Good day, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I try to distill (or is that “dilute”?) the essence of the fine novels and stories in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. This week I cover the last two chapters of Brothers In Arms, which wraps up most of its plot threads, though it seems to start up some others…
Miles immediately contacts Nim and tells them about the Cetagandans and their plasma weapons; Nim says he’s already run into them, since they fired at the Dendarii when they tried to enter. He tells Miles that Elli’s wristcomm is down on the lower levels, not moving, and she stll doesn’t respond. Miles wonders if it’s still on her wrist, or if she’s lying stunned or dead somewhere. Miles tells Nim to anonymous inform the police about the presence of the armed men in the tower, maybe paint them as potential saboteurs, and then try to keep them sealed in the tower, pulling back when the police arrive if possible, but if necessary just pretending to be tourists out for a stroll.
As Miles signs off, Mark grabs him and tries to get him to call the Dendarii back and get them to clear out the Cetagandans. Miles says that stunner tag is one thing, but plasma arcs have a longer range. Ivan expresses concern that they’re about to be caught in a pincer between Barrayarans and Cetagandans, but Miles claims to have a “cloak of invisibility”. He leads them back towards the Barrayarans.
“No!” Mark balked. “The Barrayarans might kill you by accident, but they’ll kill me on purpose!”
“The ones back there,” Miles jerked his head over his shoulder, “would kill us both just to make sure. The Dagoola operation left the Cetagandans more peeved with Admiral Naismith than I think you have grasped. Come on.”
Miles, hoping his plan will actually work, finds a pumping station, quiescent now that high tide is receding. To be certain, Miles checks the control panels, and, retrieving his grandfather’s knife from Mark, disables the warning lights. He opens the pump chamber, puts his grappler on the inside of the door as a handler, reassures himself that he’ll be able to reopen it from the inside even if locked from outside, and puts a fisheye scanner on the control panel. Then he urges them all inside the pumping station; Ivan is far from thrilled, and neither is Mark. Miles tells Ivan he does have a chance of making it past Destang’s squad, although he might still get arrested when the police show up, but, sotto voce, he asks Ivan not to leave him along with Mark. The appeal for help persuades Ivan to stay, though he still protests it’s like a trap. Miles says it’ll be like a tactics room with the power out, and besides, Mark will get to share the experience.
The three of them clamber down into the chamber, Ivan closing the door so Miles can turn on his light. Ivan says at least they won’t be heard in there, and Miles says he went past it twice without really noticing it. He sets up his receiver to project the view from the fisheye lens, and says now they just have to wait. He calls Nim back, who tells him that the police have arrived, and they’re withdrawing; no update on Quinn, and, when Miles asks, they haven’t heard from Captain Galeni either.
Miles now wished he’d kept Galeni by him as heartily as he wished he’d kept Quinn. But they hadn’t yet found Ivan then; Miles hardly could have done otherwise. He felt like a man trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle of live pieces, that moved and changed shape at random intervals with tiny malicious giggles.
A Cetagandan scout appears in the display, now wielding a stunner, withdrawing just before a pair of Barrayarans appear from the other end, also getting out their stunners, both sides apparently aware of the police and wanting to de-escalate the situation. Soon three Barrayarans and two Cetagandans are approaching each other in the corridor. Miles wonders if the Cetagandans have Elli captive, if they’ll let her go or decide to cut her throat to keep her quiet, if he should charge out with his few troops and attack them; he restrains himself.
The lead Cetagandan and Barrayaran catch sight of each other and each fires, stunning the other. The second Cetagandan is stunned trying to check on his fallen companion, and the remaining Barrayarans go to inspect their downed opponents, trying to identify them. Just then the amplified, unintelligible voices of the police blare down the corridor; the Barrayarans pick up their stunned comrade and carry him onward. They encounter another pair of Cetagandans, firing behind them, and stun one of them, the other stunning one of the Barrayarans. As they try to shoot the other Cetagandan, a mass of stunner fire from the police takes out everyone but the Barrayaran carrying his unconscious comrade; when the police come into view he puts up his hands and surrenders meekly.
