I almost went out to see a movie tonight, but luckily I was spared this horror and was able to devote my time to finishing up this blog post for you, my readers. I did not have to see Jupiter ascend, or any King’s men, or any shadows of grey, or anything like that. Instead I was able to focus on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, covering another chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel CryoBurn, the last (to date, and for the foreseeable future) of her novels of Miles Vorkosigan. In this chapter, Chapter Eleven, things go off easily…maybe a little too easily. Or do they?
The body-stealing expedition sets out at high noon, rather than the stormy midnight Roic had half-hoped for; they drive a lift-van into the NewEgypt facility, and are passed without even having to use the floral excuses they’d come up with. Miles explains that it’s visiting hours, and they don’t want to offend any potential clients; they’d be more worried about vandalism at night, or theft from employees. Roic, Miles and Raven are dressed in hospital uniforms, Roic’s a little small and Miles’s too big; they drive to the loading dock to deliver their frozen corpse, which they unload on a float-pallet in a hidden insulated body-bag, and Johannes drives off to park the van.
They make their way through the facility, encountering a few employees and visitors but arousing no suspicion, Miles guiding them to their destination using a map on his wristcom. Miles picks an electronic lock in an underground passage, which leads them into an unfinished, less well-lit corridor; this area is designed like four concentric circles with spokes crossing them. Miles guides them to a more finished corridor, not as flashy as Roic was expecting, and counts his way to the prospective drawer, whose serial number Raven confirms.
Miles gives them his electronic lockpick and heads off to turn off the power to this section, which turns out to be the best way to conceal opening a single drawer; as he trots off, Raven and Roic open up the body bag and wait for the lights to go out. When they do, they open the drawer and Roic lifts out the body within, then slides in their replacement with Raven’s help, hoping the difference in the wrappings won’t be too noticeable. They exchange signals with Miles confirming that all’s gone well, and he reactivates the power, while Roic and Raven clean things up and hope that any techs coming to check out the failure won’t get there too quickly. Miles returns and urges them on, visibly enjoying the activity, and they manage to make their way back out just as the sound of technicians is drifting down the corridors.
They arrive back at the exit without incident, and summon Johannes to pick them up; by the time they’re loaded and out of the facility, Miles notes that it only took sixteen minutes. Roic and Miles, looking less Kibou than the other two, stay in the back keeping an eye on the body, making sure it doesn’t roll around and get damaged. Roic says the whole thing reminds him of Sergeant Taura, and wonders if they should have frozen her, too, when she was dying in the Durona clinic; Miles recalls that they all failed to talk her into it.
What, wake up, still a freak, in some strange place and time, with all my friends gone? Taura had said to the protesting Roic, in that terribly-wrong-for-her thready voice. But you could make new friends! was an argument that had failed to move her, in the exhaustion of her failing metabolism.
Roic made a helpless gesture. “You could have overridden her. After she was too far gone to tell, ordered her cryoprepped.” God knew m’lord was capable of riding over any number of other people’s wills.
M’lord shrugged, face sobered in the shared memory. “That would have been for our benefit, then. Not for hers. But Taura chose fire over ice. That, at least, I had no trouble understanding. High temperature cremation leaves no DNA.”
She’d been indifferent to where her ashes would be scattered, except not Jackson’s Whole, so m’lord had provided a burial plot for her urn in his own family cemetery at Vorkosigan Surleau, overlooking the long lake, a task m’lord and Roic had seen to personally.
“Nobody,” muttered Roic, “should die of old age at thirty-standard.” Certainly not such a blazing spirit as Taura’s had been.
Miles muses about whether their current lifespans will seem unreasonable, if anyone really gets this life-extension thing figured out. He notes that even if nobody’s body aged, it’s been calculated that 800 years will be a likely median lifespan before encountering a fatal accident of some sort; he adds that even those who worry about dying don’t seem to consider all the time they didn’t exist before they were born, which Roic doesn’t want to think too hard about.
They wait at the lab for hours as the bring Lisa Sato’s body temperature up to almost freezing; Johannes goes back to the consulate, and Miles and Roic take turns napping in a nearby toom, with Raven and Tanaka also alternating shifts. By dawn they’re ready to start, replacing the cryo-fluid with synthesized blood, which improves the frozen body’s colour immensely; the blood, being wholly artificial, lacks the body’s built-in antibodies, so it’ll require some time in isolation to build up the immune system.
Miles is allowed to watch the procedure, but only with a sophisticated medical mask keeping him from becoming a source of contagion. As the operation proceeds, though, Raven becomes concerned about the lack of activity in the brain; they try applying electric shock to the head, but then Raven announces that this isn’t working.
