud of having his own ship, belated birthday present it may be, a yacht that used to belong to a Komarran oligarch who’s upgrading to something better.  Quinn, Taura, and Bel Thorne are there waiting for Mark’s briefing, which starts after Elena confirms that the ship’s pilot has broken orbit.  He explains to them that this is neither an ImpSec nor Dendarii mission, but funded by Countess Vorkosigan.  Bel and Taura have been briefed on Admiral Naismith’s true identity, which Bel (and Ky Tung) had already guessed, and which Taura says explains a lot.

Quinn asks what Mark has found, and Mark explains about the Beauchene Life Center.  He knows ImpSec will hit upon the same lead eventually, but in the meantime he’s reprioritized his list of Jackson’s Whole sites to check.  He’s postulated that Miles has been recently revived, and asks Elena to confirm that if this is true, he’ll soon draw attention to himself.  Quinn notes the possibility of amnesia.  Mark says he’s afraid that soon someone else’s attention will be drawn to Miles if they don’t find him soon.

Mark explains his theory that Norwood met a Dr. Durona at Beauchene, and that that’s who he tried to send Miles to at Bharaputra’s.  Because there is a Durona Group on Jackson’s Whole, which works for House Fell–who, at that time, were their allies.  Quinn says that Fell claims not to have the cryo-chamber, and Mark gives them a little background.

Ninety years earlier, the father of the current Baron Ryoval decided to try growing himself some geniuses.  He started by creating a woman named Lilly Durona, who proved to be a genius in fact.  Unfortunately, after she started working for the Baron, he died in unsuccessful brain transplant, probably due to the efforts of his son, the current Baron Ryoval.  The new Baron cleaned house by killing or enslaving most of his numerous siblings and half-siblings, and threatened to do the same to Lilly Durona.  Lilly plotted her escape with the help of one of Ryoval’s half-brothers, Georish Stauber–the current Baron Fell–who used Lilly as his entrée into House Fell.  While Stauber rose in the House, Durona created her own research group by cloning herself over and over; the group now consists of 30-40 Duronas, and serves Fell as in-house medical staff, as well as developing chemical and biological weaponry.

Mark then asks about the Dendarii side of their encounters with Fell and Ryoval, which Bel supplies, telling Mark about their help with Dr. Canaba’s defection–including Taura’s rescue and the destruction of Ryoval’s samples, which is why Ryoval would be happy to get his hands on a revived Miles just to be able to kill him over and over again.  Mark adds another odd fact–Baronne Lotus Bharaputra, wife of the current Baron, is a former Durona clone who jumped ship herself for co-control of House Bharaputra, and the dark-haired clone girl who escaped is evidently her body-clone.  Durona don’t do brain transplants themselves, part of their original deal.  What Mark isn’t sure about, though, is why the Duronas seem to be concealing their possession of Miles’s body from House Fell itself, including dumping the cryo-chamber off-planet.

Quinn has prepared a kit for providing them with new identities before they arrive in Jacksonian space, because they’ll have to get past Fell Station again.  She admits grudgingly that Mark’s analysis is pretty good.

“Yes . . . he’s changed a bit, I think,” Bothari-Jesek observed judiciously. “Grown.”

“Yeah?” Quinn’s gaze swept him, up and down. “True . . .”

Mark’s heart warmed in hungry anticipation of a crumb of approval.

“—he’s fatter.”

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So now we know what’s up with the Durona Group, as a link between the three Jacksonian Houses we’ve encountered the most so far–created by Ryoval, defected to Fell, and then one of them defected again to Bharaputra.  There’s supposed to be lots of other Jacksonian Houses, but somehow those are the only three we encountered for a long time, mostly because they were the ones that Miles ran afoul of back in “Labyrinth”.  Not until the latest book, in fact, did we really see anyone from another House.

I forgot that Mark’s clue to the Duronas comes after they leave Barrayar–I always remember it as being what impels him to leave Barrayar in the first place.  So he really has little or nothing to go on when he actually convinces Cordelia and Elena to let him go.  I sometimes forget that Mark knows so much about Jackson’s Whole, but he did spend a large chunk of his childhood there, even though the clones must have been somewhat sheltered.  After that, with Ser Galen, is when he spent all his time learning about Barrayar and Miles…

Chapter Twenty-Two

Miles, still amnesic, is trying to remember tongue-twisters so he can practice his speech, because he hates it when nobody understands him talking.  He is, at least, dressing himself and eating real food.  He finally manages to work his way through “She sells sea shells”, and then sees Rowan watching from the doorway.  She says he’s obviously been practicing, and he conveys that he needs to talk so he can issue commands.

Rowan says she’s brought him some “toys”, which turn out to be parts of disassembled hand weapons.  Miles expertly assembles four different weapons–stunner, plasma arc, nerve disrupter and projectile gun–and puts the remaining, extra pieces to one side.  He notes that the power cells are all dead, and Rowan comments that he nonetheless never pointed any of the weapons at either of them during the assembly.

She asks if any memories surfaced during the activity, and he says no, but tells her (in excitement and decreasing intelligibility) that he remembered something in the shower.  He describes a scene of riding on a horse with an old man beside him, and a number of trees connected with tubes, which makes his grandfather and the other men happy.

“What are they doing, in this scene?” she asked, sounding baffled. “These men.”

He could see it again in his head, the memory of a memory. “Burnin’ wood. Makin’ sugar.”

“That makes no sense. Sugar comes from biological production vats, not from burning trees,” said Rowan.

“Trees,” he asserted. “Brown sug’r trees.” Another memory wavered up: the old man breaking off a chunk of something that looked like tan sandstone and giving him a taste by popping it in his mouth. The feel of the gnarled old stained fingers cool against his cheek, sweetness tinged with leather and horses. He shivered at the overwhelming sensory blast. This was real. But he still could name no names. Gran’da.