The two converging police squads came within a breath of repeating the mutual annihilation of their fleeing suspects, but managed to get their true identities communicated just in time. Miles was almost disappointed. Still, nothing could go on forever; at some point the corridor would have become impassable due to the piles of bodies, and the havoc trail off according to the typical senescence curve of a biological system choked on its own waste.
Once the police have cleared the place, the Tidal Authority and the bomb squads would go over the whole place with a fine-toothed comb; if Miles and his friends get discovered in the process, it won’t be fatal, as long as nobody panics. Mark asks whose side Miles is on, and Miles says this is all for Mark’s benefit. He and Mark consider each other; Miles understands the fascination with a clone of oneself, but he thinks he would really prefer actually combining his genes with those of a woman who is, preferably, smarter, faster and more attractive and than he is.
He knew what Mark was. Maybe it was more important to realize what he was not. Mark was not a duplicate of Miles himself, despite Galen’s best efforts. Was not even the brother of an only-child’s dreams; Ivan, with whom Miles shared clan, friends, Barrayar, private memories of the ever-receding past, was a hundred times more his brother than Mark could ever be. It was just possible he had under-appreciated Ivan’s merits. Botched beginnings could never be replayed, though they could be—Miles glanced down at his legs, seeing in his mind’s eye the artificial bones within—repaired. Sometimes.
Ivan wonders about Miles’s motivations too; he says one Miles is enough, when they both keep trying to lock him in closets. He recalls how Miles used to bully him and Elena around all the time, which image baffles Mark.
Miles asks Mark if he thinks he’s Evil; Mark says he’s a murderer, isn’t that enough? He admits that the weapon went off while he and Galen were struggling for it, but that he’d wanted it to. Miles asks Mark what he’d do if he were free; he points out that Galen’s body may well have washed out to sea by this point. Mark says that Miles is the free one; Miles blinks in surprise, pointing out that Mark’s only restraint was Galen, and he’s now gone. Miles is held by his sense of obligation to Barrayar and to the Dendarii. Once Mark gets out of Miles’s shadow, he can find out what he truly is. Miles reiterates his offer to smuggle Mark out with the Dendarii and take him to Barrayar to meet his family.
Mark says he doesn’t want to meet them, and when prodded, admits that what he really wants is to bust up the illegal clone business on Jackson’s Whole. Miles thinks this is an interesting idea, and asks Mark how he’d go about it. Mark says he’d blow up the labs and rescue the kids, but Miles says that that wouldn’t achieve much unless Mark could deal with the underlying demand. The best way to stop rich people from wanting to buy clone-bodies, he points out, would be to provide them another way of extending their lifespan. Mark says he could just kill them, but Miles counters that rich people tend to have good bodyguards. Mark really needs power, money and training, all of which he could get on Barrayar…
Mark repeats that he doesn’t want to go to Barrayar. Ivan tells Miles that he’s completely crazy; Miles says it’s time somebody took the clone-merchants on, and while he can’t spare the time and attention to do it himself, he could support Mark’s efforts, as long as he’s willing to stop trying to take his place. Mark says that, if anything, Miles should be trying to take his place, and looks at him suspiciously.
Miles laughed, painfully. What a temptation. Ditch his uniform, walk into a tubeway, and disappear with a credit chit for half a million marks in his pocket. To be a free man . . . His eye fell on Ivan’s grimy Imperial dress greens, symbol of their service. You are what you do—choose again. . . . No. Barrayar’s ugliest child would choose to be her champion still. Not crawl into a hole and be no one at all.
Miles spots the police patrols receding, and judges it’s time to leave before the techs come with their scanners. Ivan opens up the door and boosts Miles out; Mark has a moment of panic when he thinks he might be left behind, but Miles lowers the grappling line for him and he subsides. Miles calls Nim and asks for a status update; Nim says they’ve pulled back into the air, and the place is crawling with police, and still no sign of Elli. He gives Miles Elli’s coordinates and Miles says he’ll try to pick her up on their way out.
