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Archive for the ‘Mirror Dance’ Category

The train crested the hill some time ago, and has been coasting downhill for a while; now it’s finally pulling into the station and coasting to a stop.  That’s how it feels to do these last two chapters of Mirror Dance, my current novel in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, at any rate.  Chapters Thirty-Two and Thirty-Three are our denouement, our heroes, Miles and Mark Vorkosigan, back on Barrayar and ready for the healing to begin.

Chapter Thirty-Two

In the library of Vorkosigan House, Miles surreptitiously studies his reflection, dressed in parade red-and-blues.  The scars on his necks from his cryo-chamber prep are not quite concealed, but he hopes they’ll look innocuously medical.  The uniform is still a little loose on him, though his mother and Mark have had some success in getting him more fleshed out.  Mark joins him, dressed in new civilian clothes from Gregor’s tailor.

The colors honored Winterfair, sort of; a green so dark as to be almost black was trimmed with a red so dark as to be almost black. The effect was somewhere between festive and sinister, like a small, cheerful bomb.

Mark says he looks better, and Miles says the same of him; Mark says he’s settled on his final weight, which is why he’s invested in the wardrobe.  He takes comfort in the idea that not even the most myopic of assassins could mistake him for Miles.

Cordelia joins them, visibly exulting in her two sons; she tells them the Count is still getting ready.  She’s sworn to get him out of the party by midnight, though he will have to prove he hasn’t lost his strength, and will drive Prime Ministery Racozy crazy watching over his shoulder.  She hopes to get them down to Hassadar soon.  Miles predicts that he’ll dance twice, to prove he can, and after that he’ll want to sit down.  Cordelia notes that Barrayar doesn’t know yet what to do with its men when they retire rather than dying in harness.

She mentions that Gregor has had the horrible idea of offering them the viceroyalty of Sergyar, since the current viceroy is pleading to come home.  She calls it a thankless job, but Miles points out that she did discover the planet herself, and Cordelia begins to talk about the ecological problems, like the worm plague, and how they need a little Betan know-how…

Miles and Mark looked at each other. It wasn’t telepathy. But the thought that perhaps Aral Vorkosigan wasn’t the only over-energetic aging expert Gregor might be glad to export from his capital was surely being shared between them, right this second.

Mark’s brows drew down. “How soon might this be, ma’am?”

“Oh, not for at least a year.”

The Count appears, looking trim with his medical weight loss, good colour apart from his completely white hair, but Miles knows his stamina won’t last.  In retrospect, his father’s near-death experience has scared Miles, demonstrating that he might not even be there when his father dies.  Throwing dignity to the wind, he gives his father a hug, which embarrasses him slightly, but Count is also clearly revelling in his biological wealth.

The Countess attached herself to her husband’s arm. “Lead on, love. Vorkosigans Victorious.”

Vorkosigans Convalescent, was more like it, Miles reflected, following. But you should see what the other guys look like.

Simon Illyan is there to greet them at the Residence, which reassures Aral, who notes that there must be no major crises in progress.  Illyan comes over to brief Aral, out of habit, and is embarrassed when Aral points out he should be talking to Racozy instead.  Cordelia pulls Aral away, and Illyan turns his attention to Miles and Mark; Miles takes pains to appear healthy, so his return to duty in two months won’t be delayed further.  After all, those convulsions have probably stopped by now.

Mark asks Illyan if his Winterfair gifts to the clones have arrived–just money, since he doesn’t know them well enough for more, but he decides it also gives them the gift of choice.  The million marks he gave ImpSec were earmarked for the clones’ education and other needs, but the gifts are separate.  He confides to Miles that it is better to give than to receive, to be “Father Frost”.  He asks what they give Gregor, who has everything, and Miles says that traditionally they give him a large shipment of maple syrup; Aral is even worse, and Miles says sometimes you can’t pay back, you have to pay forward.

Miles feels the eyes on them as they enter the reception hall, and he thinks that Barrayar doesn’t know what’s going to hit it.  He hopes he can teach Mark to care for Barrayar as he does, dangerous as that sometimes is, and looks forward to having Mark as a friend and ally.  He reminds himself that now, on some level, he’s expendable, but he feels that Mark has done well, learning from his example.

Mark asks Miles about Lord Vorsmythe, an industrialist that Mark has been wanting to talk to, and asks Miles to introduce him.  Mark intends to invest two-thirds of his money domestically on Barrayar, and rest galactic–Lilly Durona’s medical firm on Escobar, to be precise, to work on a medical solution for the longevity problem, though he’s willing to bet she’ll turn a profit as well.  Miles performs the introduction, and Vorsmythe is surprised and delighted to have an actual interested audience in Mark.  Miles leaves them to it and heads in the direction of Delia Koudelka.

Comments

So here is where we get the first mention of the viceroyalty of Sergyar, and the worm plague, for that matter.  This may have been where I clued in, first time through, that Sergyar was the same planet from the beginning of Shards of Honour.  It did have some interesting fauna, as I recall, though luckily we didn’t get to see the worm plague back then.  It is an ideal position for Aral and Cordelia, as Gregor shrewdly noticed–Aral as viceroy of Komarr would probably be just a teensy tiny bit more fraught.

Miles is, indeed, falling into the thought patterns that Cordelia had predicted, in having some perhaps unrealistic expectations about his future relationship with Mark, “potential ally” and all that.  Mark, of course, is looking forward more to keeping his brother down to earth and teasing him mercilessly.  Also, he’s thinking very wishfully about the prognosis of his little seizure problem…and setting up a large chunk of the next book’s plot in the process.  I’m sure that Bujold was, even now, thinking to herself “What’s the worst thing I can do to Miles next?”

Mark is also exercising his new identity–distinguishing himself physically from Miles in an unambiguous fashion.  I’m not sure if the ability to pick a weight and maintain it effortlessly, presumably with pharmaceutical aid, is widespread on Barrayar or more of a galactic thing; I suspect more of the latter, or perhaps it’s one of those things that is only gradually making inroads.  I suspect that Barrayar would make more out of keeping oneself naturally fit.  Being fat then becomes a lifestyle choice, and presumably not a particularly popular one, but Mark has his reasons, of course.

Chapter Thirty-Three

Lady Vorsmythe eventually retrieves her husband from his fascinating discussion with Mark.  Mark looks around to see if Miles is also overexerting himself.  Miles has been surreptitiously using Mark to check for gaps in his memory, and Mark realizes how desperately frightened Miles is of having permanently lost some piece of his past.  It bothers him to see Miles so unsure, and Mark hopes he’ll recover his obnoxious self-confidence soon.  Mark has enough things he’d gladly forget.  He’ll have to get Miles to show him around, get him to play the expert for a while; he’d rather let Miles’s ego recover a bit before doing his brotherly duty of cutting it down to size.

He finally spots Miles in the company of Delia Koudelka, and realizes that Kareen’s probably there too.  He finds the Countess, and asks her if she talked to Kareen, and, if so, what she said.  Cordelia says it was a long conversation, but it boiled down to Mark being an intelligent man who’d had some bad experiences, but she thought he’d be suitable for Kareen if he turned his mind to solving his problems.  Mark wonders if she’s talking about Betan-style therapy, but he’s afraid any therapist’s notes would end up in ImpSec hands.  Cordelia says she could make sure that didn’t happen, even if she couldn’t see the reports herself, and gives him her word on it.

She says she didn’t tell Kareen any sordid details, since she’s still a little young for that–still in school, and thus not ready for a long-term commitment.  Mark says that he’s managed to acquire a whole new set of problems since then anyway, worse ones.  Cordelia says that he seems much more relaxed to her since getting back from Jackson’s Whole.

“I don’t regret knowing myself, ma’am. I don’t even regret . . .  being myself.” Me and the black gang. “But I do regret . . . being so far from Kareen. I believe I am a monster, of some sort. And in the play, Caliban does not marry Prospero’s daughter. In fact, he gets stomped for trying, as I recall.” Yes, how could he possibly explain Gorge and Grunt and Howl and Killer to someone like Kareen, without frightening or disgusting her? How could he ask her to feed his abnormal appetites, even in some dream or fantasy play? It was hopeless. Better not to try.

The Countess smiled wryly. “There are several things wrong with your analogy, Mark. In the first place, I can guarantee you are not subhuman, whatever you think you are. And Kareen is not superhuman, either. Though if you insist on treating her as a prize and not as a person, I can also guarantee you will run yourself into another kind of trouble.” Her raised brows punctuated the point. “I added, as condition to my blessing on your suit, the suggestion that she take the opportunity during her schooling on Beta Colony next year for some extra tutoring. A little Betan education in certain personal matters could go a long way, I think, to widening her perceptions enough to admit, um, complexities without choking. A certain liberality of view an eighteen-year-old simply cannot acquire on Barrayar.”

Mark says he’d thought of going to school on Beta Colony himself, for the benefit of future qualifications, and Cordelia approves of his plan.  He still has to deal with the evening ahead, though.  Cordelia says he should go ahead and dance with Kareen; this is not the play, and Prospero has more than one daughter.  Kareen seems to find him interesting, at least, and young people are gifted with romance rather than prudence.

Walking across the hall to meet Kareen requires all his fortitude, but he is rewarded with enthusiasm on her part.  She has saved a number of dances for him, and Mark has purposely learned the steps to a minuet for the purpose.  They move onto the dance floor, Mark marvelling at the color coordination of her dress with his outfit until he realizes their mothers must have compared notes.  Mark suppresses Grunt’s more lustful assessments of Kareen, and channels it into his dancing.

All true wealth is biological, the Count had said. Mark finally saw exactly what he meant. For all his million Betan dollars, he could not buy this, the light in Kareen’s eyes. Though it couldn’t hurt . . . what was that damned Earth bird or other, that built wildly elaborate nests to attract a mate?

Mark asks her, feigning nonchalance, what she thinks is most important in a man; she answers “Wit”.  She turns the question back on him, and he answers “Trust”.  He has a wonderful evening after that, making her laugh several times, eating enough to sate Gorge, dancing even with some of Kareen’s friends, but eventually his feet get tired and he retrieves a wilted Miles and Armsman Pym drives them home, the Count and Countess having already left.

Mark and his brother were alone in the compartment. Mark counted the number of people present. One, two. Three, four, five, six, seven. Lord Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith. Lord Mark Vorkosigan and Gorge, Grunt, Howl, and Killer.

Admiral Naismith was a much classier creation, Mark thought with a silent sigh of envy. Miles could take the Admiral out to parties, introduce him to women, parade him in public almost anywhere but Barrayar itself. I suppose what my black gang lacks in savoir faire, we make up in numbers. . . .

Mark apologizes for getting Miles killed, and Miles said the drop mission was a mistake in the first place.  Vasa Luigi hadn’t wanted to ransom Mark, though, probably already planning to sell him to Ryoval.  Miles said it didn’t make much difference in the end, but Mark disagrees.  They discuss future plans; Miles says that their parents will be going down to Hassadar, where it’s somewhat warmer, and Miles plans to divide his time between there and Vorbarr Sultana until ImpSec lets him back to work, and he invites Mark along.  Mark accepts, and says that he’s thinking of taking a few courses in the college in Hassadar, as much to learn about how to deal with less than enlightened fellow students as for the actual education, though he yearns to know as much as he can.

The groundcar turned in at the gates of Vorkosigan House, and slowed. “Maybe I’ll get up early,” said Mark. “There’s a lot to do.”

Miles grinned sleepily, puddled down in his uniform. “Welcome to the beginning.”

Comments

And here we are at the end.  Shorter chapters, mostly, but more of them, not to mention that gap in the middle, so it took longer than some of the other books.  But it was worth it.  Mark has had a great journey, from a bad counterfeit Admiral Naismith afraid of Barrayar to facing the planet on his own terms.  Miles is really a secondary character in the book, his own challenges mostly against his own infirmity, attempting to overcome adversity to get back to where he was, rather than to conquer new ground.  Don’t worry, he’ll have time for that soon enough.

You can’t help but cheer for Mark and Kareen–you want Mark to get the girl, though of course there’s more of it for Kareen than just being the prize.  Which is probably a lot of the reason for their plotline in A Civil Campaign, which we’ll get to…well, not soon enough, but eventually, at least.  At least Mark is not indoctrinated with the usual Vor dose of Barrayaran sexism, so he has less to get over in that respect than some of the people Kareen could have ended up with.

You know, I almost wish we could’ve seen Miles and Ivan’s reunion.  I suppose it would have been underwhelming, since Ivan wouldn’t let on how relieved and happy he was for Miles to be back among the living without the influence of a lot of alcohol.  But some mention, at least…

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After this, my usual week off before I start on Memory.  And, as I’ve said, it will be a little different doing this one, because I don’t have an electronic copy of this one like I have for all the others I’ve done so far, courtesy of that lovely CD that came with Cryoburn.  In fact, Memory is one I still have in mass-market paperback, so it’ll be much harder to hold it open and type, so: fewer quotes, I expect.  On balance Memory may be my favourite book in the series, though Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign are close runners.  Let’s see if it holds up in the reread this time…

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Look, another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread is poking its nose out of its burrow!  Is it true what they say, that if it sees its shadow, that means another six weeks of winter?  Of course not; that’d be ridiculous.  It’s a little thinner than usual, though, consisting of only a single chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Mirror Dance.  Why is that?  Well, I guess it’s either because I decided that the next (and last) two chapters of the book go together better, both being set back on Barrayar rather than on Jackson’s Whole, or because I decided to steal a little extra time this week at the expense of Future Me.  Sorry, Future Me.  I did already read those last two chapters, so there’s that.