“Mountains mine,” he added. The thought made him sad, and he didn’t know why.

Rowan is dubious about this memory, wondering if it might not be a dream after all, because it doesn’t fit with anything they know.  Miles immediately grabs her and asks what they know about him.  Eventually she tells him that they don’t know how he is, but they know some possibilities as to who he might be…but telling him anything, at his current stage of recovery, risks contaminating him with false memories that lead him to construct an identity out of them.  She says he’ll likely recover all his memories, but he’s more susceptible to this contamination than most people, for reasons she doesn’t explain.  She does mention the possibility of using fast-penta to help with the recovery process, because it sometimes triggers a memory cascade.

“However, it can also be embarrassing. Under its influence people will happily talk about whatever crosses their minds, even their most intimate and private thoughts. Good medical ethics requires me to warn you about that. Also, some people are allergic to the drug.”

“Where’d . . . you learn . . . goo’ med’cal ethics?” he asked curiously.

Strangely, she flinched. “Escobar,” she said, and eyed him.

“Where we now?”

“I’d rather not say, just yet.”

She gives him a patch test for the fast-penta, saying that he has a high risk of having been given an artificial fast-penta allergy.  When she removes the patch, his skin turns slightly pink there, but not read and itchy, which means he has a marginal sensitivity, but he pleads with her to take the risk.  She fetches a fast-penta hypospray, as well as an antagonist in case he does begin to have a reaction.  She doses him, and instead of relaxing as she says he will, he begins to get jittery, and she says that his blood pressure is rising.  He remembers then that fast-penta makes him hyper, and begins to mumble poetry, remembering that last time he did this somebody beat him up…somebody named Galen.  He tells her he beat Galen by reciting endless poetry until it wore off, and she recognizes the name but won’t tell him more.  He keeps finding himself making improper suggestions to her, which she takes in stride.

She decides that his reaction isn’t encouraging, and prepares to administer the antidote.  He suddenly remembers that he’s on Jackson’s Whole and bolts out of the room.  Rowan follows, calling for help, but Miles climbs up the lift-tube, darts into the lobby and out past a float-pallet and through the front doors, no force screen this time.  Guards in green parkas lower their stunners, but a voice behind him warns them not to stun him, and he keeps running, out into the street.  Soon he collapses, out of breath, and several Duronas pounce on him, picking him up and carrying him back into the building; Rowan gives him the antidote.

Once he’s back inside, they discuss how many witnesses there were to Miles’s escape this time.  An older Dr. Durona asks Rowan what’s going on, and she explains about the fast-penta reaction, and some odd things he said, which she needs to discuss with Lilly.  Miles then begins to go into a convulsion, and comes to with both women holding him down.  Rowan says they need to check on his sensitivity before giving him anything else whatsoever, and dismisses her attendants until he’s calmed down again.  Shortly thereafter, they move him, claiming they have other patients coming; he finds himself set up on a cot in Rowan’s rooms, where they eat dinner together.

She still would not tell him anything directly about himself, but she now seemed willing at least to talk about herself. His internal picture of the world shifted as they spoke. Why do I have wormhole maps in my head? Maybe he was going to have to recover himself the hard way. Learn everything that existed in the universe, and whatever was left, that dwarfish-man-shaped hole in the center, would be him by process of elimination. A daunting task.

He says that if he is on Jackson’s Whole, that means bad things, and asks about the Durona Clinic.  She says they work for House Fell, and he makes the connection to Fell’s weapons business and accuses them of making biological weapons.  He asks why he’s there, and she explains how he arrived, in a cryo-chamber with no return address, and they revived him to find out who he was.  She admits there’s more to it than that, but they won’t tell him.  She tells him that it’s dangerous for him to leave, but the precise danger depends on who he is.

Dr. Chrys gives him more physical therapy, and then leaves him to Rowan’s more tender mercies.  As she massages him, he feels himself becoming aroused, which Rowan discovers when he expresses reluctance to turn over.  She insists on examining him anyway, which devolves into kissing and then sexplay.  She praises his prowess, and he wonders how he got so good, if he was married; she says that he wasn’t, whichever he was.

“Huh.” He hesitated, winding her long hair in his fingers, spreading it idly out in a fan across the burst of red lines on his torso. “So who d’you think you were makin’ love to, jus’ now?”

She touched a long index finger gently to his forehead. “You. Just you.”

This was most pleasing, but . . . “Wuzzat love, or therapy?”

She smiled quizzically, tracing his face. “A little of both, I think. And curiosity. And opportunity. I’ve been pretty immersed in you, for the past three months.”

It felt like an honest answer. “Seems t’me you made t’ opportunity.”

A small smirk escaped her lips. “Well . . . maybe.”

Miles realizes that they have invested a lot of time in him, as if they’re expecting a big payback.  He asks who they’re hiding him from, and Rowan can only tell him “enemies”.  He wonders who he is, who they’re expecting him to be, who his princess needs him to be.

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Another forgotten fact–the first of Miles’s seizures occurs here, after his stressful past-penta experience and paranoid flight.  I’m not clear how he realized he was on Jackson’s Whole–was it memory, or deduction, or just leaping to conclusions?  Was he remembering that he was on Jackson’s Whole last he saw?  Did he recognize the climate somehow from his brief nighttime excursion?  Some other clue?  Makes me wonder if fast-penta would help Miles’s deductive facilities if he used it judiciously…does he do that in some book?

So Miles and Rowan consummate their relationship, not one of his most successful ones, but then, it’s classic doctor-patient romance, paired with Miles’s amnesia (he can’t remember that he already has a girlfriend, so it’s technically not cheating, right?) and of course his irresistible charm.  After all, he’s regained his ability to talk, and there’s no Oser around to warn them to shut him up.

