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.
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.
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.
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.
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.