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.
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.
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…
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.
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.