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Archive for the ‘The Vor Game’ Category

Right!  So, the Vorkosigan Saga, written by Lois McMaster Bujold, is what I’m summarizing here, with comments of course, and this week I’m finishing off The Vor Game, which is of course one of the books in the series, the fourth chronologically, if you don’t count that one novella, or the much-earlier book I’m not doing, and of course ignoring publication order, so this week I’m doing Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen, because I normally do two chapters but I only did one last week.  Any questions?  No?  Then let’s get on with it, shall we?

Chapter Sixteen

When Cavilo’s shuttle docks with the Ariel, they find only a deserted chamber closed off with blast doors at each end (and Miles watching through vid link).  Cavilo and an escort of Rangers emerge in space armour, and an unarmoured Gregor.  Cavilo, helmet off, asks “What’s the trick?”, at which point Miles blows the docking clamps.  Her shuttle’s boarding tube tears away, and the airlock shuts automatically.  Miles notes that the shuttle is tumbling through space, damaged by the blast.  He tells Bel Thorne to keep an eye on it just in case.

Cavilo has put her helmet back on, and her Rangers are forming up defensively, but there’s still nothing to see.  Miles puts on his own helmet and examines his own half-dozen space-armoured troops, and his plasma cannon, fully capable of blowing away someone in space armour, as well as the hull of the ship.  He signals Elena to open the blast doors between Cavilo’s group and the cannon, then issues an ultimatum.

“Cavilo!” he shouted. “Deactivate your weapons and freeze, or I’ll blow Gregor to atoms!”

Body language was a wonderful thing. It was amazing, how much expression could come through the blank shining surface of space armor. The littlest armored figure stood openhanded, stunned. Bereft of words; bereft, for precious seconds, of reactions. Because, of course, Miles had just stolen her opening line. Now what do you have to say for yourself, love? It was a desperate ploy. Miles had judged the hostage-problem logically insoluble; therefore, clearly the only thing to do was make it Cavilo’s problem instead of his own.

Cavilo hisses to Gregor that he’d said Miles was safe.  Gregor says that he’ll prove Miles is bluffing, and just walks right up to the tip of the plasma cannon.  Miles is almost lost in admiration before he remembers to shut the blast doors again, this time with Gregor on his side.  Miles is relieved that Gregor picked up his cue, and in an inspired fashion, though he admits he had a few backup plans as well.  He orders Elena to mop up the Rangers, and they arm their weapons (none of them, even the cannon, had actually been charged).

As they move up to the tactics room, Miles admits to Gregor that he’d been worried about whether he’d actually been taken in by Cavilo.  Gregor says that she reminded him too much of Count Vordrozda.  Miles asks Gregor if he’d realized that he could have just had Cavilo “rescue” him all the way to Barrayar, and Gregor says all that would have taken was a complete lack of personal honour.  Gregor says he would have had her killed, if she’d killed Miles, and yet, he wished she had been for real.

Miles briefs Gregor on the tactical situation, spotlighting their shortage of information on the Cetagandans, after Elena secures the boarders.  He asks Gregor to choose–to go home on board the Ariel, or to stay for the battle, even to command.  Or, as a more realistic option, Gregor can decree the Dendarii to be real Barrayaran forces, and negotiate a treaty with Vervain.  Gregor asks if there’s a way he can actually serve in the combat.

“If—in your judgment—the best and most vital service you can give everyone else risking their lives here is as a minor field officer, I will of course support you to the best of my ability,” said Miles bleakly.

“Ouch,” murmured Gregor. “You can turn a phrase like a knife, you know?” He paused. “Treaties, eh?”

“If you would be so kind, sire.”

Miles wonders how they can deal with Randall’s Rangers, now doubtless in disarray.  Gregor mentions that Cavilo had implied that the Dendarii were part of her forces, and she had been going to confer with them.  Miles wonders if they can take advantage of that somehow; he also points out to Gregor how he himself had single-handedly sabotaged the Cetagandan invasion.  He orders Cavilo brought in so they can try to nail down the Rangers somehow.

Cavilo rolled her short-cropped blond head in futile resistance, the limit of physically possible motion. She glared furiously at Gregor as the soldiers exited. “You snake,” she snarled. “You bastard.”

Gregor sat with his elbows on the conference table, chin resting in his hands. He raised his head to say tiredly, “Commander Cavilo, both my parents died violently in political intrigue before I was six years old. A fact you might have researched. Did you think you were dealing with an amateur?”

“You were out of your league from the beginning, Cavilo,” said Miles, walking slowly around her as if inspecting his prize. Her head turned to follow him, then had to swivel to pick up his orbit on the other side. “You should have stuck to your original contract. Or your second plan. Or your third. You should, in fact, have stuck to something. Anything. Your total self-interest didn’t make you strong, it made you a rag in the wind, anybody’s to pick up. Now, Gregor—though not I—thinks you should be given a chance to earn your worthless life.”

Cavilo says that Miles doesn’t have the guts to kill her; Miles agrees and says he was planning to give her to the Cetagandans instead, at which she pales.  Gregor offers her safe passage out of the Hegen Hub after the battle if she cooperates, by yielding up command of her forces, probably to a Vervani liaison.  Cavilo acquiesces with bad grace, telling Miles that she hopes to be there when his “loyalties” turn around to bite him.  After she leaves, Miles is dismayed when Gregor and Elena admit he and Cavilo are somewhat similar, at least in stature and twistiness of plotting, and Miles hopes he never sinks to her level.

Back on the Triumph, Miles is briefing Gregor on the upcoming negotations, quite needlessly, mostly because he feels the urge to babble.  Chodak brings the “prisoners”, Ungari and Overholt, into the room, only leaving Miles and Gregor alone with them reluctantly.  Ungari begins threatening Miles’s health and career before noticing Gregor.

“My apologies, Captain,” said Miles, “for my high-handed treatment of you and Sergeant Overholt, but I judged my plan for retrieving Gregor too, uh, delicate for, for . . .” your nerves, “I thought I’d better take personal responsibility.” You were happier not watching, really. And I was happier not having my elbow jogged.

“Ensigns don’t have personal responsibility for operations of this magnitude, their commanders do,” Ungari snarled. “As Simon Illyan would have been the first to point out to me if your plan—however delicate—had failed. . . .”

“Well, then, congratulations, sir; you have just rescued the emperor,” snapped Miles. “Who, as your commander-in-chief, has a few orders for you, if you will permit him to get a word in edgewise.”

Gregor appoints Ungari and Overholt as his ImpSec escort, and tells them to share any information they have with the Dendarii, since he has officially designated them as Imperial forces.  Miles assigns the Ariel and a fast courier to Gregor, still thinking of his escape route, giving him an intelligence report and asking him to be sure that the surviving Dendarii get paid, if nothing else.  Ungari protests Gregor’s destination of Vervain Station, but Gregor says there are more urgent issues right now; to forestall Ungari’s further protests about Miles’s duties, he appoints Miles official Dendarii liaison.  Overholt becomes Gregor’s interim batman and bodyguard, and when he protests that he’s not trained for it, Miles says that none of them are.

Miles waits in Triumph‘s tactical room as the Dendarii prepare to jump into the Vervain system.  A scout returns to announce they have some clear space, and the ships begin jumping at thirty-second intervals, pushing safety margins.  Miles examines the tactical display, with some minutes-out-of-date information from the other side of the wormhole, and then it is Triumph‘s turn to jump.  The Cetagandans have taken the far Vervain wormhole, but are still being held off from the Vervani battle station on the other side.  Unfortunately, a lot of the Vervani fleet is guarding the planet itself, which the Cetagandans are bypassing entirely.

Failing subterfuge and maneuvering to both sides, the best way to take a wormhole is with a “sun wall” of massed nuclear weapons, which was part of how the Cetagandans had taken the other wormhole.  The arrival of the Dendarii has forced the Cetagandans to reconsider what they had thought would be a final assault on the Vervani station, especially with the implication of further reinforcements.  Ky Tung tells Miles that even that won’t get them to abandon the attack entirely, since they have too much face to lose by giving up now.  The Dendarii and Cetagandans begin maneuvering, each trying to gang up on ships and overload their plasma mirrors, or get close enough to use an imploder lance.

In the tac room, they receive a message that Oser has escaped from the brig and freed the rest of the prisoners as well.  Miles contacts Auson to ensure that the tac room and bridge are both well protected.  Eventually a cargo shuttle launches, apparently with some of the prisoners on it; Miles orders them not to fire on it.  He tries to page Oser, who seems to be heading for the Peregrine, but Oser refuses to open contact.  As it nears its destination, though, a Cetagandan ship picks it off.  The Cetagandans finish their attack pass, slightly the worse for wear, but the Dendarii ships are badly battered.  It takes hours for them to form up again, and reinforcements are still arriving from across the system.

As the Cetagandans begin their next attack run, one of the jumpscouts suddenly announces that help is coming, and they need to keep the wormhole clear.  With some difficulty, Tung complies, and even he is startled at the first ship that comes through, which Miles recognizes as the Prince Serg, the first of the promised Barrayaran reinforcements.  The Cetagandans soon discover at the Prince Serg‘s imploder lances are longer range than theirs, even as more ships, including Polians and Aslunders, enter the system as well.  Tung almost faints with hero-worship when the Prince Serg announces the presence of Aral Vorkosigan, and orders the Cetagandans to surrender; Miles promises that he’ll introduce Tung to Aral later.