The bottom fell out of Miles’s stomach in a sickening lurch. “Raven, you can’t stop.” My God, we can’t afford to botch this one. Those poor kids are waiting for us to deliver their mother back to them. I promised . . .
“Miles, I’ve done over seven thousand revivals. I don’t need to spend the next half hour jumping on this poor woman’s corpse to know she’s gone. Her brain is slush, on a micro-level.” Raven sighed and turned away from the table, peeling down his mask and drawing off his gloves. “I know a bad prep when I see one, and that was a bad prep. This wasn’t my fault. There was nothing I could do. There was nothing I could ever have done.” Raven was far too controlled a man to throw his gloves across the room and swear, but he hardly needed to; Miles could read his emotions in his set face, the more fierce for the sharp contrast with his usual easy-going cheer.
Miles asks if he thinks it was murder; Raven points out that people do die in these things, but he supposes that in Miles’s vicinity the odds are a little different. He plans to do an autopsy to find out exactly what was done to this body, because something didn’t seem quite right, and he doesn’t like being set up for failure like this. Miles goes over to look at the inert body, and wonders how he’s going to break the news to Jin and Mina, that the false hope he gave them is now gone. He’s now extra-motivated to avenge her, though.
A knock on the door proves, unfortunately, to be Vorlynkin, with Jin and Mina; Miles slips out of the room, blocking the door, and reminds them that they were supposed to wait. Vorlynkin says that they couldn’t bear to wait any longer, even if they could only see her through glass, and he thought he’d let them at least catch a glimpse in hopes it would settle them down. The consul swiftly figures out that something is wrong from Miles’s mood, though he doesn’t ask out loud.
Miles is not ready for this; he’s broken the news of death before, but never to children like this. The children can also sense something from Miles’s mood, so he can’t hold back any longer. He tells them that their mother probably died in the cryoprep, months ago, and that there wasn’t anything they could have done. In shock, the children still insist on seeing their mother, at least, and Miles agrees reluctantly.
He slips back into the lab and asks Raven to make her ready for her children to see her; Raven is shaken at the prospect, but they clean her up hastily and then let the children in.
Jin and Mina and Vorlynkin filed through. The look Vorlynkin flicked at Miles in passing had very little love in it. Jin took the consul’s free hand as they came up to the tableside. Because who else was there left to hang onto, in this spinning hour?
The children stared some more. Mina’s lips parted in bewilderment; Jin raised his eyes to Miles with a half-voiced Huh?
Drawing back in something between outrage and scorn, Mina said, “But that’s not our mommy!”
After reading the previous chapter, I decided to read a little ahead, so I did the first part of this chapter, the body-snatching. I thought that it might be exciting, perhaps. Instead, it was dull as dishwater. They make their way into the facility unremarked, they find the cryocorpse just fine, their plan to interrupt the power works fine, they make the swap, and they get away clean in mere minutes. Ho hum. I didn’t finish reading that chapter until I was ready to start this week’s entry…though my wife reminded me that something went wrong with the body…
So I guess it is a nice twist for the body to be the wrong one. That part works well, the cryorevival going badly, and the tension of Miles not wanting to have to tell the children about it. It’s a palpable relief, really, when Jin and Mina point out the mistake. Except that, thinking about it, it’s maybe too much of a fake-out, like one of those Disney movie scenes where you think for about thirty seconds that a character is dead, and then they regain consciousness and everything’s okay. Not quite that bad, but it transforms a tragedy into an inconvenience, making the reader feel foolish about having begun to feel sad for the children or anything.
Starting with no immune system seems like more of a problem than they make it out to be here. They say something about having to isolate someone for a few days until their marrow begins making antibodies on their own; I certainly hope that it’s followed by a rigorous schedule of vaccination, or else you’re still going to catch everything once before you build up those immunities again. I suppose that medicine is advanced enough to deal with that by this point, so it’s not a big deal, but it seemed like an oversight.
More moving, really, is the mention of Taura’s death. It was almost a relief, when I read this, to find that Taura’s long-delayed death had finally caught up to her. As an author, you have to prove you’re serious about killing off characters that you’ve given a short time to live, or else there’s no point. You’re just a chicken or something. Step up to the plate and kill off them characters.
So now they have to find Lisa Sato’s real body, or, failing that, some other clue about what was going on. I guess this counts as a try-fail, then; how many are they up to now? Where do we start counting? Next week we’ll see what they do next…