Chapter Thirty-One

“Did you find them?” Lord Mark asked.

“Yes,” said Bothari-Jesek tightly.

“Did you destroy them?”

“Yes.”

Mark flushed, and leaned his head back against Lilly’s chair, feeling the weight of gravity. He sighed. “You looked at them. I told you not to.”

Elena said she had to check that she had the right tapes, and Mark says she could just have destroyed all of them.  She admitted she did, eventually–first she turned off the sound, then fast-forwarded, then spot-checked, before giving up.  She couldn’t believe that there were hundreds of hours; Mark said there was only about fifty hours, but shot from different angles, intended for Ryoval’s later enjoyment and/or analysis.

She says she understand why he wants them destroyed–they’d be horrific blackmail leverage.  She offers to swear to secrecy, but Mark says he doesn’t care about that–he’d rather people knew what happened, to keep from having that kind of secret shame.  But he couldn’t bear Simon Illyan getting them, and Lord or Lady Vorkosigan catching a glimpse of the contents.  She says that Lt. Iverson was livid at finding out she’d destroyed them, and is going to complain to his superiors; Mark says if they dare to raise a stink about it, he’ll ask where they were for the last five days.

Her face was greenish-white. “I’m . . . so sorry, Mark.” Her hand touched his, hesitantly.

He seized her wrist, held it hard. Her nostrils flared, but she did not wince. He sat up, or tried to. “Don’t you dare pity me. I won. Save your sympathy for Baron Ryoval, if you must. I took him. Suckered him. I beat him at his own game, on his own ground. I will not allow you to turn my victory into defeat for the sake of your damned . . . feelings.”

He says that if ImpSec knew what was on those vids, then they’d never be able to leave it alone, and he’d end up having to relive it over and over again.  And Miles especially would be devastated.  Mark looks outside to where the first shuttle of Duronas is leaving, and revels in the feeling that he’s rescuing another load of clones from Jackson’s Whole.  Elena points out that they’ll do a physical exam, at least, and Mark admits he can’t conceal all of the effects of those, but Lilly Durona’s the only one who saw how bad he was right after the escape, she treated him herself without leaving any records, so by the time the ImpSec doctors get to look at him it won’t seem as bad.

Elena says that he can’t avoid treatment entirely–the Countess would spot it soon enough.  Mark starts to talk about how badly his brain is miswired, and how he may be a worse monster than Ryoval, before catching himself and shutting up.  He knows he sounds crazy, but he thinks he’s really just taking the long road to sanity.  She says it looked like he was faking a split personality in some scenes, and Mark said he wasn’t faking anything, but his personality didn’t split as much as it “inverted”.

“You have to understand,” he told her. “Sometimes, insanity is not a tragedy. Sometimes, it’s a strategy for survival. Sometimes . . . it’s a triumph.” He hesitated. “Do you know what a black gang is?”

Mutely, she shook her head.

“Something I picked up in a museum in London, once. Way back in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, on Earth, they used to have ships that sailed across the tops of the oceans, that were powered by steam engines. The heat for the steam engines came from great coal fires in the bellies of the ships. And they had to have these suckers down there to stoke the coal into the furnaces. Down in the filth and the heat and the sweat and the stink. The coal made them black, so they were called the black gang. And the officers and fine ladies up above would have nothing to do with these poor grotty thugs, socially. But without them, nothing moved. Nothing burned. Nothing lived. No steam. The black gang. Unsung heroes. Ugly lower-class fellows.”

Realizing he’s definitely babbling, he says that, if nothing else, Galen is peanuts next to Ryoval, and he beat Ryoval, so now he feels very free.  Elena says he seems almost as manic as Miles right now, and warns him about the possible impending crash.  Mark calls it a “mood swing on a bungee cord”, and Elena says that it’s at the top of the arc that everybody else has to watch out.  Mark blames a lot of it on the medications he’s on, some of which is wearing off.  As Elena turns to go, Mark tells her he knows what he wants to be–he wants to be the kind of ImpSec analyst who gets his people to the right place, and on time, not five days late.  Elena doesn’t laugh, but says, as an ImpSec remote operative, she’d like that a lot.

She gave him a half-salute, and turned away. He puzzled over the look in her eyes, as she descended out of sight down the lift-tube. It wasn’t love. It wasn’t fear.

Oh. So that’s what respect looks like. Oh.

I could get used to that.

Mark sits for a while, just staring out the window, contemplating getting himself a float-chair, for his broken foot, of course, before the stimulants wear off.  Miles arrives with a young Durona girl; Mark contemplates his brother’s emaciation, and wishes he could transfer some of his bulk to him.  Miles asks Mark if he recognizes the girl; Mark begins to say he’s seen a lot of Duronas recently, when he suddenly recognizes her as the girl from the clone-creche.  Miles explains how he smuggled her out to join her sisters, and that she’s going to Escobar too.  Mark discerns that Miles is not only trying to make Mark feel better, but also trying to show that he can rescue clones too, in a bout of unconscious sibling rivalry.  He begins to think that, as a brother, he’s going to enjoy tormenting Miles in subtle ways.  He congratules Miles cheerfully, but his attempt to laugh shows him on the edge of control.

Lilly Durona Jr. tells Mark she still thinks he’s funny-looking, but…she gives him a peck on the cheek and flees the room.  Mark and Miles discuss the show of gratitude, agreeing that it’s better than Illyan complaining about lost equipment.  Mark tells Miles about the confrontation between Illyan and the Countess, and realizes how much they have to talk about now.

A House Fell courier arrives with a delivery for Mark, the promised credit-chit for his share of House Ryoval.  Mark predicts that Baron Fell will have short-changed him, but not enough to be worth arguing over, and confirms it by scanning the chit.  Miles asks how much, and Mark makes him admit he was sleeping with Rowan Durona before telling him–two million Betan dollars, close to four times that in Barrayaran marks.  Closer to 2% the value of Ryoval’s assets than 10%, though.  Miles is temporarily speechless at the amount, then asks what he’s going to do with it.  Mark says he wants to invest it in the Barrayaran economy, but he plans to give a million to ImpSec for their services, which flabbergasts Miles.

“Nobody gives money to ImpSec!”

“Why not? Look at your mercenary operations, for instance. Isn’t being a mercenary supposed to be profitable? The Dendarii Fleet could be a veritable cash cow for ImpSec, if it were run right.”

“They take out their profit in political consequences,” said Miles firmly. “Though—if you really do it, I want to be there. To see the look on Illyan’s face.”

Mark says he should be able to recoup the amount in a few years, anyway.  He intends to become rich, to give himself a value that nobody can doubt.  He can even move out and get his own place, so he’s not still living in his parents’ house by Miles’s age…  Miles tells him, bemused, that he may be the first Vorkosigan to turn a profit in business in five generations.  After a short silence, Mark says he knows that piecemeal clone-rescue isn’t the answer to the problem; Miles agrees that he need to invest in the technology to reduce the demand.

Their departure shuttle arrives, and Miles goes to check on it; Mark enlists the Duronas to shift him into a float-chair, giving him one final shot of stims, and prepares to go home, for the first time in his life.

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I’m still not sure why Mark is giving money to ImpSec, especially after he complained about their tardiness.  Maybe it’s supposed to be a pointed hint that they need better-paid analysts.  He says he wants to go work for them, too, but then he talks about business investment…can he do both?  Maybe his investment won’t require as much active participation, but there might be conflict of interest with his ImpSec intelligence.  I don’t recall him being an analyst in later books, but maybe it just doesn’t go into his day-to-day work that much, and he does spend time off-planet, so I’m not sure.

So apparently Elena’s secret mission was to destroy the incriminating tapes that Ryoval made of Mark’s torture sessions.  It’s probably a good thing that somebody did, since Mark has a good point about how ImpSec wouldn’t have been able to just let it go.  The “respect” thing is nice, especially considering how far Elena had to go to get there.  Not as far as Elli, of course.

This must be the “how much Mark has grown” chapter.  He’s mature about Lilly Durona Jr.’s lack of expressed gratitude for her rescue, he’s settling into being Miles’s brother, different from him and willing to play with the role.  He knows what he wants to do with his life, or at least has some goals.  Of course, the remainder of his growth arc will be when he goes back home (for the first time) to Barrayar, Vorkosigan House, and Kareen Koudelka…

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Two more chapters next week, I promise.  Unless I get really busy with something.  But it’s just the sweet, sweet denouement back on Barrayar (yay!), and really a kind of farewell to Mark, or at least an au revoir, since he doesn’t get to be a viewpoint character again until A Civil Campaign–we get to focus on Miles again for a bit.  Until then…

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Against all odds, another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread has crawled up out of the depths of the Internet and found its way onto this blog.  It has digested two more chapters of Mirror Dance, the 29th and 30th ones, bringing us even closer to the end of the current book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  Let’s see what it’s made of, shall we?

Chapter Twenty-Nine

The Ryoval guards bring Miles to the Ryoval facility, but they are disturbed to find doors open, vehicles missing, and guard posts unattended.  They let themselves in, and strip Miles as per their orders, but they’re reluctant to do more without further instructions, Ryoval not being supportive of individual initiative.  They bring Miles into the facility in search of the Baron, hands still cuffed behind his back.  Miles deduces that this is Ryoval’s new research facility, relocated after his raid of a few years earlier.

They reach Ryoval’s office, and again wait several minutes before the guards get the nerve to go inside, though at least they also decide not to beat Miles up while they wait.  Finally one of the guards explores a little further, and cries out upon finding Ryoval’s dead body; the other guard brings Miles to join him.  Ryoval’s brain has been burned out, and his hand cut off.  Miles wonders exactly what type of control Ryoval had over his guards, to have them flawlessly obedient while not complete automata.  He concludes that Ryoval must have been a nearly godlike figure for them, and begins to be apprehensive of what they’ll do after his sudden removal.

The senior guard explores the rest of the office and returns to declare Ryoval’s flier gone and his defenses broken down.  While they waver in indecision, Miles suggests they look for other survivors and witnesses, maybe even the assassin, while silently wondering about Mark.  They argue about what to do with Miles, finally electing to bring him along.  In the rest of the facility, they find dead guards and techs, random bloodstains, signs of violence and vandalism.  In the lowest level, four of Ryoval’s most extreme experiments, barely even human any more, have been dispatched by some merciful tech.  He ascertains none of them was Mark, though he suspects them to have been former Ryoval employees.  Seized by inspiration, Miles claims to have seen one of the creatures move.

“Can’t have.” The senior guard stared through the transparent wall at a body which lay with its back to them.

“He couldn’t possibly have witnessed anything from in there, could he?” said Miles. “For God’s sake, don’t open the door.”

“Shut up.” The senior guard chewed his lip, stared at the control virtual, and after an irresolute moment, coded open the door and trod cautiously within.

“Gah!” said Miles.

“What?” snapped the junior guard.

“He moved again. He, he, sort of spasmed.”

Once both guards are in the room, Miles shuts the door and locks them in.  When one begins trying to cut his way out with a plasma arc, Miles turns down the oxygen until they pass out.  Then he finds some cutters and manages to cut his shackles.  He finds no weapons but a laser-scalpel, and heads back through the facility, wishing for some clothes.  He wonders if Mark is locked up somewhere, and breaks open every door he can find in a frantic and fruitless search.  In the small cell near Ryoval’s quarters, he finds traces of a former occupant, blood and other stains.  No Mark, though, so he resolves to find his way out.

He hacks his way past the locks on Ryoval’s comconsole and finally gets access to public channels.  He eventually decides to call the Barrayaran consulate, i.e. ImpSec, pretending to be Admiral Naismith, and wonders why they hadn’t come here looking for Mark already.  Half an hour later a Lieutenant Iverson comes down with a squad, expressing disbelief that the facility is already secured, and telling Miles they’ve been looking for this place for years.  Miles asks after Mark, but Iverson only know about a tip to raid House Bharaputra, obviously placed by Rowan after her escape, but Miles says he’s not there anymore.  He asks after the Dendarii, and Iverson says they’re sending a squad as well.

The Dendarii representatives shows up armoured, and Quinn is ecstatic to see Miles himself again, but he addresses her on a professional footing and asks what’s been going on.

She looked slightly overwhelmed. “Since when? When you were killed—”

“Start from five days ago. When you came to the Durona Group.”

“We came looking for you. Found you, after nearly four bleeding months!”

“You were stunned, Mark was taken, and Lilly Durona hustled me and my surgeon off to what she thought was going to be safety,” Miles cued her to the focus he wanted.

She says that at first Lilly Durona wasn’t concerned about his disappearance, but eventually realized that Miles and Rowan hadn’t just gone to ground.  ImpSec took some time to work through their pet theory of Cetagandan agents and start focusing on finding Miles and Mark.

“Right. But you suspected Ryoval had Mark.”

“But Ryoval wanted Admiral Naismith. We thought Ryoval would figure out he had the wrong man.”

He ran his hands over his face. His head was aching. And so was his stomach. “Did you ever figure that Ryoval wouldn’t care? In a few minutes, I want you to go down the corridor and look at the cell they kept him in. And smell it. I want you to look closely. In fact, go now. Sergeant Taura, stay.”

