Look, another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread is poking its nose out of its burrow! Is it true what they say, that if it sees its shadow, that means another six weeks of winter? Of course not; that’d be ridiculous. It’s a little thinner than usual, though, consisting of only a single chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Mirror Dance. Why is that? Well, I guess it’s either because I decided that the next (and last) two chapters of the book go together better, both being set back on Barrayar rather than on Jackson’s Whole, or because I decided to steal a little extra time this week at the expense of Future Me. Sorry, Future Me. I did already read those last two chapters, so there’s that.
“Did you find them?” Lord Mark asked.
“Yes,” said Bothari-Jesek tightly.
“Did you destroy them?”
Mark flushed, and leaned his head back against Lilly’s chair, feeling the weight of gravity. He sighed. “You looked at them. I told you not to.”
Elena said she had to check that she had the right tapes, and Mark says she could just have destroyed all of them. She admitted she did, eventually–first she turned off the sound, then fast-forwarded, then spot-checked, before giving up. She couldn’t believe that there were hundreds of hours; Mark said there was only about fifty hours, but shot from different angles, intended for Ryoval’s later enjoyment and/or analysis.
She says she understand why he wants them destroyed–they’d be horrific blackmail leverage. She offers to swear to secrecy, but Mark says he doesn’t care about that–he’d rather people knew what happened, to keep from having that kind of secret shame. But he couldn’t bear Simon Illyan getting them, and Lord or Lady Vorkosigan catching a glimpse of the contents. She says that Lt. Iverson was livid at finding out she’d destroyed them, and is going to complain to his superiors; Mark says if they dare to raise a stink about it, he’ll ask where they were for the last five days.
Her face was greenish-white. “I’m . . . so sorry, Mark.” Her hand touched his, hesitantly.
He seized her wrist, held it hard. Her nostrils flared, but she did not wince. He sat up, or tried to. “Don’t you dare pity me. I won. Save your sympathy for Baron Ryoval, if you must. I took him. Suckered him. I beat him at his own game, on his own ground. I will not allow you to turn my victory into defeat for the sake of your damned . . . feelings.”
He says that if ImpSec knew what was on those vids, then they’d never be able to leave it alone, and he’d end up having to relive it over and over again. And Miles especially would be devastated. Mark looks outside to where the first shuttle of Duronas is leaving, and revels in the feeling that he’s rescuing another load of clones from Jackson’s Whole. Elena points out that they’ll do a physical exam, at least, and Mark admits he can’t conceal all of the effects of those, but Lilly Durona’s the only one who saw how bad he was right after the escape, she treated him herself without leaving any records, so by the time the ImpSec doctors get to look at him it won’t seem as bad.
Elena says that he can’t avoid treatment entirely–the Countess would spot it soon enough. Mark starts to talk about how badly his brain is miswired, and how he may be a worse monster than Ryoval, before catching himself and shutting up. He knows he sounds crazy, but he thinks he’s really just taking the long road to sanity. She says it looked like he was faking a split personality in some scenes, and Mark said he wasn’t faking anything, but his personality didn’t split as much as it “inverted”.
“You have to understand,” he told her. “Sometimes, insanity is not a tragedy. Sometimes, it’s a strategy for survival. Sometimes . . . it’s a triumph.” He hesitated. “Do you know what a black gang is?”
Mutely, she shook her head.
“Something I picked up in a museum in London, once. Way back in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, on Earth, they used to have ships that sailed across the tops of the oceans, that were powered by steam engines. The heat for the steam engines came from great coal fires in the bellies of the ships. And they had to have these suckers down there to stoke the coal into the furnaces. Down in the filth and the heat and the sweat and the stink. The coal made them black, so they were called the black gang. And the officers and fine ladies up above would have nothing to do with these poor grotty thugs, socially. But without them, nothing moved. Nothing burned. Nothing lived. No steam. The black gang. Unsung heroes. Ugly lower-class fellows.”
Realizing he’s definitely babbling, he says that, if nothing else, Galen is peanuts next to Ryoval, and he beat Ryoval, so now he feels very free. Elena says he seems almost as manic as Miles right now, and warns him about the possible impending crash. Mark calls it a “mood swing on a bungee cord”, and Elena says that it’s at the top of the arc that everybody else has to watch out. Mark blames a lot of it on the medications he’s on, some of which is wearing off. As Elena turns to go, Mark tells her he knows what he wants to be–he wants to be the kind of ImpSec analyst who gets his people to the right place, and on time, not five days late. Elena doesn’t laugh, but says, as an ImpSec remote operative, she’d like that a lot.
