Clever ideas for blog post introductions having temporarily (I hope) forsaken me, I will prosaically welcome you back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the results of my rereading the Vorkosigan Saga, as I’ve done several times in the past. This time, though, I am endeavouring to share with you my insights into the novels and stories of Lois McMaster Bujold, at least the ones that concern the Vorkosigan family of Barrayar and their close friends and associates. This week we cover the third and fourth chapters of Memory, the prosaically-titled but nonetheless fascinating story of what happens to Miles Vorkosigan when everything that gives his life meaning is put into jeopardy…
Because they need adjoining rooms, for security reasons, Miles and Taura are obliged to take luxury suites on the ship to Tau Ceti. After that he will have to travel as boring old Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan, and deal with people suspecting him of having a cushy courier job because of his family connections. But he has a week until then to spend in room service-catered luxury, with Taura.
After Taura completes her security sweep of the cabins and they leave orbit, Miles tells her to take a week-long vacation. He reminisces about their first time together, and he can still remember every time they’ve made love, both before and since his relationship with Elli Quinn.
Oh, they’d tried to be good. Dendarii regs against cross-rank fraternization were for the benefit of all, to protect the rankers from exploitation and the officers from losing control of discipline, or worse. And Miles had been quite determined, as the young and earnest Admiral Naismith, to set a good example for his troops, a virtuous resolve that had slipped away . . . somewhere. After the umpteenth we’ve-lost-count-again time he had been almost killed, perhaps.
Well, if you couldn’t be good, at least you could be discreet.
Taura kisses him and then heads to the bathroom to freshen up. He encourages her to take her time and be decadent. She rarely gets to indulge her feminine side, but she feels safe to do it with him. He does sometimes have to discourage her from the extremities of pink that she keeps trying to festoon herself in. She does not disappoint when she returns, in creamy and shimmery fabric. She’s also trimmed her claws, to keep from leaving embarrassing scratches this time. He notices that he feels a little defensive about his arrangement with Taura, and wonders if he’s breaking his own rules by doing this.
Later he wakes to watch her as she sleeps, a rare gift for her to feel safe enough for that. Her flesh is hot because of her heightened metabolism, which is also shortening her lifespan, though an active Dendarii medical project is lengthening that as much as possible. Taura already has a few grey hairs, at the age of twenty-two.
It’s a good thing she loves Admiral Naismith. Lord Vorkosigan couldn’t handle this.
He thought a bit guiltily of Admiral Naismith’s other lover, the public and acknowledged Quinn. Nobody had to explain or excuse being in love with the beautiful Quinn. She was self-evidently his match.
He was not, exactly, being unfaithful to Elli Quinn. Technically, Taura predated her. And he and Quinn had exchanged no vows, no oaths, no promises. Not for lack of asking; he’d asked her a painful number of times. But she too was in love with Admiral Naismith. Not Lord Vorkosigan. The thought of becoming Lady Vorkosigan, grounded downside forever on a planet she herself had stigmatized as a “backwater dirtball,” had been enough to send space-bred Quinn screaming in the opposite direction, or at least, excusing herself uneasily.
Admiral Naismith’s sex life is astonishing and mostly free of strings, but it’s not satisfying him anymore. Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan, he suddenly realizes, has no sex life at all, and he wonders when that happened.
Taura awakens and they eat, Miles feeling no guilt about ordering everything because he knows she’ll take care of any leftovers. They reminisce about his rescue of her, and he reminds her that he was actually sent to kill her. She says he changed that, and he seems to like rescues better than any other mission. She wonders if he’s like one of those people who give other people the gift they want themselves–if he needs to be rescued, or wants freedom that he doesn’t have. Miles changes the subject, and then the food arrives.
