Against all odds, another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread has crawled up out of the depths of the Internet and found its way onto this blog. It has digested two more chapters of Mirror Dance, the 29th and 30th ones, bringing us even closer to the end of the current book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. Let’s see what it’s made of, shall we?
The Ryoval guards bring Miles to the Ryoval facility, but they are disturbed to find doors open, vehicles missing, and guard posts unattended. They let themselves in, and strip Miles as per their orders, but they’re reluctant to do more without further instructions, Ryoval not being supportive of individual initiative. They bring Miles into the facility in search of the Baron, hands still cuffed behind his back. Miles deduces that this is Ryoval’s new research facility, relocated after his raid of a few years earlier.
They reach Ryoval’s office, and again wait several minutes before the guards get the nerve to go inside, though at least they also decide not to beat Miles up while they wait. Finally one of the guards explores a little further, and cries out upon finding Ryoval’s dead body; the other guard brings Miles to join him. Ryoval’s brain has been burned out, and his hand cut off. Miles wonders exactly what type of control Ryoval had over his guards, to have them flawlessly obedient while not complete automata. He concludes that Ryoval must have been a nearly godlike figure for them, and begins to be apprehensive of what they’ll do after his sudden removal.
The senior guard explores the rest of the office and returns to declare Ryoval’s flier gone and his defenses broken down. While they waver in indecision, Miles suggests they look for other survivors and witnesses, maybe even the assassin, while silently wondering about Mark. They argue about what to do with Miles, finally electing to bring him along. In the rest of the facility, they find dead guards and techs, random bloodstains, signs of violence and vandalism. In the lowest level, four of Ryoval’s most extreme experiments, barely even human any more, have been dispatched by some merciful tech. He ascertains none of them was Mark, though he suspects them to have been former Ryoval employees. Seized by inspiration, Miles claims to have seen one of the creatures move.
“Can’t have.” The senior guard stared through the transparent wall at a body which lay with its back to them.
“He couldn’t possibly have witnessed anything from in there, could he?” said Miles. “For God’s sake, don’t open the door.”
“Shut up.” The senior guard chewed his lip, stared at the control virtual, and after an irresolute moment, coded open the door and trod cautiously within.
“Gah!” said Miles.
“What?” snapped the junior guard.
“He moved again. He, he, sort of spasmed.”
Once both guards are in the room, Miles shuts the door and locks them in. When one begins trying to cut his way out with a plasma arc, Miles turns down the oxygen until they pass out. Then he finds some cutters and manages to cut his shackles. He finds no weapons but a laser-scalpel, and heads back through the facility, wishing for some clothes. He wonders if Mark is locked up somewhere, and breaks open every door he can find in a frantic and fruitless search. In the small cell near Ryoval’s quarters, he finds traces of a former occupant, blood and other stains. No Mark, though, so he resolves to find his way out.
He hacks his way past the locks on Ryoval’s comconsole and finally gets access to public channels. He eventually decides to call the Barrayaran consulate, i.e. ImpSec, pretending to be Admiral Naismith, and wonders why they hadn’t come here looking for Mark already. Half an hour later a Lieutenant Iverson comes down with a squad, expressing disbelief that the facility is already secured, and telling Miles they’ve been looking for this place for years. Miles asks after Mark, but Iverson only know about a tip to raid House Bharaputra, obviously placed by Rowan after her escape, but Miles says he’s not there anymore. He asks after the Dendarii, and Iverson says they’re sending a squad as well.
The Dendarii representatives shows up armoured, and Quinn is ecstatic to see Miles himself again, but he addresses her on a professional footing and asks what’s been going on.
She looked slightly overwhelmed. “Since when? When you were killed—”
“Start from five days ago. When you came to the Durona Group.”
“We came looking for you. Found you, after nearly four bleeding months!”
“You were stunned, Mark was taken, and Lilly Durona hustled me and my surgeon off to what she thought was going to be safety,” Miles cued her to the focus he wanted.
She says that at first Lilly Durona wasn’t concerned about his disappearance, but eventually realized that Miles and Rowan hadn’t just gone to ground. ImpSec took some time to work through their pet theory of Cetagandan agents and start focusing on finding Miles and Mark.
“Right. But you suspected Ryoval had Mark.”
“But Ryoval wanted Admiral Naismith. We thought Ryoval would figure out he had the wrong man.”