The Cetagandans break and retreat, and even the Vervani in orbit break off from planetary defense to help mop them up.  At some point Miles realizes that their part in the battle is over.

Comments

The first time I read this, I remember when the Prince Serg showed up I was like, “Yes!”  Crowning Moment of Awesome.  Though, let’s face it, Miles doesn’t have a lot to do with that.  He obviously wasn’t on the Prince Serg, since he screwed his chances for that on Kyril Island when he stood up to Metzov.  It was surely Ungari or someone else from ImpSec who passed the word on Gregor’s location back to Barrayar in the first place, and given the timing of the cavalry’s arrival, they must have been on their way to the Hegen Hub a while ago, probably long before Miles found out about the Cetagandan invasion.  All that Miles did, really, was help the Vervani hold the wormhole long enough to keep the Cetagandans at bay.  Which is nothing to sneeze at, but it wouldn’t have been enough if the Prince Serg hadn’t arrived.  So, on further thought…it’s a little unsatisfying.

Gregor has a good Moment of Awesome as he walks up to Miles’s cannon, playing his part consummately and helping turn the tables on Cavilo.  I like the bit where Miles threatens Gregor’s life, stealing Cavilo’s line and throwing the hostage situation back on her.  I mean, honestly, how convincing would it have been for her to threaten Gregor at that point?  Could she still have fallen back on the Cetaganda plan?  I suppose she hadn’t quite run away yet, and Randall’s Rangers were still cooperating…  It’s also quite a relief to see that Gregor has learned from the lessons of Vordrozda and other toadies, and can overcome his self-doubt enough to at least see through Cavilo’s facade.

For some reason, when I remember the bit with Oser’s escape, I always used to remember Auson being on the shuttle and getting blown up too.  But I guess if he was actually in command of the Triumph, he wouldn’t have fled with Oser–if he was still on Oser’s side, he would have helped Oser take over the ship or something.  Auson still filed with Oser as “annoying Oserans”, I guess, since I never forgave him for his assholery in The Warrior’s Apprentice.  And we never, ever see him in the series ever again after this book, at least as far as I can remember (and bolstered by The Vorkosigan Companion), so he might as well be dead.  He certainly never became a friend of Miles’s, and was never invited to his wedding or into his inner circle.  Maybe he just quietly mustered out between books or something.

At least Gregor makes it possible to deal with Ungari and Overholt successfully.  At least they’re rational enough to obey their Emperor, rather than just trying to swaddle him in bubble-wrap and stick him in a closet.  Of course, they must have realized that Miles still had the upper hand, but, like Aral later, they were convinced that Gregor was actually in command and not just a figurehead to be protected.

I still find the whole “naming things after Prince Serg” a little disturbing.  Since only a scant few people know his real nature, it’s natural that he should have become some kind of a war hero, but naming first a planet, and then the first of the new generation of warships, after him may be going over the top.  I imagine that Miles and Gregor, and maybe Aral and Illyan too, must find heaploads of irony in “Serg” being Gregor’s salvation.

Chapter Seventeen

Miles checks on the escaped prisoners and finds that still unaccounted for are Oser, the Peregrine‘s captain and two other loyal Oserans, as well as Metzov and Cavilo.  Miles thinks that Oser, at least, was on the shuttle, and maybe all of them were.  On his way back to his cabin with an escort, he encounters a group of wounded being transported to sickbay, transferred from other ships since the Triumph had been behind the front lines, and follows them to provide what morale-boosting he can, until exhaustion takes over and he heads back to his cabin.

He hit the code-lock on Oser’s cabin. Now that he’d inherited it, he supposed he ought to change the numbers. He sighed and entered. As he stepped inside he became conscious of two unfortunate facts. First, although he had dismissed his commando guard upon entering sickbay, he had forgotten to call him back, and second, he was not alone. The door closed behind him before he could recoil into the corridor, and he banged into it backing up.

The dusky red hue of General Metzov’s face was even more arresting to the eye than the silver gleam of the nerve disrupter parabola in his hand, aim centered on Miles’s head.

Metzov and Cavilo have both acquired some ill-fitting Dendarii uniforms; Miles notices Cavilo has bruises on her neck and looks to be in an odd mood.  Metzov drops the nerve disrupter and grabs Miles around the neck, pushing him against the wall and beginning to choke him as Miles struggles feebly.

Cavilo slipped forward, crouching, soundless and unnoticed as a cat, to take up the dropped nerve disrupter, then step back, around to Miles’s left.

“Stanis, darling,” she cooed. Metzov, obsessed with Miles’s lingering strangulation, did not turn his head. Cavilo, clearly imitating Metzov’s cadences, recited, ” ‘Open your legs to me, you bitch, or I’ll blow your brains out.’ ”

Metzov’s head twisted round then, his eyes widening. She blew his brains out. The crackling blue bolt hit him square between the eyes. He almost snapped Miles’s neck, plastic-reinforced though those bones were, in his last convulsion, before he dropped to the deck. The blistering electrochemical smell of nerve-disruptor death slapped Miles in the face.

Miles watches Cavilo, wondering what had happened in the cabin while they’d been waiting for him.  Eventually Miles asks if she’s going to kill him too.  Cavilo says she’d rather survive to see her revenge play out, and she believes that Miles will still keep his word about letting her go free.

After a few moments, coming up on the time they might expect the reinforcements to storm in, she strolled over to his side. “I underestimated you, you know.”

“I never underestimated you.”

“I know. I’m not used to that . . . thank you.” Contemptuously, she tossed the nerve disruptor onto Metzov’s body. Then, with a sudden baring of her teeth, she wheeled, wrapped an arm around Miles’s neck, and kissed him vigorously. Her timing was perfect; Security, Elena and Sergeant Chodak in the lead, burst through the door just before Miles managed to fight her off.

Miles boards the Prince Serg in his Dendarii uniform, in his Admiral Naismith role, along with Tung, Elena and Chodak.  The Executive Officer, Commander Natochini, is there to give a delighted Tung a your of the ship, while Miles and Elena are escorted to meet with Admiral Vorkosigan, and Tung will join them all for lunch after the tour.  Lieutenant Yegorov, escorting them, asks Elena if she is Barrayaran, and she tells him briefly that her father was a Vorkosigan Armsman.  Yegorov isn’t quite as sure about Miles, in his Betan persona, and delicately encourages him to be more “formal” with the Count.

Miles notices how squeaky clean the Prince Serg is, in contrast to the somewhat battered Triumph, and then notices that there is some repair work going on–which turns out to be actual construction work not yet finished when they took the ship out of Barrayaran orbit.  He thinks that if it hadn’t been for Metzov, he could’ve been working on the ship himself.

Yegorov brings them into Aral’s office, where he and Miles have a heartfelt reunion.  Yegorov is taken aback, but is escorted out by Aral’s armsman Jole.  Aral then greets Elena warmly and conveys Cordelia’s good wishes as well, as well as the reminder: “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  After a pause, Miles asks about the ceasefire; Aral says that the Cetagandans have withdrawn, except for the ships that were too badly damaged, and regular commercial traffic should resume within days.  Things are returning to the status quo, though Aral points out that several Cetagandan senior officers are being recalled to make “apologies” to their Emperor.

Aral explains that Simon Illyan would have been there, but he and Aral couldn’t both go offplanet at the same time.  The Emperor’s absence was covered up by a young lookalike who was only too happy to help cover up Gregor’s “secret mission”, though he’s spent a lot of time absent from the capital.  It’ll be up to Gregor to explain it in the end, he expects.  Aral had taken the Prince Sergon a diplomatic mission to Pol, where they spent some time trying to negotiate passage into the Hub, and were still in orbit when they heard about the Cetagandans invading Vervain.  Gregor gets all the credit for persuading the Aslunders to join in, and the Vervani are quite taken with him.  They are working on a permanent treaty now between Barrayar, Pol, Aslund and Vervain, and Gregor is doing quite well at it.

“It . . . astonished me, that you permitted him to jump with you into the fire zone. I hadn’t expected that.”

“Well, when you came down to it, the Prince Serg’s fleet tac room had to have been among the most tightly defended few cubic meters anywhere in Vervain local space. It was, it was . . .”

Miles watched with fascination as his father tried to spit out the words perfectly safe, and gagged on them instead. Light dawned. “It wasn’t your idea, was it? Gregor ordered himself aboard!”

Aral admits that he wanted to forbid it, but he realized the time had come to stop guarding Gregor and start obeying him.  Miles asks about Ungari, and Aral says he’s not best pleased with Miles.  Miles says he did what needed to be done, and Aral says he’s begun to realize that Miles doesn’t belong in the regular Service, like “a tesseract…in a round hole”.  Elena says that, like Metzov, he could become a mercenary.  Aral says that he’d tracked down Ahn and gotten the rest of the story about Metzov on Komarr–Metzov had killed a Barrayaran guard who objected to his torture of the Komarran prisoner, then fabricated an escape to cover it up, killing the Komarran in the process.  Ahn was almost relieved to be finally interrogated about it after Metzov disappeared.  Aral almost wishes they’d taken Metzov alive to execute as a show of goodwill to Komarr.

