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Archive for March, 2013

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.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

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.

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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.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

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.

Comments

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!

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The Vorkosigan Saga Reread continues this week with two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mirror Dance, of somewhat unequal lengths, though trust me, you wouldn’t necessarily want Chapter Twenty-Six to be any longer.  Miles and Mark have to deal with having fallen into the clutches of Jacksonian Barons, with little more than their brains to help them.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Miles keeps circling the room he and Rowan are confined in, tapping on the walls and talking about breaking through them; Rowan tells him to sit still and stop driving him crazy, and that they should just wait for Lilly to rescue them.  Their room is only a guest room, not a prison cell, with no windows, but Miles can’t tell whether it’s underground or not.  There are two guards outside their room, who resisted being lured in even when Miles had a real seizure.  Miles says it’s a soldier’s duty to escape, and Rowan counters that she’s not a soldier, and Vasa Luigi doesn’t seem to be planning to kill either of them.  Miles tells her, not for the first time, that she should have crashed the lightflyer.  Just then one of the guards opens the door and invites them to attend upon the Baron and Baronne Bharaputra for dinner.

The Baronne is, of course, the former Lotus Durona; Rowan refuses her offered hand.  The girl who serves them at dinner also has the Durona look, and is startled to see Rowan there; she is obviously the replacement clone.  Lotus calls her “Lilly”, which outrages Rowan.  Lotus counters that she is choosing life over death, and Rowan just hasn’t reached the age where she’ll have to make that choice yet.

“Lilly loved you as a daughter.”

“Lilly used me as her servant. Love?” The Baronne chuckled. “It’s not love that keeps the Durona herd together. It’s predator pressure. If all the exterior economic and other dangers were removed, the far corners of the wormhole nexus would not be far enough for us to get away from our dear sibs. Most families are like that, actually.”

The Baron takes that opportunity to offer Rowan a position at House Bharaputra, where her skills could earn her a good position.  Rowan refuses, and Lotus seems relieved.  Miles interrupts to ask about Ryoval and his clone, but the Baron says that he thinks Miles himself is the Admiral; after all, the other clone was being ordered around by his “bodyguard”.  Miles asks what Ryoval will do to him.

“Really, Vasa, this is not dinner conversation,” reproved the Baronne. She glanced curiously at him. “Besides—why should you care?”

” ‘Miles, what have you done with your baby brother?’ ” The quote came from nowhere, fell out of his mouth. He touched his lips uncertainly. Rowan stared at him. So did Lotus.

Bharaputra says that if Ryoval has figured out that he doesn’t have the Admiral, he won’t do much, and otherwise, he’ll be experimenting to find his prey’s weaknesses.  This doesn’t sound so bad, until the Baron goes on to tell the story of a man who’d tried to assassinate Ryoval and ended up a faithful servant, offering himself up to his master’s guests.  When Miles asks, the Baron admits that he hasn’t ruled out selling Miles to Ryoval, after the costly assault on his house made by his clone (with or without Admiral Naismith’s collusion), though he himself doesn’t see the point in revenge on a cryo-amnesic.

Lilly re-enters, and the Baronne seems displeased at how Vasa Luigi’s eyes follow her.  Miles suggests the Dendarii be allowed to bid for him, thinking to himself that they’ll mount a rescue if they can find out where he is.  The Baron says the Dendarii don’t seem to actually be on Jackson’s Whole, except for the tiny covert ops team who showed up at the Duronas.  He suspects there are other bidders in the game who haven’t revealed themselves yet, and he’d rather that “negative bidders” go knocking on Ryoval’s door instead.  He asks what Lilly Durona’s interest is in Miles and his revival, and Rowan deflects the question into more technical medical territory, which diverts Lotus and Rowan for some time, until the meal is served.