I like the part about how they know sugar doesn’t come from trees, and how Rowan thinks it’s a dream or hallucination.  I guess she’s just not used to the idea that you can actually harvest plant products, or something?  I know that Jackson’s Whole is a little inhospitable, but what about Escobar?  Is it also a marginal climate?  I realize that there’s a difference between fruit and sap, but surely the idea that sap may carry sugar around the plant isn’t that strange; did she not have to take any botany, just medicine?  I guess they must be pretty focused on their specialty to be so ignorant about things like that.

Obviously the Duronas are expecting this to be either Miles Naismith, or his clone, not Miles Vorkosigan–do they even know about him?  Now what use could they possibly have for a guy with a mercenary fleet…or a guy who could pretend to be the guy with the mercenary fleet?


I think I’m officially moving the Vorkosigan Reread post day to Wednesday (well, before midnight on Wednesday in my time zone), which works better for me, at least for now.  Probably I’ll adjust to this and end up putting off starting on it until Tuesday night, but maybe it’ll be okay.  The next two weeks may still be spotty, but after that hopefully things will settle down.

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Is it that time again already?  What do you mean, that was yesterday?  Anyway, it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein the Vorkosigan Saga novels of Lois McMaster Bujold are read, summarized, and discussed.  This week I manage to get through two more chapters of Mirror Dance, where we finally get to see something of the long-absent (due to a slight case of death) Miles Vorkosigan once again, while his clone-brother Mark prepares to dash off to the rescue if they will but let him.

Chapter Nineteen

A man awakens in a hospital bed, and opens his eyes to find them covered with some kind of translucent medical goo.  He’s having trouble breathing, and realizes that there’s a tube down his throat, and more in his nose, and sticking into his arms; it hurts to move.  Looking down at himself, he sees his chest sunken and covered with scars and surgical patches, as well as the goo, and more tubes everywhere.  That can’t be good, he thinks as he sinks back into unconsciousness.

Later, half-drowsing, a woman comes, tells him that they’re taking out his “pacer”, since his new heart and lungs should be working.  She opens up his chest and takes something out, closing it up again when she’s done and giving the thing to her male assistant.  She’s pretty and vaguely Asian, and dressed in a white coat, and he guesses she’s a doctor, but she can’t hear him around the tube in his throat, which she then removes, to his immense relief.  She asks him his name, and he realizes he doesn’t know.  The assistant says he’s placed bets that this one’s brain-damaged, but the woman says he needs some time to recover.  She does some simple reflex tests, saying she’ll save more complex ones for a few more days.  Convinced somehow that he has to recover soon or die, he tries doing some simple exercises in bed after they leave, but the man returns and sedates him, sinking him into nightmares.

Later, the woman returns to give him his first meal with his new stomach, nothing more than glucose water.  He proves able to suck it through a straw, but can’t drink much; the woman explains that his new organs are still a little small, but “Lilly” was in a hurry to awaken him.  He’s not sure if she expects him to understand what she says, though.  She gives him a sponge bath, and he spies the tag “DR. R. DURONA” on the pocket of her scrubs.

“You were quite a little mystery, you know. Delivered to me in a crate. Raven said you were too small to be a soldier, but I picked out enough camouflage cloth and nerve disruptor shield-netting, along with the forty-six grenade fragments, to be quite sure you weren’t just a bystander. Whatever you were, that needle-grenade had your name on it. Unfortunately, not in writing.” She sighed half to herself. “Who are you?”

She did not pause for an answer, which was just as well. The effort of swallowing the sugar water had exhausted him again. An equally pertinent question was, Where was he, and he was peeved that she, who must surely know, didn’t think to tell him. The room was an anonymous high-tech medical locale, without windows. On a planet, not a ship.

How do I know that? A vague picture of a ship, in his head, seemed to shatter at his touch. What ship? For that matter, what planet?

There ought to be a window. A big window, framing a high hazy city-scape with a rapid river cutting through it. And people. There were people missing, who ought by rights to be here, though he could not picture them. The mix of generic medical familiarity and particular strangeness tied his guts in knots.

He’s relieved, if a little raw, to have all the dead skin removed; she depilates his face as well and combs his hair, pulling out clumps of it, and then holds up a mirror.  He doesn’t recognize his face, but supposes he can get used to it, despite bloodshot eyes and patchy hair.  He tries to speak but can’t get anything coherent out.

“Lilly called your cryo-chamber Pandora’s box,” she murmured reflectively. “But I thought of it as the enchanted knight’s crystal coffin. I wish it were as easy as waking you with a kiss.”

She bent over, eyelids fluttering half-closed, and touched her lips to his. He lay very still, half-pleased, half-panicked. She straightened, watched him another moment, and sighed. “Didn’t think it would work. Maybe I’m just not the right princess.”

She leaves him in the dark, where he falls asleep on his own, feeling somewhat hopeful.  When he awakens he begins to regain some muscle control, enough to twitch his arms and legs, but when Dr. Durona returns, she’s horribly wrong–older, and colder towards him, more businesslike, with different, shorter hair.  He can’t understand, wondering if he fell asleep for longer than he’d thought.  She puts him in a hospital gown and makes him stand up, which nearly makes him pass out, then puts him back to bed.  Next time she shows up looking ten years older yet, with hair in a ponytail, and walks him across the room and back.