Miles brings up the matter of payment to the Dendarii, and Aral says that while ImpSec’s budget wouldn’t cover it, a “friend in a high place” will make sure that it gets covered, by a special appropriations bill in the Council.  He tells Miles to submit a bill, and Miles whips out a data disk he already had ready; Aral is impressed, and says he’ll have a credit chit before they leave.  Elena asks what the Dendarii are supposed to do now, if they’re going to be abandoned again, after supposedly being made an Imperial fleet.  Aral says they can’t stay so near Barrayar, but their fate is still under discussion.  As they go to lunch, Miles reminds Aral that Ky Tung still thinks of him as Admiral Naismith, and Aral admits that Illyan and Ungari won’t want to waste such a potentially useful cover.

“I should warn you, Admiral Naismith is not very deferential.”

Elena and Count Vorkosigan looked at each other, and both broke into laughter. Miles waited, wrapped in what dignity he could muster, till they subsided. Finally.

Admiral Naismith was painfully polite during lunch. Even Lieutenant Yegorov could have found no fault.

Later, Miles picks up another credit chit, this time from the Vervani, who are happy enough to pay off the forces that kept the wormhole defence from crumbling entirely before the “Hegen Alliance” forces could arrive.  He then heads for a medal ceremony, where Cavilo is also in attendance with her unsympathetic “honour guard” of Barrayaran female auxiliaries.  She is wearing the perfume that so bothered Miles before, but he makes a show of putting in some highly effective nasal filters to defuse her ploy.  He reminds her to get clear of Vervain as soon as she can, before the Cetagandans spill the beans on her involvement; he also tells her that the Dendarii have managed to get paid in full by the Barrayarans, Vervani and Aslunders for their efforts.  Cavilo is furious, and warns Miles that they better not ever meet again, but she still has the gall to accept a medal on behalf of Randall’s Rangers.

Weeks later, after Miles has returned to Barrayar for home leave, he is invited to lunch with Gregor.  Miles compares the sumptuous food with the horrible rations he and Gregor had endured in the Hegen Hub, and Gregor says he hadn’t realized how boring space stations were compared with the natural beauty of Barrayar.  Gregor and Miles compare experiences, and Gregor is cheered to hear that Miles never gave any orders in the battle himself.  Gregor talks about how easy it is, in the computer displays, to forget the deaths and injuries are happening to real people.

Miles asks Gregor if he told Illyan the truth about going over the balcony on Komarr, and Gregor admits he only said he was drunk.  Miles tells Gregor to talk to someone about it, and recommends his mother, who will “put Gregor the man before Gregor the emperor”.  Gregor says he is feeling somewhat better, though he didn’t volunteer for any of this.  He says that he wonders when his genes, Mad Yuri’s or Prince Serg’s, will start to drive him mad as well, and Miles realizes that he’s found out about his father.  He asks, and Gregor confirms that he found out, while he was on Komarr.  Miles says that Cordelia will tell him the whole truth about that if he asks as well.

“I’m afraid of power . . .” Gregor’s voice went low, contemplative.

“You aren’t afraid of power, you’re afraid of hurting people. If you wield that power,” Miles deduced suddenly.

“Huh. Close guess.”

“Not dead-on?”

“I’m afraid I might enjoy it. The hurting. Like him.”

Miles reminds Gregor how he always hated going hunting with Count Piotr.  Gregor wonders how many horrible things he could have stopped if he’d strangled Cavilo in her sleep.

“If I’d strangled her while she slept—which I had a chance to do—none of those horrors would have come to pass.”

“If none of those horrors had come to pass, she wouldn’t have deserved to be strangled. Some kind of time-travel paradox, I’m afraid. The arrow of justice flies one way. Only. You can’t regret not strangling her first. Though I suppose you can regret not strangling her after. . . .”

“No . . . no . . . I’ll leave that to the Cetagandans, if they can catch her now that she has her head start.”

“Gregor, I’m sorry, but I just don’t think Mad Emperor Gregor is in the cards. It’s your advisors who are going to go crazy.”

Gregor stared at the pastry tray, and sighed. “I suppose it would disturb the guards if I tried to shove a cream torte up your nose.”

“Deeply. You should have done it when we were eight and twelve; you could have gotten away with it then. The cream pie of justice flies one way,” Miles snickered.

After a sophomoric verbal food fight, Miles reminds Gregor that he’s actually good at his job, and he should keep at it.  He adds that he has a meeting with Simon Illyan that afternoon, and notes that as an Ensign he can’t be demoted any further.  Gregor says it might not be that bad; he might get promoted, and after all, Kyril Island needs a new base commander…

At ImpSec HQ, Miles notes the door guards are part of the crew he’d supervised a few months earlier.  He’s left to make his own way to Illyan’s office, trusted without an escort.  Illyan tells him that he still seems to have a problem with subordination, and Miles says he can’t help it if people keep giving him the wrong orders.  He says that he did a survey of the Hegen Hub, he found the destabilizing elements, and he even got the Dendarii to leave.  He rescued Gregor, which he wasn’t ordered to do, but he assumed Illyan would have wanted.

“As I recall,” said Illyan (and Illyan’s memory was eidetic, thanks to an Illyrican bio-chip) “I gave those orders to Captain Ungari. I gave you just one order. Can you remember what it was?” This inquiry was in the same encouraging tone one might use on a six-year-old just learning to tie his shoes. Trying to out-irony Illyan was as dangerous as trying to out-bland him.

“Obey Captain Ungari’s orders,” Miles recalled reluctantly.

Illyan says that Ungari’s career came close to being ruined, and Miles says that sometimes he needed to be Lord Vorkosigan, or Admiral Naismith, rather than Ensign Vorkosigan.  He asks Miles what superior officer’s career he should ruin next, and Miles suggests Illyan himself.  Illyan says that it’s already been suggested, that they might make a virtue of necessity…  He is interrupted then by the arrival of Gregor.

“Did you tell him about the Dendarii yet?” Gregor asked Illyan.

“I was working around to it,” said Illyan.

He tells an eager Miles that they’ve decided to keep the Dendarii on permanent retainer, with Admiral Miles Naismith as a liaison.  Gregor says that they’ve proven their worth as a force that can go places where Barryaran forces cannot; Illyan silently mourns the expense to his budget.  Gregor adds that they’ll try to find opportunities to use the Dendarii actively when possible; Illyan says more likely as espionage than covert ops.  He says that Miles will operate independently, which at least will keep him out of Illyan’s hair; Gregor adds that he’s working to get rid of Illyan’s prejudice against youth.

“Aral and I have labored twenty years to put ourselves out of work. We may live long enough to retire after all.” He paused. “That’s called ‘success’ in my business, boys. I wouldn’t object.” And under his breath “. . . get this hellish chip taken out of my head at last. . . .”

Prompted by Gregor, Illyan tosses Miles some lieutenant’s collar tabs and congratulates him gruffly on his promotion; Miles switches tabs on the spot.  Illyan promises him nothing he doesn’t earn, including reprimands, and Miles says he looks forward to it.

Comments

Just when you think everything is wrapped up neatly, with Metzov and Cavilo disintegrated anticlimactically by the Cetagandans, there they are, in Miles’s cabin, threatening his life…but Metzov makes his final, fatal miscalculation of Cavilo, and then she doesn’t follow through on it.  It’s probably a cold calculation of her chances of escaping the Triumph on her own, showing that she’s not as cartoony a villain as Metzov.

Miles thinking about how he could have been on the Prince Serg himself make me wonder how that alternate timeline would have played out.  Gregor would have been alone in the Hegen Hub, drafted into working on the Aslund military station.  Ungari would have been there, possibly with some other ImpSec subordinate; how long would it have taken for him to find Gregor?  Of course, nobody would have stopped Cavilo’s Cetagandan plot, and she would have been unlikely to meet up with Gregor to alter it, so by the time Ungari had found Gregor, the escape route through Pol might have been closed, and Komarr would have been seriously threatened…though there still would have been the Prince Serg to fight it.  They’d have still gone to Pol to try to get through to the Hub to find Gregor, but the Cetagandans might have had more momentum by this time, and no Vervani or Aslunders to help out the Barrayarans.  If Gregor got out of it at all, he’d probably start thinking of himself as a screwup; the Oserans would either have gotten trapped between Aslund and the Cetagandans, or pulled out through Jackson’s Whole.  So probably not that bad, but Miles and Gregor’s careers wouldn’t have gotten the boost they needed.