Taura tells him that Quinn had no respect for Mark at all, but she herself came to realize that he’d come very close to success with the creche raid, and he was trying very hard when nobody else was trying at all.  He asks how they could leave Mark in Ryoval’s clutches for days, and she insists they really did think he’d figure out he had the wrong one.  Miles hopes things weren’t as bad as they looked.  Once the other Dendarii return, he tells them it’s time to focus on Mark.

Elena asks Miles who he thinks killed Ryoval, noting that it was an unarmed fighter who was also handy with a tool kit, and says she thinks it was Mark.  Miles expresses disbelief, but Elena tells him about the fight in Vorbarr Sultana, and notes that he was intended to kill Aral Vorkosigan.  Miles realizes that, out of touch as he is, not to mention the seizures and his still-growing organs, he may not be the best choice to be in charge.  Elena starts to tell him something else about his father when they’re interrupted by Iverson telling him that Baron Fell has just arrived to collect Ryoval’s body.  Miles tells him to let Fell in with one bodyguard, and they’ll talk.

Fell and Miles bandy words for a few minutes; Miles tells Fell how he was brought to the facility and found it pretty much that way.  Fell notes that he’s heard from a first-hand source, probably a Ryoval employee who fled to inform him.  They go to examine the body; Fell notes the missing hand and laser marks in the head, and says he’d love to find whoever did this and offer them a job.

Just then a call arrives at Ryoval’s private console, which Fell says could only be accessed from outside with the code-key.  Miles is flabbergasted to see Mark on the screen, looking fleshly scrubbed but with bruises all over his face; Mark is glad to see Miles come back to himself.

“I’m at Lilly Durona’s. God, Miles. What a place. What a woman. She let me have a bath. She put my skin back on. She fixed my foot. She gave me a hypo of muscle-relaxant for my back. With her own hands, she performed medical services too intimate and disgusting to describe, but very badly needed, I assure you, and held my head while I screamed. Did I mention the bath? I love her, and I want to marry her.”

All this was delivered with such dead-pan enthusiasm, Miles could not tell if Mark was joking. “What are you on?” he asked suspiciously.

“Pain killers. Lots and lots of pain killers. Oh, it’s wonderful!” He favored Miles with a weird broad grin. “But don’t worry, my head is perfectly clear. It’s just the bath. I was holding it together till she gave me the bath. It unmanned me. Do you know what a wonderful thing a bath is, when you’re washing off—never mind.”

Fell leans forward to ask Mark about the code-key, and Mark invites them all to “tea” at Lilly’s, including the ImpSec troops, because his own are too tired.  Fell asks if he really knows what he’s doing, and Mark assures them that he does, and wonders why nobody believes him.  Fell asks to speak to Lilly, but Mark says he can come along and talk to her directly; Fell agrees.  Mark asks if Elena is there, and says he wants a private word with “his armswoman”.  Miles is confused by the reference, but allows himself to be ejected.  Iverson arranges transport to the Duronas; Elena emerges to say Mark has given her some orders and she’ll have to catch up.

“That was Mark?” Miles muttered, heading reluctantly in the opposite direction. He couldn’t have acquired some other clone-brother while he was dead, could he? “It didn’t sound like Mark. For one thing, he sounded like he was glad to see me. That’s Mark?”

“Oh, yes,” said Quinn. “That was Mark all right.”

He quickened his pace. Even Taura had to lengthen her stride to keep up.

Comments

I guess some time passed between Mark’s departure and Miles’s arrival–how long?  Hours?  A day?  Somebody must have finally decided to check on the Baron before all hell broke loose.  Looks like it was only Ryoval, his threats and his conditioning that were holding his House together, because it disintegrated pretty quickly after that.  And Miles uses his fast-talk ability yet again to disable his enemies–that’s his own variety of unarmed combat.

I’m not sure that Miles, posing as Admiral Naismith, should have been getting quite as much cooperation from ImpSec as he did here, but maybe there were standing orders of some sort.  What would Illyan have to say about Naismith, after all?  If he knew that Mark was unlikely to be able to pose as him successfully, any Naismith that showed up would have to be Miles, and if Miles were alive…

Miles spends a lot of time worried about Mark and his fate, so it’s hilarious to see how well Mark has things in hand when he does call in.  And Miles is having a hard time catching up on developments with his twin during, and mostly due to, his period of death and recovery.  Elena, Taura, and even Quinn seem to have been won over to great or lesser degrees.  (Bel is technically in this chapter, but keeping pretty quiet.)

I would’ve thought that Taura might have had a few flashbacks about entering House Ryoval again.  Admittedly, it is a completely different facility from the one she was held in before, but the name would still probably give her foreboding, not to mention it’d probably have something of the same aura, possibly even the smell…

Chapter Thirty

The Dendarii, Baron Fell, and ImpSec (in a shuttle borrowed from House Dyne) arrive at the Durona clinic close to the same time.

As they were circling for a landing, Miles asked Quinn, who was piloting, “Elli—if we were flying along, in a lightflyer or an aircar or something, and I suddenly ordered you to crash it, would you?”

“Now?” asked Quinn, startled. The shuttle lurched.

“No! Not now. I mean theoretically. Obey, instantly, no questions asked.”

“Well, sure, I suppose so. I’d ask questions afterward though. Probably with my hands wrapped around your neck.”

“That’s what I thought.” Miles sat back, satisfied.

Baron Fell isn’t sure about letting the three armoured Dendarii accompany Miles into a House Fell facility, but Miles says that after the earlier force-screen failure, he feels like he needs a bodyguard.  He offers to leave the ImpSec contingent outside, and the Baron agrees.

Mark has staged a tableau in Lilly Durona’s penthouse, sitting himself in Lilly’s chair, broken foot propped up, surrounded by Duronas, including Lilly herself, but not Rowan.  A severed hand sits in a box on Lilly’s tea table, wearing a silver ring set with a large black gemstone.  Miles is disturbed at how bloated Mark looks, even though most of his body is covered up, leaving only his bruised face on display.  Mark’s right hand sits on top of a small control box, his finger on a button.

Baron Fell sees the box and makes a beeline for it, but Mark stops him, telling him that he’s got his finger on a deadman switch that will set off a small thermal grenade to incinerate the contents of the box, with another controller outside the room as a backup.  He warns them not to stun, jump, or annoy him or he’ll set it off.  Fell says he must know how valuable that is, and thus he’s bluffing, and Mark says he’s not feeling too kindly toward House Ryoval right now, but he’s willing to Deal with the Baron.

Fell and Miles sit down, their respective bodyguards wary, and Lilly offers tea.  Miles realizes that this is Mark’s show, but he wonders how sane Mark is at the moment.  Tea is served for Mark and Fell, though Mark’s hand is shaking badly and the young Durona serving girl lifts it to his mouth.  Mark then begins, stating that the ring on the hand in the box is Ryoval’s personal code-key, and that soon after Baron Ryoval’s death the vultures will begin descending on the House’s carcass.  He notes that someone in possession of the code-key would have a distinct advantage in the race to acquire Ryoval’s assets, and with Baron Fell being an actual blood relative, it would make his claim almost ironclad.  Fell says it’s not Mark’s to trade, and Mark says that it is–he paid for it, he earned it, and he can destroy it.

He then asks Baron Fell what the value of the Durona Group is, relative to House Ryoval.  Fell says it’s hard to calculate, but not more than a twentieth, though the intellectual property’s value is harder to calculate.  Mark offers him House Ryoval in exchange for the Durona Group, with an “agent’s fee” of 10% of Ryoval’s value.  Fell asks what he plans to do with the Duronas, and Mark says he will give them their freedom and let them go “where they wist”, most likely Escobar.  Fell sits back to think it over, and Miles begins to plan for contingencies in case the Baron decides to resort to violence.  Instead they begin to negotiate.

Fell asks to subtract the Durona Group’s value from the 10%, and have them leave all their property and notes behind.  Mark asks for them to be able to copy technical files and bring personal possessions; Fell agrees to the possessions, what each one can carry, but denies the files and says their credit account will remain his.  Mark and Lilly have a whispered conference, and then Mark tells him it’s a Deal, disarming the control box and relaxing his hand.  The Duronas instantly scatter to begin gathering their possessions.  Fell congratulates Mark on his dealing, and offers him a position as a galactic agent, and Admiral Naismith too if he’s willing; Mark says he’ll consider it if his other options fall through, and Miles says the Dendarii prefer offense, not defense.  Baron Fell says that if his lifespan were to increase, he’d have ample opportunity to pursue long-term goals now that the acquisition of House Ryoval has given him an “interestingly unbalanced” position, but Miles still rejects the offer.

At Fell’s gesture, one of his bodyguards carefully picked up the transparent box. Fell turned to Lilly.

“Well, old sister. You’ve had an interesting life.”

“I still have it,” smiled Lilly.

“For a while.”

“Long enough for me, greedy little boy. So this is the end of the road. The last of our blood-pact. Who would have imagined it, all those years ago, when we were climbing out of Ryoval’s sewers together?”

Fell offers Mark a final handshake before departing.  Mark asks if he’ll hold to the Deal, and Lilly says that he will, if only because he’ll be too busy with absorbing House Ryoval to spare them much attention, and after that he may regret their loss, but not to extremes.  Then she heads off to organize their departure, and Mark slumps in fatigue.  Elli tells Miles that ImpSec is contacting her to announce they have reinforcements ready, and Mark says they can send them home, and maybe he’ll hitch a ride with them.  Miles says he needs to rendezvous with the Dendarii, but Elli says the fleet is fine, making ready to rendezvous at Escobar with their new ships, and Miles needs some attention from ImpMil.  Illyan will want him to go home, and then there’s his father…  Mark tells him about the heart attack and says they should have the transplant ready by this time.

“You were there?” What did you do to him? Miles felt as if he’d just had his magnetic poles reversed. “I have to get home!”

“That’s what I just said,” said Mark wearily. “Why d’you think we trooped all the way back here, but to drag you home? It wasn’t for the free holiday at Ry Ryoval’s health spa, let me tell you. Mother thinks I’m the next Vorkosigan heir. I can deal with Barrayar, I think, but I sure as hell can’t deal with that.”

Miles forces himself to settle down, afraid to trigger another seizure, and hoping that they’re not a permanent effect.  Mark says he’ll let the Duronas use his ship–the present from his mother–to get to Escobar, where they can sell the ship and he can pay her back, and the Dendarii can hitch a ride with them too.  Miles hopes that Elli, Rowan and Taura don’t get together and compare notes, or worse, become friends and decide to partition him.

It wasn’t, he swore, that he picked up so many women. Compared to Ivan, he was practically celibate. It was just that he never put any down. The accumulation could become downright embarrassing, over a long enough time-span. He needed . . . Lady Vorkosigan, to put an end to this nonsense. But even Elli the bold refused to volunteer for that duty.

Miles agrees to Mark’s plan and tells Quinn and Durona to arrange it, but asks Bel to stay behind for a talk with him and Mark.  He recalls how, in his amnesic state, he’d seen Bel as female, rather than male.  He tells Bel he can’t let it go back to the _Ariel_; after it admitted it’d known what Mark was up to and followed along on the rogue mission, Miles can’t let it go back to command, and asks for its resignation, which it offers.  Mark muses that it’s unfair to punish Bel and not him, but Miles thinks that Mark’s certainly gotten his share of punishment in any case.  Miles asks after Bel’s plans, and it says it isn’t sure; Miles says that Simon Illyan may be willing to keep it on as an ImpSec agent, and Bel says it’ll think about it on the way to Escobar.  Bel tells Mark that at least they managed to save a few clones, and that’s something.

Bel eyed Miles. “Do you remember the first time we ever saw each other?” it asked.

“Yes. I stunned you.”

“You surely did.” It walked over to his chair, and bent, and took his chin in its hand. “Hold still. I’ve been wanting to do this for years.” It kissed him, long and quite thoroughly. Miles thought about appearances, thought about the ambiguity of it, thought about sudden death, thought the hell with it all, and kissed Bel back. Straightening again, Bel smiled.

Elena appears and tells Mark she has to talk to him, in private; Mark says he’s too tired to get up, and Elena tells Bel and Miles to get lost.  Miles goes in search of Rowan, and finds her in her quarters, packing, in company with Lilly Junior.  Rowan is happy to see that he’s got his memories back (and is “really” Miles Naismith), but Miles admits that he got his memories back while they were together as Bharaputra captives, and she’s put out.  She’s happy that he managed to get Lilly Jr. out, though, and the Dendarii shuttle is already bringing Duronas up to Mark’s ship, so they should be offplanet before Baron Bharaputra figures it out.  She says they’ll be staying together on Escobar, at least at first, but they’ll be dissolving the group upon Lilly’s death, and she expects that House Ryoval staffers will be in the building by tomorrow.  Miles sees a control-box on the bed and realizes that Rowan was Mark’s remote grenade controller.  She tells him Mark’s arrival earlier that morning was quite impressive.

She asks Miles about his plans, and he says he’ll be going back to the Dendarii after he recovers.  He asks if the seizures will stop, and she says they should, but it’s hard to tell.  She asks if he’ll find the time to stop by Escobar, and he allows that he might.