After dinner, they are escorted back to their chamber, one of a number of identical guest rooms, and he asks Rowan if she can tell where they are.  She says it’s not Bharaputra’s headquarters, which is under renovation after some recent commando raid.  He tells her that his new plan is to try to get a message out and encourage someone to rescue them.  He asks her about the Great Houses, and she tells him that House Fell is more powerful than Bharaputra or Ryoval, and he concludes that they would thus make a better ally against them.  He tells Rowan they need to call Baron Fell, or somebody, to let them know where he and Rowan are being held.  Rowan says she’d rather call Lilly, but Miles thinks to himself that Lilly doesn’t have the power to break them out.

He wandered into the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror. _Who am I?_ A skinny, haggard, pale, odd-looking little man with desperate eyes and a tendency to convulsions. If he could even decide which one his clone-twin was, glimpsed so painfully yesterday, he could dub himself the other by process of elimination. The fellow had looked like Naismith to him. But Vasa Luigi was no fool, and Vasa Luigi was convinced of the reverse. He had to be one or the other. Why couldn’t he decide? If I am Naismith, why did my brother claim my place?

At that moment, he discovered why it was called a cascade.

The sensation was of being under a waterfall, of some river that emptied a continent, tons of water battering him to his knees. He emitted a tiny mewl, crouching down with his arms wrapping his head, shooting pains behind his eyes and terror locking his throat. He pressed his lips together to prevent any other sound escaping, that would attract Rowan in all her concern. He needed to be alone for this, oh yes.

No wonder I couldn’t guess. I was trying to choose between two wrong answers. Oh, Mother. Oh, Da. Oh, Sergeant. Your boy has screwed up this one, bad. Real bad. Lieutenant Lord Miles Naismith Vorkosigan crawled on the tiled floor and screamed in silence, just a faint hiss. No, no, no, oh, shit. . . .

He tries to re-evaluate recent events in light of his recovered memories.  He’s surprised that Mark had seemed so controlled and determined as Admiral Naismith, and he winces at how his amnesiac response must have hurt Elli.  He tries to recall his death–something to do with that commando raid on Bharaputra, and how he wanted to rescue Mark and show him the right way to do it.  He wonders what his mother knows about all this, how long he’s been dead, and where ImpSec is–apart from himself, of course.  He compares Rowan to Elli and decides their similarities may have been why he was attracted to her in the first place.

Lilly had told him that the Dendarii had escaped, so why are they back–even Taura, who might be on Ryoval’s revenge list herself?  Obviously, they’re here to rescue Miles himself, but they had the bad luck to run into Ryoval on the way.  He almost wishes he still couldn’t remember any of this.  Thinking of Baron Bharaputra’s earlier comment, he conceals his recovery from Rowan, pretending to be cryo-amnesic still, and wonders what he’s going to do next.

Comments

Some interesting undercurrents here–Lotus, the clone Lilly, and Vasa Luigi seem to be on the verge of becoming a triangle.  Does Lotus worry that the Baron will be unable to keep his hands off of Lilly until Lotus is inside her body, or that he’ll somehow decide to sabotage her transplant and let the young, more easily manipulated clone live instead?  Surely not–Lotus’s skills are presumably still invaluable to House Bharaputra.  Lotus doesn’t seem that old, compared to Lilly–mostly gray hair, a few wrinkles–but I guess she doesn’t want to get as decrepit as her clone-mother before reclaiming her youth.  Her opinions on families are, of course, highly coloured by her own experiences, and I wonder how she accounts for Miles and Mark’s attempts to rescue each other…

And finally, Miles regains his memory, and has to pretend he still hasn’t.  Especially since Rowan is no longer a devoted ally, but somewhat weary of him, with diverging goals, and the wrong instincts.  Or, at least, her instincts aren’t likely to lead to the best outcome for Miles himself any more.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Mark remains under the tortures of Baron Ryoval, and his personality fragments under the pressure, into Gorge, Grunt, and Howl, and a nameless other figure.

