Listen to the slow, steady ticking of the clock. Slow down your heartbeat and breathing to match it…clear your mind…prepare yourself to receive another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. You will find yourself reading a summary of two more chapters in Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, from her saga of Miles Vorkosigan and his friends and family. Last week Miles received a horrific blow in being essentially fired, but have no fear, Miles will bounce back, though possibly not without some help. You will begin reading in 3…2…1….
Miles keeps himself upright until he’s safely inside Vorkosigan House, whereupon he collapses into a chair and shivers for an hour. Bladder pressure eventually drives him to get up.
I should get drunk. It’s traditional, for situations like this, isn’t it? He collected a bottle of brandy from the cellar. Wine seemed inadequately poisonous. This burst of activity dwindled to rest in the smallest room he could find, a fourth-floor chamber which, but for its window, might have passed for a closet. It was a former servants’ room, but it had an old wing chair in it. After going to all the trouble to find the brandy, he had not the ambition left to open the bottle. He crouched down small in the big chair.
On his next trip to his bathroom, sometime after midnight, he picked up his grandfather’s dagger, and brought it back with him to set it beside the sealed brandy bottle on the lamp table by his left hand. The dagger tempted him as little as the drink, but toying with it did provide a few moments of interest. He let the light slide over the blade, and pressed it against his wrists, his throat, along the thin scars from his cryonic prep already slashed there. Definitely the throat, if anything. All or nothing, no playing around.
But he’s already died once, and it didn’t fix anything. They could just bring him back, and they might botch it worse this time. He just doesn’t want to be alive right now. He contemplates fleeing back to Naismith’s life, but doesn’t move. He tries drinking less water, so he has to get up less, and by dawn he’s slowed down to one thought per hour.
Sometime after sunrise he hears Ivan’s voice, and wishes it would go away. Eventually, though, footsteps arrive outside his room, and Ivan tells Duv Galeni that he’s found Miles. Duv is taken aback by Miles’s appearance, but Ivan says it’s just something Miles does…though even he is nonplussed by the unopened bottle, and the knife, and admits it may be worse than usual. Duv points out that Miles isn’t even blinking, and suggests calling for medical help, but Ivan says this is a family matter, and gets an idea. They leave, though taking the knife with them, and Miles sits in relief for close to an hour before they reappear, take his boots off, and pick him up. He hopes that they’re going to put him to bed, where he can sleep for a hundred years.
Instead, they take him to the bathroom, and he wonders if they’re going to drown him. As they prepare to throw him into the huge bathtub, Miles suddenly notices that it’s full of ice, and begins, belatedly, to struggle. Ivan tells Galeni that ever since Kyril Island Miles has hated the cold. He begins to flail and complain, and Ivan shoves him back under repeatedly until Miles can fight him off and escape. Miles then punches his cousin in the chin, surprising Ivan, who complains that his fingers don’t break when he tries to do that anymore.
Ivan asks him if he feels better, and Miles swears at him; Ivan tells him to change out of the wet clothes, shower and depilate, then get dressed and come out to dinner with him. Miles says he doesn’t want to go out, and Ivan says there’s more ice in the freezer downstairs. Miles accuses Ivan of enjoying this, which Ivan freely admits.
Once they get to the restaurant, Ivan urges Miles to eat, and once he does he realizes he’s famished. Ivan asks what’s going on with him; Miles asks why they came, and Galeni says that Illyan asked him to check on Miles. The gate guard told him that Miles was still inside, but there was no response on the comconsole, so he enlisted Ivan, who had more of a right to barge in, to help him. He’d half expected to find Miles hanging from a rafter, but Ivan said that Miles was more likely to blow himself up spectacularly somewhere with lots of bystanders. Miles promises to explain, but in private, since it’s to do with ImpSec business.