The short-haired version returns and gets him walking again, out into the hallway where he sees the older Dr. Durona, and this time notices they have different initials on their nametags–Dr. P. with the ponytail, Dr. C. (addressed as “Chrys”) with the shorter hair, neither of them his Dr. R.  discuss his progress, Chrys being of the opinion that he’s progressing well physically, but mentally not as well.  Lilly is pressuring them to get his memories working again, or he’ll be of no use.  They put him back to bed, and his Dr. R. Durona, appears then, to his relief, expressing mock disapproval about their treatment of her patient.  Chrys is apparently the physical therapist, which explains things, and Dr. R. sets limits on the therapy, though fairly high ones.

The other two leave him with her, and she tells him his hair is starting to grow again in his bare patches, and hopes this means his brain is working too.  She asks him again for his name, and he responds by asking, muzzily, for hers.  At first she simply thinks he’s repeating what she said, but he convinces her that he is actually asking for her own name, and tells him that it’s Rowan.  He tries to urge her to kiss him again, but she leaves.

This time he doesn’t fall asleep, but lies there with bits of thought washing around his brain, some of them possibly memories.  When he examines them too closely he gets panicky, though, and so he just lets them froth.  He decides that if he can’t remember who he is, he can try to figure out where.  He’s no longer hooked up to machines or tagged, so he slips out of bed and to his door, which opens.  The hallway outside leads past a monitor-station which seems to be temporarily unmanned, so he slips past and out through the door at the end, which also opens.  He passes surgeries, storage rooms, and labs, and concludes somehow that this place is more of a research centre than a hospital or clinic.

He finds the bottom of a deactivated lift-tube, and after briefly considering trying to climb it (which proves to be beyond his physical capabilities) he risks turning the power on and rises from level “S-3” to “S-1”.  The lift-tube exits into a tiny foyer, then a storage room, but when he turns around he discovers the door has vanished and he can’t reopen it again.  His bare feet are cold and he’s dizzy and tired, but he can’t return to his bed, so he persuades himself to go on.  He finds the bottom of another lift-tube, this one labelled as “B-2”, with nothing below it; he heads up to level “G”, which proves to be ground level.  He finds a darkened lobby, with glass doors and windows showing that it’s night outside.  There is a desk with a comconsole, where he sits gratefully, but can’t access its data, even though he’s sure he can overcome a palm-lock.

He shivered. God, I hate cold. He wobbled over to the glass door. It was snowing outside, tiny scintillant dots whipping by slantwise through the white arc of a floodlight. They would be hard, and hiss and sting on bare skin. A weird vision of a dozen naked men standing shivering in a midnight blizzard flitted across his mind’s eye, but he could attach no names to the scene, only a sensation of deep disaster. Was that how he had died, freezing in the wind and snow? Recently, nearby?

I was dead. The realization came to him for the first time, a burst of shock radiating outward from his belly. He traced the aching scars on his torso through the thin fabric of his gown. And I’m not feeling too good now, either. He giggled, an off-balance noise disturbing even to his own ears. He stifled his mouth with his fist. He must not have had time to be afraid, before, because the retroactive wash of terror knocked him to his knees. Then to his hands and knees. The shivering cold was making his hands shake uncontrollably. He began to crawl.

He gets close to the door, which opens automatically; not wanting to get trapped outside again, he tries to turn to avoid it, but gets disoriented and finds himself outside after all.  Suddenly he feels a shock and smells singed hair as he is pushed back into the doorway, where he curls up miserably.

Voices and shouts arise, and he is pulled back inside to a babble of voices wondering how he got there, and asking for Rowan to be called.  One of the men proves to be Rowan’s male assistant, whose initial is also R., who wonders how he broke out of their security.

“Na’ sec’rty.” Words! His mouth was making words! “Fire saf’ty.” He added reflectively, “Dolt.”

The young man’s face jerked back in bewildered offense. “Are you talking to me, Short Circuit?”

“He’s talking!” His Dr. Durona’s face circled overhead, her voice thrilled. He recognized her even with her fine hair loose, falling all around her face in a dark cloud. Rowan, my love. “Raven, what did he say?”

The youth’s dark brows wrinkled. “I’d swear he just said ‘fire safety.’ ” Gibberish, I guess.”

Rowan explains how he must have known that the locked doors would all open outward, for fire safety, but Raven isn’t impressed.  An older Dr. Durona with white hair shuffles out and dismisses everyone without a reason to be there; she asks how he got out, and the one who was supposed to be manning the monitor station admits to leaving their post for a minute.  Raven says he’d have frozen to death out there even if he had gotten through the force screen.  After some discussion of improved security, they decide he needs to be guarded; Raven is assigned as his night guard because he can be spared, with Rowan to watch him during the day.

Raven picks him up to carry him back down, where Rowan checks him for damage.  He’s shivering with cold, so they raise the temperature in his room.  Rowan says he’s in some minor distress, but he should fall asleep once he warms up.  Rowan invites him to speak again, but he’s thinking about the tension he sensed among the various Dr. Duronas in the lobby, tension to do with him, and wonders what they know about him.  Rowan leaves and Raven stays with him, studying some medical subject or other, still in training to be a doctor like the others.

He lay back, drained beyond measure. His excursion tonight had nearly killed him, and what had he learned for all his pains? Not much, except this: I am come to a very strange place.

And I am a prisoner here.

Comments

So first Kyril Island, and now cryo-freezing…and a cold planetary environment (Jackson’s Whole?) outside his prison.  Poor Miles, with the cold.  I sympathize.  For it is Miles, of course, even if he doesn’t know himself yet.  With new heart and lungs, and apparently stomach too–he was really blown out, wasn’t he?  The dead skin flaking off was a little disgusting, but I guess if he was frozen, a lot of his skin might have died.  Not sure how that would work, I guess.  This bringing someone back from death must be a complicated business.

Somehow, even unconscious and amnesic, he’s still winning over hearts and minds, as he and Rowan seem to be drawn together, even if none of the others are quite as impressed.  The Duronas are all clones, of course, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have differences in personality, even if it’s just because of being raised in changing family environments.