She gave him a half-salute, and turned away. He puzzled over the look in her eyes, as she descended out of sight down the lift-tube. It wasn’t love. It wasn’t fear.
Oh. So that’s what respect looks like. Oh.
I could get used to that.
Mark sits for a while, just staring out the window, contemplating getting himself a float-chair, for his broken foot, of course, before the stimulants wear off. Miles arrives with a young Durona girl; Mark contemplates his brother’s emaciation, and wishes he could transfer some of his bulk to him. Miles asks Mark if he recognizes the girl; Mark begins to say he’s seen a lot of Duronas recently, when he suddenly recognizes her as the girl from the clone-creche. Miles explains how he smuggled her out to join her sisters, and that she’s going to Escobar too. Mark discerns that Miles is not only trying to make Mark feel better, but also trying to show that he can rescue clones too, in a bout of unconscious sibling rivalry. He begins to think that, as a brother, he’s going to enjoy tormenting Miles in subtle ways. He congratules Miles cheerfully, but his attempt to laugh shows him on the edge of control.
Lilly Durona Jr. tells Mark she still thinks he’s funny-looking, but…she gives him a peck on the cheek and flees the room. Mark and Miles discuss the show of gratitude, agreeing that it’s better than Illyan complaining about lost equipment. Mark tells Miles about the confrontation between Illyan and the Countess, and realizes how much they have to talk about now.
A House Fell courier arrives with a delivery for Mark, the promised credit-chit for his share of House Ryoval. Mark predicts that Baron Fell will have short-changed him, but not enough to be worth arguing over, and confirms it by scanning the chit. Miles asks how much, and Mark makes him admit he was sleeping with Rowan Durona before telling him–two million Betan dollars, close to four times that in Barrayaran marks. Closer to 2% the value of Ryoval’s assets than 10%, though. Miles is temporarily speechless at the amount, then asks what he’s going to do with it. Mark says he wants to invest it in the Barrayaran economy, but he plans to give a million to ImpSec for their services, which flabbergasts Miles.
“Nobody gives money to ImpSec!”
“Why not? Look at your mercenary operations, for instance. Isn’t being a mercenary supposed to be profitable? The Dendarii Fleet could be a veritable cash cow for ImpSec, if it were run right.”
“They take out their profit in political consequences,” said Miles firmly. “Though—if you really do it, I want to be there. To see the look on Illyan’s face.”
Mark says he should be able to recoup the amount in a few years, anyway. He intends to become rich, to give himself a value that nobody can doubt. He can even move out and get his own place, so he’s not still living in his parents’ house by Miles’s age… Miles tells him, bemused, that he may be the first Vorkosigan to turn a profit in business in five generations. After a short silence, Mark says he knows that piecemeal clone-rescue isn’t the answer to the problem; Miles agrees that he need to invest in the technology to reduce the demand.
Their departure shuttle arrives, and Miles goes to check on it; Mark enlists the Duronas to shift him into a float-chair, giving him one final shot of stims, and prepares to go home, for the first time in his life.
I’m still not sure why Mark is giving money to ImpSec, especially after he complained about their tardiness. Maybe it’s supposed to be a pointed hint that they need better-paid analysts. He says he wants to go work for them, too, but then he talks about business investment…can he do both? Maybe his investment won’t require as much active participation, but there might be conflict of interest with his ImpSec intelligence. I don’t recall him being an analyst in later books, but maybe it just doesn’t go into his day-to-day work that much, and he does spend time off-planet, so I’m not sure.
So apparently Elena’s secret mission was to destroy the incriminating tapes that Ryoval made of Mark’s torture sessions. It’s probably a good thing that somebody did, since Mark has a good point about how ImpSec wouldn’t have been able to just let it go. The “respect” thing is nice, especially considering how far Elena had to go to get there. Not as far as Elli, of course.
This must be the “how much Mark has grown” chapter. He’s mature about Lilly Durona Jr.’s lack of expressed gratitude for her rescue, he’s settling into being Miles’s brother, different from him and willing to play with the role. He knows what he wants to do with his life, or at least has some goals. Of course, the remainder of his growth arc will be when he goes back home (for the first time) to Barrayar, Vorkosigan House, and Kareen Koudelka…
Two more chapters next week, I promise. Unless I get really busy with something. But it’s just the sweet, sweet denouement back on Barrayar (yay!), and really a kind of farewell to Mark, or at least an au revoir, since he doesn’t get to be a viewpoint character again until A Civil Campaign–we get to focus on Miles again for a bit. Until then…