Name: The Vorkosigan Saga Reread
Real Name: CryoBurn, Chapter 2
Origin: CryoBurn is the second most-recently published book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, but takes place most recently chronologically, with a several-year gap between it and the last couple of books.
Powers: Multiple viewpoints (Miles Vorkosigan and his Armsman, Roic)
Known weaknesses: Difficulty removing bolts from walls; recent injuries and lack of immediate resources
Roic wakes, not for the first time, with the effects of the drugs partly worn off. His wristcom is gone and he’s lying on a mattress on the floor of what he suspects is an abandoned hotel room; one ankle is chained to a bolt in the wall, the chain just long enough to let him reach the bathroom. The bathroom has a window in it, but the glass seems designed to be unbreakable; there’s another picture window he can see out of, but outside he sees nothing but taiga and scrub, so he must be outside the city of Northbridge. He begins trying to pull the bolt out of the wall, but it’s too small for him to get a decent grip on.
He thinks back to how he got into this situation. Four weeks ago, M’lord had been given a new Auditorial assignment, and they were headed offplanet. Roic was kept busy arranging for M’lord’s travel, and arranging things for his absence from the planet; more difficult was Roic’s absence from his own affairs, which includes his cautious courtship of Armsman Pym’s daughter Aurie. All told it took less than a day before they left the planet on the way to the planet named New Hope II, but called Kibou-daini by its inhabitants; Roic and M’lord both studied up on the planet during the three-week voyage.
They’re supposed to be attending a conference on cryonics, hosted by several cryorevival companies on the planet; Roic isn’t sure that M’lord’s personal experience with cryorevival, not to mention comfort with galactics and offplanet reproductive technologies, is enough to qualify him for the conference, though. He also doesn’t see that they’re enough of a threat to warrant M’lord bringing him along as a bodyguard, and yet he’s been assigned to keep watch over him in all of the program rooms.
And he had just about come to the conclusion that the entire jaunt was a put-up job between Lady Vorkosigan and Empress Laisa, to give Ekaterin a much-needed holiday from a spouse who diagnosed all complaints as a sign of boredom, to be alleviated with an exciting new task. Since Lady Vorkosigan already ran an enormous household, rode herd on four children under the age of six and a teenage son from a prior marriage, played political hostess for her husband in his roles both as an Imperial Auditor and as the Count’s heir, had undertaken supervisory responsibilities for agriculture and terraforming in the Vorkosigan’s District, and tried desperately, in her spare seconds, to maintain a garden design business, bets were on below-stairs as to when she would break and respond to m’lord’s idea of husbandly help by defenestrating the little man from the fourth floor of Vorkosigan House. This trip seemed a reasonable substitute to Roic.
Roic wasn’t comfortable not having a backup man, either. Just a day or two ago he’d come back from a bathroom visit to find M’lord vanished upstairs to a private party, and barely restrained himself from bursting in without being called. M’lord had been quite happy after that meeting, and later he told Roic that he’d just received his first bribe attempt, which seems to substantiate Empress Laisa’s hunch about what was going on here. M’lord explained that offers of bribes are excellent if you want to follow the strings back to find out who’s pulling them, and generally you should accept them until you have the information you need. The bribe was an offer of (non-voting) shares in White Chrysanthemum Cryonics Corporation, a.k.a. WhiteChrys, which is working on setting up a facility on Komarr. Roic has trouble understanding the odd Kibou-daini system whereby the cryofrozen leave voting proxies in the hands of the cryocompanies storing their bodies, a practice that had been started a couple of centuries earlier when the cryofreezing trend had been on the upswing.
The next day things had gone quite unexpectedly, what with the melee in the lobby, getting separated from M’lord, and Roic getting captured. He wonders if M’lord is nearby, in the same building, and starts rapping on the walls to see if he gets an answer; receiving none, he goes back to the bolt. He’d been busily trying to help potential hostages escape when he was taken down by a stunner beam, and now he can only help that M’lord will show up to rescue him.
The door is unbolted from the outside, and opened to reveal a skinny, bruised man who brings in a Reddi-Meal and cautiously pushes it towards Roic, careful to stay out of range. Roic tells the man he recognizes him from the lobby, one of the less-skilled men who’d participated in the mass hostage-taking. Roic asks who they are, and the skinny man identifies himself as part of the New Hope Legacy Liberators; as he holds forth on their manifesto, Roic manages to deduce that they’re trying to take back power from the companies and their vast proxy voting blocs, “Burn the Dead” being one of their slogans. They’re taking offworld hostages in an attempt to gain galactic attention to their struggle; Roic offers to pay some random or reward instead, and begins asking after Lord Vorkosigan, emphasizing that he needs to look after M’lord’s medical issues. Eventually the skinny man agrees to ask around, but he doesn’t think he’s seen anybody like that around.
Roic has Skinny pegged as a minion, having been convinced by someone that someone else is to blame for all their problems, following happily but not especially bright or reliable. The N.H.L.L. doesn’t seem to be using particularly lethal methods so far, so hopefully they won’t start killing their hostages.
Because if m’lord died on Roic’s watch, there would be nothing for it but to file the testimony by secured comlink and slit his own throat right here. Death would be better than making that report to certain persons in person. He pictured the faces of Count and Countess Vorkosigan, of Lady Ekaterin, hearing the news. Of Commander Pym, of Aurie. He imagined Sasha and little Helen, five years old-he’d have to kneel to look them in the eye-Where’s Papa, Roic?