It’s too bad we didn’t get to see more of the actual meeting between Aral and Ky Tung, because the lunch was dismissed in just the one sentence about Miles’s behaviour.  For some reason I picture Bujold sitting at her computer/typewriter keyboard staring at a blank screen/empty piece of paper trying to come up with the scene, then shrugging and skipping over it entirely.  Maybe Tung was infallibly polite as well, following on Miles’s example, and nothing exciting or witty got said; maybe he became uncharacteristically tongue-tied.  After all, it’s not like Aral and Tung became bosom friends after this encounter…

The ending is mildly prequelitic, since, as I said, there’d already been multiple stories and novels where Miles was manifestly in charge of the Dendarii and reporting to Barrayar, but at least the author makes it plausible that things turned out that way.  Aral, Gregor and Illyan are all impressed with Miles’s proven competence, though of course they show it in different ways.  There are clear parallels with Miles’s next major change of career, in Memory, including the promotion that means more to Miles than it does to anyone else…

Where do the female Barrayaran auxiliaries guarding Cavilo come from?  What kind of female staff do they have on the Prince Serg?  Previous comments always led me to believe that Barrayaran ship crews were 100% male…  Are they from another ship that came along later?  It’s not like there’s an Empress to guard, or there may have been a Droushnakova or two.  It’s mostly an offhand remark, and I’m sure the thinking behind it is just that they wouldn’t trust regular male officers not to either underestimate Cavilo or fall for her charms, but it doesn’t quite add up for me.

They’re so careful about Miles’s Naismith/Vorkosigan identities, not letting Ky Tung in on the secret, and later talking about how they don’t want a good cover identity to go to waste, and of course it becomes a major plot point in later books…so why were they so careless around Yegorov?  He escorts this short Betan guy to meet with Aral Vorkosigan, who embraces him like long-lost family, and I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for Yegorov to find out about the diminutive Miles Vorkosigan.  Maybe he has a higher security rating than I think, maybe he’s really ImpSec, and maybe Aral’s Armsman is taking him off to be scared out of his mind, but really, couldn’t they have been a wee tiny bit more discreet?

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Close to the wire, but I did manage to get both chapters done, so we are now done The Vor Game.  I will be taking my usual week off, so come back here two weeks from now, when I’ll start on the next novel chronologically, Cetaganda…wherein we never see the Dendarii at all.  Second book in the series to be named after a planet, which I’m glad she didn’t do consistently, or else we’d have books like Jackson’s Whole instead of Mirror Dance, Sergyar instead of Shards of Honour, Kibou-Daini instead of Cryoburn, etc.  Anyway, until then…

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Greetings and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I devote my attentions to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series of novels and stories.  This week I cover Chapter Fifteen of The Vor Game.  There are seventeen chapters in the novel in total, you see, and while normally I’d leave the odd chapter until the end, this week I decided to do the single chapter and hope that I have more energy next week to do two chapters.  (Otherwise I suppose I could forego the normal week off I give myself after the end of a novel and do three one-week chapters instead…)  We are well and truly into the climax of the novel now, at any rate.

Chapter Fifteen

Miles checks over the files on Oser’s comconsole, trying to get up to speed on the changes in the Dendarii Mercenaries, and their view of the situation and events in the Hegen Hub.  He is close to crashing from fatigue, but promises himself some rest during the 36-hour transit of the system.  He will need more rest to try to outwit Cavilo, he’s sure.

He contemplates the changes of weapon and defense technology.  Projectile weapons, first, were made obsolete by basic defenses intended to take care of asteroids and space debris.  Then came lasers, until the development of the “Sword-swallower”, which absorbed the lasers’ energy to power itself, and, similarly, plasma weapons, which were foiled by the plasma mirrors that turned the tide of the Barrayaran invasion of Escobar.  The latest development seems to be the gravitic imploder lance, against which there wasn’t yet a reliable defence, but which consumed energy exorbitantly and was still only usable at extremely close range.  Closely-packed ships, though, were vulnerable to “sun wall” attacks of bunched nuclear weapons, and boarding tactics became more practicable.

Baz Jesek arrives, and apologizes for “squandering Elena’s dowry” by letting the Dendarii slip out of their control.  He offers his resignation, which Miles promptly refuses, pointing out that Tung was suckered by Oser’s shenanigans too, adding that Baz can’t resign as Armsman, and that Miles can’t find a replacement for him on his current schedule.  He then brings Baz into the loop on the problem with Gregor.

“If the Emperor is killed—if he doesn’t return—the mess at home could go on for years,” Baz said. “Maybe you should let Cavilo rescue him, rather than risk—”

“Up to a point, that’s just what I intend to do,” said Miles. “If only I knew Gregor’s mind.” He paused. “If we lose both Gregor and the wormhole battle, the Cetagandans will arrive on our doorstep just at the point we will be in maximum internal disarray. What a temptation to them—what a lure—they’ve always wanted Komarr—we could be looking down the throat of the second Cetagandan invasion, almost as much a surprise to them as to us. They may prefer deep-laid plans, but they’re not above a little opportunism—not an opportunity this overwhelming—”

As Miles and Baz are going over information, Miles is notified that man who identifies himself as “Ungari” wants to see him.  Miles checks through a security camera and indeed sees Ungari and Overholt, and gladly authorizes their entry.  He tells Baz that he may want to avoid the attention of ImpSec right now, and Baz takes the hint and leaves.  Miles is relieved that Ungari is there to take over, and let him know at last what ImpSec has been doing.  Chodak and two guards escort Ungari and Overholt into the office, and Miles dismisses them and asks them to fetch Elena.

Ungari waited impatiently till the door had hissed closed behind Chodak to stride forward. Miles stood up and saluted him smartly. “Glad to see y—”

To Miles’s surprise, Ungari did not return the salute; instead his hands clenched on Miles’s uniform jacket and lifted. Miles sensed that it was only with the greatest restraint that Ungari’s grip had closed on his lapels and not his neck. “Vorkosigan, you idiot! What the hell kind of game have you been up to?”

Ungari says they lost track of Miles and Gregor at the Consortium Detention centre, and Miles says he thought they might try to make contact with Elena.  Miles desperately asks Ungari what recent events looked like from their point of view.  Ungari says that Overholt and the Jacksonians both thought the other had done away with Miles until they were able to question the prisoner Miles had swapped places with.  However, Overholt hadn’t known about Gregor’s disappearance, until he met back up with Ungari and tried to retrace Miles’s path again, days later.  Miles is relieved that ImpSec at least knows that the Emperor is in the Hub, and not in Komarr or Escobar or something.

Ungari’s fingers clenched again. “Vorkosigan, what did you do with the Emperor?

Ungari clarifies that they know Gregor is with Randall’s Rangers, and rescue forces are being mobilized.  Miles is concerned about the situation with Pol, since Ungari doesn’t think the Barrayaran fleet will bother to ask permission to cross Polian space, since Gregor is in Vervani hands.

“Vervain doesn’t hold Gregor, Commander Cavilo does,” Miles interrupted urgently. “It’s strictly non-political, a plot for her personal gain. I think—in fact, I’m dead certain—the Vervani government doesn’t know the first thing about her ‘guest.’ Our rescue forces must be warned to commit no hostile act until the Cetagandan invasion shows up.”

“The what?”

Miles is surprised that they don’t know about it, but reasons that even in the current situation, someone at ImpSec will have looked at Cetagandan ship movements and realizes that’s going on.  He updates Ungari on the plan for Cetaganda to take the Vervain wormhole and cross into the Hub, and says that he plans to take the Dendarii across the Hub to stop them.  Ungari tells him in no uncertain terms that Miles is being sent to their Aslund safehouse until someone comes to take him off Ungari’s hands.  Miles asks if he has any good information, but it turns out that Ungari’s information is mostly from Aslund, which Miles has on Oser’s comconsole.

Ungari, losing patience with Miles, says that he will come with the two of them, or else.  Miles tries to convince them that it’s a bad idea, but Overholt moves to grab him, so Miles is forced to press his alarm button.  Chodak, Elena, and the two guards rush in, stunning Overholt and holding Ungari at bay.  He tells Chodak to take them to the brig and put them with Metzov and Oser.  Unfortunately, he won’t be able to fast-penta Ungari as he had Oser, because of the ImpSec agent’s induced allergy.  When Miles explains to Elena who that was, she points out that Miles now has his last three commanders locked up in the brig.

When the Dendarii fleet leaves Aslund Station, it plunges the Aslunders into confusion.  Miles forbids contact with them, hoping to keep Cavilo from learning that he’s doing anything but what she ordered.  The Aslunders, panicking, go to full alert status as they try to fill the gaps that the departing mercenaries are leaving.  Miles breathes a sigh of relief as they pass the point where any Aslunder pursuit could catch up to them short of the Vervain wormhole–where, with luck, the arrival of the Cetagandans would convince any Aslunders to join the Dendarii’s side.

Miles wonders if he might even be able to arrive before Cavilo summoned the Cetagandans, in which case he might spook her into not calling them at all, and he could head off the invasion without a shot being fired.  Then he’d just need to rescue Gregor.  He tries to puzzle his strategies out, then gives up and goes to sleep.

He is awakened twelve hours later to be notified of a message from Vervain, still over half a light-hour away in time-lag.  A high-ranking Vervani officer is asking an explanation of the Dendarii fleet’s movements; Miles tells his communications officer to claim the message was garbled and ask for it to be retransmitted.  When the response comes, Miles has dressed and breakfasted, and the Vervani officer has been joined by Cavilo, who asks for an explanation or else they will be treated as hostiles.  Miles sends the following response:

“Admiral Miles Naismith, Commanding, Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet, speaking. To Commander Cavilo, Randall’s Rangers, eyes only. Ma’am. I have accomplished my mission precisely as you ordered. I remind you of the reward you promised me for my success. What are your next instructions? Naismith out.”