They sneak past a group of techs at the T intersection, and find a policeman guarding the lift-tube in the nearest tower. Miles reluctantly stuns him, having hoped to make their exit without a trace, and they go up to the level where Quinn’s signal has been coming from. They trace it to a locked utility closet, and Miles, with visions of slow deathtraps left by the Cetagandans, manually overrides the door and pushes it open to find her limp body inside. Checking for a pulse, he finds that she’s only stunned, and almost collapses in relief.
The farce continues, with Miles luring the Barrayarans and Cetagandans into firing at each other, and watching from their hidden location as people stun each other. I like the way that Bujold keeps consistent with her technology–stunners, nerve disrupters, and plasma arcs were introduced right from the beginning, in Shards of Honour. It’s a nice group of weapons–the ones that only knock out your opponent, the ones that damage people but, presumably, nothing else (unless there’s some kind of computer systems made out of neural tissue, perhaps), and then the ones that do physical damage and burn things. There are no easy defenses against any of them, that I recall (though Miles was supposedly selling some kind of personal shield in The Vor Game, wasn’t he, perhaps for nerve disrupters?). The horrific potential of nerve disrupter damage was also brought up very early in Shards of Honour, between Dubauer and Koudelka, but stunners still seem to be nice and safe (except for the hangover, of course). Admittedly she doesn’t waste a lot of time describing how they work–this is space opera, after all–but having their effects well-defined makes it easy for the reader to keep her honest…
I may have mentioned before how helpful the reread is for helping me make sense of confusing scenes. The whole sequence at the tidal station is so complex, with people splitting up and going in different directions, going up and down, etc., that going through it more slowly rewards you with actually being able to keep track of what’s going on. There’s two towers mentioned, for instance, Tower Six and Tower Seven, which I had trouble keeping straight, but apparently Six has the Barrayarans and Seven has the Cetagandans. Similarly, I kept somehow missing Miles actually placing his fisheye camera on the wall and had to go back and check for it when they were using it to watch the combatants.
Miles’s conversation about Mark and his goals, to get rid of cloning, is more foreshadowing of Mirror Dance–or, more likely, plot seeds that were later incorporated into Mirror Dance. Miles’s points are well taken, about the difficulty of eradicating the trade by taking direct action against its participants, rather than just trying to make it obsolete. In some ways, though, that’s like trying to get rid of homelessness by giving them all free accomodation–effective (and even cost-effective according to some studies), but yet seeming somehow ethically wrong anyway. It seems like it should be possible to make it economically unfeasible through repeated sabotage (though that is more dangerous); making it socially unacceptable doesn’t work when cultures are scattered so widely that there’s a lack of cultural consensus on right and wrong.
Miles, Mark and Ivan pause at the exit of the tower with the unconscious Elli, trying to gauge how to get to the shelter of the bushes past the police vehicles scattered around. Miles wishes they had some alcohol (Ivan had neglected to bring his hip flask), because a splash of that would have made them carrying Elli’s limp form seem more acceptable. They make it to the bushes, Ivan complaining that Miles should date lighter women.
Miles looks around, telling Ivan they still haven’t seen the man in face paint that Mark had told them about earlier. Miles quizzes Mark about the precise colours of the paint, and Miles tells him that means a century-captain (Mark having misidentified it). As a full ghem-lord, he won’t want to risk being captured and shamed, so he’ll have hung back, but be more committed to carrying out his mission.
They pass through the woods and find a utilitarian kiosk with a single door, the lights above it knocked out. The door opens and they aim their stunners tensely until Miles recognizes Captain Galeni and calls out to them; Galeni comes over to join them, somewhat surprised to find them all alive. Miles notices that Galeni seems to be in a state of mild exhilaration, his face is slightly bruised, and he’s carrying a Cetagandan plasma arc. They ask about the ghem-lord, and Galeni says he’s run into him already.
Galeni tells them that he’d gone into utility tunnels through the kiosk when he couldn’t find another way into the Barrier, but got turned around and ended up on a nearby pedestrian crossing, where he found Ghem-Lieutenant Tabor from the Cetagandan Embassy standing by a car. He soon realized that Tabor was serving as a perimeter man for a Cetagandan team; Tabor couldn’t figure out what Galeni was doing there, thinking he was drugged or something (which Miles could well believe, given Galeni’s fey state). Tabor received a message and tried to shoot Galeni with a stunner; Galeni was only half-hit but pretended to be out cold. He waited, biding his time and eavesdropping on Tabor until the century-captain showed up; his arrival distracted Tabor and Galeni was able to get the jump on them.