He hesitated. I need my Lady Vorkosigan, to put an end to this wandering. . . . Could Rowan be it? The thirty-five sisters-in-law would be a distant drawback, safely far away on Escobar. “What would you think of the planet Barrayar, as a place to live and work?” he inquired cautiously.

Her nose wrinkled. “That backward pit? Why?”

“I . . . have some interests there. In fact, it’s where I’m planning to retire. It’s a very beautiful place, really. And underpopulated. They encourage, um . . . children.” He was skirting dangerously close to breaking his cover, the strained identity he’d risked so much lately to retain. “And there’d be lots of work for a galactic-trained physician.”

“I’ll bet. But I’ve been a slave all my life. Why would I choose to be a subject, when I could choose to be a citizen?” She smiled wryly, and came to him, and twined her arms around his shoulders. “Those five days we were locked up together at Vasa Luigi’s—that wasn’t an effect of the imprisonment, was it. That’s the way you really are, when you’re well.”

She says she knows now what a hyperactive adult looks like, and says that she loves him, but living with his domineering personality would drive her crazy.  Miles says that she’s supposed to push back, not let him push her around.  He wonders if he should use a Barrayaran go-between next time, to seal the deal before the woman gets to know him too well.

Miles asks Lilly Jr. if she’s talked to Mark yet; he’d be happy to know she managed to escape after all.  She says Mark had tried to convince her, but Miles talked better than he did; Miles says that Mark just bought her way offplanet with the rest of them.  He takes her arm and escorts her out of the room.

Comments

I’d forgotten that Lilly Durona was also a relative of the two Barons.  Actual blood relatives, or not?  Fell and Ryoval are labelled as half-brothers, but to what extent is Lilly related?  And Lilly’s clone Lotus is married to Baron Bharaputra–do they have any offspring?  I imagine they wouldn’t have any compunctions about using uterine replicators if they did…

So the Duronas do get rescued from Jackson’s Whole after all, though not by the Admiral Naismith they were hoping for.  I did vaguely recall that they did, but the details had eluded me–I guess it wasn’t done in some secret Dendarii escape plan, but through legitimate Jacksonian dealing, though I suppose there was a bit of murder involved in acquiring the main bargaining chip.

Bel was very quiet in the last chapter, and I guess it knew what was coming.  It’d earned it, though, paradoxically, mostly through taking over the initial clone-rescue operation after Mark had fouled it up and admitting it knew this wasn’t the real Admiral Naismith.  (It still feels wrong to use “it” as Bel’s personal pronoun, even if that’s what the author uses for it; I’ve had to go back and correct almost every single pronoun I’ve used for it, even in this paragraph.)  If Bel had pretended to be fooled, then Miles might have been able to let it off.  It’s a few books before we see it again…but we do see it again.

This may be the last we see of Jackson’s Whole, too.  I haven’t peeked ahead yet, but after this I suspect we go back to Barrayar for the rest of the denouement, though I’m not sure what there’ll be to occupy the last three chapters.  Then the next few books stick close to home in the Barrayaran Empire, before we get to go further afield.  There are Jacksonians in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, of course, but not on Jackson’s Whole itself.  Well, after this I think we’ve seen enough of it…  (And now I’ve peeked, and we still have another scene or two–Elena’s task for Mark being resolved, for instance.)

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Three more chapters!  Two more weeks, with any luck!  Mirror Dance almost through, and then Memory, yay!  And coming up on the blog’s two-year anniversary, too.  Will it take another year to get through the rest of the series, I wonder?  I can always tack Falling Free on the end, or maybe I can just heave a sigh of relief and reclaim two evenings out of my week.  But I’m getting way ahead of myself here.  Three more chapters of Mirror Dance, and then a few more books after that…

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When so much in your world is changing, isn’t it nice to know that you can always rely on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  Even if I missed a few weeks in there, and changed what day I post…eventually there will be another installment in the blog devoted to a loving examination of Lois McMaster Bujold’s saga of the Vorkosigans.  For instance, this week I happened to do two more chapters in Mirror Dance, which follows Miles Vorkosigan and his clone-brother Mark (mostly Mark) through misadventures in and around the planet of Jackson’s Whole.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Miles and Rowan’s relationship continues to deteriorate in their shared confinement–she withdraws from interaction with him, and he keeps pacing and talking, trying to come up with an escape plan.  He admits that, with his memory back, he’s a little more reserved towards her.  They’ve been locked up for about four days, judging by meal frequency, and haven’t seen any more of the Baron; Miles wonders what his plans are, and if he’s been auctioned off yet.  Miles resolves to try something the next time their meal is brought.

The lock clicked. He spun, poised to dart forward. “Rowan, get up!” he hissed. “I’m going to try for it.”

“Oh, hell,” she moaned, emerging. Without faith, brow-beaten, she rose and trudged around the bed to stand by his side. “Stunning hurts, you know. And then you throw up. You’ll probably have convulsions.”

“Yes. I know.”

“But at least it’ll shut you up for a while,” she muttered under her breath.

Miles is surprised, though, when the servant with the food turns out to be Lilly Durona the younger.  Rowan approaches her, while Miles considers their options.  Rowan is bad at picking up his cues, but he can hope she’ll follow his lead.  He starts by pointing out how similar Rowan and Lilly look, then asks Lilly why she’s the one serving them.  Lilly says she doesn’t know what to make of Rowan; she denies that the Baronne sent her, but she told the guards that the Baronne wanted her to watch them eat drugged food.  Miles explains about Rowan and her relation to Lilly, and asks Rowan to tell her about the Duronas, though it takes him some time to settle down and let her talk.  Rowan asks Lilly if she knows about the brain transplanet, and Lilly says she does, and insists it’s her destiny to be united with her Lady, but Miles senses the faintest hint of doubt.

Miles wonders idly if they could wear each other’s clothes, then decides Lilly is probably too fat; to prove him wrong, Lilly insists on trying on Rowan’s clothes, which Rowan grudgingly assents to.  Once Lilly gets Rowan’s clothes on, they admit they were wrong, and Rowan tells Lilly to go look at herself in the  mirror.  Miles accompanies her, while behind them Rowan puts on Lilly’s clothes and fixes her hair to match, then is let out of the room by the guards.

In the bathroom, as Miles tries to distract Lilly, she brings up the clone rescue, and asks if he was their rescuer.  He hedges, still pretending to cryo-amnesia, saying it might have been him or his clone-twin.  Miles shows her the scars on his chest, and she’s convinced that he actually was killed.  She asks him about being dead, and he says he doesn’t remember much, but he does get a couple of flashes of memory.  He tells her she wouldn’t like it much, that being alive is better.

He kisses her, to show her the human contact that comes with being alive, and she comments that the Baron’s kissed her too.  The Baron seems to have been sampling her body already, though leaving her virginity intact, secure in the knowledge that her memories will disappear with her brain.  She is due to move back to the clone-creche when it’s completed.  Suddenly suspicious, she checks the bedroom and is dismayed to find Rowan gone.  Miles tells her that if she just keeps quiet about it, she won’t get in trouble, and that Rowan will probably be back soon.  He cajoles her into telling her about her life, what little there is of it, mostly sheltered except for the excitement of her capture/rescue by the Dendarii.

Eventually Lilly realizes that Rowan isn’t coming back after all, and Miles says she probably got away clean, or else they would have brought her back, or least come to fetch Lilly.  If anything, they might think that Lilly has gone missing.  Miles reassures her that Rowan probably wouldn’t have ended up taking Lilly’s place at the brain transplant, because closer inspection would reveal their differences.  Lilly is still upset, and Miles tells her that when they find out she can just tell them that he tricked her into staying.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “You are so beautiful . . . on the inside. You deserve to live. Not be eaten by that old woman.”

“My lady is a great woman,” she said sturdily. “She deserves to live more.”

What kind of twisted ethics drove Lotus Durona, to make of this girl an imitation-willing sacrifice? Who did Lotus think she was fooling? Only herself, apparently.

Lilly decides she wants to try kissing again, but after a while she comments that it’s different from that the Baron likes to do…she undoes Miles’s pants and starts to show him, but he pulls away, and she doesn’t understand why.

“Just exactly so.” She was a child, despite her grown-up body, he was increasingly certain of it. “When you are older . . . you will find your own boundaries. And you can invite people across them as you choose. Right now you scarcely know where you leave off and the world begins. Desire should flow from within, not be imposed from without.” He tried to choke off his own flow by sheer will-power, half-successfully. Vasa Luigi, you scum.

She frowned thoughtfully. “I’m not going to be older.”

He remembers his first encounter with Taura, which may be subconsciously influencing his decisions, and assures himself that it’s a different situation, because Taura’s fighting for more life, while Lilly is trying to throw hers away.  He asks her if she wants to live, and when she is uncertain, he tells her all the things that he has to live for, even an “ugly little man” like himself–family, even his clone-brother Mark.

He talks her into going to sleep, on the bed, while he tries to sleep in a chair, and on the floor, but both are too uncomfortable, and he curls up on top of the covers next to her instead.  In the morning, he drowsily embraces her before she wakes up and pushes him away.  There’s a knock on the door, and he urges her into the bathroom, so they can keep the charade going.  After the breakfast is delivered, she emerges, and Miles tries to convince her that she can have sugar and sweet things with her breakfast.

“I mustn’t get fat. My lady is my destiny.”

“Destiny! What do you know about destiny?” He rose and began to pace, zig-zagging around bed and table. “I’m a frigging expert on destiny. Your lady is a false destiny, and do you know how I know? She takes everything, but she doesn’t give anything back.

Real destiny takes everything—the last drop of blood, and strip out your veins to be sure—and gives it back doubled. Quadrupled. A thousand-fold! But you can’t give halves. You have to give it all. I know. I swear. I’ve come back from the dead to speak the truth to you. Real destiny gives you a mountain of life, and puts you on top of it.”

She tells him he’s crazy, and he says she’s never even met a sane person in her life.  He tells her she could go to the Durona Group and they’d take her in in a heartbeat.  He tells her that the Baron probably never planned to keep Rowan except to keep Miles’s location from getting out, so once the Baron gets rid of him, she’ll be free to go.  She protests that she couldn’t, but he says she just needs to keep her head down and not talk too much; he also points out that she could tell people where he is, and who took him.  She escaped from the Dendarii, after all; she just needs to do it for herself instead of her Lady.  He attempts to fix up her hair in Rowan’s sloppy manner, and after lunch the guards come for him.

Another man tells “Rowan” that he’s her driver, and Lilly asks to be taken home, after giving Miles a parting kiss.  Miles tries to escape twice, but just ends up being carried upside-down for his trouble.  They put him into a groundcar and take him to a transfer point, where he is bound hand and foot and put into a lightflyer in House Ryoval colours.

Rowan, if she’d made it, must send anyone looking for him to Bharaputra’s. Where Miles would not be. Not that he was so sure Vasa Luigi wouldn’t just cheerfully sic them right on to Ryoval.

But if Ryoval’s location was easy to find, they would have found it by now.

By God. I could be the first ImpSec agent on-site. He’d have to be sure and point that out, in his report to Illyan. He had looked forward to making posthumous reports to Illyan. Now he wondered if he was going to live long enough.

Comments

Miles’s fast-talk skills come out once again, as he tries, and seemingly even succeeds, in winning Lilly Durona, Jr. over to his cause–or, at least, to her own, rather than Baronne Lotus’s.  It’s a lovely conversation, and it might now have worked on anyone much more worldly, but Lilly eats it up…at least, once he’s eroded her confidence in the “destiny” she’s been promised from childhood.  Seriously, Oser was the cleverest of Miles’s adversaries, the only one who figured out that you couldn’t afford to let him talk.

At least Rowan cooperated with him to some degree, however tired of each other they were by that point.  She probably thought his scheme was ludicrous, but by that point was willing to try anything to get out of there, get home, and get away from him.  I can’t remember at this point if they do somehow get the Duronas off of Jackson’s Whole, though at this point it seems unlikely, given their limited resources.  Maybe they do manage it, though.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

During one of Gorge’s force-feedings, Baron Ryoval comes to visit and the techs tell him that Mark seems to be enjoying his torture.  Ryoval speculates on what particular psychological adaptation is at work, but is surprised that it’s manifested already.  The tech says that his brain scans are unusual, and in an unusual way, as if parts of them were somehow shielded.  Ryoval is interested, and says that he should be able to deal with “Naismith”‘s defenses.  Gorge’s stomach begins to grow painful, but he won’t give in to Howl’s proddings; the Other still lurks, but he seems pleased when Ryoval asks them to bring Naismith to his quarters later for a closer examination.

He is brought to Ryoval’s rooms by two guards, his skin still patchy but bandaged up, and they put him in a chair, his hands bound behind his back.  They assure Ryoval that he’ll have trouble standing up readily, so he dismisses them and tells them not to interrupt; they obey, with a flat affect that shows they’ve been heavily conditioned.

Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other stared around with interest, wondering whose turn it was going to be next.

You just had your turn, said Howl to Gorge. It’ll be me.

Don’t bet on it, said Grunt. Could be me.

If it weren’t for Gorge, said the Other, grimly, I’d take my turn right now. Now I have to wait.

You’ve never taken a turn, said Gorge curiously. But the Other was silent again.