The comm officer points out that the message isn’t being sent privately, but Miles confirms that’s what he wants.  He then tells her to play up any communication problems caused by their passing behind the twin suns’ corona, and create as many other problems as she can until he’s close enough for a tight-beam conversation with Cavilo.  Miles goes to check with Tung, who points out four large Vervani warships who have just jumped back through the wormhole to their home system, as evidence that the Cetagandan attack has probably begun.

Miles moves over to the Ariel, command ship of his “Little Fleet” which also includes two other fast, maneuverable ships.  His crew consists of Elena on comm and Arde Mayhew for everything else, with Bel Thorne on Nav and Com, out of range of any private conversations Miles may need to have.  They scan the Vervain station, which is abuzz with activity; Elena says they are still demanding a response, but Miles notes they aren’t being fired on yet.  He tells her to ask for communication with Cavilo alone.  When a tight-beam response comes, Miles asks Elena to trace it, and she finds the source on a small courier ship heading away from the Vervain wormhole.

Miles sits himself down for his conversation with Cavilo.  She asks him why he’s brought the Dendarii across the Hub, and Miles says he was merely following her orders, and he though it was obvious where she’d want him to bring the fleet.  She asks if he received Metzov’s message, and he plays dumb and says he hasn’t seen Metzov, but he’s probably drowning his sorrows in some spaceport bar.  Cavilo gets angry and says she knows Miles has Metzov captive, and Miles wonders why she didn’t take precautions against Metzov trying to kill him.  He offers her his services as a more reliable subordinate, pointing out that he knows more about the hazards of Barrayaran culture than she does.  She orders him out of his Emperor’s flight path, and he insists on hearing those orders from Gregor himself.  She threatens Gregor’s life, and Miles tells her that if Gregor dies, he could become Emperor himself, so Gregor’s life is much more important to her than to him.

Cavilo’s face froze. “He said . . . he had no heir. You said so too.”

“None named. Because my father refuses to be named, not because he lacks the bloodlines. But ignoring the bloodlines doesn’t erase them. And I am my father’s only child. And he can’t live forever. Ergo . . . So, resist my boarding parties, by all means. Threaten away. Carry out your threats. Give me the Imperium. I shall thank you prettily, before I have you summarily executed. Emperor Miles the First. How does it sound? As good as Empress Cavilo?” Miles gave it an intense beat. “Or, we could work together. The Vorkosigans have traditionally felt that the substance was better than the name. The power behind the throne, as my father before me—who has held just that power, as Gregor has doubtless told you, for far too long—you’re not going to dislodge him by batting your eyelashes. He’s immune to women. But I know his every weakness. I’ve thought it through. This could be my big chance, one way or another. By the way—milady—do you care which emperor you wed?”

Cavilo admits she underestimates Miles, and asks him to escort her.  Miles insists that he must transport her and Gregor aboard the Ariel.  When she balks, he says that he will obey Gregor’s orders only, which is something she’ll have to get used to on Barrayar.  Cavilo signs off to get Gregor, leaving Miles to catch his breath.

“Damn,” said Elena in a hushed voice. “If I didn’t know you, I’d think you were Mad Yuri’s understudy. The look on your face . . . am I reading too much into all that innuendo, or did you in fact just connive to assassinate Gregor in one breath, offer to cuckold him in the next, accuse your father of homosexuality, suggest a patricidal plot against him, and league yourself with Cavilo—what are you going to do for an encore?”

Miles tells Elena that he needs to keep Cavilo off balance, confuse her with too many possibilities and calculations, and keep her mind off of what’s actually happening.  Cavilo reopens contact then, with Gregor at her side now; Miles presents him with the Dendarii Mercenaries as his own fleet, and invites him onto the Ariel to take personal command.  Cavilo breaks in to tell Gregor about Miles’s plotting, and replays the earlier dialogue.  Gregor is unfazed, telling Cavilo that everyone knows that Miles’s mutations have driven him mad, but he could be a valuable ally if they make it worth his while.  He adds that Miles is the end of his bloodline, and as a “mutant”, his odds of becoming Emperor are slim.  (Elena has slid off her chair and is struggling to contain her helpless laughter.)

“Then, Cavie, let’s join my would-be Grand Vizier. At that point, I will control his ships. And your wish,” he turned his head to kiss her hand, still resting in his grasp on his shoulder, “will be my command.”

“Do you really think it’s safe? If he’s as psycho as you say.”

“Brilliant—nervous—skittish—but he’s all right as long as his medications are adjusted properly, I promise you. I expect his dose is a little off at the moment, due to our irregular travels.”

Cavilo insists that they come over on their own shuttle, and they break contact.

Comments

The infodump on the space weaponry is probably necessary, but it does stick out a little.  One wonders if it could have been integrated a little better elsewhere in the book, but perhaps not.  I find it interesting to think of the different weapon types, particularly with the different tactics they require.  I used to spend a lot of time playing a space combat/exploration game called Space Empires III, which has a number of similarities.  SE3 had a short-range-only weapon they called a “Ripper Beam” which is similar, tactically, to the gravitic imploder lance, though admittedly it didn’t have the kind of matched weapon-defense pairs that Bujold explains.  It also uses wormholes for interstellar travel.  I wonder how direct of an influence Bujold was on the game, or if they both borrowed from common sources.

One doesn’t emerge from the Ungari takedown scene with much sympathy for the ImpSec officer.  He miscalculates badly, though admittedly his biggest problem is assuming that Miles will obey his orders.  The thought of Miles’s three commanders sitting in the cell block is amusing, especially if one were to picture them exchanging Miles stories and commiserating, or even plotting.  I find that one of the best ways for me to lose sympathy for a character is for them to refuse to listen to someone else.  It’s even worse when it’s a main character who’s the one refusing to listen, but it doesn’t do Ungari any good here, either.  At least he didn’t try to have Miles spaced…

Miles does get to unleash that deadliest of weapons, his tongue, against Cavilo, and his speech is truly a tour de force, as Elena so ably summarizes.  I don’t know if it’s really true, the cliche that a habitual liar is the quickest to believe other are lying, and a habitual plotter believes everyone else is plotting too, but I can believe it of Cavilo.  I mentioned before that I don’t believe trying to plan your actions so that every possible option leads to success is an efficient way to operate on the fly, when situations change too fast to keep up with all the calculation and multiply-forking decision trees, so Miles’s strategy of keeping her off balance is a sound one.

I would hope that Miles feels a little better about Gregor when he plays along with Miles’s claims.  If he were really on Cavilo’s side, he could call Miles’s bluff and tell her what Miles is really like, so his picking up on Miles’s cue is a good sign.  Between the two of them, and with Miles having some actual force on his side this time, they should be more than a match for Cavilo, who has discarded her own mercenary fleet…


With luck, next week I will reach the end of The Vor Game, and the Young Miles omnibus I’ve been reading it in.  After that it will be time for Miles, Mystery & Mayhem, starting with the novel Cetaganda, which, like The Vor Game, is a little out of publication order.  Until next week, then…

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It’s time now, once again, for another installment of The Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which gives me the opportunity to reread, albeit very slowly (two chapters a week), through Lois McMaster Bujold’s saga of Miles Vorkosigan and, well, his friends and family…  This week I cover chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of The Vor Game, the second novel chronologically to feature Miles himself as main character, wherein Miles’s immediate prospects increase more than somewhat.

Chapter Thirteen

Miles is granted an exercise period, in a gymnasium aboard the ship, empty but for himself and the guards, where he sees no opportunities for escape for him and his brittle bones.  On his way back to his cell, he passes a blond man he recognizes as Oser’s lieutenant, but much the worse for wear–shirtless, covered with shock-stick and needle marks, and mumbling with the aftereffects of fast-penta interrogation.  After he’s in his cell, Miles wonders how the lieutenant got there, if he had tracked down Miles and Gregor, or if Vervain was just another stop on their sweep of the system.  What’s certain is that Cavilo now knows what Oser knew, which explains his identification as Admiral Naismith.

That night he is taken from his cell, for what he expects to be the fast-penta interrogation at last, though he’s now sure what secrets he still has remaining.  They take him to G Deck, where Gregor’s cabin is supposed to be, but Miles is taken instead to Cavilo’s personal office.  She has a stunner to hand, but no hypodermic, though her perfume is irritating Miles’s nose.  She tells him that, to safeguard the life of his Emperor, Miles has been given the task of retaking the Oseran Mercenaries.  As such, she will be sending him back to Aslund Station, but won’t actually be providing any aid.

“I’m told you could do it with your wits alone. This I wish to see.”

“Oser will kill me. He’s already tried once.”

“That’s a chance I must take.”

I really like that “I,” lady. “You mean me to be killed,” Miles deduced. “What if I succeed instead?” His eyes were starting to water; he sniffed. He would have to rub his madly itching nose soon.

“The key of strategy, little Vor,” she explained kindly, “is not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory. Ideally. Your death has one use; your success, another. I will emphasize that any premature attempt to contact Barrayar could be very counterproductive. Very.”

Miles asks, his eyes watering, if he can talk to Gregor himself, but Cavilo says that will be his reward for success.  She comments on his unexpected tears, and Miles, sneezing, shouts that he’s allergic to her perfume.  Cavilo is genuinely amused by this, wondering if she can turn this into a gas grenade.  Miles asks if he can at least have some boots instead of his current slippers.