He lacked a suitable blade. He’d heard of prisoners choking themselves by swallowing their own tongues-he curled his experimentally-but he doubted it would work for him. There was the wall. Strong enough to hold that damned bolt, certainly. Could he run against that wall hard enough to break his own sturdy neck?
Miles wakes up with a cat sitting on his chest, relieved to find out that the visual hallucinations seem to have gone away, and his surroundings, while odd, seem to be entirely real; in addition to the animals he’d already seen, he sees shelves holding cages and terrariums. He’s still tethered by the ankle; Jin is sitting nearby at a small table, and proves to an ordinary, dark-haired multiracial prepubescent kid dressed in ill-fitting clothes. He offers fresh-laid eggs for breakfast, but Miles asks if he can wash up first; Jin scrounges up some supplies and unties him, and Miles gives himself a thorough wash under the water tap around the corner.
Jin boils up some water and puts the eggs in it; he makes sure that Miles knows exactly where eggs come from, which he says some outworlders can’t handle. Miles tells him that he’s familiar with a lot of Earth animals that were imported to Barrayar; Kibou-daini is more like Komarr, still being terraformed. He tells Jin about Sergyar, with its more complete native ecosystem, since Jin seems to find the topic interesting. Miles asks about coffee or tea, but all Jin has to offer is warm bulbs of cola, which Miles decides doesn’t look too appealing.
Miles asks about the building–different from anything the cryocorps would have shown him–and Jin says he’s not quite sure how many people live there, one or two hundred, but his friend Suze might know. He was brought there by some people who find him sleeping in a park. Miles asks about family, and Jin says he doesn’t have any here, with uncharacteristic terseness.
“My dad’s dead.” A hesitation. “My mom’s frozen.”
A distinction with a difference, on this planet. “Siblings?”
“I have a little sister. Somewhere. With relatives.”
That last word had almost been spit out. Miles controlled his brows, maintaining an empty, inviting silence.
“She was too little to take with me,” Jin went on, a bit defensively, “and she didn’t understand anything that was going on anyway.”
Jin changes his subject, noting that the eggs are done, and serves them, providing some salt from Ayako’s Cafe. Miles wonders if Jin is an orphan or a runaway, and what Kibou-daini’s social services would think about his situation. Miles asks about the comconsole Jin had mentioned earlier, and Jin says his friend Suze has it; he promises, reluctantly, to takes Miles to meet her, though he doesn’t seem happy at the prospect of losing his new friend.
Jin feeds the animals and cleans their cages, but eventually finishes and leads Miles back down the ladder.
So Roic gets the flashback, not Miles, and manages to fill us in on at least some of what happened, though of course not the stuff Miles did when he wasn’t there, or Miles’s unexpressed thoughts, so there’s still a few gaps. And Miles’s POV is too concerned with the current situation to spend much time thinking about the recent past…or perhaps his memory is still a bit muddied from the drugs they gave him.
Roic is courting Pym’s daughter, eh? I’d forgotten that part. I still remember how Pym was “the new guy” way back in “The Mountains of Mourning”, and now he’s got a grown daughter? His son was young enough to play with Nikki, nine years ago, at least, so it’s not clear whether Aurie is older or younger than Arthur (or a twin? Or did Arthur get a sex change?). Anyway, we haven’t actually met her yet, but then we never did actually see Arthur, did we? Except maybe as one of the bug-hunting armsman kids back in A Civil Campaign. For that matter, Aurie might have been one of those, too. (Is Aurie short for something? Aurelia, perhaps? Aurora?)
And, also, Roic is being imprisoned by anti-cryocorp fanatics, “Burn the Dead” people, which may explain the graffiti Miles saw earlier. It does sound like a highly dodgy situation, cryocorps collecting the proxy votes of their clientele, turning into voting monoliths. Sounds like one of things that seemed like a good idea at the time and now it’s too late to do anything about it. Except that that’s what Miles is here for, to smash the cryocorp cartels and free the frozen. Well, those of them that can be thawed safely, anyway. It’s not clear yet if most of these people are like the guy who wanted to be frozen until they could fix old age, or if some of them just wanted to skip into the future (like in that Vernor Vinge story), or if there are a lot of people with serious medical conditions who would die if awakened, more like the rest of the galaxy seems to use cryofreezing.
There’s the slightly more minor mystery of Jin’s family, what happened to his mother, why he doesn’t seem to like the relatives who are looking after his sister, and maybe why his dad’s dead, though that could conceivably be innocent. Jin getting a POV means, of course, that he’s going to be integral to the plot, even after Miles manages to contact his people and get retrieved. Which may very well happen in the next chapter, of course.
And that chapter will, of course, be winging its way to you next week, barring untoward circumstances. The electronic copy of the book (from the CD enclosed with the hardcover) says there’s 20 chapters, and there doesn’t seem to be an authorial afterword like in the omnibized books, so that should be exactly what we get. Well, except for the “Aftermaths”, which are tacked onto the end of that chapter. I’ll have to see whether I want to devote an entire week to those five drabbles, brief in words but dense with meaning…