He let Gorge go out to handle the force-feedings, because Gorge was the only one who actually enjoyed them. Gorge, after all, would never have been permitted to do all that Ryoval’s techs did. Grunt he sent forth when Ryoval came again with the hypospray of aphrodisiac. Grunt had also been responsible for the attack on Maree, the body-sculptured clone, he rather thought, though Grunt, when not all excited, was very shy and ashamed and didn’t talk much.

Having named them all, he finally found Mark by process of elimination. Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other had sent Lord Mark deep inside, to sleep through it all. Poor, fragile Lord Mark, barely twelve weeks old.

Ryoval could not even see Lord Mark down in there. Could not reach him. Could not touch him. Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other were all very careful not to wake the baby. Tender and protective, they defended him. They were equipped to. An ugly, grotty, hard-bitten bunch, these psychic mercenaries of his. Unlovely. But they got the job done.

Comments

I quoted about half the chapter up there–it’s very brief, and very stark as a result.  Bujold has provided pretty all the torture porn that she’s planned to, so all we get to see is what happens to Mark on the inside.  Last I heard (though these things change) this was called “dissociative personality disorder” rather than “multiple” personality, and certainly not schizophrenia, which is something quite different.  It’s not that other personalities are actually appearing, more that aspects of the existing one are beginning to put up boundaries and establish separate identities.  A few years ago I read a book called When Rabbit Howls by Truddi Chase–or, rather, by “The Troops for Truddi Chase”.  Truddi herself was described as a dormant, protected personality somewhat like Lord Mark, with “The Troops” as her own gang of personality splinters.

It’s horrifying to see Mark unravel like this, but this is, at its heart, a defensive mechanism on the part of the mind.  Mark had identity problems enough before this, of course, but when he was just beginning to establish his “Lord Mark” personality, he gets thrown into the deep end.  Is this anything like the result that Ryoval was hoping for?  Perhaps not, since in some ways it’s a bait-and-switch–his real target is being protected, his personality fragments running interference for him–but perhaps having driven him so far is a victory in itself.  At least things can’t get any worse for Mark and his gang from here…


So you did get two chapters this week, even if one was just an itty-bitty one.  With any luck, there’ll be two more next week, probably closer to normal length, and there’s still seven left, ample time for the climax and some denouement.  Until next week, then.

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What’s that, emerging from underneath that big pile of cardboard boxes?  Why, it looks like another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, a little dusty, but mostly intact.  It even covers two chapters of Mirror Dance, the joint story of clone-brothers Mark and Miles Vorkosigan–will wonders never cease?  You’ve been waiting long enough, so here it is:

Chapter Twenty-Three

Miles spends three days of loveplay with Rowan, until the afternoon where Rowan leaves him alone but, unknown to her, awake.  Deciding that “out” seems to be too dangerous, he instead sets himself to explore within, to try to find the mysterious Lilly.  Jacksonian leaders seem to live in bunkers (like Ryoval, he thinks, with vague associations of a sub-basement) or towers (like Fell, in orbit); since he was already down, he decides to go up.

He gets dressed, slips out into the hallway, then up to the top floor.  There is another lift-tube going up, with a Durona-only palm lock, along with a spiral staircase that Miles perforce takes instead.  At the top he regains his breath, knocks, and tells the boy who answers that he wants to see his grandmother.  A woman’s voice calls him inside, and the boy, Robin, lets him in.

A shrunken old women sits inside, her long white hair being brushed by a young girl.  Miles sees a hundred years in her eyes and is sure that this is Lilly.  She tells him to sit down and sends the girl, Violet, to get tea, and Robin to get Rowan.  Miles sits.

Her vowels had a vibrato of age, but her diction, containing them, was perfect. “Have you come to yourself, sir?” she inquired.

“No, ma’am,” he said sadly. “Only to you.” He thought carefully about how to phrase his question. Lilly would not be any less medically careful than Rowan about yielding him clues. “Why can’t you identify me?”

Her white brows rose. “Well-put. You are ready for an answer, I think. Ah.”