“In this uniform, on Aslund, I’ll be like a cat in a dog suit,” he protested. “Shot on sight by mistake.”

“By mistake . . . on purpose . . . goodness, you’re going to have an exciting time.” She keyed the door lock open.

By the time he’s recovered from her perfume, he’s been loaded onto a ship bound for Aslund Station.  His cabin is not much better than his cell, and he reflects on the supposed glory of ship duty, and his monumental screwup in losing Gregor.  When the ship gets within Aslund’s defence perimeter, they take him from his cabin, where they are arguing about whether to let them board and takes Miles, and risk getting arrested themselves.

A voice from the comm; “This is the picket ship Ariel, Aslund Navy Contract Auxiliary, calling the C6-WG out of Vervain Hubside Station. Cease accelerating, and clear your portside lock for boarding for pre-docking inspection. Aslund Station reserves the right to deny you docking privileges if you fail to cooperate in pre-docking inspection.” The voice took on a cheery tone, “I reserve the right to open fire if you don’t stand and deliver in one minute. That’s enough stalling, boys.” The voice, once gone ironic, was suddenly intensely familiar. Bel?

The crew addresses him as “Rotha” again, which gives Miles an idea.  He pleads with them not to turn him over to the Oserans, because of an unfortunate incident involving faulty plasma arcs.  The captain decides to send Miles to them in a “bod-pod”, a personal inflatable escape pod, over Miles’s theatrical protests.  Miles flashes back briefly to the bubble tent on Kyril Island as they eject him into space and pitch darkness, though he soon finds a cold-light tube to illuminate his claustrophobic enclosure.  Eventually, he finds himself snagged by a tractor beam, brought into an airlock, and rolled into a cargo bay.  His rescuers free him from the pod, and Bel Thorne is surprised and elated to see Miles.

In Bel’s cabin, Miles gives him a slightly edited version of the truth, leaving out the Barrayaran connections, mentioning the lieutenant captured by Randall’s Rangers, identified as Lake by Bel.  Bel tells him that the Aslunders have become jumpy about sabotage, hence the searching all ships coming in range, and there are many garbled versions of Miles’s return making their way through the fleet.  Tung has been arrested, but nobody else, which puzzles Miles.  Bel explains that if Oser had moved against Baz & Elena, it might have sparked open conflict, so he’s just kept them all separated.  Miles says that a fight among the Oserans is just what Cavilo wants, so he needs to do something unexpected, like get Oser to cooperate with him.  Once Miles gets himself a borrowed, overlarge uniform, he contacts Oser.

A buzz, a glitter, and Admiral Oser’s hawk face materialized over the vid plate. “Yes, what is it—you!” His teeth shut with a beak’s snap; his hand, a vague unfocused blur to the side, tapped on intercom keys and vid controls.

He can’t throw me out the air lock this time, but he can cut me off. Time to talk fast.

Miles leaned forward and smiled. “Hello, Admiral Oser. I’ve completed my evaluation of Vervani forces in the Hegan Hub. And my conclusion is, you are in deep trouble.”

Miles offers Oser information about Cavilo, just as Oser discovers Miles is on the Ariel, and threatens Bel with charges of mutiny.  Bel insists that Oser needs to listen to him.  Miles says that he and Oser can’t afford to fight, and if Oser forces him to, Miles probably can’t win, but any damage they do to each other will be to Cavilo’s benefit.  Oser is skeptical of any information that came from Cavilo, but Miles says he’s beginning to understand her, and her passion for utility, which is why Oser needs to hire him as Tung’s replacement.  Miles insists that he doesn’t have the luxury of time to take revenge on Oser.  He admits he doesn’t know exactly where Cavilo wants to offer battle, but he also offers his anonymous employer to pay the Oserans for the fight as well as the Aslunders.  Oser asks for assurances, and Miles points out that he himself wants the assurance of not being spaced again, but he promises not to foment mutiny.  Oser finally agrees, reluctantly.

As they dock at Aslund Station, Miles musters Bel and his crew as his troops, insisting that they “march as if they had an empire at their backs”.  They emerge to find Oser with a squad of escorts, and an unarmed Elena.  Oser is eager to get to work, but Miles insists on a tour of the station first, where he makes an effort to be seen being friendly with Oser as much as he can, and greets as many Dendarii as he can as well.  Once he judges that Oser’s reached the limit of his tolerance, the two Admirals head over to Triumph.

In the docking bay, Thorne’s sergeant swears and shoves Miles to the ground before being hit in the chest by a nerve disrupter bolt.  Miles ducks and rolls, eventually hiding behind the sergeant’s body, wishing for a thicker shield as more bolts pepper the body and the deck around him, and shouting soldiers and workers try to bring down the sniper.  Miles urges them to stun him for questioning, and eventually the firing dies down.  Bel Thorne helps him up and tells Miles that he was the sniper’s only target.

“I noticed,” Miles stuttered. “I’m only lightly fried.” Thorne helped him sit up. He was shaking as badly as after the shock-stick beating. He regarded his spasming hands, lowered one to touch the corpse beside him in morbid wonder. Every day of the rest of my life will be your gift. And I don’t even know your name. “Your sergeant—what was his name?”

“Collins.”

“Collins. Thanks.”

“Good man.”

Oser tells Miles that the attack wasn’t his doing, which Miles accepts.  Elena and another woman are dragging a man across the deck, stunned, and when they get closer Miles recognizes him as General Metzov.  Miles tells Oser who he is, and says this is Cavilo’s second in command, a fine source of information on her plans, pretending that his parade around the station had been nothing more than a ploy to draw him out.  He tells them to take Metzov to sickbay and prepare him for fast-penta interrogation.

Miles stared down at Metzov’s unconscious form, trying to think. Had Metzov been sent by Cavilo, or was this murder attempt entirely on his own time? If sent by Cavilo—had she planned him to fall alive into her enemies’ hands? If not, was there a back-up assassin around here somewhere, and if so was his target Metzov, if Metzov succeeded, or Miles, if Metzov failed? Or both? I need to sit down and draw a flow-chart.

Comments

Here is where, finally, Miles begins to turn the tables on people.  Once he ends up on Bel’s ship, and can finally begin to accumulate a bit of a power base, he can work on upsetting Cavilo’s plans to create chaos by attempting to assert some order.  He manages to convince Oser to work with him, against Oser’s better judgement, drawing on Oser’s concerns about Cavilo.  Maybe Cavilo isn’t quite as smart as she could be, to let Miles go like that, but then, meeting Gregor has caused her to change her plans somewhat.  Oser, who earlier was smart enough to have nothing to do with Miles and would rather space him than listen to him, doesn’t quite manage it the second time.  Do we buy it?  Well, quite frankly, I wasn’t quite sure that I bought the earlier, ruthless Oser, and now Miles does have his small power base, so it gives his words a bit more clout.

However impressive Cavilo’s proverb about ensuring all paths lead to victory may sound, one would think that it would lead to a lot of paralysis in practice.  It sounds suspiciously like “minimax regret”, where you try to minimize your maximum regret, which leads to refusing to take any chances.  Since that’s not really Cavilo’s problem, I suspect that she really works by different principles as well.  After all (spoiler alert!) she doesn’t win…

At least a couple more minor characters get names, Lt. Lake and Sgt. Collins, though a little too late to do either of them any good.

Chapter Fourteen

Miles manages to convince Oser to limit Metzov’s interrogation to just the two of them and Elena, with two of Oser’s guards outside a soundproofed glass door, by claiming that Metzov’s information, while probably not current if he was sent out as an assassin, may still be too hot for general consumption.  Metzov is just recovering from stun as Elena administers the fast-penta, and Miles himself is still shaky from the attack.

Oser begins by confirming Metzov’s identity, and why he was supposed to kill Miles.  Metzov says that Cavilo had told him Miles had escaped and Metzov was the only one she could trust to kill him.  Miles takes a turn, asking who they were supposed to be using Metzov’s ground-combat experience against.  Metzov tells him “Vervain”, and thinks finally start making sense to Miles.  Metzov says they’re supposed to raid the planet for valuables, retreat before the Cetagandan invasion hits, and then fence the stuff on Jackson’s Whole.

“God, it fits, it fits.” Miles began to pace the cubicle with uneven steps. “What’s the only way to take a wormhole jump? From both sides at once. The Vervani aren’t Cavilo’s employers—the Cetagandans are.”

Metzov’s role in this is to be a “stalking goat”, for the Cetagandans to claim that they’re just rescuing Vervain from their Barrayaran attackers.  Cavilo gets paid by Vervani and Cetagandans before fencing the stolen goods, and the Cetagandans probably punch through into the Hegen Hub.  The Vervani they’d probably leave as an “allied satrapy” until they can absorb it.  Miles can’t decide whether the Cetagandans would try to take Pol or leave it, or maybe lure Barrayaran into attacking them to push Pol onto Cetaganda’s side.  Oser, unwilling to face an enemy the size of Cetaganda, says they should just get away from Aslund before they get trapped in the Hub, but Miles points out that if Metzov’s been sent out to be captured, this must be Cavilo’s old plan.