Back in Vorkosigan House, Ivan brews tea and makes him drink it, then tells him to spill. Miles tells them about his seizures, and not informing ImpSec, or anyone except Mark and his Dendarii doctor, about them, in hopes that they could fix it medically and he could avoid a medical discharge. Ivan pries further, and Miles tells them about Vorberg and the accidental bisection, and then the falsified report. Galeni said Illyan had told him Miles had resigned by request, and he’d almost thought it was some kind of internal investigation, except Miles didn’t seem to be acting.
Ivan was still processing it. “You lied to Illyan?”
“Yeah. And then I documented my lie. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, yes? I didn’t resign, Ivan. I was fired. On all of Barrayar right now, there is no one more fired than I am.”
Ivan asked if Illyan had really ripped off his ImpSec eyes, like Haroche had claimed. Miles said that he removed them himself, after he had a seizure right there in front of Illyan. Haroche said that it came as a shock, because everybody knew that Illyan thought the world of Miles, and Miles said that it had been a while since his coup of the Dagoola IV rescue. Galeni said that according to Haroche, Illyan had been grooming Miles as his successor. Miles protests that as a field agent he doesn’t have the right skill set, but Galeni said that Miles had been due for a posting as Haroche’s assistant, to fill in the gaps in the “Domestic” side of his ImpSec experience. Haroche had stopped five different assassination plots against Gregor (including the Yarrow Incident), so Illyan had wanted some of his experience to rub off on Miles. Ivan asked about the Yarrow Incident, and Miles and Galeni explain that it was a great success, well known inside ImpSec, and unheard of outside of it–ImpSec failures are the only ones that get attention; an isolationist faction had planned on dropping a freighter (named the Yarrow) packed with explosives on the Imperial Residence. Miles asks when this apprenticeship was supposed to happen, and Galeni said within the year.
“Chief of ImpSec at age thirty-five. Huh. God be praised, I’m saved from that at least. Well. No joy to Haroche, to be required to paper train some Vor puppy for the express purpose of being promoted over his head. He ought to be quite relieved.”
Galeni said apologetically, “I gather he was, actually.”
Miles reminds Galeni that this story is strictly private, that officially he just got a regular medical discharge. Ivan leaves briefly, and returns with a valise–he’s moving in for a few days, until Miles picks himself up and gets the house organized, with a proper staff, including a driver and a cook. He threatens that if Miles doesn’t, he’ll get his mother, Lady Alys, to pick his staff instead. Miles is still less than enthusiastic, and Ivan encourages him to live the life of a Vor lord in the capital a little bit more. Vorkosigan House is his, and his life’s possibilities have widened again–though Miles thinks that it’s at the expense of Admiral Naismith’s possibilities. Naismith was, it turns out, killed by that needle-grenade on Jackson’s Whole after all.
Miles had read of mutants, twins born joined together inseparably in their bodies. Sometimes, horrifically, one died first, leaving the other attached to a corpse for hours or days until they died too. Lord Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith, body-bound twins. I don’t want to think about this anymore. I don’t want to think at all.
And this is Miles’s darkest hour. The only comparable one that I recall, so far, was after Bothari’s death back in The Warrior’s Apprentice–even washing out of the physical exam didn’t take that much out of him. It’s interesting how little he wants to resort to the usual outlets–suicide, or alcohol–too drained of energy to even open the bottle, and, as he said, having already tried death.
Ivan comes through in spades, though. I remember how he got so drunk at the Emperor’s Birthday in Mirror Dance when he thought Miles was dead, so he knows now how much his cousin means to him, and is prepared to deal with it. Kudos to Galeni for thinking of him–as a matter of fact, Simon Illyan should practically have thought of that himself, but I guess he was reluctant to bring Ivan in on the whole thing. Even though Ivan was on the list of those who knew about Miles’s double identity, this was more of a matter of keeping Miles’s shame private, plus Illyan might not have that much respect for Ivan’s capabilities. But he knows how to rouse Miles out of his stupor–the cryo-freezing, as much as Kyril Island, has instilled Miles with his cryophobia, or at least cryoaversion.
