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.
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.
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.
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.
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.