Chapter Twenty

The day before Mark, Elena and Cordelia are due to leave, they’re looking at ship specs.  Mark asks if he thinks they’ll be able to stop in on Komarr and visit his clones, who ImpSec has set up in a private boarding school there, where they can be together and yet still meet other children.  Cordelia has urged that they be put into foster families to give them examples for forming their own families later in life.  Now she says that they could stop in, certainly–Illyan will complain, but they can overrule him–but she wonders if it might not be better for Mark not to know precisely where they are, in case he falls into Bharaputran hands on Jackson’s Whole.  Mark decides that it’s probably better if he doesn’t see them, having come to terms with the fact that they won’t see him as a hero.

Illyan calls and asks to talk to Cordelia; Elena and Mark worry that he’s going to block them, but Cordelia tells them to be quiet and let her deal with Simon.  Illyan pronounces her scheme unacceptable.

“To whom, Simon? Not to me. Who else gets a vote?”

“Security,” Illyan growled.

“You are Security. I’ll thank you to take responsibility for your own emotional responses, and not try to shift them onto some vague abstraction. Or get off the line and let me talk to Captain Security, then.”

Cordelia says that he’ll need to arrest her and Mark to keep them from going; Illyan threatens to go to the Count, but Cordelia says she’s already cleared it with him, and he’s too ill to be bothered further.  Illyan protests that he doesn’t see the point of their expedition, and Cordelia says that they don’t know yet what Mark will be able to do, but ImpSec is welcome to beat him to it.  Illyan points out that they are risking the last chances of House Vorkosigan, and Cordelia says she accepts that risk.  Illyan says that people from all parties are scrambling to find someone to take over Aral’s position, and Cordelia wishes them well, and hopes that she can get her husband out of the government alive.

“Who is capable of succeeding him?” asked Illyan plaintively.

“A number of men. Racozy, Vorhalas, or Sendorf, to name three. If not, there was something terribly wrong with Aral’s leadership. One mark of a great man is the legacy of men he leaves behind him, to whom he’s passed on his skills. If you think Aral so small as to have stifled all possible others around him, spreading smallness like a plague, then perhaps Barrayar is better off without him.”

Illyan then asks if she’s considered the risk of bringing Mark too close to Miles.  Cordelia says that if he’s so worried about that, he’ll have to find Miles first.  Illyan protests that they’ll expect help from ImpSec if they get into trouble, and Cordelia says that they should have the right to expect it anyway.  Illyan signs off, and Cordelia says he’s going to try to go over her head, so she waits at the console until Gregor calls.

“Good morning, Lady Cordelia. You really ought not to stir up poor Simon that way, you know.”

“He deserved it,” she said equably. “I admit, he has far too much on his mind at the moment. Suppressed panic turns him into a prick every time; it’s what he does instead of running in circles screaming. A way of coping, I suppose.”

“While others of us cope by becoming over-analytical,” Gregor murmured. The Countess’s lip twitched, and Mark suddenly thought he knew who might shave the barber.

Gregor asks if she really thinks this expedition is wise, and Cordelia says that they can only find out by trying it.  She notes that this is really the best to put any rumours about Mark’s motives to rest, by putting him in a situation of supposed temptation and giving him enough rope to hang himself.  Gregor finds this a compelling argument, and wishes Mark good luck.

Cordelia and Mark make a final visit to Aral at ImpMil hospital; Mark finds the hospital atmosphere oppressive, and still finds Aral daunting, but Cordelia predicts that he’ll regret not having talked to the Count more than he’d ever regret doing it.  Aral is sitting in bed looking out the window, his colour far from good, and is cheered by their presence.  Cordelia tells him she’s seen his new heart, still tiny but beating away in its vat, which she thinks is cute but Aral grotesque; she comments on the possibilities for tasteless jokes with his old heart when he’s done with it.

Aral talks to Mark about the Jackson’s Whole expedition, wishing momentarily that Bothari was going with them, causing them some concern until they’re sure that he’s not forgetting that Bothari is years dead.  He laments the role of the mentor, left behind while the protégé goes and risks himself, and advises Mark that he can’t be defeated if he’s not defeated in his own mind.  He and Aral exchange a firm hand-clasp, and Aral wishes confusion to his enemies.

That night Mark makes one final call, to the Koudelka household, where Mrs. Koudelka answers.  He asks haltingly for Kareen.

A blonde brow twitched. “I believe I know which one you are, but—who may I say is calling?”

“Lord Mark Vorkosigan,” he got out.

“Just a moment, my lord.” She left the range of the vid pick-up; he could hear her voice fading in the distance, calling “Kareen!”

There was a muffled bumping in the background, garbled voices, a shriek, and Kareen’s laughing voice crying, “No, Delia, it’s for me! Mother, make her go away! Mine, all mine! Out!” The sound of a door thumping closed on, presumably, flesh, a yelp, then a firmer and more final slam.

Kareen is quite happy to see him, and Mark is breathless for a moment.  He tells her he’s called to say goodbye, and clarifies that he’s going off-planet for a while.  She asks when he’ll be back, and he says he’s not sure, but he would like to see her on his return.  He asks what was going on with her sister, and she explains that Delia would have stood off-camera and made faces at her while she talked to Mark, because that’s what Kareen’s done to her.  Mark is amazed by how normal this situation is, and leads her into a description of her life, of a well-off family with a strong work ethic–peaceful, calm and real.  Kareen slows down when she realizes how little Mark is saying.

“Good heavens, I’m babbling. I’m sorry.”

“No! I like listening to you talk.”