I’m not sure that it would have worked, trying to turn Miles into the head of ImpSec. It would, at least, put Miles in a position where he had fewer superiors–pretty much just the Emperor himself, in fact. It would keep him from traveling around much, so it would have forced him to abandon the Admiral Naismith persona anyway. Unless he was the most hands-on ImpSec Chief ever, though I imagine that Gregor would have to put his foot down there. And it is true that Haroche wouldn’t feel that good about being passed over for, and by, a young Vor lord, however stellar a record he might have had, so that is definitely a relief for him.
The next morning, even after sleeping late, Miles finds Ivan in the kitchen, since he’s apparently taking time off work until Miles is back on his feet. Miles decides the easiest way to get rid of him is to hire a staff on a strictly temporary basis, then discharge them with glowing recommendations once Ivan’s gone. Ivan encourages Miles to tell his parents what’s happened, before the rumour mill beats him to it. Miles agrees that he should, but it’ll be difficult…he asks Ivan if he could do it instead, and Ivan refuses vehemently…unless Miles really can’t bring himself to do it.
Miles dresses in civilian clothes from three years ago, then banishes his Barrayaran and Dendarii military uniforms into another bedroom so he won’t have to look at them. He sits down at the comconsole, but can’t manage to compose any messages to his parents, or to Elli Quinn, for that matter; he wonders if he’ll ever be able to patch things up with Quinn.
He turns his mind to the staffing problem instead. His own discharged lieutenant’s pay would barely suffice for one servant in the hard Vorbarr Sultana job market, so he contacts the family business manager, Tsipis, to find out what other options he has. Miles tells him only that he’ll be staying on the planet for longer than anticipated, and asks how much of the family funds he can draw on; Tsipis tells him he can use all of it. Miles was given joint authority when his parents went off to Sergyar. The only things he can’t do are sell off Vorkosigan House and their residence in Hassadar. Miles asks if he can hire a driver, and Tsipis says he can staff Vorkosigan House fully if he wants to; the Viceroy’s Palace on Sergyar is paid for out of Imperial funds, apart from his father’s armsmen.
Miles says he’s not planning on reopening Vorkosigan House quite yet, and Tsipis realizes he needs money for day-to-day expenses. He offers to deposit it into Miles’s military service account, but Miles says he’d rather keep it separate. Tsipis says he’ll give Miles the accumulated household funds to start, and the usual weekly allotment after that–which turns out to be 80,000 marks, and 5,000 a week after that, rather more than Miles had expected. Tsipis offers to go over the accounts in more detail, in case Miles wants to take a more active money management role, but Miles tells him some other time, and signs off.
He tries to adjust to the thought that he can buy whatever he wants…except perhaps the Dendarii. He can’t think of much else that he wants–what he wanted was achivements. To make admiral younger than his father, to be a Great Man, but there was no opportunity to be a Great Man at the moment.
He starts his staffing search by calling retired Vorkosigan Armsmen in the area, but they’re either too old or their wives won’t stand for them going back into service, and he won’t compel them. Giving up that for the moment, he gathers some kitchen scraps in an attempt to woo Zap the Cat (whose orneriness rather reminds him of Mark). At the gate, Corporal Kosti has a visitor, his younger brother Martin, and a large box which proves to contain his lunch. They’re not sure how to deal with Miles out of uniform, so he tells them about his medical discharge. Zap the Cat emerges and accepts the scraps with only minor clawing.
Martin complains to his brother that nobody wants to hire him for two months, before he’s old enough to enter the Service. He’s afraid his mother will find work for him to do, probably cleaning; Miles tells them about cleaning drains on Kyril Island. He asks Martin if he can drive, then offers him a temporary position as his driver; Corporal Kosti warns him not to get Miles killed on him. Miles says he can start today, as they need groceries anyway, and he can live in Vorkosigan House and study up for his entrance exams. Not wanting Martin to be taken unawares by any seizures, Miles mentions those as well, including their origin in cryo-revival; both Kostis are suitably impressed. Martin gives the box to his brother, and Zap the Cat goes crazy meowing for it, even after Corporal Kosti gives her his regulation rations.