Rowan appear in the lift tube, apologizing for leaving him unattended, and Lilly reassures her that it’s all right.  Rowan pours the tea, and then Miles asks for answers.  Lilly says it’s time to tell him a story of three brothers, just like in a fairy tale–the original and his two clones.  The eldest was born into a rich and powerful family, with a title and a father with power and influence.  His enemies tried to strike at the father through his son, and cause the two clones to be created.  She pauses to ask him if any names are springing to mind, but Miles says no, so she adds more details.

She says Miles Vorkosigan is the original, his first clone was made by House Bharaputra for Komarrans, and then escaped; Miles remembers Galen, who Lilly confirms was the leader of the Komarrans.  The other clone’s origins are more obscure, though the Cetagandans are the best guess; he appeared suddenly a decade earlier with a mercenary fleet and proclaimed himself Admiral Miles Naismith, and has certainly gone on to disoblige himself to the Cetagandans.  Lilly tells Miles that he is probably one of the two clones.

Miles asks why, when he arrived there in his frozen state, they went to such trouble with him, since clones can’t be that much of a novelty.  Lilly tells him how Bharaputra’s clone returned three months earlier, pretending to be Naismith, with a mercenary crew, and attached the clone-creche.  Naismith himself followed after, and in the ensuing battle one of them ended up dead; the other escaped, with the Dendarii, the clones and a captive Vasa Luigi, though they posted a reward for the recovery of the cryo-chamber with the dead clone’s remains.  The Dendarii claimed that the dead clone was the Bharaputran one, but Baron Bharaputra is convinced that Naismith was the one who actually died.  She adds that Baron Fell won’t even guess, and Ryoval would go to great lengths for the mere chance to get back at Admiral Naismith.

Miles finds the story familiar, but distant, like something he heard once, and discovers he’s starting to get a headache.  He asks about medical records, but they only have the Bharaputran clone’s, and only until the Komarrans took him, and no information on the other one.  Rowan tells them that half of his bones are plastic, and the rest have old breaks, and she’d have guessed him older than either of the clones, or even Lord Vorkosigan.  His memories are ambiguous–his knowledge of weapons could suit the Admiral, or the Bharaputran’s assassin training, and his memories of Galen and maple trees point to Earth and the Komarrans.

Miles asks why they revived him, rather than just turning him over to the Dendarii, or Baron Ryoval.  Lilly says she has bad blood with Baron Ryoval, and they haven’t ruled out dealing with the Dendarii, but they need to know who he is first.  She tells him how Naismith and the Dendarii got Dr. Canaba off the planet and successfully disappeared him, and says she wants them to do the same for the Duronas; Baron Fell is aging and soon their initial Deal with him will be over, and they’ll be in a much less desirable situation.  If he’s Naismith, then they’ll be in a good bargaining position, and if he’s the other they might be able to work out a ransom deal, but if he doesn’t remember either of them, he’s worth nothing to them.  With that implicit threat, they head back to Rowan’s room.

When they’re alone, Rowan asks him if any of that sounded familiar; Miles says that all of it does, but he doesn’t think he has the skills to get the Duronas off of Jackson’s Whole.  Rowan says his speech is improving rapidly, and she thinks he’s close to memory-cascade.  He says he remembers Galen and Earth, and asks what the clone’s name is; Rowan says she doesn’t know, and Miles says that he thinks Admiral Naismith’s name should be Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, but doesn’t know why.  He tries to conjure up a childhood raised by Cetagandans and then escaping from them, but nothing comes up.

Miles asks what they’ll do with him if he’s the wrong clone; Rowan says he’ll need to make his own way off of Jackson’s Whole, with the Bharaputrans looking for him, but she’ll try to help him, even though she’s reluctant to act apart from the rest of the clan.  She did spend time on Escobar taking her cryo-revival course, and she wonders how it would be to be on her own or part of a couple, like Lotus (the one who married into House Bharaputra).

He eyed her. “Were you ordered to sleep with me?” he asked suddenly.

