Baby! Sweetie-doll! So nice to see you! You remember me, don’t you? The Vorkosigan Saga Reread? Yeah, yeah, the one who talks about those Bujold books, about the Vorkosigan guys. Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to. Like right now, I’m doing this one called CryoBurn, which is actually the last one, about this guy named Miles who’s on this planet called Kibou-daini, hiding out with the help of a kid named Jin, but Miles’s armsman Roic has been captured, and…you know what? It’s too complicated. Just follow along with me.
After Jin’s departure, Miles makes his way carefully back down to the basement cafeteria, realizing that he fits in better in his current tattered clothes than he would in his best. He starts a conversation with the woman behind the counter, who says he can use whatever he wants as long as he cleans up after himself and replaces what he takes; he settles for a cup of tea. He hears a familiar voice and sees an old man who must be Yani, grumpy and confrontational, but Miles lures him into conversation by listening sympathetically to his complaints about how things went downhill during the century he was frozen; Miles had plenty of practice with this listening to his grandfather when he was younger. He wonders what it would be like if people from his grandfather’s generation had been frozen instead, and whether they’d hold back the tide of change when they were thawed.
When Yani starts to repeat himself, Miles ducks out to get them more tea, and chats with the cook some more. The cook asks if he’s here because he’s sick; Miles says he has a chronic medical condition, wondering how she guessed, and then wonders what she really means by her question. She interrupts his thought to greet a hairy man named Tenbury, who’s there to pick up his lunch; he notices Miles, who says that he’s a friend of Jin, who’s off running him an errand. He leaves after promising to fix a leaky faucet; the cook explains that Tenbury is the custodian. Miles, interested in the utilities feeding into the building, wonders what else he does.
On impulse, he drops Yani’s refilled teacup at his table and heads off in Tenbury’s wake, down a darkened stairwell following his quarry’s flashlight, then through a door into a similarly dark hallway lined with cryo-drawers, active ones. He realizes that this building is a secret cryo-cooperative for the disadvantaged, which Suze and her friends have managed to keep functioning off the grid. He wonders how much danger he’s in, if he’s liable to find himself stuffed into a cryochamber himself, frozen, alive or dead.
He knocks on Tenbury’s door, who lets him in after Miles tells him he talked to Suze that morning–omitting that it wasn’t to admit them to their community or anything. Tenbury also asks after his health, and Miles tells him about the seizure disorder, not correcting Tenbury’s impression that he’s broke. Tenbury shows him the cryochambers, most of which he says he keeps working by cannibalizing some of them; after twenty years they’re only 10% full, and they can keep on for decades yet, though he muses that he’ll need someone to learn his trade.
Miles still finds it odd to think of being cryofrozen voluntarily, rather than as a last resort. Tenbury says that a lot of people don’t want to risk dying without a chance of being frozen, but he thinks the corps are pushing it a little too much; Miles agrees that this seems like a self-limiting strategy. Tenbury notes that there are still refusers, a term that Miles hadn’t heard before, but seems obvious; he considers this a self-limiting strategy as well. He takes Miles out to see one of the cryo-drawers.
“It seems . . . small,” said Miles.
“Not much head room,” Tenbury agreed. “But you’re past sitting up suddenly by the time you arrive in it. I’ve often wondered if folks would retain any memory of their time in these, but the revives I’ve met all say not.” He slid the drawer closed and gave it a fond thump to seat the latch.
“You just go to sleep, and then wake up in a future somebody else picked for you. No dreams,” Miles agreed. “Blink out, blink back in. Like anesthesia, but longer.” An intimate preview of death, and doubtless a lot less traumatic when the blink out part wasn’t accomplished by a needle-grenade blowing out one’s chest, Miles had to allow. He spread his palm on the drawer-front. “What happens to all the poor frozen people”-or frozen poor people-“if this place is discovered by the authorities?”
A brief, humorless grin ruffled the beard-thatch. “Well, they can’t just let us thaw and rot, then bury us. That’s illegal.”
Miles realizes that this makes this more of a worthwhile endeavour, then, though he notes that the law could always change; Tenbury says that at least the deaths would be painless, and he’d rather not wake up in a world like that anyway. He then says he needs to get back to work, and Miles says he needs to go feed Jin’s animals; Tenbury gives him directions to the stairs back up, and Miles heads up to the roof, hoping Jin is back soon.