He ran his hands over his face. His head was aching. And so was his stomach. “Did you ever figure that Ryoval wouldn’t care? In a few minutes, I want you to go down the corridor and look at the cell they kept him in. And smell it. I want you to look closely. In fact, go now. Sergeant Taura, stay.”
Taura tells him that Quinn had no respect for Mark at all, but she herself came to realize that he’d come very close to success with the creche raid, and he was trying very hard when nobody else was trying at all. He asks how they could leave Mark in Ryoval’s clutches for days, and she insists they really did think he’d figure out he had the wrong one. Miles hopes things weren’t as bad as they looked. Once the other Dendarii return, he tells them it’s time to focus on Mark.
Elena asks Miles who he thinks killed Ryoval, noting that it was an unarmed fighter who was also handy with a tool kit, and says she thinks it was Mark. Miles expresses disbelief, but Elena tells him about the fight in Vorbarr Sultana, and notes that he was intended to kill Aral Vorkosigan. Miles realizes that, out of touch as he is, not to mention the seizures and his still-growing organs, he may not be the best choice to be in charge. Elena starts to tell him something else about his father when they’re interrupted by Iverson telling him that Baron Fell has just arrived to collect Ryoval’s body. Miles tells him to let Fell in with one bodyguard, and they’ll talk.
Fell and Miles bandy words for a few minutes; Miles tells Fell how he was brought to the facility and found it pretty much that way. Fell notes that he’s heard from a first-hand source, probably a Ryoval employee who fled to inform him. They go to examine the body; Fell notes the missing hand and laser marks in the head, and says he’d love to find whoever did this and offer them a job.
Just then a call arrives at Ryoval’s private console, which Fell says could only be accessed from outside with the code-key. Miles is flabbergasted to see Mark on the screen, looking fleshly scrubbed but with bruises all over his face; Mark is glad to see Miles come back to himself.
“I’m at Lilly Durona’s. God, Miles. What a place. What a woman. She let me have a bath. She put my skin back on. She fixed my foot. She gave me a hypo of muscle-relaxant for my back. With her own hands, she performed medical services too intimate and disgusting to describe, but very badly needed, I assure you, and held my head while I screamed. Did I mention the bath? I love her, and I want to marry her.”
All this was delivered with such dead-pan enthusiasm, Miles could not tell if Mark was joking. “What are you on?” he asked suspiciously.
“Pain killers. Lots and lots of pain killers. Oh, it’s wonderful!” He favored Miles with a weird broad grin. “But don’t worry, my head is perfectly clear. It’s just the bath. I was holding it together till she gave me the bath. It unmanned me. Do you know what a wonderful thing a bath is, when you’re washing off—never mind.”
Fell leans forward to ask Mark about the code-key, and Mark invites them all to “tea” at Lilly’s, including the ImpSec troops, because his own are too tired. Fell asks if he really knows what he’s doing, and Mark assures them that he does, and wonders why nobody believes him. Fell asks to speak to Lilly, but Mark says he can come along and talk to her directly; Fell agrees. Mark asks if Elena is there, and says he wants a private word with “his armswoman”. Miles is confused by the reference, but allows himself to be ejected. Iverson arranges transport to the Duronas; Elena emerges to say Mark has given her some orders and she’ll have to catch up.
“That was Mark?” Miles muttered, heading reluctantly in the opposite direction. He couldn’t have acquired some other clone-brother while he was dead, could he? “It didn’t sound like Mark. For one thing, he sounded like he was glad to see me. That’s Mark?”
“Oh, yes,” said Quinn. “That was Mark all right.”
He quickened his pace. Even Taura had to lengthen her stride to keep up.
I guess some time passed between Mark’s departure and Miles’s arrival–how long? Hours? A day? Somebody must have finally decided to check on the Baron before all hell broke loose. Looks like it was only Ryoval, his threats and his conditioning that were holding his House together, because it disintegrated pretty quickly after that. And Miles uses his fast-talk ability yet again to disable his enemies–that’s his own variety of unarmed combat.