He asks if she had been surprised to find out his true identity, and she says she’d always suspected he was secretly a prince. Miles says far from that, never having wanted the Imperium, and he wonders if Admiral Naismith is more real than Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan; it certainly seems to be the easier identity to slip into. Returning to the earlier topic, he says he doesn’t really want “freedom”, especially not in the sense of having no responsibilities. He wants to be himself, to the fullest, and achieve whatever destiny that brings him. He wonders if being Naismith is that; he’s never been able to bring himself to abandon Barrayar entirely and take the Dendarii with him, especially with the consequences Miles having a private army would bring down upon his father. He doesn’t look forward to taking his father’s place one day, being Count, and the duties that go with that…
Taura asks after Mark; Miles says he went to Sergyar with their parents, then continued on to Beta Colony, living with their grandmother and studying accounting. Miles doesn’t understand that choice, and wonders why they aren’t more similar; Taura says maybe he’ll learn to like accounting later. Miles’s thoughts turn to the Duronas, and he wonders if Mark knows how they’re doing on Escobar…and if they could help him out with his medical issues, sub rosa. If he went to visit Sergyar, he could maybe sneak from there to Escobar…and maybe even convince Illyan he’s visiting Rowan Durona for romantic reasons. Then he could get cured and resume his duties without anyone else being the wiser. He begins to wish he hadn’t deleted the other copy of the mission report.
Resolved to his Escobar plan, he turns back to a gastronomically-sated Taura to fulfill other appetites.
A lot of backstory in this chapter…and backstory that you’ve seen if you read all the other books. But it does add on a few details, like the fact that Miles and Taura’s relationship is now depicted as an on-again off-again thing. After the pass she made at Mark back in _Mirror Dance_, based only on the fact that Quinn wasn’t on the mission, it shouldn’t be that surprising. I’m not as sanguine as Miles that Elli is, or would be, okay with it. Maybe she knows, maybe not. Maybe she doesn’t envision a married life with Lord Vorkosigan on Barrayar…but she might nonetheless want them to be monogamous and committed to each other with the Dendarii. He even thinks to himself that he may be breaking his own rules. After all, Elli was incensed when he chose Taura as a bodyguard for this trip, so I’m sure Quinn knows about the hanky-panky that was likely to ensue, and she didn’t like it.
In other words, Miles does something stupid and insensitive again, which is a little out of character for him. He’s still in denial, or is it bargaining now? Promising that he’ll go to Escobar and get things fixed up on the hush-hush, and then everything can go back to normal. But there are those nagging doubts–he’s not satisfied with either of his identities right now, Lord Vorkosigan being dull and sexless, but Admiral Naismith starting to feel a little hollow. He’s still leaning towards Naismith, but his health issues are putting Naismith in danger, and threatening to take the choice out of his hands, so he’s panicking.
Maybe it’s just me, but after so much was made of her short lifespan, I began to wonder if Taura was ever going to actually die. They make the point, several times, throughout the later books, that they’d managed to heroically extend her life by quite a bit, but I confess that it began to wear on me a bit. They don’t have to show her on her deathbed, coughing up blood and shedding hair by the bucketful, but…well, I suppose it’s painful to say goodbye to loved characters sometimes, even if one is the author. And not every death can be a heroic sacrifice used as a crucial blow against the enemy. Lois McMaster Bujold is certainly no George R.R. Martin, and it’s true that more advanced societies accept death less casually (at least, according to the Steven Pinker book I’m reading right now), and have the technology to fight it more successfully in Bujold’s far future. But it exists, it’s a fact, and reminding us that one character is living on borrowed time, and then continuing to lend her time, can begin to wear a little thin. I think they did establish by the time of Cryoburn that she was dead, at least. Not that I dislike the character that much (though she’s not actually a favourite), but an author has certain obligations to follow through on these things…
Upon arriving in Vorbarr Sultana, Miles is picked up by an ImpSec car, which he wishes would dawdle a little more on its way to the ugly headquarters building. As he stands outside the door, he’s fast losing confidence in his Escobar plan, and decides he’ll have to deliver his notes on the seizure verbally to Illyan, pretending that he thought they were too sensitive to commit to even a confidential report.
Decision made, he heads inside, checking his coat and heading for Illyan’s office unescorted. Illyan’s secretary is chatting with General Lucas Haroche, Head of ImpSec’s Domestic Affairs division, in charge of covering investigations of plots based on the homeworld, as Guy Allegre does on Komarr. Miles generally deals with the Galactic Affairs office on Komarr, if not Illyan himself, but he hadn’t been given time to stop in there. Miles greets them, and the secretary asks for the report; Miles says he’d rather deliver it in person, but the secretary says Illyan is out of town. Reluctantly, Miles leaves the cipher-case with the report, rejecting the secretary’s offer to pass on Miles’s extra verbal information, and makes do with leaving a message for Illyan to contact him as soon as possible.