Jin is having trouble finding his way around the downtown tram station; he also wonders what’s in the thick envelope Vorlynkin gave him for Miles, but it’s sealed too securely for him to peek. He eventually finds his way up, his thoughts turning to Miles-san and whether he’ll be properly taking care of the animals; it’s always hard to tell if adults are taking you seriously.
In his distraction, he jumps at a hand on his shoulder, which turns out to belong to a policewoman, a person he emphatically did not want to run into just then. She asks his name and he claims to be Jin Vorkson, son of an offworlder, on an errand for his mother, but when she insists that they his mother from the security booth, he tries to make a break for it, and fails; she grabs the envelope from him, and calls for backup. She (Michiko) and her companion (Dan) haul Jin to the booth and give him a retina scan, which turns up his real identity quickly enough; Dan notes that Jin Sato has been listed as missing for over a year.
Michiko asks him about the envelope, which Jin claims is a personal letter he’s delivering for some men; the cops take this as a warning signal, and ask for more details, which Jin refuses to provide. They open the envelope to reveal a large chunk of cash, and a note which just says “We must trust that you know what you are doing. Please contact us in person as soon as possible.” They discuss whether this is about drugs, or feelie-dreams, or what. Jin refuses to tell them more, insisting he didn’t know there was money in there; Michiko says he’s safe from the men now, and they begin making arrangements to send him home; Jin, knowing he’s screwed up big time, hopes he can keep the secrets about Suze and Ako and Tenbury and the rest, but he worries about what is going to happen to his animals.
With a grating noise and a puff of powder, the bolt popped out of the concrete.
“Finally,” breathed Roic.
The frustrating part about having (or being) a young protagonist is that there is, generally, no really good reason why it has to be a young person doing these things. Children need to be protected, after all, and shouldn’t be off risking themselves when an adult could probably do it more safely. But adults are notoriously hard to convince about the things that kids consider to be important, having different priorities. And when your kid is the protagonist, then, of course, their priorities are right, the adults are wrong, so therefore they become a threat, because, with the best of intentions, they will ruthlessly act for kid’s own good, as they see it, no matter what they want. On the one hand–I know that you shouldn’t let your kid run back inside a burning house to rescue a favourite toy, or pet, or whatever. But Michiko and Dan can’t help but come across as villains here.
Admittedly, Jin doesn’t, and can’t, tell them much, because of his illicit living situation, and I’m sure he doesn’t get much sympathy for disliking his relatives, though we haven’t met them yet, so we don’t know how much it’s justified…though I can imagine. Should he have told them about the Barrayarans? It would have provided a better explanation for the money and the message, but then it would have led to questions about Miles, and maybe turned the wrong kind of attention on the Barrayarans from the people whose scrutiny Miles is trying to avoid. Are the police actually corrupt, or is it just Jin’s situation that makes him want to avoid them? If the government’s under the thumbs of the cryocorps, then I guess they could suborn the police if they want to…
I’m not sure personally how I feel about voluntary cryo-freezing. Yani should be a cautionary tale about the risks of being revived just to find out that things haven’t improved any. And presumably it’s not a risk-free process, even if Kibou-daini has it down pat; it’s probably at least as risky as what we would consider routine surgery, which is to say non-zero. In the case of incurable disease or injury, I guess I could see it as an alternative to swift and certain death, though it does presume a future where they’ve got resources to spare to heal sick people from the past, and add them to their own population. Something like Spider Robinson’s Deathkiller, I guess. But I’m not laying odds on that happening any time soon. I suppose, if you just couldn’t wait for the last Song of Ice And Fire or Stormlight Archive books to be released, then you could freeze yourself for a couple of years, but then you’d find yourself having missed out on years, or decades, of life and popular culture, and these days it’s pretty much impossible to keep up with it as it is. Okay, maybe Kibou-daini’s cultural scene is a little bit different, but we don’t get into that, do we?
Roic getting free is a great ending for a chapter, too. Especially now that Jin’s been captured and is likely to be shipped off to his hated relatives, and Miles is stuck waiting for Jin’s return, so at least one of our characters can actually, you know, do something. Or so we hope.
Next chapter: Roic does something? Maybe? Also, it won’t be next week, because Christmas and all that. Hmmm, and the one after that is New Year’s Eve. Maybe I’ll try for a post in the middle there somewhere, before going back to the Wednesday schedule. Sound good?