Though he doesn’t tell Oser about Gregor, Miles realizes that her new plan must be to flee to Barrayar with the love-smitten Gregor, and count on him and Barrayar’s military to protect her from the Cetagandans she double-crossed.  If Miles and Metzov kill each other, there are two fewer inconvenient Barrayaran character witnesses against her, and she can present herself as Gregor’s rescuer and become Empress just like Cordelia became Countess Vorkosigan.  As for the Cetagandans, she’d prefer them to bog down on Vervain so she didn’t have to run from them too hard.

Oser and Miles try to figure out when the invasion was planned for, if it was supposed to coincide with their planned infighting over the mercenary fleet.  Miles urges Oser to move closer to the Vervain wormhole, to try to blockade it against the Cetagandans.  The Vervani will doubtless mobilize, but unfortunately against the Oserans rather than the Cetagandans.  Miles says they will have to try to hold the wormhole and hope for reinforcements, Polians, Aslunders or even Barrayarans; he points out to Oser how Barrayaran intelligence activity has increased recently.

Oser thinks it over, and decides he can’t risk it, that he wants to pull out, though he will spare Miles’s life in exchange for the information.  His fleet wouldn’t be able to stand up to Cetagandan forces, and he doesn’t want to sacrifice himself like that.  Miles can’t get him to reconsider, and neither can Elena, so she jabs the fast-penta hypospray into his neck.  The guards outside the door are momentarily alarmed, but Elena kisses Oser’s hand affectionately and they relax.

Elena puts an arm around Oser and they follow the guards as they take Metzov down to the brig, until Miles decides they can’t keep the charade up that long, and they veer off to Oser’s cabin instead.

Elena’s inspired mutinous gesture had given him the best break of the day. He had the momentum now. He wouldn’t stop till he was brought down bodily. His head spun with the unutterable relief of at last getting the shifting, writhing, cluttering might-be-might-be-might-be nailed to a fixed is. The time is now. The word is go.

They reach Oser’s quarters and Elena asks Miles what he’s going to do now.  Miles says that Cavilo still has Gregor, and explains her marriage plan.  He says that Gregor was probably the one who planted the idea in her head in the first place, but he’s not sure what Gregor intended by it.  Elena judges Gregor as unlikely to be genuinely love-struck, having always seemed slightly undersexed.

Elena licked her lips in thought. “Is she pretty?”

“Yeah, if you happen to like blond power-mad homicidal maniacs, I suppose she could be quite overwhelming.” His hand closed, the texture of Cavilo’s pelted hair remembered like an itch on his palm. He rubbed it on his trouser seam.

Elena brightened slightly. “Ah. You don’t like her.”

Miles gazed up at Elena’s Valkyrie face. “She’s too short for my taste.”

Elena grinned. “That, I believe.”

Corporal Meddis from the brig calls up to Oser’s cabin, telling them that Metzov’s in a cell.  Miles tells him that they have some spare fast-penta, so they should bring up Captain Tung.  When they ask for reinforcements, Miles suggests Sergeant Chodak.  After keying off the comm, Miles asks Elena why Oser only arrested Tung and not the rest of them; Elena says that Tung got arrested for losing his temper and beating Oser up, though he might have done it on purpose to draw attention away from the others.

Tung arrives with an escort of six men, including Chodak; Oser is smiling benignly in his fast-penta haze, and Miles asks the squad to remain behind outside, and leave Chodak and one of his men inside to help out if Tung gets violent.  Once the door closes, they inform Tung that Oser’s been fast-penta’ed, and Chodak restrains the Private he picked to accompany him from doing more than watching.  Tung exults in how the tables have been turned, but Miles has to bring him back down.  He tells Tung how the freighter captain gave him up to Cavilo, and speculates on whether Tung planned it that way.

“I came to the Hegen Hub on a contract,” continued Miles, “which is now in disarray almost beyond repair. I haven’t come back here to put you in operational combat command of the Dendarii—” a beat, as Tung’s worried features attempted to settle on an expression, “unless you are prepared to serve my ends. Priorities and targets are to be my choice. Only the how is yours.” And just who was going to put whom in command of the Dendarii? As long as that question didn’t occur to Tung.

Miles says the offer is conditional on Tung recognizing Miles as his superior officer, and Tung accepts.  He then gives them another version of the rest of the information, how he’s been “hired” by Barrayaran Imperial Security to rescue the hostage, Gregor Vorbarra, and hopes to stop the Cetagandan invasion and block the wormhole in the process, until reinforcements arrive.  Tung is puzzled at Miles’s explanation of Cavilo’s plan, so Miles assures him that he will take care of the hostage, leaving Tung to secure the wormhole.  He orders Tung to bring the fleet up to readiness, and to make up with Captain Auson.

They order Auson to Oser’s cabin, then hold him at stunnerpoint; he is dismayed to see Miles.  He asks Auson if he’ll cooperate in commanding the Triumph, or if he’ll have to turn it over to Bel Thorne instead.  Miles offers clear captaincy of the Triumph for Auson, Tung’s share bought out, and both that and the Ariel owned by the fleet, with Tung as Tactical Chief of Staff.  Auson accepts, conditional on Tung apologizing, but when the conversation turns to verbal sniping against Bel Thorne, Elena trains her nerve disrupter on Auson to shut him up.  Eventually Tung accedes to an apology, of sorts:

Tung took a breath. “Auson, you can be a real shithead sometimes, but dammit, you can fight when you have to. I’ve seen you. In the tight and the bad and the crazy, I’ll take you at my back before any other captain in the fleet.”

One by one, they deal with the other captain-owners, most of whom end up on board, though the Peregrine‘s has to be stunned and replaced with his reluctant first officer.  Tung briefs them on their tasks, eventually convincing them that it’ll be easier to hole the wormhole than retake it from the Cetagandans, and dismisses them to their duties.  Miles sends Elena to squeeze as much information out of Metzov as she can, in hopes that some of it will still be accurate, after seeking her reassurance that he’s doing the right thing.

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And in a whirlwind, once again seizing the forward momentum, Miles retakes the Dendarii Mercenaries (as I imagine the Oserans will be swiftly re-renamed, if they haven’t been already).  Oser’s refusal to risk himself to try to save somebody else’s lives is entirely in character, but we still don’t really like him for it, do we?  Elena’s move with the fast-penta is inspired, and leaves Miles free to try to build up his power base again, with Sgt. Chodak reprising his role as Most Promising New Dendarii Character.  So Miles doesn’t have to talk his way through Oser…just everybody else.

Cavilo’s plan, at least her original one, was audacious–did she come up with it herself, and offer it to the Cetagandans, or did they come up with it and then find someone willing to execute it?  I could see it either way, but Cavilo instigating it makes a little more sense because otherwise the Cetagandans would have to be careful not to let word of their plan get out, probably by killing anyone who wasn’t willing to go along with it.

At this point the Cetagandans are still fairly faceless, though I suppose we did see a few of them as Dendarii recruits back in The Warrior’s Apprentice, didn’t we?  Of course Cetaganda is the most detailed examination of their culture, but they must also show up in Ethan of Athos, one of the earliest books.  In the series so far, though, we’ve only seen them as invaders and aggressors, but we saw a lot of Barrayaran invaders and aggressors in Shards of Honour too, so we must have confidence that there’s more to Cetaganda than that.


Three more chapters left in The Vor Game, so next week will likely see the climax, since there must be at least a chapter of denouement in there too…(reads ahead)…well, maybe half a chapter.  Until then…

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Lots of people talking about Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras, Lent and Ash Wednesday, and all that.  If there is one thing that I don’t think you should give up for Lent, though, I’d say that it would be the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, particularly her Vorkosigan saga, and I’m not just saying that because I’m here to summarize another couple of chapters for you, and planning to continue doing so in the weeks to come.  Also, it’s non-fattening and doesn’t cause cancer, though there may be unforeseen side effects.  This week I continue with The Vor Game, fourth novel in the series chronologically and second featuring Miles Vorkosigan as protagonist, though it was originally published a bit out of order.  I’ll be covering chapters Eleven and Twelve this week, as things look brighter, and then darker, for our characters.

Chapter Eleven

Elena appears down the corridor, and Miles is caught off guard by the short haircut she now sports.  She compliments Chodak on his work and asks if the motionless Oseran soldiers are dead.  Miles says they’re just stunned; Elena wants to space them, but agrees with Miles that they can’t take the time right now, though they do drag them into the airlock for concealment.  Then she tells the three other soldiers who had accompanied her to clear their path, but subtly, and then vanish and forget all about this.  Gregor and Miles change into stolen Oseran uniforms in the airlock, Miles wishing for some actual boots that would fit him rather than Victor Rotha’s sandals.

Gregor and Elena exchanged looks, each warily amazed at the other, as Gregor yanked on grey-and-whites and plunged his feet into the boots.

“It’s really you.” Elena shook her head in dismay. “What are you doing here?”

“It was by mistake,” said Gregor.

“No lie. Whose?”

“Mine, I’m afraid,” said Miles. Somewhat to his annoyance, Gregor did not gainsay this.