Ryoval plays a recording of one of Grunt’s sessions of sexplay, which Grunt watches with interest.  Ryoval wonders what the response will be if he sends the tape to the Dendarii mercenaries, but the Other is fairly sure that he’s bluffing, still wanting to keep “Naismith”‘s location secret.  The Other thinks that Simon Illyan would be an even better target, but he doesn’t speak.  Ryoval goes on to describe a potential scenario involving Elli Quinn, which even Grunt and Howl aren’t sure how to deal with, and they contemplate coming up with a new personality for the purpose.

The recording moves on to a torture session, one where Howl was given itching powder after the skin-removal treatment, and he’d scratched himself deeply.  He deliberately keeps himself blank, to deprive Ryoval of the pleasure.  The Other plans his move, after he’s recovered his breath, since soon Gorge will have made his plans physically impossible.  Ryoval wonders out loud how he’ll be able to bring him–or them–back.

Gorge and Grunt ask the Other what will happen to them; the Other promises that Mark will still feed Gorge and Grunt from time to time, possibly on Beta Colony, and Howl deserves a rest anyway.  He warns them that they might not like Ryoval’s plans, and they don’t need him to fulfill their needs.  Gorge asks how he can make promises for Mark, and the Other says he’s the closest to him.  Ryoval would hunt them down anyway, now that he knows they’re there.

Ryoval tells them that he’s bringing them a new friend, his clone-twin.  Lord Mark wakes up and screams; the Other pushes him back down.  Ryoval says that somehow Vasa Luigi acquired the clone, and he seems to be convinced that Ryoval’s is the clone and not the Admiral, but that won’t matter now that he has them both.  He tells them his plans, of which Grunt approves.  Ryoval then goes to unwrap his tools, while the Other negotiates with the other personalities to stay out of the way, to give him one chance.  Ryoval approaches with a surgical hand-tractor, and says that he’s going to pull out one eye.

Smoothly, Howl gave way. Last of all, reluctantly, Gorge gave way, as Ryoval walked toward them.

Killer’s first attempt to struggle to his feet failed, and he fell back. Damn you, Gorge. He tried again, shifted his weight forward, heaved up, stepped once, half-unbalanced without the use of his arms to save himself. Ryoval watched, highly amused, unalarmed by the waddling little monster he doubtless thought he had created.

Trying to work around Gorge’s new belly was something like being the Blind Zen Archer. But his alignment was absolute.

His first kick took Ryoval in the crotch. This folded him neatly over, and put his upper body within practical range. He flowed instantly into the second kick, striking Ryoval squarely in the throat. He could feel cartilage and tissue crunch all the way back to Ryoval’s spine. Since he was not wearing steel-capped boots this time, it also broke several of his toes, smashed up and down at right angles. He felt no pain. That was Howl’s job.

Killer falls over and tries to get back up, noticing Ryoval rolling around on the carpet clutching at his throat; he can’t use voice-commands on the computer any more, though.  He whispers to Ryoval that he was trained as an assassin, and hates being underestimated.  Finally he gets to his feet and kicks Ryoval until the Baron’s dead, a long, messy process that even Killer doesn’t enjoy.  Finally Mark emerges and praises Killer–originally one of Galen’s creations, he realizes–for his exquisite timing; Killer says he was taking Count Vorkosigan’s advice.

He finds a short-range laser-drill in Ryoval’s kit and uses it to cut open his shackles, though not without extreme difficulty.  Then he huddles in pain for a few minutes, before sparing a few thoughts for the poor clone-body that Ryoval had taken over.  Fearing the guards may come back in anyway, he uses the laser-drill to ensure that Ryoval’s brain won’t be recoverable.  He then waits for a while, in exhaustion, before deciding that the guards really won’t be entering their master’s quarters without orders, not for a long time.  It’s almost painful to begin hoping again, and though he blames ImpSec for not having rescued him, he’d forgive them anything if they showed up right then and spared him the work.

Lord Mark takes over and begins to plan their escape.  Ryoval must have had a backdoor, so Mark looks around.  He considers a shower, but doesn’t want to risk his healing skin, and thinks that at least he won’t have to worry about starving for a while.  Finally, in the back of the bedroom closet he finds the emergency exit.  Killer says it may be booby-trapped, but Mark says that it’ll be set up to faciliate a quick exit for Ryoval himself.  Killer breaks through the palm-lock with the help of Ryoval’s surgical kit, but it requires a further key.  Mark reasons that Ryoval would have kept such a key on his person, since he didn’t share any power within his house, and had no trusted subordinates.  He searches Ryoval’s body and finally settles on a ring on his right hand, cutting the hand free when he can’t loosen it; a little thought allows him to figure out which way Ryoval-in-a-hurry would orient it, and the door opens on a small lift tube.

Mark examines the tube, while the other personalities urge him to go, but he balks at the lack of a safety ladder.  He heads back to Ryoval’s bedroom to find some loose clothes he can stuff himself into, but nothing he can use for a ladder.  Instead, he cuts handholds in the side of the tube using the laser drill before turning on the anti-grav field, and climbs as normal, just using the grav field as a boost.  His broken foot slows him down, as does having to cut more handholds, but when he reaches a sound pickup and can’t produce a codeword in Ryoval’s voice, the grav field turns off and he almost falls under his suddenly-imposed weight.  The rest of the climb is slow and painful, but he reaches the top, disables the outward-facing defenses, and finds Ryoval’s private lightflyer.

Opening the door with Ryoval’s ring, he climbs in, figures out how to open the canopy, and lifts out into a barren, icy wasteland, the facility below completely hidden.  He heads east into the sunrise.

Comments

The dissociated personality here gets confusing more than once, because sometimes there’s a “he” where it’s not clear if it’s supposed to be the Other/Killer, or Mark (except that they don’t mention him waking up until after Ryoval’s death).  Not sure if it’s just an oversight on the author’s part, or what.  Luckily, he does seem to be reassimilating the other personalities to some extent, because he is feeling pain by the end, but they don’t disappear right away by any means.

Once again Mark’s supposed haplessness is belied by his assassin training.  The earlier scene in Vorbarr Sultana should serve as a reminder, and it’s possible that Ryoval would even know about the assassin trained by Galen, but he severely underestimated Mark’s level of competence.  I guess he was still thinking of Mark as “Admiral Naismith”, who was not noted particularly for hand-to-hand fighting ability…  Still, reasoning his way past Ryoval’s traps on the way out was all Mark.  Though Ryoval himself helped with his lack of delegation, so taking him out was really all that Mark needed to do.

Now, of course, Mark is heading out while Miles is being brought in.  I seem to recall that works out not too badly; Mark is really rescuing Miles again, this time in advance, sort of.  Leads to a fun conversation later, if nothing else.


After this we’re practically into the denouement, but I guess there’s a lot of knots to untie still–Mark and Miles to be reunited, the Duronas to be dealt with, and Baron Bharaputra, and probably Baron Fell, and it’d be nice if they got back to Barrayar…so still a few chapters, and a few weeks, left.  We’re out of the dark zone, at least; from here it gets more triumphant.  See you next week!

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The Vorkosigan Saga Reread continues this week with two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mirror Dance, of somewhat unequal lengths, though trust me, you wouldn’t necessarily want Chapter Twenty-Six to be any longer.  Miles and Mark have to deal with having fallen into the clutches of Jacksonian Barons, with little more than their brains to help them.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Miles keeps circling the room he and Rowan are confined in, tapping on the walls and talking about breaking through them; Rowan tells him to sit still and stop driving him crazy, and that they should just wait for Lilly to rescue them.  Their room is only a guest room, not a prison cell, with no windows, but Miles can’t tell whether it’s underground or not.  There are two guards outside their room, who resisted being lured in even when Miles had a real seizure.  Miles says it’s a soldier’s duty to escape, and Rowan counters that she’s not a soldier, and Vasa Luigi doesn’t seem to be planning to kill either of them.  Miles tells her, not for the first time, that she should have crashed the lightflyer.  Just then one of the guards opens the door and invites them to attend upon the Baron and Baronne Bharaputra for dinner.

The Baronne is, of course, the former Lotus Durona; Rowan refuses her offered hand.  The girl who serves them at dinner also has the Durona look, and is startled to see Rowan there; she is obviously the replacement clone.  Lotus calls her “Lilly”, which outrages Rowan.  Lotus counters that she is choosing life over death, and Rowan just hasn’t reached the age where she’ll have to make that choice yet.

“Lilly loved you as a daughter.”

“Lilly used me as her servant. Love?” The Baronne chuckled. “It’s not love that keeps the Durona herd together. It’s predator pressure. If all the exterior economic and other dangers were removed, the far corners of the wormhole nexus would not be far enough for us to get away from our dear sibs. Most families are like that, actually.”

The Baron takes that opportunity to offer Rowan a position at House Bharaputra, where her skills could earn her a good position.  Rowan refuses, and Lotus seems relieved.  Miles interrupts to ask about Ryoval and his clone, but the Baron says that he thinks Miles himself is the Admiral; after all, the other clone was being ordered around by his “bodyguard”.  Miles asks what Ryoval will do to him.

“Really, Vasa, this is not dinner conversation,” reproved the Baronne. She glanced curiously at him. “Besides—why should you care?”

” ‘Miles, what have you done with your baby brother?’ ” The quote came from nowhere, fell out of his mouth. He touched his lips uncertainly. Rowan stared at him. So did Lotus.

Bharaputra says that if Ryoval has figured out that he doesn’t have the Admiral, he won’t do much, and otherwise, he’ll be experimenting to find his prey’s weaknesses.  This doesn’t sound so bad, until the Baron goes on to tell the story of a man who’d tried to assassinate Ryoval and ended up a faithful servant, offering himself up to his master’s guests.  When Miles asks, the Baron admits that he hasn’t ruled out selling Miles to Ryoval, after the costly assault on his house made by his clone (with or without Admiral Naismith’s collusion), though he himself doesn’t see the point in revenge on a cryo-amnesic.

Lilly re-enters, and the Baronne seems displeased at how Vasa Luigi’s eyes follow her.  Miles suggests the Dendarii be allowed to bid for him, thinking to himself that they’ll mount a rescue if they can find out where he is.  The Baron says the Dendarii don’t seem to actually be on Jackson’s Whole, except for the tiny covert ops team who showed up at the Duronas.  He suspects there are other bidders in the game who haven’t revealed themselves yet, and he’d rather that “negative bidders” go knocking on Ryoval’s door instead.  He asks what Lilly Durona’s interest is in Miles and his revival, and Rowan deflects the question into more technical medical territory, which diverts Lotus and Rowan for some time, until the meal is served.

After dinner, they are escorted back to their chamber, one of a number of identical guest rooms, and he asks Rowan if she can tell where they are.  She says it’s not Bharaputra’s headquarters, which is under renovation after some recent commando raid.  He tells her that his new plan is to try to get a message out and encourage someone to rescue them.  He asks her about the Great Houses, and she tells him that House Fell is more powerful than Bharaputra or Ryoval, and he concludes that they would thus make a better ally against them.  He tells Rowan they need to call Baron Fell, or somebody, to let them know where he and Rowan are being held.  Rowan says she’d rather call Lilly, but Miles thinks to himself that Lilly doesn’t have the power to break them out.

He wandered into the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror. _Who am I?_ A skinny, haggard, pale, odd-looking little man with desperate eyes and a tendency to convulsions. If he could even decide which one his clone-twin was, glimpsed so painfully yesterday, he could dub himself the other by process of elimination. The fellow had looked like Naismith to him. But Vasa Luigi was no fool, and Vasa Luigi was convinced of the reverse. He had to be one or the other. Why couldn’t he decide? If I am Naismith, why did my brother claim my place?

At that moment, he discovered why it was called a cascade.

The sensation was of being under a waterfall, of some river that emptied a continent, tons of water battering him to his knees. He emitted a tiny mewl, crouching down with his arms wrapping his head, shooting pains behind his eyes and terror locking his throat. He pressed his lips together to prevent any other sound escaping, that would attract Rowan in all her concern. He needed to be alone for this, oh yes.

No wonder I couldn’t guess. I was trying to choose between two wrong answers. Oh, Mother. Oh, Da. Oh, Sergeant. Your boy has screwed up this one, bad. Real bad. Lieutenant Lord Miles Naismith Vorkosigan crawled on the tiled floor and screamed in silence, just a faint hiss. No, no, no, oh, shit. . . .

He tries to re-evaluate recent events in light of his recovered memories.  He’s surprised that Mark had seemed so controlled and determined as Admiral Naismith, and he winces at how his amnesiac response must have hurt Elli.  He tries to recall his death–something to do with that commando raid on Bharaputra, and how he wanted to rescue Mark and show him the right way to do it.  He wonders what his mother knows about all this, how long he’s been dead, and where ImpSec is–apart from himself, of course.  He compares Rowan to Elli and decides their similarities may have been why he was attracted to her in the first place.

Lilly had told him that the Dendarii had escaped, so why are they back–even Taura, who might be on Ryoval’s revenge list herself?  Obviously, they’re here to rescue Miles himself, but they had the bad luck to run into Ryoval on the way.  He almost wishes he still couldn’t remember any of this.  Thinking of Baron Bharaputra’s earlier comment, he conceals his recovery from Rowan, pretending to be cryo-amnesic still, and wonders what he’s going to do next.