“That’s a first. In this family, I’m lucky to get a word in edgewise. I didn’t talk till I was three. They had me tested. It turned out it was just because my sisters were answering everything for me!”

She asks about his life, which she says sounded like sort of an adventure.  Mark tells her that it was more like a disaster, and explains that he’s kind of a mess, but he doesn’t know what he should tell her about it.  Kareen says they should ask the Countess, who’s an old friend of her mother, who used to be her bodyguard.  He thinks of the Barrayaran tradition of go-betweens, and wonders if using Cordelia as a mediator would work out well or not.  He tells Kareen that sometime, before he comes back, she should talk to the Countess about him and say that Mark told her to ask about him.  Kareen agrees, and insists that if he’s back by Winterfair, they will dance at the ball, and not in the corner this time; Mark allows that if he’s back by then, he won’t need to hide any longer.

“Good. I’ll hold you to your word.”

“My word as Vorkosigan,” he said lightly.

Her blue eyes widened. “Oh. My.” Her soft lips parted in a blinding smile.

He felt like a man who’d gone to spit, and had a diamond pop accidently from his lips instead. And he couldn’t call it back and re-swallow it. There must be a Vorish streak in the girl, to take a man’s word so seriously.

She tells him to be careful, saying that he reminds her of her father, a soldier, when he’s pretending that he isn’t heading into a difficult situation.  Mark is touched by her concern and bids her farewell.

Comments

It’s not clear how much time has passed between their resolution to depart for Jackson’s Whole “as soon as possible” and the current chapter, one day before departure, but it can’t have been that long if Simon Illyan is only calling them now.  I suppose that Aral’s condition and the search for Miles is distracting him from keeping an eye on Cordelia’s activities, but surely he had someone watching Mark, if nothing else.  Maybe he wasn’t sure how serious she was, or when precisely she was leaving…  He is essentially powerless against Cordelia, except for when he can sway her through persuasion and/or logic, which he’s not nearly as good at.  Gregor is probably more capable of it, as one of her best pupils, but he thinks more like her in the first place, so he doesn’t need as much persuading.

The other scene, the call to Kareen, is more cheerful, as Mark catches glimpses of the normalcy that he never had in his life, and probably over-romanticizes, but I’m sure would embrace happily nonetheless.  Despite anything that he may have done at the Emperor’s Birthday, she’s still willing to consider him a “fellow” and dance with him again.  I can’t remember if we get back to Kareen in this book or not, but they do have a great plotline in A Civil Campaign, at least.  Oh, and a glimpse of her mother Ludmilla “Drou” Koudelka, one of the few we get in the series after Barrayar, though she also turns up in A Civil Campaign, at least.  I keep thinking we’ll see more of Clement Koudelka himself sometime, but I can’t remember other scenes offhand.  He’s probably still working for Aral, which means he’s probably trying frantically to keep things going until the Count recovers, but I can’t help but wonder what “difficult situations” Kareen was talking about, since her father shouldn’t be going into anything front-line these days.  I guess there’s still tense situations which don’t involve outright battle…

A shortish chapter, but a talky one, so hard to summarize and sounds at all good, so lots of nice quotage.  They’ll be off Barrayar soon, alas, into more action and less interesting dialogue with interesting characters (which somehow seems to be my favourite bit of Bujold books).


There you have it, two chapters one day late rather than one chapter on time and then slacking off for most of another week.  Maybe I should even change my schedule to Wednesdays instead–I picked Tuesdays more or less at random, after all, or perhaps for reasons that no longer apply, and I’m not attached to them.  But I’m afraid that my having an excuse for potential underproductivity makes it more likely I’ll just slack off.  At least this book has some fairly short chapters.

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Welcome back again to this Vorkosigan Saga Reread thing.  As threatened last time, this week I have managed time and energy for only a single chapter, which I will render to you forthwith.  It is the eighteenth chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mirror Dance, wherein Mark, having finally gained access to ImpSec’s data, tries to find out what happened to his brother Miles’s frozen body.

Chapter Eighteen

Mark arrives at the ImpSec headquarters at dawn, and exclaims over how ugly it is, a “vast utilitarian concrete block”.  Pym, who drove him, explains that Lord Dono Vorrutyer, Mad Emperor Yuri’s architect and uncle of Ges Vorrutyer, designed it and four other buildings before Yuri’s assassination ended his career, and they haven’t been able to afford to tear it down.  Mark notes that the stairs are taller than usual, and Pym says he’ll definitely get a leg cramp before reaching the huge door at the top, but adds that there is a smaller door at ground level around the corner.

Mark heads for the smaller door, running mostly on painkillers and stimulants at this point.  Inside the building, Simon Illyan himself comes out to meet him.  He and Mark discuss the dreary building, and Illyan rhapsodizes on how beautiful the Escobaran intelligence headquarters are, but this is what he’s stuck with.  He leads Mark down to the bowels of the building, to a cubicle with a comconsole that Illyan says is loaded with every report they have on the search for Miles.  Illyan seems remarkably accommodating, and Mark wonders if the search is getting desperate.

The reports are completely unfiltered, and there are hundreds of them, from all over, reporting on various cryo-facilities on Jackson’s Whole and every nearby planet, even as far as Escobar.  No synopses or analyses, which suits Mark just fine.

Mark read till his eyes were dry and aching, and his stomach gurgled with festering coffee. Time to break for lunch, he thought, when a guard knocked at his door.

“Lord Mark, your driver is here,” the guard informed him politely.

Hell—it was time to break for dinner. The guard escorted him back through the building and delivered him to Pym. It was dark outside. My head hurts.