The inside of the box lid turned into a clever tray or plate, with little compartments. Onto it Kosti placed two temperature-controlled jugs, a bowl, and cups; there followed an assortment of sandwiches on two different kinds of bread with variously colored fillings, cut into circle, star, and square shapes, the crusts removed; carved fruit on a stick; buttery cookies; and round tarts with flaky, fluted, sugar-sprinkled crusts, oozing dark, thick fruit syrups. From one of the jugs Kosti poured a pinkish cream soup into the bowl; from the other, some spicy hot drink. Both steamed in the cool air. For Zap the Cat there was a wad of prettily tied green leaves that unfolded to reveal a meat paste of some kind, apparently the same as filled one of the sandwiches. Zap dived in the moment Kosti spread it on the floor, growling ecstatically, tail lashing.
Miles is impressed at this; the corporal explains that his sisters are married, and only Martin is left in the house, so their mother is getting a little bored. Miles inhales the delectable smells of the lunch, and offers Ma Kosti a job as his cook. Ivan samples her cooking the next day at lunch, and immediately advises Miles to double her salary or else someone will steal her away. Miles also hires Ivan’s cleaning service to stop in a couple of times a week to clean the house, but unfortunately, even now that he’s completed his staffing, Ivan is reluctant to leave Ma Kosti’s cooking. He tries delicate hinting that Ivan’s free to go back to work anytime, so that Miles can go back to brooding, but Ivan ignores the hints.
After a week, Lady Alys contacts Miles, expressing her condolences over his medical discharge, and invites him to an “intimate luncheon” with Gregor the next day. Gregor has “Requested & Required” Miles to show up an hour early for a personal meeting. Miles knows the meeting is about what he did, to give him a chance to apologize to his Emperor in person. He knows they have to clear the air between them sometime, since at the very least they’ll have to deal with each other as Count and Liege Lord at some point in the future, but he almost feels he’d rather apologize with a ritual self-disemboweling.
I always forget that Martin Kosti is only looking for temp work, until he can join the military, but I can’t remember if he does end up staying on longer than that, or if the book’s just resolved by that point, or what. I seem to recall that Ma Kosti sticks around, though. (What happens to the Kosti house that she and Martin were rattling around in? Do they just sell it so they can both live in Vorkosigan House? I guess it might not be a mansion or anything, but a family home might have some sentimental value…)
I also enjoy the conversation with Tsipis, a timely reminder that, even without his ImpSec job, Miles has plenty of resources to draw on. He’s not going to be out on the street by any means. (He’s more likely to end up in prison…) Though, as Miles realizes, he doesn’t know what he wants enough to spend money on. His immediately goal is just to get Ivan out of the house, possibly under false pretenses, so he can go back to brooding, but sooner or later he’s going to have to acquire some new goals.
It’s interesting to note that it’s with the Kosti brothers that Miles really begins to spread the story of what happened to him, compelled by simple honesty to two harmless Barrayaran souls who don’t deserve to be strung along. So while he’s unwilling to tell Tsipis that he’s likely back on Barrayar for good, to commit to actually being back to living in Vorkosigan House, he tells the Kostis the story of his medical discharge, his seizures, and even a fair amount of the truth about how it came about. He lets them believe that he happened to be killed by a needle-grenade while working as a simple ImpSec courier, but apart from that, the details match up. I’m sure that, on some level, he knows that this information will begin to percolate throughout Barrayaran society, so he’s decided to promulgate a story that’s pretty much as close to the truth as he’s authorized to tell–his Dendarii job, and his forced resignation, both being classified.
Normally after I do my weekly summary, I read the next two chapters of the novel in the next day or two (often on my iPod, since I had them all as ebooks). This is the first one where I’ve had trouble stopping. I could not stop after Chapter Six, but went on to Chapter Seven a week early. (And toyed with the idea of a three-chapter week, but decided not to.) Last week I went on to Chapter Nine for the Gregor scenes early too. I wonder if I’ll be able to hold myself back to only one chapter this week… Seriously, my favourite book in the series. Come back next week for two more chapters…no promises about any more.