She flinched. “No.” She paced again. “But I did ask permission. Lilly said to go ahead, it might help attach you to our interests.” She paused. “Does that seem terribly cold, to you?”

“On Jackson’s Whole—merely prudent.” And attachments surely ran two ways. Jackson’s Whole was no place to be alone. But you can’t trust anyone.

If anyone was sane here, he swore it was by accident.

Miles can now read for up to ten minutes before blinding headaches, which he does, with short breaks in between.  He studies up on the Great Houses of Jackson’s Whole, many of whom seem familiar to him; he thinks that Durona is on its way to becoming a House Minor on its own, budding off from House Fell.  But he still can’t manage to dredge up Admiral Naismith’s past, or the unknown clones either.  He wonders who the “Gran’da” from his memories is.  He decides to spend some time researching Miles Vorkosigan, something both clones must also have been familiar with, and starts with a general history of Barrayar.  It all seems achingly familiar, but all too soon he has to stop again.  He considers asking for another dose of fast-penta, in case it does jar something loose.  Rowan comes in and says that Lilly wants him upstairs.

“All right—” He made to rise, but she stopped him.

She kissed him. It was a long, long kiss, which at first delighted and then worried him. He broke away to ask, “Rowan, what’s the matter?”

” . . . I think I love you.”

“This is a problem?”

“Only my problem.” She managed a brief, unhappy smile. “I’ll handle it.”

She takes him up to Lilly’s penthouse, where Hawk is also present, looking more like a guard than an attendant.  Three strangers are also there–two women (one of them identified as “Bel”), and a short man who looks like him.  He’s wearing a military uniform, so Miles identifies him as Admiral Naismith, stocky and squared-off.  Unfortunately, he realizes that this means he’s the wrong clone after all.  One of the women says she recognizes Miles, but he has to admit he doesn’t know her.  Lilly tells them that he’s obviously alive and well, and they need to discuss the price.  Naismith says they’ll pay anything; the other women adds “within reason”, and wonders how good the revival job was, with his obvious problems.  Rowan breaks into say that the prep may have been botched, but he’s recovering quickly, pushing himself almost too hard, before Lilly shushes her.

She mentions the price, retelling the story of Dr. Canaba and his rescue from Jackson’s Whole, mentioning the Marilacan prisoner rescue as well.  Naismith says he will certainly be able to get the Duronas offplanet, once he makes contact with his backup, and Lilly says that once the extraction has been arranged, he can have his clone-brother.  They protest that they’d hoped to take him today, but Lilly says she prefers to hold on to her only bargaining chip, since she can’t give him half a clone in advance.  Naismith points out that also leaves her the freedom to auction him to other bidders, which he warns her not to try; Lilly says that only they can provide what she wants, too.

For a Jacksonian, this was bending over backward to encourage. Take it, close the deal! he thought, then wondered why. What did these people want him for? Outside, a gust of wind whipped the snowfall to a blinding, whirling curtain. It ticked on the windows.

It ticked on the windows. . . .

Lilly was the next to be aware, her dark eyes widening. No one else had noticed yet, the cessation of that silent glitter. Her startled gaze met his, as his head turned back from his first stare outward, and her lips parted for speech.

The window burst inward.

Pellets of safety glass bombard them, and Hawk and the mercenary women leap into action as a big aircar appears outside the window.  Four troops in biotainment gear leap into the room, and they seem to be shielded from Hawk’s stunner.  Someone named Elena calls on the mercenary Quinn’s radio, asking if she wants backup, which Quinn does, as she dodges stunner beams.  Hawk is stunned himself, and the troopers try to decide which of the two clones is their target, Naismith.  They decide to take them both, but Miles and Rowan dive into the lift-tube, just in time to see Naismith and the two Dendarii women stunned.