Mark returns for several days after that, and discovers that reports are coming in faster than he can read them.  By the fifth day, he is suffering information overload, and decides he needs to change tacks.  He shuts off his console and considers briefly.  He starts by assuming that Miles is recoverable; if he hasn’t reported in, then either he’s still frozen or in unfriendly hands.  He also decides that, despite the chamber being found in the Hegen Hub, Miles himself never made it off Jackson’s Whole, so a whole swath of reports are irrelevant.  Since ImpSec has investigated every likely facility on the planet, Mark concludes that Miles is somewhere that they’ve already crossed off their list.  There must be a connection to Norwood somewhere, but he can’t figure out where, and silently curses Norwood’s memory.

Illyan checks in, and Mark tells him his assumptions, and that the Hegen Hub is a red herring, maybe a deliberate diversion.  Illyan doesn’t seem receptive to Mark’s suggestion that he send all his personnel to Jackson’s Whole, so Mark changes to subject to ask about Vorventa.  Illyan says that Edwin Vorventa’s younger brother works for ImpSec and is involved in the investigation, and has been demoted and transferred.  The damage is done, though, now that Miles’s condition is Vor gossip, as is the rumour about Mark’s contribution to Count Vorkosigan’s heart attack.

Mark discovers that Illyan isn’t convinced of Mark’s innocence in the matter himself.  He hasn’t found evidence yet, but he has looked for it; Mark castigates him for wasting resources on that when Miles still hasn’t been found, but Illyan says he used mostly unskilled personnel for it.  Mark says that Illyan is wasting him as a resource, and asks that he be sent to Jackson’s Whole–he has local knowledge, and enough training to lose ImpSec surveillance more than once.  Illyan says that his covert ops track record is not encouraging, but admits he might be more skilled–in fact, his apparent lack of skill might only be a sham.

“And suppose you get to Miles before we do. What happens then?”

“What do you mean, what happens then?”

“If you return him to us as a room-temperature corpse, fit only for burying, instead of a cryo-stat hopeful—how will we know that was the way you found him? And you will inherit his name, his rank, his wealth, and his future. Tempting, Mark, to a man without an identity. Very tempting.”

Mark buried his face in his hands. He sat crushed, infuriated, and wildly frustrated. “Look,” he said through his fingers, “look. Either I’m the man who, by your theory, succeeded in half-assassinating Aral Vorkosigan and was so good I left no trace of proof—or I’m not. You can argue that I’m not competent enough to send. Or you can argue that I’m not trustworthy enough to send. But you can’t use both arguments at once. Pick one!”

Mark offers to let Illyan fast-penta him.  Illyan notes that Miles has an idiosyncratic response to the drug, but Mark says they may be different enough.  Illyan gets an allergy test patch and puts it on Mark’s skin, where in just a few minutes it raises an angry welt; Illyan recommends that Mark avoid fast-penta at all costs in future.

“If Miles had been sitting here, reading these files, making these same arguments, would you have listened to him?”

“Lieutenant Vorkosigan has a sustained record of successes that compels my attention. Results speak for themselves. And, as you yourself have repeatedly pointed out, you are not Miles. You can’t use both arguments at once,” he added icily. “Pick one.”

Mark asks why Illyan has let him in here in the first place; Illyan says that apart from Gregor’s direct command, he feels safer with Mark someplace where he can watch him and know where he is and what he’s doing.  Mark is so unsettled by the conversation that he can’t focus his attention on the reports, and ends up going home before dark, in time to join Cordelia and Elena for dinner, where a place has been set for him despite his having been absent for several days.

Elena has been spending a lot of time with Cordelia, acting almost as a daughter, visiting the hospital with her, and probably hearing more of her confidences than Mark has.  Mark wonders if Elena’s status in the family makes him a kind of foster-brother to her.  He asks after the Dendarii, and Elena says that Quinn and the rest of the direct witnesses–Thorne, Taura, and the commandos–are still at Komarr with Ariel, but the rest were sent off with Peregrine to rejoin the fleet.  Mark tells Cordelia his theories about Jackson’s Whole, and complains that he can’t get Illyan to take him seriously; he seems more worried about Cetagandans.  Cordelia asks him what he wants to do, and after briefly considering running away to Beta Colony, he says he wants to go to Jackson’s Whole and look for Miles himself, but Illyan won’t consider it.

“It’s days like these poor Simon would sell his soul to make the world hold still for a while,” the Countess admitted. “His attention isn’t just spread right now, it’s splintered. I have a certain sympathy for him.”

“I don’t. I wouldn’t ask Simon Illyan for the time of day. Nor would he give it to me.” Mark brooded. “Gregor would hint obliquely where I might look for a crono. You . . .” his metaphor extended itself, unbidden, “would give me a clock.”

“If I had one, son, I’d give you a clock factory,” the Countess sighed.

Mark considers this, then asks if, as a free citizen of Barrayar who has committed no crimes there, he isn’t free to go to Jackson’s Whole himself as a private citizen.  He can’t afford the fare, though, and Cordelia isn’t sure it’s a safe idea; Elena points out that Bharaputra probably as a contract out on him know, or at least Admiral Naismith.  Mark said he’d try to avoid Bharaputra, and asks the Countess for help; he can’t find his balance on Barrayar.  Cordelia asks him to try a little longer, but Mark says he has to try to fix his mistake.  Elena asks if he’s planning to run for it, and Mark admits he doesn’t know.  Cordelia she doesn’t doubt him, but she can’t stand to lose the second child she never thought she’d have.

“Ma’am,” he said desperately, “Mother—I cannot be your consolation prize.”

She crossed her arms and rested her chin in one hand, cupped over her mouth. Her eyes were gray as a winter sea.

“You of all people, have to see,” Mark pleaded, “how important a second chance can be.”

