It’s the First of May, and the next book on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread starts today. (What were you expecting?) Having finished off the first of the truly great Vorkosigan Saga books, Hugo-winner Mirror Dance, we move on to what may be my personal favourite book of the entire series, Memory. Which originally I thought had the dullest title of the whole series (which it really does), but I’m long past holding that against it. Feast your brains now upon the first two chapters of the book now…
Miles regains consciousness, his thoughts very scattered, and tries to figure out what’s going on. He’s in zero gravity, strapped to a surface and wrapped in medical foil, wearing the lining from his space armour. He doesn’t seem to be injured, though. He had been on a Dendarii mission, he and Quinn and a patrol rescuing Barrayaran Lieutenant Vorberg from hijackers…and that’s the last thing he remembers. He hears moans from nearby, so obviously someone else is wounded; he concludes he’s in a Dendarii shuttle, at the emergency medical station, with a medtech near the injured person. He’s not sure why he’s strapped down, though–apart from a headache, somewhat like a post-stun migraine, he seems to be fine.
The medtech sees him awake and comes to check him out; he tells Miles that he had some sort of seizure, which lasted close to five minutes, and he was unconscious for half an hour. Miles tries to get up, and the medtech says that Quinn had ordered Miles sedated if he did. Miles asks about the hostage, Vorberg, and the medtech says they should be able to reattach his legs, but he refuses to give more details, referring him to Captain Quinn.
He doesn’t see Quinn until they dock, and Vorberg is rushed off to sickbay. Quinn first reports that the rescue had gone well, all the crew from the hijacked ships recovered. They captured the hijackers’ main ship and took nineteen prisoners, but half a dozen more are on the run in a pinnace. Miles tells her to interrogate the prisoners, and hopefully they’re the same crew who did another job the year before, which would enable the Dendarii to collect another reward for them.
Miles asks what exactly happened to Vorberg. Quinn says that Miles keeled over, the plasma arc in his combat suit locked on, and sliced Vorberg’s legs off just below the knee, as well as cutting through several walls, before they could open up his armour and deactivate it. Quinn had to stun Miles to get him to go limp, which explains his headache. She asks him what happened, and Miles explained about his seizure. Quinn is less than impressed that he hadn’t told her about the prior seizures; Miles said there had been a few shortly after his cryo-revival, but they’d seemed to stop on their own. He admits that he hasn’t informed ImpSec yet, mostly for fear they’ll put an end to his Dendarii assignments and give him a desk job, or a medical discharge. He’s only told the fleet surgeon, who hadn’t solved the problem yet.
Quinn, still annoyed that he hadn’t told her, his second-in-command and lover, tells him to report to sick bay while she finishes mopping up, and he acquiesces. There he is scanned, sampled and tested, before being left alone to wait for the surgeon. He assures himself that Quinn is competent to finish up the mission, and reexamines his scars from the last time she was left in charge. He’d worked hard to overcome his physical limitations, and found a perfect niche for himself as a covert agent with the Dendarii Mercenaries. This mission had seemed right up their alley–a hijacking which had included a Barrayaran Imperial Courier, who they’d tried to auction off. Simon Illyan had authorized him to recover the courier over as many dead hijackers as necessary, and even make it clear that it was the Barrayarans who’d authorized it this time. Miles itches to find out if it was just happenstance, or if they’d gone after the courier on purpose.
The surgeon arrives, fresh from fixing up Vorberg, and says he’ll recover, though he will be a few centimetres shorter, and be recovered in about six weeks. Miles winces, but reassures himself that at least the damage was reparable. She checks over the scans, and still can’t find anything suspicious, adding she really needs to monitor him during an actual seizure, though they’d tried to trigger one before and failed. Miles had not been wearing the monitor she’d given him, since it didn’t fit under his space armour.
Her teeth clenched. “Couldn’t you have at least thought to — to disable your weapons?”
“I could hardly be of use to my squad in an emergency, disarmed. I might as well have stayed aboard the Peregrine.”
“You were the emergency. And you certainly should have stayed aboard the Peregrine.”
Miles’s presence had been necessary, however, to use ImpSec recognition codes for Vorberg, but he concedes that he’ll try to restrain himself until they’ve fixed the problem. She tells him he’ll need to go to a specialist in cryo-neurology to find his answers, then releases him to oversee the interrogation.
This chapter both starts with a protagonist who doesn’t know where he is, and has a lot of recap, so I guess it’s meant to orient people who haven’t read the rest of the series. And yet, it heavily depends on prior events, particularly the cryo-revival from Mirror Dance, so in some ways it’s the least amenable to reading out of order, at least for best effect. Many of our prior cast reappears, from sources as disparate as Brothers in Arms and “The Mountains of Mourning”. There’s still enough information for, hopefully, one to orient oneself if the rest of the series is unread, or at least not fresh in your memory, but for best results read the prior books in the series, to get the full “spearpoint” effect.