Comments

Some interesting undercurrents here–Lotus, the clone Lilly, and Vasa Luigi seem to be on the verge of becoming a triangle.  Does Lotus worry that the Baron will be unable to keep his hands off of Lilly until Lotus is inside her body, or that he’ll somehow decide to sabotage her transplant and let the young, more easily manipulated clone live instead?  Surely not–Lotus’s skills are presumably still invaluable to House Bharaputra.  Lotus doesn’t seem that old, compared to Lilly–mostly gray hair, a few wrinkles–but I guess she doesn’t want to get as decrepit as her clone-mother before reclaiming her youth.  Her opinions on families are, of course, highly coloured by her own experiences, and I wonder how she accounts for Miles and Mark’s attempts to rescue each other…

And finally, Miles regains his memory, and has to pretend he still hasn’t.  Especially since Rowan is no longer a devoted ally, but somewhat weary of him, with diverging goals, and the wrong instincts.  Or, at least, her instincts aren’t likely to lead to the best outcome for Miles himself any more.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Mark remains under the tortures of Baron Ryoval, and his personality fragments under the pressure, into Gorge, Grunt, and Howl, and a nameless other figure.

He let Gorge go out to handle the force-feedings, because Gorge was the only one who actually enjoyed them. Gorge, after all, would never have been permitted to do all that Ryoval’s techs did. Grunt he sent forth when Ryoval came again with the hypospray of aphrodisiac. Grunt had also been responsible for the attack on Maree, the body-sculptured clone, he rather thought, though Grunt, when not all excited, was very shy and ashamed and didn’t talk much.

Having named them all, he finally found Mark by process of elimination. Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other had sent Lord Mark deep inside, to sleep through it all. Poor, fragile Lord Mark, barely twelve weeks old.

Ryoval could not even see Lord Mark down in there. Could not reach him. Could not touch him. Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other were all very careful not to wake the baby. Tender and protective, they defended him. They were equipped to. An ugly, grotty, hard-bitten bunch, these psychic mercenaries of his. Unlovely. But they got the job done.

Comments

I quoted about half the chapter up there–it’s very brief, and very stark as a result.  Bujold has provided pretty all the torture porn that she’s planned to, so all we get to see is what happens to Mark on the inside.  Last I heard (though these things change) this was called “dissociative personality disorder” rather than “multiple” personality, and certainly not schizophrenia, which is something quite different.  It’s not that other personalities are actually appearing, more that aspects of the existing one are beginning to put up boundaries and establish separate identities.  A few years ago I read a book called When Rabbit Howls by Truddi Chase–or, rather, by “The Troops for Truddi Chase”.  Truddi herself was described as a dormant, protected personality somewhat like Lord Mark, with “The Troops” as her own gang of personality splinters.

It’s horrifying to see Mark unravel like this, but this is, at its heart, a defensive mechanism on the part of the mind.  Mark had identity problems enough before this, of course, but when he was just beginning to establish his “Lord Mark” personality, he gets thrown into the deep end.  Is this anything like the result that Ryoval was hoping for?  Perhaps not, since in some ways it’s a bait-and-switch–his real target is being protected, his personality fragments running interference for him–but perhaps having driven him so far is a victory in itself.  At least things can’t get any worse for Mark and his gang from here…


So you did get two chapters this week, even if one was just an itty-bitty one.  With any luck, there’ll be two more next week, probably closer to normal length, and there’s still seven left, ample time for the climax and some denouement.  Until next week, then.

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What’s that, emerging from underneath that big pile of cardboard boxes?  Why, it looks like another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, a little dusty, but mostly intact.  It even covers two chapters of Mirror Dance, the joint story of clone-brothers Mark and Miles Vorkosigan–will wonders never cease?  You’ve been waiting long enough, so here it is:

Chapter Twenty-Three

Miles spends three days of loveplay with Rowan, until the afternoon where Rowan leaves him alone but, unknown to her, awake.  Deciding that “out” seems to be too dangerous, he instead sets himself to explore within, to try to find the mysterious Lilly.  Jacksonian leaders seem to live in bunkers (like Ryoval, he thinks, with vague associations of a sub-basement) or towers (like Fell, in orbit); since he was already down, he decides to go up.

He gets dressed, slips out into the hallway, then up to the top floor.  There is another lift-tube going up, with a Durona-only palm lock, along with a spiral staircase that Miles perforce takes instead.  At the top he regains his breath, knocks, and tells the boy who answers that he wants to see his grandmother.  A woman’s voice calls him inside, and the boy, Robin, lets him in.

A shrunken old women sits inside, her long white hair being brushed by a young girl.  Miles sees a hundred years in her eyes and is sure that this is Lilly.  She tells him to sit down and sends the girl, Violet, to get tea, and Robin to get Rowan.  Miles sits.

Her vowels had a vibrato of age, but her diction, containing them, was perfect. “Have you come to yourself, sir?” she inquired.

“No, ma’am,” he said sadly. “Only to you.” He thought carefully about how to phrase his question. Lilly would not be any less medically careful than Rowan about yielding him clues. “Why can’t you identify me?”

Her white brows rose. “Well-put. You are ready for an answer, I think. Ah.”

Rowan appear in the lift tube, apologizing for leaving him unattended, and Lilly reassures her that it’s all right.  Rowan pours the tea, and then Miles asks for answers.  Lilly says it’s time to tell him a story of three brothers, just like in a fairy tale–the original and his two clones.  The eldest was born into a rich and powerful family, with a title and a father with power and influence.  His enemies tried to strike at the father through his son, and cause the two clones to be created.  She pauses to ask him if any names are springing to mind, but Miles says no, so she adds more details.

She says Miles Vorkosigan is the original, his first clone was made by House Bharaputra for Komarrans, and then escaped; Miles remembers Galen, who Lilly confirms was the leader of the Komarrans.  The other clone’s origins are more obscure, though the Cetagandans are the best guess; he appeared suddenly a decade earlier with a mercenary fleet and proclaimed himself Admiral Miles Naismith, and has certainly gone on to disoblige himself to the Cetagandans.  Lilly tells Miles that he is probably one of the two clones.

Miles asks why, when he arrived there in his frozen state, they went to such trouble with him, since clones can’t be that much of a novelty.  Lilly tells him how Bharaputra’s clone returned three months earlier, pretending to be Naismith, with a mercenary crew, and attached the clone-creche.  Naismith himself followed after, and in the ensuing battle one of them ended up dead; the other escaped, with the Dendarii, the clones and a captive Vasa Luigi, though they posted a reward for the recovery of the cryo-chamber with the dead clone’s remains.  The Dendarii claimed that the dead clone was the Bharaputran one, but Baron Bharaputra is convinced that Naismith was the one who actually died.  She adds that Baron Fell won’t even guess, and Ryoval would go to great lengths for the mere chance to get back at Admiral Naismith.

Miles finds the story familiar, but distant, like something he heard once, and discovers he’s starting to get a headache.  He asks about medical records, but they only have the Bharaputran clone’s, and only until the Komarrans took him, and no information on the other one.  Rowan tells them that half of his bones are plastic, and the rest have old breaks, and she’d have guessed him older than either of the clones, or even Lord Vorkosigan.  His memories are ambiguous–his knowledge of weapons could suit the Admiral, or the Bharaputran’s assassin training, and his memories of Galen and maple trees point to Earth and the Komarrans.

Miles asks why they revived him, rather than just turning him over to the Dendarii, or Baron Ryoval.  Lilly says she has bad blood with Baron Ryoval, and they haven’t ruled out dealing with the Dendarii, but they need to know who he is first.  She tells him how Naismith and the Dendarii got Dr. Canaba off the planet and successfully disappeared him, and says she wants them to do the same for the Duronas; Baron Fell is aging and soon their initial Deal with him will be over, and they’ll be in a much less desirable situation.  If he’s Naismith, then they’ll be in a good bargaining position, and if he’s the other they might be able to work out a ransom deal, but if he doesn’t remember either of them, he’s worth nothing to them.  With that implicit threat, they head back to Rowan’s room.

When they’re alone, Rowan asks him if any of that sounded familiar; Miles says that all of it does, but he doesn’t think he has the skills to get the Duronas off of Jackson’s Whole.  Rowan says his speech is improving rapidly, and she thinks he’s close to memory-cascade.  He says he remembers Galen and Earth, and asks what the clone’s name is; Rowan says she doesn’t know, and Miles says that he thinks Admiral Naismith’s name should be Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, but doesn’t know why.  He tries to conjure up a childhood raised by Cetagandans and then escaping from them, but nothing comes up.

Miles asks what they’ll do with him if he’s the wrong clone; Rowan says he’ll need to make his own way off of Jackson’s Whole, with the Bharaputrans looking for him, but she’ll try to help him, even though she’s reluctant to act apart from the rest of the clan.  She did spend time on Escobar taking her cryo-revival course, and she wonders how it would be to be on her own or part of a couple, like Lotus (the one who married into House Bharaputra).

He eyed her. “Were you ordered to sleep with me?” he asked suddenly.

She flinched. “No.” She paced again. “But I did ask permission. Lilly said to go ahead, it might help attach you to our interests.” She paused. “Does that seem terribly cold, to you?”

“On Jackson’s Whole—merely prudent.” And attachments surely ran two ways. Jackson’s Whole was no place to be alone. But you can’t trust anyone.

If anyone was sane here, he swore it was by accident.

Miles can now read for up to ten minutes before blinding headaches, which he does, with short breaks in between.  He studies up on the Great Houses of Jackson’s Whole, many of whom seem familiar to him; he thinks that Durona is on its way to becoming a House Minor on its own, budding off from House Fell.  But he still can’t manage to dredge up Admiral Naismith’s past, or the unknown clones either.  He wonders who the “Gran’da” from his memories is.  He decides to spend some time researching Miles Vorkosigan, something both clones must also have been familiar with, and starts with a general history of Barrayar.  It all seems achingly familiar, but all too soon he has to stop again.  He considers asking for another dose of fast-penta, in case it does jar something loose.  Rowan comes in and says that Lilly wants him upstairs.

“All right—” He made to rise, but she stopped him.

She kissed him. It was a long, long kiss, which at first delighted and then worried him. He broke away to ask, “Rowan, what’s the matter?”

” . . . I think I love you.”

“This is a problem?”

“Only my problem.” She managed a brief, unhappy smile. “I’ll handle it.”

She takes him up to Lilly’s penthouse, where Hawk is also present, looking more like a guard than an attendant.  Three strangers are also there–two women (one of them identified as “Bel”), and a short man who looks like him.  He’s wearing a military uniform, so Miles identifies him as Admiral Naismith, stocky and squared-off.  Unfortunately, he realizes that this means he’s the wrong clone after all.  One of the women says she recognizes Miles, but he has to admit he doesn’t know her.  Lilly tells them that he’s obviously alive and well, and they need to discuss the price.  Naismith says they’ll pay anything; the other women adds “within reason”, and wonders how good the revival job was, with his obvious problems.  Rowan breaks into say that the prep may have been botched, but he’s recovering quickly, pushing himself almost too hard, before Lilly shushes her.

She mentions the price, retelling the story of Dr. Canaba and his rescue from Jackson’s Whole, mentioning the Marilacan prisoner rescue as well.  Naismith says he will certainly be able to get the Duronas offplanet, once he makes contact with his backup, and Lilly says that once the extraction has been arranged, he can have his clone-brother.  They protest that they’d hoped to take him today, but Lilly says she prefers to hold on to her only bargaining chip, since she can’t give him half a clone in advance.  Naismith points out that also leaves her the freedom to auction him to other bidders, which he warns her not to try; Lilly says that only they can provide what she wants, too.

For a Jacksonian, this was bending over backward to encourage. Take it, close the deal! he thought, then wondered why. What did these people want him for? Outside, a gust of wind whipped the snowfall to a blinding, whirling curtain. It ticked on the windows.

It ticked on the windows. . . .

Lilly was the next to be aware, her dark eyes widening. No one else had noticed yet, the cessation of that silent glitter. Her startled gaze met his, as his head turned back from his first stare outward, and her lips parted for speech.

The window burst inward.

Pellets of safety glass bombard them, and Hawk and the mercenary women leap into action as a big aircar appears outside the window.  Four troops in biotainment gear leap into the room, and they seem to be shielded from Hawk’s stunner.  Someone named Elena calls on the mercenary Quinn’s radio, asking if she wants backup, which Quinn does, as she dodges stunner beams.  Hawk is stunned himself, and the troopers try to decide which of the two clones is their target, Naismith.  They decide to take them both, but Miles and Rowan dive into the lift-tube, just in time to see Naismith and the two Dendarii women stunned.

Once they reach the bottom of the lift-tube, Miles asks Rowan where the generators are, so they can turn the force-shield on and try to keep the kidnappers from leaving.  Other Duronas appear, and House Fell guards head toward the penthouse, but Miles tries to avoid them; he wonders who it was who turned off the force-screen in the first place, and Rowan says that it’s House Fell’s responsibility.  Miles peers out a window and sees more House Fell guards running around, trying to decide what to do about the aircar; as he watches, the troopers jump back aboard, carrying Naismith, and it departs.

Rowan tries to pull him away from the window, as a Dendarii civilian aircar lifts and tries to force the other aircar down, ending up crashing itself for its pains.  Miles thinks they have a good idea, and asks Rowan if there are any Durona aircars they can use.  The building is crawling with security now, though, and Miles wonders how he can get through unnoticed.  He tells Rowan to carry him out, getting Dr. Chrys to take his feet, to get him through the crowd and to the exit.  She obliges, and Miles runs for the outer door, wincing as the Fell guards fire a rocket launcher at the armoured aircar, which luckily doesn’t take it down.