Once they reach the bottom of the lift-tube, Miles asks Rowan where the generators are, so they can turn the force-shield on and try to keep the kidnappers from leaving.  Other Duronas appear, and House Fell guards head toward the penthouse, but Miles tries to avoid them; he wonders who it was who turned off the force-screen in the first place, and Rowan says that it’s House Fell’s responsibility.  Miles peers out a window and sees more House Fell guards running around, trying to decide what to do about the aircar; as he watches, the troopers jump back aboard, carrying Naismith, and it departs.

Rowan tries to pull him away from the window, as a Dendarii civilian aircar lifts and tries to force the other aircar down, ending up crashing itself for its pains.  Miles thinks they have a good idea, and asks Rowan if there are any Durona aircars they can use.  The building is crawling with security now, though, and Miles wonders how he can get through unnoticed.  He tells Rowan to carry him out, getting Dr. Chrys to take his feet, to get him through the crowd and to the exit.  She obliges, and Miles runs for the outer door, wincing as the Fell guards fire a rocket launcher at the armoured aircar, which luckily doesn’t take it down.

“Take me to the biggest, fastest thing you can make go,” he gasped to Rowan. “We can’t let them get away.” We can’t let Fell’s men blow it up, either. “Hurry!”

“Why?”

“Those goons just kidnapped my, my . . . brother,” he panted. “Gotta follow. Bring ’em down if we can, follow if we can’t. The Dendarii must have reinforcements of some kind, if we don’t lose them. Or Fell. Lilly’s his, his liegewoman, isn’t she? He has to respond. Or _someone_ does.” He was shivering violently. “Lose ’em and we’ll never get ’em back. They’re figuring on it.”

“What the hell would we do if we caught them?” Rowan objected. “They just tried to kidnap you, and you want to run after them? That’s a job for security!”

As Miles tries to protest, his consciousness vanishes into another seizure, and he awakens to Dr. Chrys injecting him, back inside the building, only a minute or so later.  Lilly arrives and tells Rowan to get him out of there, since Baron Fell is going to be on the scene himself soon and they don’t want him to find the clone; they’ll hide the evidence and pretend he was never there.  She orders Rowan to take him someplace random, not one of their properties, and hide out with him there, calling only on secured lines.  Rowan obeys, taking a still-wobbly Miles into the underground clinic and out through a concealed tunnel into an underground parking garage where Rowan explains they sometimes have to smuggle things in or out.

As they get into an innocuous lightflyer, Miles protests that they have to go after Admiral Naismith, but Rowan says that he’s got all the Dendarii to look for him, and Lilly wants him back too.  Miles thinks miserably that he himself has no value except to Vasa Luigi, for things he doesn’t even remember doing.  He wonders out loud what resources the Dendarii have, what backup he has, and Rowan tells him not to worry about it.

The aircar’s lights go out, and it begins to drop; they’re being drained and forced down by another vehicle.  Miles urges Rowan to crash the aircar, make a big splash that can’t help but be noticed, and she just tells him he’s crazy and manages to set it down safely.  Before Miles can do anything else they’re surrounded by troopers, but not the same as those as attacked the clinic.  They handcuff him, Rowan protesting that they shouldn’t hurt her patient.

Another big man crunched through the snow. He pushed back his hood, and shone a hand light upon the captives. He appeared about forty-standard, with a craggy face, olive brown skin, and dark hair stripped back in a simple knot. His eyes were bright and very alert. His black brows bent in puzzlement, as he stared at his prey.

“Open his shirt,” he told one of the guards.

The guard did so; the craggy man shone the hand-light on the spray of scars. His lips drew back in a white grin. Suddenly, he threw back his head and laughed out loud. The echoes of his voice lost themselves in the empty winter twilight. “Ry, you fool! I wonder how long it will take you to figure it out?”

“Baron Bharaputra,” Rowan said in a thin voice.

Vasa Luigi “invites” them both to join him; Rowan says that he hasn’t regained his memory yet, but Bharaputra says that he only wants him as a bargaining chip.