It was really kind of a dick move, not telling Quinn about the seizures, but Miles is scared stiff of them. He’s not quite ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away, but he’s nonetheless hoping they’re no big deal, so he’s not going to bother telling people about them. Maybe after they’re cured, ten years later, he’ll bring it up as an anecdote one day. “Oh, yeah, I had seizures a few times after that time I got killed and revived. No big deal, they went away.” Given Cordelia’s assessments of his sanity, and Admiral Naismith’s necessity to it, in the last book, I’m sure his brain is working hard to keep from dealing with the fact that the Admiral’s existence may be threatened. Although I think part of the goal of this book is showing that things weren’t as bad as Cordelia had thought.
Miles composes his umpteenth report for ImpSec–well, it can’t be more than forty missions, he calculates, but he no longer knows the number offhand. He’s leaving in a lot of raw data for the ImpSec analysts and just adding a personal synopsis. They’re at Zoave Twilight, collecting money from insurance companies, salvagers, and governments, which Miles dutifully includes in an appendix. Another appendix includes interviews with their captives, showing that they probably weren’t after Vorberg specifically, unless only the deceased hijackers (which included captain and senior staff) were in on it. All in all, they’ve made a fair profit on the mission, and Miles hopes that maybe this will encourage Illyan to finally promote him to Captain. If only it weren’t for the combat armour recordings, including Miles’s accidentally slicing up Lieutenant Vorberg.
Suit #060’s vid recording had some really great close-ups of Lieutenant Vorberg, shocked from his doped stupor, screaming in agony and toppling unconscious in one direction while his severed legs fell in the other. Miles found himself bent over, clutching his chest in sympathy.
This was not going to be a good time to pester Illyan for a promotion.
Vorberg has been sent home already, and he never got a good look at Miles, during or after the rescue. Miles wished he could delete his squad’s recordings, but that would be too obvious. Unless he omitted all of them, which would make it less obvious that he was trying to cover something up. He debates it with himself–he could describe it in neutral language and blame it on an equipment malfunction. It would be lying, even if by omission. But it would be good practice to make up a fake report so he’d be better able to detect fake reports in future. He’d be sure to miss some reference elsewhere in the report, though, and then he’d be in even more trouble…but then again, it might not be that hard to find them all. Eventually, he tries it; it takes him twenty minutes, and the whole thing lifts right out. He’d half-proud, half-disgusted with his accomplishment. Neither of ImpSec’s observers in the fleet have enough information to contradict him, though. He files both versions of the report to decide later.
Baz Jesek and Elena come to his quarters and ask to talk to him. Miles wonders what would have happened if Elena had consented to marry him, instead of leaving Barrayar with him on the journey that had ended up spawning the Dendarii Mercenaries–if they’d be happy, or regretful, if they’d have children… He briefly entertains the thought of something happening to baz, and him having to console the grieving widow…except that Elena’s more regularly in dangerous situations than her husband.
She took a deep breath. “My lord — ”
Another sure sign of something unusual, when she addressed him in terms of their Barrayaran liege relationship.
” — we wish to resign.” Her smile, confusingly, crept wider, as if she’d just said something delightful.
Miles is flabbergasted, and asks why. Baz says he’s been offered a position at a shipyard at Escobar, which would pay enough for them to leave the mercenaries. Elena denies that they’re unhappy with their pay–they want to start a family. Miles feels like he’s been hit with another rocket-grenade. Elena says that as his vassals, they have to petition him for release from their duties. Miles is dubious about losing his two top officers, but Baz says his engineering second is ready to take over, and Elena says that Elli Quinn is also ready to move up. Miles wonders if Illyan will have a problem with Quinn, a non-Barrayaran, but Elena said it didn’t seem to bothering him during the previous crisis. Miles asks if they’ll really need to fully retire, instead of just taking a leave of absence, and Elena says she doesn’t know if she’ll want to come back.
“I thought you wanted to become a soldier. With all your heart, more than anything. Like me.” Do you have any idea how much of all this was for you, just for you?
“I did. I have. I’m . . . done. I know enough is not a concept you particularly relate to. I don’t know if the wildest successes would ever be enough to fill you up.”
That’s because I am so very empty. . . .
She says she’d always taken for granted that the military was the only worthwhile career, because that’s what she was taught, but also that she couldn’t do it. She’s proven the second wrong, and now she’s wondering about the first. When she spent time on Barrayar with Cordelia, they talked a lot; Cordelia told her a lot about all the things she’d done in her career, and Elena wanted more of that variety for herself. She says by the time she’d be ready to come back, the Dendarii will likely not even be around any more, and she’d rather move on, maybe become a commercial shipmaster.
