When so much in your world is changing, isn’t it nice to know that you can always rely on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread? Even if I missed a few weeks in there, and changed what day I post…eventually there will be another installment in the blog devoted to a loving examination of Lois McMaster Bujold’s saga of the Vorkosigans. For instance, this week I happened to do two more chapters in Mirror Dance, which follows Miles Vorkosigan and his clone-brother Mark (mostly Mark) through misadventures in and around the planet of Jackson’s Whole.
Miles and Rowan’s relationship continues to deteriorate in their shared confinement–she withdraws from interaction with him, and he keeps pacing and talking, trying to come up with an escape plan. He admits that, with his memory back, he’s a little more reserved towards her. They’ve been locked up for about four days, judging by meal frequency, and haven’t seen any more of the Baron; Miles wonders what his plans are, and if he’s been auctioned off yet. Miles resolves to try something the next time their meal is brought.
The lock clicked. He spun, poised to dart forward. “Rowan, get up!” he hissed. “I’m going to try for it.”
“Oh, hell,” she moaned, emerging. Without faith, brow-beaten, she rose and trudged around the bed to stand by his side. “Stunning hurts, you know. And then you throw up. You’ll probably have convulsions.”
“Yes. I know.”
“But at least it’ll shut you up for a while,” she muttered under her breath.
Miles is surprised, though, when the servant with the food turns out to be Lilly Durona the younger. Rowan approaches her, while Miles considers their options. Rowan is bad at picking up his cues, but he can hope she’ll follow his lead. He starts by pointing out how similar Rowan and Lilly look, then asks Lilly why she’s the one serving them. Lilly says she doesn’t know what to make of Rowan; she denies that the Baronne sent her, but she told the guards that the Baronne wanted her to watch them eat drugged food. Miles explains about Rowan and her relation to Lilly, and asks Rowan to tell her about the Duronas, though it takes him some time to settle down and let her talk. Rowan asks Lilly if she knows about the brain transplanet, and Lilly says she does, and insists it’s her destiny to be united with her Lady, but Miles senses the faintest hint of doubt.
Miles wonders idly if they could wear each other’s clothes, then decides Lilly is probably too fat; to prove him wrong, Lilly insists on trying on Rowan’s clothes, which Rowan grudgingly assents to. Once Lilly gets Rowan’s clothes on, they admit they were wrong, and Rowan tells Lilly to go look at herself in the mirror. Miles accompanies her, while behind them Rowan puts on Lilly’s clothes and fixes her hair to match, then is let out of the room by the guards.
In the bathroom, as Miles tries to distract Lilly, she brings up the clone rescue, and asks if he was their rescuer. He hedges, still pretending to cryo-amnesia, saying it might have been him or his clone-twin. Miles shows her the scars on his chest, and she’s convinced that he actually was killed. She asks him about being dead, and he says he doesn’t remember much, but he does get a couple of flashes of memory. He tells her she wouldn’t like it much, that being alive is better.
He kisses her, to show her the human contact that comes with being alive, and she comments that the Baron’s kissed her too. The Baron seems to have been sampling her body already, though leaving her virginity intact, secure in the knowledge that her memories will disappear with her brain. She is due to move back to the clone-creche when it’s completed. Suddenly suspicious, she checks the bedroom and is dismayed to find Rowan gone. Miles tells her that if she just keeps quiet about it, she won’t get in trouble, and that Rowan will probably be back soon. He cajoles her into telling her about her life, what little there is of it, mostly sheltered except for the excitement of her capture/rescue by the Dendarii.
Eventually Lilly realizes that Rowan isn’t coming back after all, and Miles says she probably got away clean, or else they would have brought her back, or least come to fetch Lilly. If anything, they might think that Lilly has gone missing. Miles reassures her that Rowan probably wouldn’t have ended up taking Lilly’s place at the brain transplant, because closer inspection would reveal their differences. Lilly is still upset, and Miles tells her that when they find out she can just tell them that he tricked her into staying.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “You are so beautiful . . . on the inside. You deserve to live. Not be eaten by that old woman.”
“My lady is a great woman,” she said sturdily. “She deserves to live more.”