“Take me to the biggest, fastest thing you can make go,” he gasped to Rowan. “We can’t let them get away.” We can’t let Fell’s men blow it up, either. “Hurry!”

“Why?”

“Those goons just kidnapped my, my . . . brother,” he panted. “Gotta follow. Bring ’em down if we can, follow if we can’t. The Dendarii must have reinforcements of some kind, if we don’t lose them. Or Fell. Lilly’s his, his liegewoman, isn’t she? He has to respond. Or _someone_ does.” He was shivering violently. “Lose ’em and we’ll never get ’em back. They’re figuring on it.”

“What the hell would we do if we caught them?” Rowan objected. “They just tried to kidnap you, and you want to run after them? That’s a job for security!”

As Miles tries to protest, his consciousness vanishes into another seizure, and he awakens to Dr. Chrys injecting him, back inside the building, only a minute or so later.  Lilly arrives and tells Rowan to get him out of there, since Baron Fell is going to be on the scene himself soon and they don’t want him to find the clone; they’ll hide the evidence and pretend he was never there.  She orders Rowan to take him someplace random, not one of their properties, and hide out with him there, calling only on secured lines.  Rowan obeys, taking a still-wobbly Miles into the underground clinic and out through a concealed tunnel into an underground parking garage where Rowan explains they sometimes have to smuggle things in or out.

As they get into an innocuous lightflyer, Miles protests that they have to go after Admiral Naismith, but Rowan says that he’s got all the Dendarii to look for him, and Lilly wants him back too.  Miles thinks miserably that he himself has no value except to Vasa Luigi, for things he doesn’t even remember doing.  He wonders out loud what resources the Dendarii have, what backup he has, and Rowan tells him not to worry about it.

The aircar’s lights go out, and it begins to drop; they’re being drained and forced down by another vehicle.  Miles urges Rowan to crash the aircar, make a big splash that can’t help but be noticed, and she just tells him he’s crazy and manages to set it down safely.  Before Miles can do anything else they’re surrounded by troopers, but not the same as those as attacked the clinic.  They handcuff him, Rowan protesting that they shouldn’t hurt her patient.

Another big man crunched through the snow. He pushed back his hood, and shone a hand light upon the captives. He appeared about forty-standard, with a craggy face, olive brown skin, and dark hair stripped back in a simple knot. His eyes were bright and very alert. His black brows bent in puzzlement, as he stared at his prey.

“Open his shirt,” he told one of the guards.

The guard did so; the craggy man shone the hand-light on the spray of scars. His lips drew back in a white grin. Suddenly, he threw back his head and laughed out loud. The echoes of his voice lost themselves in the empty winter twilight. “Ry, you fool! I wonder how long it will take you to figure it out?”

“Baron Bharaputra,” Rowan said in a thin voice.

Vasa Luigi “invites” them both to join him; Rowan says that he hasn’t regained his memory yet, but Bharaputra says that he only wants him as a bargaining chip.

Comments

I was confused at first about the identity of the two Dendarii women in the penthouse, since one of them was described as “graying”, which doesn’t sound like Elli or Elena, but then it turns out to be Bel.  Interesting that Miles sees Bel as female in this circumstance, not recognizing it as a hermaphrodite.  I guess the breasts are more visible than the penis…

It’s also interesting to see the Miles-clone story from the outside, where the existence of Lord Vorkosigan and his two clones is taken as truth.  Lord Vorkosigan has no reputation at all offplanet, and perhaps the scene near the end of Brothers In Arms is taken to be conclusive proof that he’s separate from Admiral Naismith.  Now the other clone showing up and pretending to Admiral Naismith must obviously be a third one, and besides, “Mark” has a verifiable past, from the Bharaputrans and the Komarrans.  Miles’s real identity, nobody believes…  Bharaputra “knows” that Miles isn’t Admiral Naismith, because of the chest scars, so therefore he must be the other clone…

I’d forgotten that Miles fell into the hands of Bharaputra at the same time that Mark fell into Ryoval’s (see below).  But now that I’ve been reminded, I kind of remember what happens.  The classic scene in this chapter, of course, is Miles trying to get Rowan to crash the flyer, and her refusing–the first sign that they’re not compatible for a long-term relationship after all.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Mark awakens from stun just enough to hear two voices arguing about whether to give him synergine; they decide to do it just to keep him from throwing up all over the aircar.  After that, he begins to recover, and notices that they switch vehicles at least three more times, then onto a larger vehicle, and then they go through decontamination.  And then he’s handed over to House Ryoval guardsmen, who put him into another lightflyer.

Miles is alive. The relief of that fact was so intense, he smiled in elation even with his face squashed into the sticky plastic seat. What a joyful sight the skinny little bugger had been! Upright and breathing. He’d almost wept. What he’d done, was undone. He could really be Lord Mark, now. All my sins are taken from me.

As long as he regains his memory, of course–he didn’t even recognize Quinn.  Mark is mostly just annoyed at Ryoval, for making a stupid mistake and getting the wrong man, but is confident that ImpSec will deal with him soon enough.

He’s offloaded in an underground garage, passed through security and then stripped.  He can’t figure out where he is–not a bordello, or a prison, smelling medical but not fancy enough for paying customers, too secret to be for the production of commercial slaves.  He’s still more worried about Ryoval’s troopers’ fates once the Baron discovers their goof than about himself.  Miles and the Dendarii seem to have escaped capture, so they or ImpSec can rescue him.

He’s brought before the Baron himself in private quarters, and he remembers the recording he’d seen of Ryoval’s messages to Miles, the promises of vengeance made there.  He sees that the Baron is wearing a young, obviously cloned body, which enrages him.  Ryoval tells the guards to leave him alone, and stares at Mark, visions of his vengeance seeming to dance in his head.  He tells the “Admiral” that he’s put on weight, and he’s glad, on the whole, that “Naismith” didn’t die in one of his mercenary actions, because he’s been planning “Naismith”‘s fate for four years now.  Mark realizes he has no clue that he’s not the Admiral Naismith he tangled with before.  At least it’s not amnesic Miles in this position, he decides.

After inspecting Mark, Ryoval declares that rather than starve him, as he’d originally planned, he’ll try force-feeding instead.  Mark tries to tell him that he’s got the wrong clone, but Ryoval is convinced that the Bharaputran clone was the one at House Durona, which he’s been watching closely because he knew Naismith would come for him.  He’s not quite sure why, speculating that Naismith and the clone might be lovers.  Mark tells him to do the scans and prove he’s telling the truth, but Ryoval says that it’s pointless, if even the Duronas couldn’t tell for sure.  Mark insists that he’s not Naismith, and Ryoval says that, in that case, he’ll practice on him for when the real Naismith comes along.

Ryoval summons his guards, who start beating Mark, who screams obligingly, but they don’t even break any bones.  They lock him in a tiny, cold room, where he tries to console himself that Ryoval will keep him alive, and relatively unharmed, as long as possible, to make the tortures last longer.  If he survives long enough, ImpSec will find him.  Mark will be able to resist the humiliations that may have broken Miles, he tells himself.

The technicians come for him and strap him down to force-feed him, a “repulsive high-calorie sludge” filled with anti-emetics so he can’t even vomit it up.  It must be something standard that Ryoval keeps on hand, for people who’ve taken his compulsive overeating to even higher levels.

Ryoval had stripped his very own rebellion of all its secret pleasure. The one somatic power that had been his call, his control, taken from him. Ryoval had hooked him, gotten under his skin. Way under.

After he’s given some time to assimilar that, he’s given a strong aphrodisiac and given to guards, or bordello employees, he can’t tell, drugged into his own degradation with cameras recording it from every angle.  Afterwards he realizes that at least it’s overcome his performance problems from the shock-stick incident.  Ryoval was watching, and studying, the whole time, watching for reactions and signs of weakness and vulnerability.  This is just a preamble to the real torture to come, the Baron learning his parameters.  His only clock is the every-three-hours force-feedings.

Suddenly, he saw what was coming, all whole. First, Ryoval would condition him to this, addict him by repeated doses. Only then would he add pain, and pin him, vibrating, between pain and pleasure; require him to torture himself, to win through to the dark reward. And then he would withdraw the drug and let Mark, conditioned to the scenarios, continue. And he would. And then Ryoval would offer him his freedom. And he would weep and beg to stay, plead to remain a slave. Destruction by seduction. End-game. Revenge complete.

Next they use special solvents to flay him, dissolving his skin but leaving the nerves intact, and then leaving him in his little cell with his pain from everything he touches, standing upright until he collapses.  He’s survived the first day, though.  He thinks that he would already have told them any information they asked for, but they’re not torturing him for interrogation purposes, just for torture itself.  They don’t even care what he knows.

I wanted to be Lord Mark. I just wanted to be Lord Mark. Was that so bad? He still wanted to be Lord Mark. He’d almost had it, brushing his grasp. Ripped away. He wept for it, hot tears splashing like molten lead on his not-skin. He could feel Lord Mark slipping from him, racked apart, buried alive. Disintegrating. I just wanted to be human. Screwed up again.

Comments

Yikes.  This is a disturbing chapter to read.  Then again, I’ve always been fascinated by stories like Piers Anthony’s “On The Uses of Torture”, so maybe I’m just a little twisted, because it doesn’t make me put the book down or anything.  I just keep reading.

Mark starts out, and to some extent remains, convinced that he’s won just by finding Miles alive, and keeping him out of Ryoval’s clutches.  He’s redeemed his earlier mistake by leading the Dendarii to Miles, and whatever else happens to him doesn’t matter.  But Ryoval, intent on getting under his skin (literally–ugh), is not so easily dismissed.  He’s definitely on the far side of crazy, perhaps even by Jackson’s Whole standards, and he doesn’t even seem to care if he’s got the right clone or not.  The way they’ve hopelessly muddied the waters on who’s who, they shouldn’t be surprised if people guess wrongly.  (As Mark realizes, Admiral Naismith doesn’t even exist, so Ryoval wants revenge on a phantom.)  Still, he does have different strengths than Miles, and this is where he really gets to find them, because everything else gets stripped away.


Sorry to keep you all in suspense for so long.  Packing, and moving, and unpacking, provided me with excuses for not working on the Reread even when it wasn’t actually depriving me of time, or access to my computer, or energy and motivation.  I had done about a third of Chapter Twenty-Three before the move, and luckily managed to get all of that and the second (much shorter) chapter done this week.  Wednesdays are definitely better, I’d have to say.

There are nine more chapters left, but it’s too soon for me to know how they’re going to fall out.  Chapter Twenty-Six is extremely short, but I hesitate to promise three chapters for next week; I’m more likely to just call it an easy week and leave another singleton for later.  But I can see Memory on the horizon, which will be another challenge, as the first I don’t have in digital format…but perhaps my favourite in the entire series.

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Wednesday is the new Tuesday!  Or perhaps Thursday is the new Wednesday.  In any case, it’s the day (or night) of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I make my way through the delectable works of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week we get another couple of chapters into Mirror Dance, which now once again features our usual protagonist Miles Vorkosigan sharing the stage with his clone-brother Mark.

Chapter Twenty-One

Mark and Elena get a ride on an ImpSec courier back to Komarr, and on their arrival Mark discovers that Medic Norwood’s personal effects have been shipped from the Dendarii fleet.  Although reluctant to beg another favour from impSec, Mark pleads to be given access, and is, once ImpSec themselves have been over it.  While Elena prepares their ship, Mark dives into Norwood’s box of effects.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of value, but he gives Norwood’s library and technical notes another go-over, just to be sure.

The second time through he notices a scrawled reference to meeting a “Dr. Durona”, which is a name Mark recognizes.  Norwood’s cryonic training was at Beauchene Life Center on Escobar, and though Mark checks, he finds no reference to a Dr. Durona working or teaching there.  Nonetheless, he’s sure he’s onto something.

He calls Elli Quinn, who is none too pleased to hear from him, and asks her if anyone else was trained at Beauchene around the same time as Norwood.  Elli says that there were a couple, one of whom is dead, but the other is on the _Ariel_.  Mark asks to go over there to talk to him, and Quinn bridles, asking him who he thinks he is to give her orders.

“Elena hasn’t told you much, I see.” Curious. Did Bothari-Jesek’s dubious Armsman’s oath then outrank her loyalties to the Dendarii? Or was she just too busy to chat? How much time had he been—he glanced at his chrono. My God. “I happen to be on my way to Jackson’s Whole. Very soon. And if you are very nice to me, I might ask ImpSec to release you to me, and let you ride along as my guest. Maybe.” He grinned breathlessly at her.

The smoldering look she gave him in return was more eloquent than the bluest string of swear words he’d ever heard. Her lips moved—counting to ten?—but no sound came out. When she did speak, her tone was clipped to a burr. “I’ll have your pod at the station’s hatch ring in eleven minutes.”

The medic is none too pleased to be interrogated again, ImpSec having already been at him, but Mark promises to ask just one question.  Mark asks the medic if he met a Dr. Durona anywhere, and the medic says he met lots of doctors, but doesn’t remember that one.  Mark thinks for a minute and supplies a description instead.  The medic, surprised, says there was, a fellow student that Norwood was pursuing for a while–Roberta or Rowanna, he thought.  He doesn’t recall her being from Jackson’s Whole, but admits that the clinic had people come from all over.