I’m not sure that Miles, posing as Admiral Naismith, should have been getting quite as much cooperation from ImpSec as he did here, but maybe there were standing orders of some sort. What would Illyan have to say about Naismith, after all? If he knew that Mark was unlikely to be able to pose as him successfully, any Naismith that showed up would have to be Miles, and if Miles were alive…
Miles spends a lot of time worried about Mark and his fate, so it’s hilarious to see how well Mark has things in hand when he does call in. And Miles is having a hard time catching up on developments with his twin during, and mostly due to, his period of death and recovery. Elena, Taura, and even Quinn seem to have been won over to great or lesser degrees. (Bel is technically in this chapter, but keeping pretty quiet.)
I would’ve thought that Taura might have had a few flashbacks about entering House Ryoval again. Admittedly, it is a completely different facility from the one she was held in before, but the name would still probably give her foreboding, not to mention it’d probably have something of the same aura, possibly even the smell…
The Dendarii, Baron Fell, and ImpSec (in a shuttle borrowed from House Dyne) arrive at the Durona clinic close to the same time.
As they were circling for a landing, Miles asked Quinn, who was piloting, “Elli—if we were flying along, in a lightflyer or an aircar or something, and I suddenly ordered you to crash it, would you?”
“Now?” asked Quinn, startled. The shuttle lurched.
“No! Not now. I mean theoretically. Obey, instantly, no questions asked.”
“Well, sure, I suppose so. I’d ask questions afterward though. Probably with my hands wrapped around your neck.”
“That’s what I thought.” Miles sat back, satisfied.
Baron Fell isn’t sure about letting the three armoured Dendarii accompany Miles into a House Fell facility, but Miles says that after the earlier force-screen failure, he feels like he needs a bodyguard. He offers to leave the ImpSec contingent outside, and the Baron agrees.
Mark has staged a tableau in Lilly Durona’s penthouse, sitting himself in Lilly’s chair, broken foot propped up, surrounded by Duronas, including Lilly herself, but not Rowan. A severed hand sits in a box on Lilly’s tea table, wearing a silver ring set with a large black gemstone. Miles is disturbed at how bloated Mark looks, even though most of his body is covered up, leaving only his bruised face on display. Mark’s right hand sits on top of a small control box, his finger on a button.
Baron Fell sees the box and makes a beeline for it, but Mark stops him, telling him that he’s got his finger on a deadman switch that will set off a small thermal grenade to incinerate the contents of the box, with another controller outside the room as a backup. He warns them not to stun, jump, or annoy him or he’ll set it off. Fell says he must know how valuable that is, and thus he’s bluffing, and Mark says he’s not feeling too kindly toward House Ryoval right now, but he’s willing to Deal with the Baron.
Fell and Miles sit down, their respective bodyguards wary, and Lilly offers tea. Miles realizes that this is Mark’s show, but he wonders how sane Mark is at the moment. Tea is served for Mark and Fell, though Mark’s hand is shaking badly and the young Durona serving girl lifts it to his mouth. Mark then begins, stating that the ring on the hand in the box is Ryoval’s personal code-key, and that soon after Baron Ryoval’s death the vultures will begin descending on the House’s carcass. He notes that someone in possession of the code-key would have a distinct advantage in the race to acquire Ryoval’s assets, and with Baron Fell being an actual blood relative, it would make his claim almost ironclad. Fell says it’s not Mark’s to trade, and Mark says that it is–he paid for it, he earned it, and he can destroy it.
He then asks Baron Fell what the value of the Durona Group is, relative to House Ryoval. Fell says it’s hard to calculate, but not more than a twentieth, though the intellectual property’s value is harder to calculate. Mark offers him House Ryoval in exchange for the Durona Group, with an “agent’s fee” of 10% of Ryoval’s value. Fell asks what he plans to do with the Duronas, and Mark says he will give them their freedom and let them go “where they wist”, most likely Escobar. Fell sits back to think it over, and Miles begins to plan for contingencies in case the Baron decides to resort to violence. Instead they begin to negotiate.
Fell asks to subtract the Durona Group’s value from the 10%, and have them leave all their property and notes behind. Mark asks for them to be able to copy technical files and bring personal possessions; Fell agrees to the possessions, what each one can carry, but denies the files and says their credit account will remain his. Mark and Lilly have a whispered conference, and then Mark tells him it’s a Deal, disarming the control box and relaxing his hand. The Duronas instantly scatter to begin gathering their possessions. Fell congratulates Mark on his dealing, and offers him a position as a galactic agent, and Admiral Naismith too if he’s willing; Mark says he’ll consider it if his other options fall through, and Miles says the Dendarii prefer offense, not defense. Baron Fell says that if his lifespan were to increase, he’d have ample opportunity to pursue long-term goals now that the acquisition of House Ryoval has given him an “interestingly unbalanced” position, but Miles still rejects the offer.