What kind of twisted ethics drove Lotus Durona, to make of this girl an imitation-willing sacrifice? Who did Lotus think she was fooling? Only herself, apparently.
Lilly decides she wants to try kissing again, but after a while she comments that it’s different from that the Baron likes to do…she undoes Miles’s pants and starts to show him, but he pulls away, and she doesn’t understand why.
“Just exactly so.” She was a child, despite her grown-up body, he was increasingly certain of it. “When you are older . . . you will find your own boundaries. And you can invite people across them as you choose. Right now you scarcely know where you leave off and the world begins. Desire should flow from within, not be imposed from without.” He tried to choke off his own flow by sheer will-power, half-successfully. Vasa Luigi, you scum.
She frowned thoughtfully. “I’m not going to be older.”
He remembers his first encounter with Taura, which may be subconsciously influencing his decisions, and assures himself that it’s a different situation, because Taura’s fighting for more life, while Lilly is trying to throw hers away. He asks her if she wants to live, and when she is uncertain, he tells her all the things that he has to live for, even an “ugly little man” like himself–family, even his clone-brother Mark.
He talks her into going to sleep, on the bed, while he tries to sleep in a chair, and on the floor, but both are too uncomfortable, and he curls up on top of the covers next to her instead. In the morning, he drowsily embraces her before she wakes up and pushes him away. There’s a knock on the door, and he urges her into the bathroom, so they can keep the charade going. After the breakfast is delivered, she emerges, and Miles tries to convince her that she can have sugar and sweet things with her breakfast.
“I mustn’t get fat. My lady is my destiny.”
“Destiny! What do you know about destiny?” He rose and began to pace, zig-zagging around bed and table. “I’m a frigging expert on destiny. Your lady is a false destiny, and do you know how I know? She takes everything, but she doesn’t give anything back.
“Real destiny takes everything—the last drop of blood, and strip out your veins to be sure—and gives it back doubled. Quadrupled. A thousand-fold! But you can’t give halves. You have to give it all. I know. I swear. I’ve come back from the dead to speak the truth to you. Real destiny gives you a mountain of life, and puts you on top of it.”
She tells him he’s crazy, and he says she’s never even met a sane person in her life. He tells her she could go to the Durona Group and they’d take her in in a heartbeat. He tells her that the Baron probably never planned to keep Rowan except to keep Miles’s location from getting out, so once the Baron gets rid of him, she’ll be free to go. She protests that she couldn’t, but he says she just needs to keep her head down and not talk too much; he also points out that she could tell people where he is, and who took him. She escaped from the Dendarii, after all; she just needs to do it for herself instead of her Lady. He attempts to fix up her hair in Rowan’s sloppy manner, and after lunch the guards come for him.
Another man tells “Rowan” that he’s her driver, and Lilly asks to be taken home, after giving Miles a parting kiss. Miles tries to escape twice, but just ends up being carried upside-down for his trouble. They put him into a groundcar and take him to a transfer point, where he is bound hand and foot and put into a lightflyer in House Ryoval colours.
Rowan, if she’d made it, must send anyone looking for him to Bharaputra’s. Where Miles would not be. Not that he was so sure Vasa Luigi wouldn’t just cheerfully sic them right on to Ryoval.
But if Ryoval’s location was easy to find, they would have found it by now.
By God. I could be the first ImpSec agent on-site. He’d have to be sure and point that out, in his report to Illyan. He had looked forward to making posthumous reports to Illyan. Now he wondered if he was going to live long enough.
Miles’s fast-talk skills come out once again, as he tries, and seemingly even succeeds, in winning Lilly Durona, Jr. over to his cause–or, at least, to her own, rather than Baronne Lotus’s. It’s a lovely conversation, and it might now have worked on anyone much more worldly, but Lilly eats it up…at least, once he’s eroded her confidence in the “destiny” she’s been promised from childhood. Seriously, Oser was the cleverest of Miles’s adversaries, the only one who figured out that you couldn’t afford to let him talk.
At least Rowan cooperated with him to some degree, however tired of each other they were by that point. She probably thought his scheme was ludicrous, but by that point was willing to try anything to get out of there, get home, and get away from him. I can’t remember at this point if they do somehow get the Duronas off of Jackson’s Whole, though at this point it seems unlikely, given their limited resources. Maybe they do manage it, though.