He asks if Illyan left any orders for him, but he didn’t, despite the supposed urgency of Miles’s return. Miles asks if he can go visit his parents, hoping to skive off to Escobar after all, but he’s told that he has to keep himself available on one-hour notice. Haroche asks after Miles’s parents, but Miles says his mail hasn’t caught up with him yet, and Haroche likely has more up-to-date information than he does, but Haroche tells him that Sergyar has been split off from Domestic Affairs into its own bureau, despite the small size of its colony. Miles expresses surprise, but allows that Sergyar’s position in the nexus gives it a certain importance. He bids them farewell and says he might as well head home.
On his way out, he bumps into Duv Galeni. Last Miles had heard, Galeni had been working on Komarr, but Galeni says he’d requested a transfer back to Barrayar… He’s interested in a Komarran woman from the Toscane family, who has come to Vorbarr Sultana as a government lobbyist, and decided to follow her. Galeni admits his relationship is still more hopeful than actual, and Miles wishes him luck. Miles says he’s headed home, and Galeni bids him farewell. At the exit, Miles pauses to consider how exactly he’ll get home, since the entire Vorkosigan household has decamped to Sergyar, and so there won’t be any Armsmen there to pick him up. He considers the safety of ordering a public taxi, and decides that the weather is not awful, so he’ll walk home.
His walk is uneventful–no attention spared for his deformities, and he’s not sure whether having his spine straightened had that much of an effect, or if Vorbarr Sultana’s denizens are getting better. Vorkosigan House is situated on a block that used to have three mansions; one of them was torn down to make a park, and the other bought by the Imperium and turned into offices.
Vorkosigan House sat in the center, set off from the street by a narrow green strip of lawn and garden in the loop of the semicircular drive. A stone wall topped with black wrought-iron spikes surrounded it all. The four stories of great gray stone blocks, in two main wings plus some extra odd architectural bits, rose in a vast archaic mass. All it needed was window slits and a moat.
The guard kiosk is manned only an ImpSec corporal who salutes Miles, telling him that his luggage has already arrived. He says the most excitement they’ve had since the Count and Countess left was a stray cat getting caught in the defenses; Miles spots a few signs that the cat is none the worse for wear and has in fact been adopted by the guards. Keeping a pet on duty is against regulations, but Miles realizes the man must be bored and decides to overlook it; he asks what they named it, and the corporal admits they called it “Zap”. Miles heads inside, considering how young the corporal seems to him. He opens the automatic door and enters the disconcertingly empty house.
Keeping the lights down, he explores in unaccustomed solitude, finding half the furniture gone and the rest covered up. There is a lightflyer and a groundcar, but the risk of seizures makes him an unsafe driver or pilot. He’s been cadging a lot of rides since his cryo-revival. The kitchen is empty of food, which he makes a note to get some of if he’s going to be here for any length of time. Maybe a servant, too–not a stranger, but maybe some pensioner could come back for a few days. Or maybe he can just get some instant meals. There’s still wine in the cellar, so he brings up a couple of bottles of “a particularly chewy red” from his grandfather’s day.
He heads up to his third-floor room, turning on the lights this time; his room hasn’t really been lived in for a while, even when he was recuperating a few months ago. He considers his utter freedom to do whatever he wants, except go to Escobar to get his head examined. He unpacks his clothing and changes into more comfortable clothes. He’s been avoiding alcohol in case it exacerbates his seizures, but now he’s planning to stay in until Illyan calls for him, so he pours himself some. Planning to have some food later, he instead drops off to sleep after two-thirds of a bottle.
By noon the next day the problem of food was becoming acute, despite a couple of painkillers for breakfast, and the absence of coffee and tea turning downright desperate. I’m ImpSec trained. I can figure out this problem. Somebody must have been going for groceries all these years . . . no, come to think of it, kitchen supplies had been delivered daily by a lift-van; he remembered the Armsmen inspecting it.