Miles says he’s sure she’ll be great at anything she tries to do. He does note that he can’t actually release them from being his vassals, but he can agree to let them go their own way for as long as they want.
It wasn’t fair, for people to go and change on him, while his back was turned being dead. To change without giving notice, or even asking permission. He would howl with loss, except . . . you lost her years ago. This change has been coming since forever. ‘You’re just pathologically incapable of admitting defeat. That was a useful quality, sometimes, in a military leader. It was a pain in the neck in a lover, or would-be lover.
He releases them from their oaths, and asks them to name the first child after him, but Elena says they’re planning on a girl, and there aren’t any good female forms of his name… Elena asks when they can go, and Miles says as soon as he’s notified Quinn, who’s currently down on Zoave Twilight. He leaves a message for her to get in touch with him as soon as she’s back, and, after the Bothari-Jeseks leave, he works on rearranging crew assignments to fill the gaps.
He was not, he assured himself, in shock about this. There were limits even to his capacity for self-dramatization, after all. He was a little unbalanced, perhaps, like a man accustomed to leaning on a decorative cane having it suddenly snatched away. Or a swordstick, like old Commodore Koudelka’s. If it weren’t for his private little medical problem, he would have to say the couple had chosen their timing well, from the Fleet’s point of view.
When Quinn arrives, she brings a package from ImpSec, which includes a credit chit for their latest mission, and a coded mission chip for his eyes only. When he decodes it, all it says is for him to report to ImpSec HQ immediately, via a government courier ship at Tau Ceti. He notes that these orders would have taken precedence over any current missions, and he can’t think what that would be, except for a new mission assignment, and why would he need to go all the way back to Barrayar for that? He begins to worry that it might be bad news about his parents, but he tells himself that they’re both important enough figures that news would have filtered out here if anything had happened to them.
Quinn asks what happens if he has another seizure when he’s travelling, and then asks him why he’s so strongly in denial about it. She encourages him to seek help at ImpMil Hospital, but he says it’s too late for him to come forward with this by now. She asks him to throw himself on Illyan’s mercy, but he says that after what happened to Vorberg, there’s little chance of that any more. He tells her that it lifts out of the mission report, and she’s aghast that he would even consider that. Annoyed, he tells that Illyan doesn’t really know everything, but Quinn is dubious that he’ll be able to keep it a secret. She accuses him of being as bad as Mark, which isn’t a good sign, especially when she accuses Mark of having caused the whole thing in the first place by going down to Jackson’s Whole.
It ends up in a shouting match, which Miles caps by telling her, at the top of his lungs, about Bez and Elena leaving and her getting promoted. He dismisses her, but she asks him who’s going to bodyguard him to Tau Ceti then. He says he’ll get Taura to do it, which infuriates Quinn, and she stalks out of the room. Miles then goes to his comconsole, deletes the long form of the report, and dumps the doctored version onto a card to take home with him to Barrayar.
A shouting match with Elli Quinn? That’s not a good sign. Even Mark’s coup on Jackson’s Whole hasn’t done much to change her attitude toward him, apparently, but this is really about the seizures, and Miles’s avoidance of them, with Mark pulled in as one of those long-term-couple grievances that end up sneaking into arguments if they go on long enough. I’m not sure if she knows about Miles’s romantic history with Taura–which predates their own affair, admittedly–but if she did, that would explain her fury at Miles selecting Taura as bodyguard instead of Quinn. Is this the end of Miles and Quinn’s relationship? (Yes, I believe so.)
It’s tempting to conclude, based on later events, that Miles doctoring this report is what really gets him in trouble, but the peremptory summons was already on his way by that point. I guess I’ve never been clear if ImpSec had belatedly found out about the seizures anyway, and were planning to castigate him for not mentioning them earlier, or what was going on. Maybe this time through I’ll figure it out, because I normally just conclude that the report was the problem, when it was just a symptom. Anyway, Miles is beginning the downward slope–screwing up on the Dendarii mission, losing Elena from his support system, alienating Elli… And let’s note that he’s already lost Ky Tung and Bel Thorne. But he’s got a few more big stops before he reaches bottom.
Two chapters done this week, despite the rush of last-minute taxes submission. This was helped along by my actually getting a digital copy of Memory, so I am able to cut-and-paste the quoted sections after all. Twenty-nine chapters in this book, so there’ll be at least one single-chapter week in there somewhere, but I’m glad not to have wasted it this early. Also, I note that I’m getting close to the two-year anniversary of this blog (though, even with the changed day of the week, I won’t be posting on May 17th itself). I know I’m impressed that I’ve kept it up this long, and I think by this point I might as well keep going. Who knows, there may be another book out by the time I’m done…