During one of Gorge’s force-feedings, Baron Ryoval comes to visit and the techs tell him that Mark seems to be enjoying his torture. Ryoval speculates on what particular psychological adaptation is at work, but is surprised that it’s manifested already. The tech says that his brain scans are unusual, and in an unusual way, as if parts of them were somehow shielded. Ryoval is interested, and says that he should be able to deal with “Naismith”‘s defenses. Gorge’s stomach begins to grow painful, but he won’t give in to Howl’s proddings; the Other still lurks, but he seems pleased when Ryoval asks them to bring Naismith to his quarters later for a closer examination.
He is brought to Ryoval’s rooms by two guards, his skin still patchy but bandaged up, and they put him in a chair, his hands bound behind his back. They assure Ryoval that he’ll have trouble standing up readily, so he dismisses them and tells them not to interrupt; they obey, with a flat affect that shows they’ve been heavily conditioned.
Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other stared around with interest, wondering whose turn it was going to be next.
You just had your turn, said Howl to Gorge. It’ll be me.
Don’t bet on it, said Grunt. Could be me.
If it weren’t for Gorge, said the Other, grimly, I’d take my turn right now. Now I have to wait.
You’ve never taken a turn, said Gorge curiously. But the Other was silent again.
Ryoval plays a recording of one of Grunt’s sessions of sexplay, which Grunt watches with interest. Ryoval wonders what the response will be if he sends the tape to the Dendarii mercenaries, but the Other is fairly sure that he’s bluffing, still wanting to keep “Naismith”‘s location secret. The Other thinks that Simon Illyan would be an even better target, but he doesn’t speak. Ryoval goes on to describe a potential scenario involving Elli Quinn, which even Grunt and Howl aren’t sure how to deal with, and they contemplate coming up with a new personality for the purpose.
The recording moves on to a torture session, one where Howl was given itching powder after the skin-removal treatment, and he’d scratched himself deeply. He deliberately keeps himself blank, to deprive Ryoval of the pleasure. The Other plans his move, after he’s recovered his breath, since soon Gorge will have made his plans physically impossible. Ryoval wonders out loud how he’ll be able to bring him–or them–back.
Gorge and Grunt ask the Other what will happen to them; the Other promises that Mark will still feed Gorge and Grunt from time to time, possibly on Beta Colony, and Howl deserves a rest anyway. He warns them that they might not like Ryoval’s plans, and they don’t need him to fulfill their needs. Gorge asks how he can make promises for Mark, and the Other says he’s the closest to him. Ryoval would hunt them down anyway, now that he knows they’re there.
Ryoval tells them that he’s bringing them a new friend, his clone-twin. Lord Mark wakes up and screams; the Other pushes him back down. Ryoval says that somehow Vasa Luigi acquired the clone, and he seems to be convinced that Ryoval’s is the clone and not the Admiral, but that won’t matter now that he has them both. He tells them his plans, of which Grunt approves. Ryoval then goes to unwrap his tools, while the Other negotiates with the other personalities to stay out of the way, to give him one chance. Ryoval approaches with a surgical hand-tractor, and says that he’s going to pull out one eye.
Smoothly, Howl gave way. Last of all, reluctantly, Gorge gave way, as Ryoval walked toward them.
Killer’s first attempt to struggle to his feet failed, and he fell back. Damn you, Gorge. He tried again, shifted his weight forward, heaved up, stepped once, half-unbalanced without the use of his arms to save himself. Ryoval watched, highly amused, unalarmed by the waddling little monster he doubtless thought he had created.
Trying to work around Gorge’s new belly was something like being the Blind Zen Archer. But his alignment was absolute.
His first kick took Ryoval in the crotch. This folded him neatly over, and put his upper body within practical range. He flowed instantly into the second kick, striking Ryoval squarely in the throat. He could feel cartilage and tissue crunch all the way back to Ryoval’s spine. Since he was not wearing steel-capped boots this time, it also broke several of his toes, smashed up and down at right angles. He felt no pain. That was Howl’s job.