At Fell’s gesture, one of his bodyguards carefully picked up the transparent box. Fell turned to Lilly.
“Well, old sister. You’ve had an interesting life.”
“I still have it,” smiled Lilly.
“For a while.”
“Long enough for me, greedy little boy. So this is the end of the road. The last of our blood-pact. Who would have imagined it, all those years ago, when we were climbing out of Ryoval’s sewers together?”
Fell offers Mark a final handshake before departing. Mark asks if he’ll hold to the Deal, and Lilly says that he will, if only because he’ll be too busy with absorbing House Ryoval to spare them much attention, and after that he may regret their loss, but not to extremes. Then she heads off to organize their departure, and Mark slumps in fatigue. Elli tells Miles that ImpSec is contacting her to announce they have reinforcements ready, and Mark says they can send them home, and maybe he’ll hitch a ride with them. Miles says he needs to rendezvous with the Dendarii, but Elli says the fleet is fine, making ready to rendezvous at Escobar with their new ships, and Miles needs some attention from ImpMil. Illyan will want him to go home, and then there’s his father… Mark tells him about the heart attack and says they should have the transplant ready by this time.
“You were there?” What did you do to him? Miles felt as if he’d just had his magnetic poles reversed. “I have to get home!”
“That’s what I just said,” said Mark wearily. “Why d’you think we trooped all the way back here, but to drag you home? It wasn’t for the free holiday at Ry Ryoval’s health spa, let me tell you. Mother thinks I’m the next Vorkosigan heir. I can deal with Barrayar, I think, but I sure as hell can’t deal with that.”
Miles forces himself to settle down, afraid to trigger another seizure, and hoping that they’re not a permanent effect. Mark says he’ll let the Duronas use his ship–the present from his mother–to get to Escobar, where they can sell the ship and he can pay her back, and the Dendarii can hitch a ride with them too. Miles hopes that Elli, Rowan and Taura don’t get together and compare notes, or worse, become friends and decide to partition him.
It wasn’t, he swore, that he picked up so many women. Compared to Ivan, he was practically celibate. It was just that he never put any down. The accumulation could become downright embarrassing, over a long enough time-span. He needed . . . Lady Vorkosigan, to put an end to this nonsense. But even Elli the bold refused to volunteer for that duty.
Miles agrees to Mark’s plan and tells Quinn and Durona to arrange it, but asks Bel to stay behind for a talk with him and Mark. He recalls how, in his amnesic state, he’d seen Bel as female, rather than male. He tells Bel he can’t let it go back to the _Ariel_; after it admitted it’d known what Mark was up to and followed along on the rogue mission, Miles can’t let it go back to command, and asks for its resignation, which it offers. Mark muses that it’s unfair to punish Bel and not him, but Miles thinks that Mark’s certainly gotten his share of punishment in any case. Miles asks after Bel’s plans, and it says it isn’t sure; Miles says that Simon Illyan may be willing to keep it on as an ImpSec agent, and Bel says it’ll think about it on the way to Escobar. Bel tells Mark that at least they managed to save a few clones, and that’s something.
Bel eyed Miles. “Do you remember the first time we ever saw each other?” it asked.
“Yes. I stunned you.”
“You surely did.” It walked over to his chair, and bent, and took his chin in its hand. “Hold still. I’ve been wanting to do this for years.” It kissed him, long and quite thoroughly. Miles thought about appearances, thought about the ambiguity of it, thought about sudden death, thought the hell with it all, and kissed Bel back. Straightening again, Bel smiled.
Elena appears and tells Mark she has to talk to him, in private; Mark says he’s too tired to get up, and Elena tells Bel and Miles to get lost. Miles goes in search of Rowan, and finds her in her quarters, packing, in company with Lilly Junior. Rowan is happy to see that he’s got his memories back (and is “really” Miles Naismith), but Miles admits that he got his memories back while they were together as Bharaputra captives, and she’s put out. She’s happy that he managed to get Lilly Jr. out, though, and the Dendarii shuttle is already bringing Duronas up to Mark’s ship, so they should be offplanet before Baron Bharaputra figures it out. She says they’ll be staying together on Escobar, at least at first, but they’ll be dissolving the group upon Lilly’s death, and she expects that House Ryoval staffers will be in the building by tomorrow. Miles sees a control-box on the bed and realizes that Rowan was Mark’s remote grenade controller. She tells him Mark’s arrival earlier that morning was quite impressive.