Cordelia gets up, saying she has to think about it, and leaves.  Elena snarls at him then dashes after her.  Mark eats himself into a stupor and retires to his room.  He’s just starting to feel better, some time later, when Elena knocks on his door, saying she’s come to apologize.  Cordelia has told her some of what’s going on with him, apparently including the shock-stick incident and his eating disorders.  Mark is angry that she’s violated his privacy like that, and Elena says she’d just told Cordelia the story about what Mark did, or tried to do with Maree, and Cordelia was trying to explain where that behaviour had come from.  Mark’s panic begins to recede, in his relief at his mother’s reaction, but he confesses that the scene with Maree was really what it looked like.  Elena said that she realized that she was projecting a lot of her own issues onto Mark, and starts explaining about her father, and how he raped her mother.

“Oh.” What was he to say? So, it hadn’t been just him they’d been talking about for the past two hours. There was clearly more to her story, but he sure wasn’t going to ask. For once, it wasn’t his place to apologize. “I’m . . . not sorry you exist. However you got here.”

She smiled, crookedly. “Actually, neither am I.”

He felt very strange. His fury at the violation of his privacy was fading, to be replaced by a light-heartedness that astonished him. He was greatly relieved, to be unburdened of his secrets. His dread was shrunken, as if giving it away had literally diminished it. I swear if I tell four more people, I’ll be altogether free.

He kisses her and thanks her.  She asks about his gorging, and he says it’s just a coping mechanism–creating your own pain can take your mind off of pain inflicted by others.  He tells her that Galen, in trying to condition him to behave according to the plan, screwed up a lot of his relationships with everything, including Galen himself.  Elena tells him he does have a talent for information analysis, and says that the Countess wants to talk to him.

They go to the Countess’s study, where she is browbeating a man over the comconsole.  She says she’s looking into buying or leasing him a ship, which will give him much more freedom of movement once he’s at Jackson’s Whole.  He asks if she can really afford that, and she says she can mortgage some things–not Vorkosigan House, perhaps, but Vorkosigan Surleau is quite possible–but that’s her problem, not his.  He asks about a crew, and she says there’s always all those idle Dendarii back at Komarr, who might be willing to tag along since they can’t go there in the Ariel.  Elena says that Quinn is already champing at the bit; Mark asks if Illyan will let him go, and Cordelia says that she’ll deal with ImpSec–she’d go herself if not for Aral’s condition.

Mark asks how he can maintain any authority over the Dendarii.  Cordelia says he’ll be the owner of the ship, but Mark predicts Quinn will take over after the first wormhole jump.  Cordelia admits he has a point, then asks Elena if she can swear oath to Mark.

“I’m already sworn to Lord Vorkosigan,” Elena said stiffly. Meaning, to Miles.

The gray eyes went flinty. “Death releases all vows.” And then glinted. “The Vor system never has been very good at catching the curve balls thrown at it by galactic technologies. Do you know, I don’t think there has ever been a ruling as to the status of a voice-oath when one of the respondents is in cryo-stasis? Your word can’t be your breath when you don’t have any breath, after all. We shall just have to set our own precedent.”

Elena paces for a minute, then prepares to offer Mark a liegewoman’s oath.  Mark says he has a better idea, and offers her an armsman’s oath instead.  Elena asks if that’s allowed, and Cordelia says, eyes sparkling, that just because nobody’s ever sworn a female armsman before doesn’t mean it can’t be done.  She swears the oath, and Mark accepts, though he’s not sure if it’s really valid since he hasn’t technically sworn fealty to Gregor himself yet.  Elena seems energized by the oath, and Cordelia is pleased.
Cordelia asks when they’ll be ready to leave, and Elena and Mark say as soon as possible.  Mark adds that his instincts tell him they may be running out of time–after all, if somebody was going to try to revive Miles, they’d be cloning him some replacement organs, and they know from Aral’s experiences approximately how long that takes.  They may be ready to do it soon.

Comments

Dono Vorrutyer…that name sounds familiar.  I think a different one turns up in a later book…  It’s too bad that there haven’t been any opportunities to replace the ugly ImpSec building.  Like, you know, if something were to happen to it…

I completely forgot the Elena armsman scene.  As someone who always chafed at the restrictions on what she could do as a woman on Barrayar, which led to her blossoming among the Dendarii, it’s like coming full circle and proving them all wrong.  It’s a crafty move to keep Mark’s authority from being overthrown, too.  Elena retains enough of her Barrayaran upbringing that she can be relied upon to keep her oaths.  (Though somehow I am thinking of David Feintuch’s Nicholas Seafort, who broke his oaths when necessary, damning his soul, as he believed, for petty things like doing what was necessary to keep people alive.  Did Miles ever have to go up against his oaths like that?)

Interesting how Cordelia finds herself close to being trapped in the same mistake she warned Aral about–thinking of Mark as a replacement for Miles.  It’s not quite the same thing, not like thinking of Mark as being able to be everything Miles was, but Mark rightly points out to her that she’s trying to hold onto him because she can’t have Miles.  Once he points that out to her, though, she’s able to work through it herself; she’s too canny to be entirely a prisoner of her own emotions.

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Next chapter we will get to see a character again that we haven’t seen in a little while, and who has been sorely missed…and with any luck that chapter, at least, will be up next week. I’ll take my shortfall this week as a motivation to maybe get started on the next chapter a little earlier, so maybe I’ll already have a chapter done before the weekend…  On the other hand, I may just find myself vegging out on my computer every weeknight again…or cleaning and packing.

Since you will all have some unexpected free time in front of you this week, feel free to talk among yourselves in the comments section.  How many people out there are still reading this regularly?  I see lots of people arriving through Google and mostly just going through The Warrior’s Apprentice and no farther.  Where’d you first start reading Bujold’s books?  Who would you cast in the movies?  That sort of thing.

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