Miles’s brows rose. “How the devil did you manage that?”
Galeni’s hands were flexing as he spoke. “I don’t . . . quite know,” he admitted. “I remember hitting them. . . .” He glanced at Mark. “It was nice to have a clearly defined enemy for a change.”
Upon whom, Miles guessed, Galeni had just unloaded all the accumulated tensions of the last impossible week and this mad night. Miles had witnessed berserkers before. “Are they still alive?”
Miles asks if Tabor’s call is still nearby; Galeni says the police may have found it by now, he heard them in the tunnels, but Miles says they’ll have to chance it. Mark grumbles that he doesn’t have diplomatic immunity. Miles asks him if he’d like to really earn that credit chit; Mark says it doesn’t exist, but Miles counters that that was what Ser Galen thought, and he’d been wrong about other things. Miles asks Galeni if the Cetagandans can be roused, and is pleased when told they should be conscious by now. He tells Mark to be Lord Vorkosigan, and he’ll be Admiral Naismith, since Mark doesn’t have the Betan accent down yet. Galeni agrees that Mark owes them this much cooperation.
They make their way through the tunnels, dodging police, until they reach the Cetagandan groundcar, unadorned with any incriminating embassy markings; Miles notices the blood on the pavement and dents in the side. The two Cetagandans in the backseat are bound and gagged; Tabor is awake, the century-captain is still out cold, and Miles gets the medkit while Ivan loads Elli into the vehicle. The others get in the back with the Cetagandans and Ivan lowers a reflective canopy to hide them from outside viewers. Miles injects the century-captain with synergine to rouse him, and gives Elli one too for good measure. Ivan drives off, and Miles calls NIm to signal him to withdraw and follow them.
“Hello, Tabor,” said Mark, carefully coached, in his best Barrayaran Vor tones—did it really sound that snide?—”How’s your bonsai?”
Tabor recoiled slightly. The century-captain stirred, staring through slitted but focusing eyes. He tried to move, discovered his bonds, and settled back—not relaxed, but not wasting energy on futile struggle.
Galeni reached over him and loosed Tabor’s gag. “Sorry, Tabor. But you can’t have Admiral Naismith. Not here on Earth, anyway. You can pass the word up your chain of command. He’s under our protection until his fleet leaves orbit. Part of the agreed price for his helping the Barrayaran Embassy find the Komarrans who had lately kidnapped some of our personnel. So back off.”
Tabor’s eyes shifted, back and forth, as he spat out his gag, worked his jaw, and swallowed. He croaked, “You’re working together?”
“Unfortunately,” growled Mark.
“A mercenary,” caroled Miles, “gets it where he can.”
The century-captain tells “Naismith” that taking the Dagoola contract was a mistake; Miles agrees amiably, claiming that the Dagoolans stiffed them, too. He can’t afford personal vengeance, though, having been driven to work with his “old friends” the Barrayarans. Tabor is surprised that “Naismith” really seems to be a clone; “Lord Vorkosigan” says they thought he was a Cetagandan clone, but they now know he was made by the Komarrans. Miles says they promised to cover him until he leaves Earth, as long he avoids Barrayar in future, which he has no interest in anyway. Elli awakens and looks around in surprise at her surroundings, but decides to keep quiet until they can brief her more fully.
Ivan asks where he should drop off the Cetagandans, and Galeni says cheerfully that there’s no need for an incident, for him to reveal what the Cetagandans were really doing at the Tidal Barrier; he tells Ivan to take them to a hospital, since Tabor has a broken arm and his comrade has a concussion…unless Tabor prefers treatment at the Cetagandan embassy instead? Tabor chooses the embassy, to keep either of their ambassadors from having to get involved in the messy exchange of charges that would result at the hospital. They drop the two Cetagandans off, tossing the key after them once they’re out of the car, Galeni promising to return the car…after the Barrayarans have examined it thoroughly, of course.
