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.
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.
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.
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.