Mark goes to find Quinn, and asks her for a still from Taura’s helmet recorder; Quinn says ImpSec took them all, but reluctantly admits they had copies.  She brings him a disk, and (with her help to log in, because his palm-print is no longer recognized) finds an image of the dark-haired girl from the clone creche.  He shows it to the medic, who agrees that it looks like the same woman, maybe a little younger.  Quinn asks what’s going on, and he promises to tell her only after they’re on his ship and underway.  He doesn’t want to give ImpSec any hints yet.

“Where the hell did you get a ship?”

“My mother gave it to me.” He tried not to smirk.

“The Countess? Rats! She’s turning you loose?”

“Don’t begrudge me my little ship, Quinn. After all, my parents gave my big brother a whole fleet of ships.” His eyes gleamed. “I’ll see you on board, as soon as Captain Bothari-Jesek reports it ready.”

Mark is proud of having his own ship, belated birthday present it may be, a yacht that used to belong to a Komarran oligarch who’s upgrading to something better.  Quinn, Taura, and Bel Thorne are there waiting for Mark’s briefing, which starts after Elena confirms that the ship’s pilot has broken orbit.  He explains to them that this is neither an ImpSec nor Dendarii mission, but funded by Countess Vorkosigan.  Bel and Taura have been briefed on Admiral Naismith’s true identity, which Bel (and Ky Tung) had already guessed, and which Taura says explains a lot.

Quinn asks what Mark has found, and Mark explains about the Beauchene Life Center.  He knows ImpSec will hit upon the same lead eventually, but in the meantime he’s reprioritized his list of Jackson’s Whole sites to check.  He’s postulated that Miles has been recently revived, and asks Elena to confirm that if this is true, he’ll soon draw attention to himself.  Quinn notes the possibility of amnesia.  Mark says he’s afraid that soon someone else’s attention will be drawn to Miles if they don’t find him soon.

Mark explains his theory that Norwood met a Dr. Durona at Beauchene, and that that’s who he tried to send Miles to at Bharaputra’s.  Because there is a Durona Group on Jackson’s Whole, which works for House Fell–who, at that time, were their allies.  Quinn says that Fell claims not to have the cryo-chamber, and Mark gives them a little background.

Ninety years earlier, the father of the current Baron Ryoval decided to try growing himself some geniuses.  He started by creating a woman named Lilly Durona, who proved to be a genius in fact.  Unfortunately, after she started working for the Baron, he died in unsuccessful brain transplant, probably due to the efforts of his son, the current Baron Ryoval.  The new Baron cleaned house by killing or enslaving most of his numerous siblings and half-siblings, and threatened to do the same to Lilly Durona.  Lilly plotted her escape with the help of one of Ryoval’s half-brothers, Georish Stauber–the current Baron Fell–who used Lilly as his entrée into House Fell.  While Stauber rose in the House, Durona created her own research group by cloning herself over and over; the group now consists of 30-40 Duronas, and serves Fell as in-house medical staff, as well as developing chemical and biological weaponry.

Mark then asks about the Dendarii side of their encounters with Fell and Ryoval, which Bel supplies, telling Mark about their help with Dr. Canaba’s defection–including Taura’s rescue and the destruction of Ryoval’s samples, which is why Ryoval would be happy to get his hands on a revived Miles just to be able to kill him over and over again.  Mark adds another odd fact–Baronne Lotus Bharaputra, wife of the current Baron, is a former Durona clone who jumped ship herself for co-control of House Bharaputra, and the dark-haired clone girl who escaped is evidently her body-clone.  Durona don’t do brain transplants themselves, part of their original deal.  What Mark isn’t sure about, though, is why the Duronas seem to be concealing their possession of Miles’s body from House Fell itself, including dumping the cryo-chamber off-planet.

Quinn has prepared a kit for providing them with new identities before they arrive in Jacksonian space, because they’ll have to get past Fell Station again.  She admits grudgingly that Mark’s analysis is pretty good.

“Yes . . . he’s changed a bit, I think,” Bothari-Jesek observed judiciously. “Grown.”

“Yeah?” Quinn’s gaze swept him, up and down. “True . . .”

Mark’s heart warmed in hungry anticipation of a crumb of approval.

“—he’s fatter.”

Comments

So now we know what’s up with the Durona Group, as a link between the three Jacksonian Houses we’ve encountered the most so far–created by Ryoval, defected to Fell, and then one of them defected again to Bharaputra.  There’s supposed to be lots of other Jacksonian Houses, but somehow those are the only three we encountered for a long time, mostly because they were the ones that Miles ran afoul of back in “Labyrinth”.  Not until the latest book, in fact, did we really see anyone from another House.

I forgot that Mark’s clue to the Duronas comes after they leave Barrayar–I always remember it as being what impels him to leave Barrayar in the first place.  So he really has little or nothing to go on when he actually convinces Cordelia and Elena to let him go.  I sometimes forget that Mark knows so much about Jackson’s Whole, but he did spend a large chunk of his childhood there, even though the clones must have been somewhat sheltered.  After that, with Ser Galen, is when he spent all his time learning about Barrayar and Miles…

Chapter Twenty-Two

Miles, still amnesic, is trying to remember tongue-twisters so he can practice his speech, because he hates it when nobody understands him talking.  He is, at least, dressing himself and eating real food.  He finally manages to work his way through “She sells sea shells”, and then sees Rowan watching from the doorway.  She says he’s obviously been practicing, and he conveys that he needs to talk so he can issue commands.

Rowan says she’s brought him some “toys”, which turn out to be parts of disassembled hand weapons.  Miles expertly assembles four different weapons–stunner, plasma arc, nerve disrupter and projectile gun–and puts the remaining, extra pieces to one side.  He notes that the power cells are all dead, and Rowan comments that he nonetheless never pointed any of the weapons at either of them during the assembly.

She asks if any memories surfaced during the activity, and he says no, but tells her (in excitement and decreasing intelligibility) that he remembered something in the shower.  He describes a scene of riding on a horse with an old man beside him, and a number of trees connected with tubes, which makes his grandfather and the other men happy.

“What are they doing, in this scene?” she asked, sounding baffled. “These men.”

He could see it again in his head, the memory of a memory. “Burnin’ wood. Makin’ sugar.”

“That makes no sense. Sugar comes from biological production vats, not from burning trees,” said Rowan.

“Trees,” he asserted. “Brown sug’r trees.” Another memory wavered up: the old man breaking off a chunk of something that looked like tan sandstone and giving him a taste by popping it in his mouth. The feel of the gnarled old stained fingers cool against his cheek, sweetness tinged with leather and horses. He shivered at the overwhelming sensory blast. This was real. But he still could name no names. Gran’da.

“Mountains mine,” he added. The thought made him sad, and he didn’t know why.

Rowan is dubious about this memory, wondering if it might not be a dream after all, because it doesn’t fit with anything they know.  Miles immediately grabs her and asks what they know about him.  Eventually she tells him that they don’t know how he is, but they know some possibilities as to who he might be…but telling him anything, at his current stage of recovery, risks contaminating him with false memories that lead him to construct an identity out of them.  She says he’ll likely recover all his memories, but he’s more susceptible to this contamination than most people, for reasons she doesn’t explain.  She does mention the possibility of using fast-penta to help with the recovery process, because it sometimes triggers a memory cascade.

“However, it can also be embarrassing. Under its influence people will happily talk about whatever crosses their minds, even their most intimate and private thoughts. Good medical ethics requires me to warn you about that. Also, some people are allergic to the drug.”

“Where’d . . . you learn . . . goo’ med’cal ethics?” he asked curiously.

Strangely, she flinched. “Escobar,” she said, and eyed him.

“Where we now?”

“I’d rather not say, just yet.”

She gives him a patch test for the fast-penta, saying that he has a high risk of having been given an artificial fast-penta allergy.  When she removes the patch, his skin turns slightly pink there, but not read and itchy, which means he has a marginal sensitivity, but he pleads with her to take the risk.  She fetches a fast-penta hypospray, as well as an antagonist in case he does begin to have a reaction.  She doses him, and instead of relaxing as she says he will, he begins to get jittery, and she says that his blood pressure is rising.  He remembers then that fast-penta makes him hyper, and begins to mumble poetry, remembering that last time he did this somebody beat him up…somebody named Galen.  He tells her he beat Galen by reciting endless poetry until it wore off, and she recognizes the name but won’t tell him more.  He keeps finding himself making improper suggestions to her, which she takes in stride.

She decides that his reaction isn’t encouraging, and prepares to administer the antidote.  He suddenly remembers that he’s on Jackson’s Whole and bolts out of the room.  Rowan follows, calling for help, but Miles climbs up the lift-tube, darts into the lobby and out past a float-pallet and through the front doors, no force screen this time.  Guards in green parkas lower their stunners, but a voice behind him warns them not to stun him, and he keeps running, out into the street.  Soon he collapses, out of breath, and several Duronas pounce on him, picking him up and carrying him back into the building; Rowan gives him the antidote.

Once he’s back inside, they discuss how many witnesses there were to Miles’s escape this time.  An older Dr. Durona asks Rowan what’s going on, and she explains about the fast-penta reaction, and some odd things he said, which she needs to discuss with Lilly.  Miles then begins to go into a convulsion, and comes to with both women holding him down.  Rowan says they need to check on his sensitivity before giving him anything else whatsoever, and dismisses her attendants until he’s calmed down again.  Shortly thereafter, they move him, claiming they have other patients coming; he finds himself set up on a cot in Rowan’s rooms, where they eat dinner together.

She still would not tell him anything directly about himself, but she now seemed willing at least to talk about herself. His internal picture of the world shifted as they spoke. Why do I have wormhole maps in my head? Maybe he was going to have to recover himself the hard way. Learn everything that existed in the universe, and whatever was left, that dwarfish-man-shaped hole in the center, would be him by process of elimination. A daunting task.

He says that if he is on Jackson’s Whole, that means bad things, and asks about the Durona Clinic.  She says they work for House Fell, and he makes the connection to Fell’s weapons business and accuses them of making biological weapons.  He asks why he’s there, and she explains how he arrived, in a cryo-chamber with no return address, and they revived him to find out who he was.  She admits there’s more to it than that, but they won’t tell him.  She tells him that it’s dangerous for him to leave, but the precise danger depends on who he is.

Dr. Chrys gives him more physical therapy, and then leaves him to Rowan’s more tender mercies.  As she massages him, he feels himself becoming aroused, which Rowan discovers when he expresses reluctance to turn over.  She insists on examining him anyway, which devolves into kissing and then sexplay.  She praises his prowess, and he wonders how he got so good, if he was married; she says that he wasn’t, whichever he was.

“Huh.” He hesitated, winding her long hair in his fingers, spreading it idly out in a fan across the burst of red lines on his torso. “So who d’you think you were makin’ love to, jus’ now?”

She touched a long index finger gently to his forehead. “You. Just you.”

This was most pleasing, but . . . “Wuzzat love, or therapy?”

She smiled quizzically, tracing his face. “A little of both, I think. And curiosity. And opportunity. I’ve been pretty immersed in you, for the past three months.”

It felt like an honest answer. “Seems t’me you made t’ opportunity.”

A small smirk escaped her lips. “Well . . . maybe.”

Miles realizes that they have invested a lot of time in him, as if they’re expecting a big payback.  He asks who they’re hiding him from, and Rowan can only tell him “enemies”.  He wonders who he is, who they’re expecting him to be, who his princess needs him to be.

Comments

Another forgotten fact–the first of Miles’s seizures occurs here, after his stressful past-penta experience and paranoid flight.  I’m not clear how he realized he was on Jackson’s Whole–was it memory, or deduction, or just leaping to conclusions?  Was he remembering that he was on Jackson’s Whole last he saw?  Did he recognize the climate somehow from his brief nighttime excursion?  Some other clue?  Makes me wonder if fast-penta would help Miles’s deductive facilities if he used it judiciously…does he do that in some book?

So Miles and Rowan consummate their relationship, not one of his most successful ones, but then, it’s classic doctor-patient romance, paired with Miles’s amnesia (he can’t remember that he already has a girlfriend, so it’s technically not cheating, right?) and of course his irresistible charm.  After all, he’s regained his ability to talk, and there’s no Oser around to warn them to shut him up.

I like the part about how they know sugar doesn’t come from trees, and how Rowan thinks it’s a dream or hallucination.  I guess she’s just not used to the idea that you can actually harvest plant products, or something?  I know that Jackson’s Whole is a little inhospitable, but what about Escobar?  Is it also a marginal climate?  I realize that there’s a difference between fruit and sap, but surely the idea that sap may carry sugar around the plant isn’t that strange; did she not have to take any botany, just medicine?  I guess they must be pretty focused on their specialty to be so ignorant about things like that.

Obviously the Duronas are expecting this to be either Miles Naismith, or his clone, not Miles Vorkosigan–do they even know about him?  Now what use could they possibly have for a guy with a mercenary fleet…or a guy who could pretend to be the guy with the mercenary fleet?


I think I’m officially moving the Vorkosigan Reread post day to Wednesday (well, before midnight on Wednesday in my time zone), which works better for me, at least for now.  Probably I’ll adjust to this and end up putting off starting on it until Tuesday night, but maybe it’ll be okay.  The next two weeks may still be spotty, but after that hopefully things will settle down.

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