Ivan asks Miles if he thinks the Cetagandans are convinced; Miles says he’s not sure they bought the idea that Barrayar had nothing to do with Dagoola, but they should now be easy to convince that Vorkosigan and Naismith are two different people. Ivan wonders if Destang will approve, and Galeni says that he “doesn’t give a good goddamn” about what Destang thinks; Miles agrees, though he realizes they are all very tired. He asks Mark where he wants to be dropped off; Mark says any tube station, and Galeni doesn’t object. Ivan takes them to the nearest one and Miles and Mark get out and go down the lift tube.
In the station, Miles pulls out the coded card with the hundred thousand Betan dollars on it and gives it to Mark, telling him that he should be able to use that to disappear easily enough. Mark asks what Miles wants of him; Miles says he’s a free man, they won’t be pursuing him over Galen’s death. He admits he’d like more from Mark than that, but he’ll settle for what he can get.
“What is it that you want me to do?” Mark demanded. “What are you setting me up for? Did you really take that Jackson’s Whole garbage seriously? What do you expect me to do?”
“You can take it and retire to the pleasure domes of Mars, for as long as it lasts. Or buy an education, or two or three. Or stuff it down the first waste chute you pass. I’m not your owner. I’m not your mentor. I’m not your parents. I have no expectations. I have no desires.” Rebel against that—if you can figure out how—little brother. . . . Miles held his hands palm-out and stepped back.
Mark swung into the lift tube, never turning his back. “WHY NOT?” he yelled suddenly, baffled and furious.
Miles threw back his head and laughed. “You figure it out!” he called.
Miles returns to the car, and Elli asks if that was a good idea. Miles says Galen twisted Mark so much that Miles couldn’t help any more, so the best he can do is deprive Mark of the object of his obsession and see if he can untwist himself. He calls Nim and dismisses them back to the shuttle, but decides that he and the others have to go back to the embassy and face the music. No point in lying any more, either, he says, and Galeni agrees. “I do not care for doctored reports anyway. Eventually, they become history. Embedded sin.”
Miles apologizes for Galen’s death, and Galeni says he never thought Miles was omnipotent. Miles tells Ivan to drive slowly, and they enjoy a leisurely drive through London’s summer dawn. All too soon they are lined up in Galeni’s office, facing a disgusted-looking Destang.
“Vorkosigan.” Miles’s name hung in the air before them like a visible thing. Destang regarded it without favor, and went on, “When I finished dealing with a certain Investigator Reed of the London Municipal Assizes at 0700 this morning, I was determined that only divine intervention could save you from my wrath. Divine intervention arrived at 0900 in the person of a special courier from Imperial HQ.” Destang held up a data disk marked with the Imperial seal between his thumb and forefinger. “Here are the new and urgent orders for your Dendarii irregulars.”
Destang tells him that a mercenary fleet in a system in that sector has slipped over the edge from blockade into outright piracy. They captured a passenger liner to convert into a troop transport, and had the bright idea to hold the passengers for hostage. While many of the governments whose citizens were captured are involved in negotiations, Barrayar had only a few, including the wife of one Lord Vorvane, Minister for Heavy Industries, and were unable to get a representative onto the team. The Barrayaran fleet is blocked from the shortest route, but the Dendarii are only a couple of weeks away. Their orders are to rescue the Barrayarans and as many other citizens as possible, and convince the pirates that they should reconsider their career choices, as usual without revealing who hired them, method left entirely to Miles’s discretion. Destang hands over the most recent intelligence information they have, as well as, somewhat grudgingly, another eighteen-million-mark credit chit. After that he can report to Commodore Rivik at Orient Station, and, with any luck, he’ll stay out of Destang’s sector until he’s had the chance to retire.
Destang turned his eye on Ivan. “Lieutenant Vorpatril.”
“Sir?” Ivan stood to attention with his best air of eager enthusiasm. Miles prepared to protest Ivan’s complete innocence, ignorance, and victimhood, but it turned out not to be necessary; Destang contemplated Ivan for a moment longer, and sighed, “Never mind.”