Killer falls over and tries to get back up, noticing Ryoval rolling around on the carpet clutching at his throat; he can’t use voice-commands on the computer any more, though. He whispers to Ryoval that he was trained as an assassin, and hates being underestimated. Finally he gets to his feet and kicks Ryoval until the Baron’s dead, a long, messy process that even Killer doesn’t enjoy. Finally Mark emerges and praises Killer–originally one of Galen’s creations, he realizes–for his exquisite timing; Killer says he was taking Count Vorkosigan’s advice.
He finds a short-range laser-drill in Ryoval’s kit and uses it to cut open his shackles, though not without extreme difficulty. Then he huddles in pain for a few minutes, before sparing a few thoughts for the poor clone-body that Ryoval had taken over. Fearing the guards may come back in anyway, he uses the laser-drill to ensure that Ryoval’s brain won’t be recoverable. He then waits for a while, in exhaustion, before deciding that the guards really won’t be entering their master’s quarters without orders, not for a long time. It’s almost painful to begin hoping again, and though he blames ImpSec for not having rescued him, he’d forgive them anything if they showed up right then and spared him the work.
Lord Mark takes over and begins to plan their escape. Ryoval must have had a backdoor, so Mark looks around. He considers a shower, but doesn’t want to risk his healing skin, and thinks that at least he won’t have to worry about starving for a while. Finally, in the back of the bedroom closet he finds the emergency exit. Killer says it may be booby-trapped, but Mark says that it’ll be set up to faciliate a quick exit for Ryoval himself. Killer breaks through the palm-lock with the help of Ryoval’s surgical kit, but it requires a further key. Mark reasons that Ryoval would have kept such a key on his person, since he didn’t share any power within his house, and had no trusted subordinates. He searches Ryoval’s body and finally settles on a ring on his right hand, cutting the hand free when he can’t loosen it; a little thought allows him to figure out which way Ryoval-in-a-hurry would orient it, and the door opens on a small lift tube.
Mark examines the tube, while the other personalities urge him to go, but he balks at the lack of a safety ladder. He heads back to Ryoval’s bedroom to find some loose clothes he can stuff himself into, but nothing he can use for a ladder. Instead, he cuts handholds in the side of the tube using the laser drill before turning on the anti-grav field, and climbs as normal, just using the grav field as a boost. His broken foot slows him down, as does having to cut more handholds, but when he reaches a sound pickup and can’t produce a codeword in Ryoval’s voice, the grav field turns off and he almost falls under his suddenly-imposed weight. The rest of the climb is slow and painful, but he reaches the top, disables the outward-facing defenses, and finds Ryoval’s private lightflyer.
Opening the door with Ryoval’s ring, he climbs in, figures out how to open the canopy, and lifts out into a barren, icy wasteland, the facility below completely hidden. He heads east into the sunrise.
The dissociated personality here gets confusing more than once, because sometimes there’s a “he” where it’s not clear if it’s supposed to be the Other/Killer, or Mark (except that they don’t mention him waking up until after Ryoval’s death). Not sure if it’s just an oversight on the author’s part, or what. Luckily, he does seem to be reassimilating the other personalities to some extent, because he is feeling pain by the end, but they don’t disappear right away by any means.
Once again Mark’s supposed haplessness is belied by his assassin training. The earlier scene in Vorbarr Sultana should serve as a reminder, and it’s possible that Ryoval would even know about the assassin trained by Galen, but he severely underestimated Mark’s level of competence. I guess he was still thinking of Mark as “Admiral Naismith”, who was not noted particularly for hand-to-hand fighting ability… Still, reasoning his way past Ryoval’s traps on the way out was all Mark. Though Ryoval himself helped with his lack of delegation, so taking him out was really all that Mark needed to do.
Now, of course, Mark is heading out while Miles is being brought in. I seem to recall that works out not too badly; Mark is really rescuing Miles again, this time in advance, sort of. Leads to a fun conversation later, if nothing else.
After this we’re practically into the denouement, but I guess there’s a lot of knots to untie still–Mark and Miles to be reunited, the Duronas to be dealt with, and Baron Bharaputra, and probably Baron Fell, and it’d be nice if they got back to Barrayar…so still a few chapters, and a few weeks, left. We’re out of the dark zone, at least; from here it gets more triumphant. See you next week!