Comments

I was confused at first about the identity of the two Dendarii women in the penthouse, since one of them was described as “graying”, which doesn’t sound like Elli or Elena, but then it turns out to be Bel.  Interesting that Miles sees Bel as female in this circumstance, not recognizing it as a hermaphrodite.  I guess the breasts are more visible than the penis…

It’s also interesting to see the Miles-clone story from the outside, where the existence of Lord Vorkosigan and his two clones is taken as truth.  Lord Vorkosigan has no reputation at all offplanet, and perhaps the scene near the end of Brothers In Arms is taken to be conclusive proof that he’s separate from Admiral Naismith.  Now the other clone showing up and pretending to Admiral Naismith must obviously be a third one, and besides, “Mark” has a verifiable past, from the Bharaputrans and the Komarrans.  Miles’s real identity, nobody believes…  Bharaputra “knows” that Miles isn’t Admiral Naismith, because of the chest scars, so therefore he must be the other clone…

I’d forgotten that Miles fell into the hands of Bharaputra at the same time that Mark fell into Ryoval’s (see below).  But now that I’ve been reminded, I kind of remember what happens.  The classic scene in this chapter, of course, is Miles trying to get Rowan to crash the flyer, and her refusing–the first sign that they’re not compatible for a long-term relationship after all.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Mark awakens from stun just enough to hear two voices arguing about whether to give him synergine; they decide to do it just to keep him from throwing up all over the aircar.  After that, he begins to recover, and notices that they switch vehicles at least three more times, then onto a larger vehicle, and then they go through decontamination.  And then he’s handed over to House Ryoval guardsmen, who put him into another lightflyer.

Miles is alive. The relief of that fact was so intense, he smiled in elation even with his face squashed into the sticky plastic seat. What a joyful sight the skinny little bugger had been! Upright and breathing. He’d almost wept. What he’d done, was undone. He could really be Lord Mark, now. All my sins are taken from me.

As long as he regains his memory, of course–he didn’t even recognize Quinn.  Mark is mostly just annoyed at Ryoval, for making a stupid mistake and getting the wrong man, but is confident that ImpSec will deal with him soon enough.

He’s offloaded in an underground garage, passed through security and then stripped.  He can’t figure out where he is–not a bordello, or a prison, smelling medical but not fancy enough for paying customers, too secret to be for the production of commercial slaves.  He’s still more worried about Ryoval’s troopers’ fates once the Baron discovers their goof than about himself.  Miles and the Dendarii seem to have escaped capture, so they or ImpSec can rescue him.

He’s brought before the Baron himself in private quarters, and he remembers the recording he’d seen of Ryoval’s messages to Miles, the promises of vengeance made there.  He sees that the Baron is wearing a young, obviously cloned body, which enrages him.  Ryoval tells the guards to leave him alone, and stares at Mark, visions of his vengeance seeming to dance in his head.  He tells the “Admiral” that he’s put on weight, and he’s glad, on the whole, that “Naismith” didn’t die in one of his mercenary actions, because he’s been planning “Naismith”‘s fate for four years now.  Mark realizes he has no clue that he’s not the Admiral Naismith he tangled with before.  At least it’s not amnesic Miles in this position, he decides.

After inspecting Mark, Ryoval declares that rather than starve him, as he’d originally planned, he’ll try force-feeding instead.  Mark tries to tell him that he’s got the wrong clone, but Ryoval is convinced that the Bharaputran clone was the one at House Durona, which he’s been watching closely because he knew Naismith would come for him.  He’s not quite sure why, speculating that Naismith and the clone might be lovers.  Mark tells him to do the scans and prove he’s telling the truth, but Ryoval says that it’s pointless, if even the Duronas couldn’t tell for sure.  Mark insists that he’s not Naismith, and Ryoval says that, in that case, he’ll practice on him for when the real Naismith comes along.

Ryoval summons his guards, who start beating Mark, who screams obligingly, but they don’t even break any bones.  They lock him in a tiny, cold room, where he tries to console himself that Ryoval will keep him alive, and relatively unharmed, as long as possible, to make the tortures last longer.  If he survives long enough, ImpSec will find him.  Mark will be able to resist the humiliations that may have broken Miles, he tells himself.