Destang then turns to Galeni. Galeni is facing charges of disobeying orders in leaving the embassy, but since Miles is already evading those charges, it doesn’t seem fair to punish Galeni for it. Destang admits that they did end up rescuing Ivan and killing an enemy of Barrayar; anything about Galeni’s motives and thoughts is mere speculation…unless he agrees to fast-penta. Galeni asks if it’s an order, and Miles can tell he’ll resign if pressed. Destang says no, and he’s going to pass the whole mess up to Simon Illyan, who can deal with the political questions; in the meantime, Galeni can resume his post on Earth, at the ambassador’s request.
Miles and Elli return to the Triumph, the Dendarii busily preparing for departure. Miles sends the curious away with instructions to help get things ready. They encounter Tung, dressed in civilian clothing, who says he’s retiring and getting married. A distant relative of his, a widow, has a tourist boat on the Amazon which he’s going to help her with, once Miles finishes buying out his share of the Triumph. Miles is somewhat distressed by this, but Tung assures him that he’ll do fine, he’s earned his rank, and, he says with a wink, the Dendarii don’t have to make a profit.
After Tung leaves, Miles tells Elli they’ll need to send someone to infiltrate the pirate fleet, and he realizes that Elli is the logical choice to send. Overcoming his reservations, he muses that they need someone able to do “criminally psychotic”, just as Private Danio approaches Miles to thank him for bailing him out. He tells her to get Thorne to collect any additional information he can from Earth before they leave, and is relieved that this, at least, will be a straightforward mission.
The pirate mission is one of the great untold Dendarii stories, in that we get a fair number of details about it here, at the end of the book, and then the next we see of it is Miles recovering from it in the Borders of Infinity framing story. For some authors, this would be a cliffhanger, but for Bujold it just means that the Dendarii are returning to business as usual. She does lampshade it a bit, actually, when she has Destang refer to it as “divine intervention”. What would Destang have done with Miles, and Galeni, otherwise? Punishment details? Court martials (or is that “courts martial”)? Even humiliating fast-penta interrogations would be fraught. He’s wise to push Galeni’s case up to Simon Illyan, where I’m sure Aral Vorkosigan will encourage him to give Galeni the benefit of the doubt.
The scene with Mark and Miles and the Cetagandans is cute, and probably muddied the waters for some time. Later, when Mark is accepted as a Vorkosigan and Miles’s brother, one might wonder if they figure out that they were had, especially after Admiral Naismith’s forced retirement… This book was written before Cetaganda, of course, so Bujold may not have realized yet that Miles did have a few allies inside the Cetagandan power structure, who turn up the next time Miles and the Cetagandans cross paths, in Diplomatic Immunity. So perhaps by then they’ve decided to let bygones be bygones, or just given up..
According to the timelines supplied in most of the books (and in The Vorkosigan Companion), Miles is 24 in Brothers In Arms, 25 by the time of the Borders of Infinity framing story, and 28 for Mirror Dance. Those three or four years are another gap filled with Dendarii missions for Miles–as, admittedly, were the four years between The Vor Game (age 20) and Brothers In Arms, but since those include Ethan of Athos, “Labyrinth”, and “The Borders of Infinity”, it feels like we know more about them. I doubt Bujold intends to fill in all of that history, by this point, though it does give her plenty of room to add in any “remember when” backstory scenes or discussions if needed for later plot or character development. Of course, Mark isn’t idle in that period either, but we’ll find out more about that in Mirror Dance. Miles is 30, of course, for Memory, where he learns the truth about Galeni’s comment about doctored reports.
I did it! Brothers In Arms is done, and in plenty of time for me to read Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance…assuming that it doesn’t get delayed like CryoBurn did. By popular request, I will be doing the Borders of Infinity framing story next, but I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll do that next week, and then give myself a week off before Mirror Dance, or if I’ll do the week off right away and then the framing story. Chronologically, there is a longer gap before Mirror Dance (and it does look like it has more chapters than Brothers–thirty-two–but we’ll see how I feel next week. Until then…