He inspects the computer records, finds the name of the supplier, boggles at the quantities they were ordering, and instead just walks down to a nearby store. He grabs coffee, tea, eggs, and some prepackaged food (“Reddi-Meals!”), as well as some cat food.
He gathered up his spoils and took them to the checkout, where the clerk looked him up and down and gave him a peculiar smile. He braced himself inwardly for some snide remark, Ah, mutant? He should have worn his ImpSec uniform; nobody dared sneer at that Horus-eye winking from his collar. But what she said was, “Ah. Bachelor?”
After he’s finally had some food, he still has lots of time to kill, some of which he spends looking up medical clinics and ranking them by reputation and likelihood they’ll keep his visit secret from ImpSec. He paces around the house, dredging up old memories.
For his evening meal, Miles decided to keep up the standards. He donned his dress greens, pulled all the covers off the furniture in the State dining room, and set up his wine with a proper crystal glass at the head of the meters-long table. He almost hunted up a plate, but reflected he could save the washing up by eating the Reddi-Meal! out of its packet. He piped in soft music. Other than that, dinner took about five minutes. When he’d finished, he dutifully put the covers back on the polished wood and fine chairs.
He wishes some of the Dendarii were there so he could have a real party. The next evening, he’s driven to call Ivan, who’s surprised to see him back in town. He tells Ivan about how he’s rattling around in Vorkosigan House; Ivan says it’s appropriate for the formerly-dead Miles to be in such a mausoleum. Ivan says there’s not much going on, between Emperor’s Birthday (where he’d had to deliver the Vorkosigans’ bag of gold) and Winterfair, but apparently Gregor is having a state dinner in a couple of days, and Lady Alys had asked Ivan to bring some younger people for dancing later. Miles surmises she really wants Ivan to bring a date, or a fiancée; he says he doesn’t have a date, and Ivan says he should ask one of the Koudelka girls.
“Did you ask Delia?” said Miles thoughtfully.
“Yeah. But I’ll cede her to you if you like, and take Martya. But if you’re escorting Delia, you have to promise not to make her wear high heels. She hates it when you make her wear high heels.”
“But she’s so . . . impressive in them.”
Miles asks Ivan for a ride, pretending his is in the shop, before he realizes that would result in Ivan driving him. Instead, he remembers Duv Galeni and offers to invite him along. Galeni can bring this Komarran girl along, impressing her with an official state dinner, and he can drive Miles instead. Ivan says he’d been to do something to welcome Galeni to the capital anyway, and this is just the ticket.
I enjoy the scenes with Miles in the empty Vorkosigan House, living the bachelor lifestyle. I’m almost surprised that Vorkosigan House is quite that deserted, but I guess it is still under guard, so it’s not likely that squatters are going to break in and set up house there. At the moment he’s still convinced he’s going to be out of there soon and back to the fleet, so he’s not putting down any roots yet.
Illyan does seem to be deliberately avoiding Miles at this point. He should have been able to determine when Miles would be returning to the capital and make himself available, if he’d wanted to–there doesn’t seem to be any actual crisis calling him away, though I suppose that part’s a bit vague. So it seems that summoning Miles back, just to make him wait, is less an urgent need for Miles than it is an urgent need for Miles to not be with the Dendarii right then. Could it be that Illyan has some dire suspicion about Miles’s intentions? Or perhaps he knows something that would make it dangerous to leave Miles in charge of a mercenary fleet? Or to be doing combat missions in space armour? Nah, couldn’t be.
Finally, we have one of the more fateful conversations in Barrayaran history. If it hadn’t been for Miles not wanting to drive but not wanting Ivan to drive either, would they have thought to invite Duv Galeni along? Would the meeting between Gregor and Ms. Toscane have taken place at the right time, before she gave in to Duv’s deliberate charms? Also, the return of the Koudelkas, or at least Delia; probably we won’t see much of Kareen, who may very well be on Beta Colony right now, if Mark is…
It’s the Barrayar scenes–most of the book, from Chapter Four onward, really–that make Memory one of my favourites, so I’m glad that there’s a lot of them coming up. Though admittedly they’re not all cheerful ones…as we’ll probably find out in the next couple of weeks. Oh, sure, a lot of them just look like Miles being at loose ends, but I enjoy them nonetheless. So come back next week, and we’ll see…