She asks Miles about his plans, and he says he’ll be going back to the Dendarii after he recovers. He asks if the seizures will stop, and she says they should, but it’s hard to tell. She asks if he’ll find the time to stop by Escobar, and he allows that he might.
He hesitated. I need my Lady Vorkosigan, to put an end to this wandering. . . . Could Rowan be it? The thirty-five sisters-in-law would be a distant drawback, safely far away on Escobar. “What would you think of the planet Barrayar, as a place to live and work?” he inquired cautiously.
Her nose wrinkled. “That backward pit? Why?”
“I . . . have some interests there. In fact, it’s where I’m planning to retire. It’s a very beautiful place, really. And underpopulated. They encourage, um . . . children.” He was skirting dangerously close to breaking his cover, the strained identity he’d risked so much lately to retain. “And there’d be lots of work for a galactic-trained physician.”
“I’ll bet. But I’ve been a slave all my life. Why would I choose to be a subject, when I could choose to be a citizen?” She smiled wryly, and came to him, and twined her arms around his shoulders. “Those five days we were locked up together at Vasa Luigi’s—that wasn’t an effect of the imprisonment, was it. That’s the way you really are, when you’re well.”
She says she knows now what a hyperactive adult looks like, and says that she loves him, but living with his domineering personality would drive her crazy. Miles says that she’s supposed to push back, not let him push her around. He wonders if he should use a Barrayaran go-between next time, to seal the deal before the woman gets to know him too well.
Miles asks Lilly Jr. if she’s talked to Mark yet; he’d be happy to know she managed to escape after all. She says Mark had tried to convince her, but Miles talked better than he did; Miles says that Mark just bought her way offplanet with the rest of them. He takes her arm and escorts her out of the room.
I’d forgotten that Lilly Durona was also a relative of the two Barons. Actual blood relatives, or not? Fell and Ryoval are labelled as half-brothers, but to what extent is Lilly related? And Lilly’s clone Lotus is married to Baron Bharaputra–do they have any offspring? I imagine they wouldn’t have any compunctions about using uterine replicators if they did…
So the Duronas do get rescued from Jackson’s Whole after all, though not by the Admiral Naismith they were hoping for. I did vaguely recall that they did, but the details had eluded me–I guess it wasn’t done in some secret Dendarii escape plan, but through legitimate Jacksonian dealing, though I suppose there was a bit of murder involved in acquiring the main bargaining chip.
Bel was very quiet in the last chapter, and I guess it knew what was coming. It’d earned it, though, paradoxically, mostly through taking over the initial clone-rescue operation after Mark had fouled it up and admitting it knew this wasn’t the real Admiral Naismith. (It still feels wrong to use “it” as Bel’s personal pronoun, even if that’s what the author uses for it; I’ve had to go back and correct almost every single pronoun I’ve used for it, even in this paragraph.) If Bel had pretended to be fooled, then Miles might have been able to let it off. It’s a few books before we see it again…but we do see it again.
This may be the last we see of Jackson’s Whole, too. I haven’t peeked ahead yet, but after this I suspect we go back to Barrayar for the rest of the denouement, though I’m not sure what there’ll be to occupy the last three chapters. Then the next few books stick close to home in the Barrayaran Empire, before we get to go further afield. There are Jacksonians in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, of course, but not on Jackson’s Whole itself. Well, after this I think we’ve seen enough of it… (And now I’ve peeked, and we still have another scene or two–Elena’s task for Mark being resolved, for instance.)
Three more chapters! Two more weeks, with any luck! Mirror Dance almost through, and then Memory, yay! And coming up on the blog’s two-year anniversary, too. Will it take another year to get through the rest of the series, I wonder? I can always tack Falling Free on the end, or maybe I can just heave a sigh of relief and reclaim two evenings out of my week. But I’m getting way ahead of myself here. Three more chapters of Mirror Dance, and then a few more books after that…