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:
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!”
“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.
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.
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.
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.