The technicians come for him and strap him down to force-feed him, a “repulsive high-calorie sludge” filled with anti-emetics so he can’t even vomit it up.  It must be something standard that Ryoval keeps on hand, for people who’ve taken his compulsive overeating to even higher levels.

Ryoval had stripped his very own rebellion of all its secret pleasure. The one somatic power that had been his call, his control, taken from him. Ryoval had hooked him, gotten under his skin. Way under.

After he’s given some time to assimilar that, he’s given a strong aphrodisiac and given to guards, or bordello employees, he can’t tell, drugged into his own degradation with cameras recording it from every angle.  Afterwards he realizes that at least it’s overcome his performance problems from the shock-stick incident.  Ryoval was watching, and studying, the whole time, watching for reactions and signs of weakness and vulnerability.  This is just a preamble to the real torture to come, the Baron learning his parameters.  His only clock is the every-three-hours force-feedings.

Suddenly, he saw what was coming, all whole. First, Ryoval would condition him to this, addict him by repeated doses. Only then would he add pain, and pin him, vibrating, between pain and pleasure; require him to torture himself, to win through to the dark reward. And then he would withdraw the drug and let Mark, conditioned to the scenarios, continue. And he would. And then Ryoval would offer him his freedom. And he would weep and beg to stay, plead to remain a slave. Destruction by seduction. End-game. Revenge complete.

Next they use special solvents to flay him, dissolving his skin but leaving the nerves intact, and then leaving him in his little cell with his pain from everything he touches, standing upright until he collapses.  He’s survived the first day, though.  He thinks that he would already have told them any information they asked for, but they’re not torturing him for interrogation purposes, just for torture itself.  They don’t even care what he knows.

I wanted to be Lord Mark. I just wanted to be Lord Mark. Was that so bad? He still wanted to be Lord Mark. He’d almost had it, brushing his grasp. Ripped away. He wept for it, hot tears splashing like molten lead on his not-skin. He could feel Lord Mark slipping from him, racked apart, buried alive. Disintegrating. I just wanted to be human. Screwed up again.

Comments

Yikes.  This is a disturbing chapter to read.  Then again, I’ve always been fascinated by stories like Piers Anthony’s “On The Uses of Torture”, so maybe I’m just a little twisted, because it doesn’t make me put the book down or anything.  I just keep reading.

Mark starts out, and to some extent remains, convinced that he’s won just by finding Miles alive, and keeping him out of Ryoval’s clutches.  He’s redeemed his earlier mistake by leading the Dendarii to Miles, and whatever else happens to him doesn’t matter.  But Ryoval, intent on getting under his skin (literally–ugh), is not so easily dismissed.  He’s definitely on the far side of crazy, perhaps even by Jackson’s Whole standards, and he doesn’t even seem to care if he’s got the right clone or not.  The way they’ve hopelessly muddied the waters on who’s who, they shouldn’t be surprised if people guess wrongly.  (As Mark realizes, Admiral Naismith doesn’t even exist, so Ryoval wants revenge on a phantom.)  Still, he does have different strengths than Miles, and this is where he really gets to find them, because everything else gets stripped away.


Sorry to keep you all in suspense for so long.  Packing, and moving, and unpacking, provided me with excuses for not working on the Reread even when it wasn’t actually depriving me of time, or access to my computer, or energy and motivation.  I had done about a third of Chapter Twenty-Three before the move, and luckily managed to get all of that and the second (much shorter) chapter done this week.  Wednesdays are definitely better, I’d have to say.

There are nine more chapters left, but it’s too soon for me to know how they’re going to fall out.  Chapter Twenty-Six is extremely short, but I hesitate to promise three chapters for next week; I’m more likely to just call it an easy week and leave another singleton for later.  But I can see Memory on the horizon, which will be another challenge, as the first I don’t have in digital format…but perhaps my favourite in the entire series.

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