Miles reminds them that they don’t have long until these Oserans are missed, as he takes their weapons, indentification and money, helping himself to a ration bar that he finds.  They leave the airlock, marching through empty corridors with Miles hidden in the centre of their cluster, take a drop-tube and come out at a cargo lock with a shuttle outside.  Arde Mayhew and Ky Tung are piloting, and Tung reproves Miles for taking so long to return.  Mayhew, who has been faking a malfunction, reports it cleared and detaches from the station.

Elena informs them that it’s now safe, at least to talk; the shuttle is scheduled, though the passengers are not.  Oser will be searching Triumph and the military station soon, though they might be able to smuggle Miles back onto Triumph after the search has passed.  Tung tells them that if they hadn’t been able to rescue Miles quite so quietly, they would have taken Ariel and officially declared rebellion against Oser, which Miles is glad didn’t happen.  Tung asks Miles what his plan is, and why he’s there.  Miles says he’s there by accident, though Oser didn’t believe it.  Tung says that Miles’s accidents are better than most people’s plans, and offers him the chance to retake the Dendarii; Miles says he doesn’t want them, but Tung says that he does.  Miles asks how Oser took over in the first place.

Tung says that after a bad contract, Oser, who had taken over a lot of administrative duties, had gotten them some boring wormhole guard duty work, and in the ensuing peacetime, had outmaneuvered Tung and Baz Jesek by a “financial reorganization”, swinging the votes of the captain-owners, with Auson’s support, to put himself in charge.  Elena says they should have known Oser couldn’t be trusted after he made a pass at her, even if he did take “no” for an answer.  Tung had decided to bide his time and hope for Miles’s return, though Elena had tried to tell them that he likely wasn’t coming back, at least unless his other plans didn’t pan out.

Mayhew says that they have five minutes to either announce their intention to dock or cut and run for the Ariel.  Tung offers to put four ships at Miles’s back, since Miles is more likely to get wholehearted support than Tung himself.  Miles repeats that he didn’t come back to take back the Dendarii; he’s more concerned about stopping a planetary civil war, or even an interstellar one.  Running through his options, he asks them to send him to Vervain.  Tung is getting frustrated about Miles’s secrets, but Elena reminds him that she, Baz and Mayhew are all sworn to Miles.  Tung says this is another reason why he needs Miles, and reminds Miles how much they’ve stuck their necks out to rescue him from Oser.  Gregor speaks up (in his imperial We) to say that he will provide for anyone left as a refugee for helping him escape.  Tung finally agrees to try to smuggle Miles and Gregor onto an outgoing ship for Vervain.

Mayhew and Tung go out to drum up transport, leaving the other three behind.  Miles asks Elena how live with the Dendarii has been apart from the troubles with Oser, and she tells him that Tung has been training her solidly on everything she needs to know to make her rank of Commodore a reality.  Baz has been carrying on as engineering head, but is discouraged by the power struggles for command, which he doesn’t want to have to deal with.

“I’m sorry,” said Miles.

“You should be.” Her voice cracked, steadied, harshened. “Baz felt he’d failed you, but you failed us first, when you never came back. You couldn’t expect us to keep up the illusion forever.”

“Illusion?” said Miles. “I knew . . . it would be difficult, but I thought you might . . . grow into your roles. Make the mercenaries your own.”

“The mercenaries may be enough for Tung. I thought they might be for me, too, till we came to the killing. . . . I hate Barrayar, but better to serve Barrayar than nothing, or your own ego.”

Miles asks Elena why they didn’t just leave the fleet, and she says that he left them in charge, so it would feel too much like deserting, which Baz doesn’t want to do again.  Elena asks Gregor what he’s doing out here, and Gregor says that he also tried deserting, and it didn’t work out for him either.  Miles tells them how the Barrayarans don’t know what really happened with Gregor, and Elena quickly realizes how troublesome it would be if something happened to Gregor in Miles’s custody.

“Your father’s Centrist coalition government would be the first thing to fall,” Elena continued. “The military right would get behind Count Vorinnis, I suppose, and square off with the anti-centralization liberals. The French speakers would want Vorville, the Russian Vortugalov—or has he died yet?”

“The far-right blow-up-the-wormhole isolationist loonie faction would field Count Vortrifrani against the anti-Vor pro-galactic faction who want a written constitution,” put in Miles glumly. “And I do mean field.”

“Count Vortrifrani scares me,” Elena shivered. “I’ve heard him speak.”

“It’s the suave way he mops the foam from his lips,” said Miles. “The Greek minorists would seize the moment to attempt secession—”

“Stop it!” Gregor, who had propped his forehead on his hands, said from behind the barrier of his arms.

Elena relents and half-seriously offers Gregor a position with the fleet, which he half-seriously considers, asking Miles if he does want to be back in charge.  Miles heatedly denies it, and Gregor backs off; Miles is secretly grateful that he didn’t order Miles to do it anyway.

He asks Elena what the situation is with Vervain, where they hope to reach the Barrayaran Consulate.  Elena says the Vervani are concentrating on ships rather than stations, which makes sense with their multiple wormholes, but Aslund is starting to see them as potential aggressors.  Aslund is even considering a first strike, but Oser is setting the price for that prohibitively high, since he doesn’t want to take that job either.  Vervain has also hired a mercenary fleet, Randall’s Rangers.  There is no Randall anymore, but they have a Barrayaran Second Officer, and the current commander is someone named Cavilo.  Startled, Miles tells Elena how Cavilo bid for his arrest on the Jacksonian Consortium station, so they’ll avoid the mercenaries and just wait quietly at the Barrayaran Consulate until someone comes to bring them home.

“Strange,” said Gregor, looking at Elena—at the new Elena, Miles guessed—”to think you’ve had more combat experience than either of us.”

“Than both of you,” Elena corrected dryly. “Yes, well . . . actual combat . . . is a lot stupider than I’d imagined. If two groups can cooperate to the incredible extent it takes to meet in battle, why not put in a tenth that effort to talk? That’s not true of guerilla wars, though,” Elena went on thoughtfully. “A guerilla is an enemy who won’t play the game. Makes more sense to me. If you’re going to be vile, why not be totally vile? That third contract—if I ever get involved in another guerilla war, I want to be on the side of the guerillas.”

“Harder to make peace, between totally vile enemies,” Miles reflected. “War is not its own end, except in some catastrophic slide into absolute damnation. It’s peace that’s wanted. Some better peace than the one you started with.”

Mayhew and Tung return, with news of a ship to take them to Vervain, a Vervani pilot who’s run intelligence personnel for them three times previously.  Gregor will pass, but Miles is too conspicuous, and they have to put him in a cargo box.  They put Miles in the crate and Miles bids farewell to Elena and Tung.

They board the Vervani ship and leave the station without incident, quartered in a supercargo cabin, with a three-day trip to Vervain Station ahead of them.  Miles contemplates with trepidation the report he’ll have to write on the incident.  Trying to determine where the problems in the Hegen Hub are stemming from, he has to conclude that it is Vervain–Pol is reacting, not instigating, the Jacksonians are trying to stay out of it, and Aslund doesn’t have the resources.

Gregor comments on how different Admiral Naismith seemed from Ensign Vorkosigan; he asks if Miles wishes he were still with the Dendarii, but Miles says he doesn’t regret turning down Tung, who wasn’t offering admiralty as much he was offering a fight at bad odds.  Miles tells Gregor he’s happy with the changes in Elena’s life, but admits ambivalence over her ending up with Baz; still, he hopes that they’re okay, with only Tung to protect them from Oser.  They both conclude, reluctantly, that they’re better off out of the potential Oseran conflict.

After they dock at Vervain Station, the captain tells them that they need to wait for someone to escort them the rest of the way.  Who eventually turns up is half a dozen men in uniform with stunners at the ready.  Miles reassures Gregor that the captain has pulled it off three times already, but the captain says that he only pulled it off twice…  The lieutenant in charge of the squad calls in to inform Cavilo of the Oserans they’ve caught, and Gregor and Miles debate telling them, obviously Randall’s Rangers, who they really are.

When Cavilo arrives, it turns out to be the women that Miles had previously met as Livia Nu.  She is surprised to see “Victor Rotha” there; she asks him what happened to his protective suits, and Miles merely says that she should have bought when she had the chance.  He wonders to himself what she was doing on Pol Station in the first place, talking with Jacksonians and killing poor Liga.  She calls to the sickbay on Kurin’s Hand, one of her ships, to let them know she’ll be sending them a couple of prisoners to interrogate, and she might want to sit in herself.

The captain asks for assurances that his wife and son are safe.  Cavilo tells one of the soldiers to take him to look at the monitors on Kurin’s Hand‘s brig, and he can earn them another week of life by doing another job for her.  After the captain leaves, Cavilo calls Kurin’s Hand and tells them to run the tape they made last week, and not tell him that it’s not live.

More boots rounded the corner, a heavy regulation tread. Cavilo smiled sourly, but smoothed the expression into something sweeter as she turned to greet the newcomer.

“Stanis, darling. Look what we netted this time. It’s that little renegade Betan who was trying to deal stolen arms on Pol Station. It appears he isn’t an independent after all.”

The tan and black Rangers’ uniform looked just fine on General Metzov, too, Miles noted crazily. Now would be a wonderful time to roll up his eyes and pass out, if only he had the trick of it.

General Metzov stood equally riveted, his iron-grey eyes ablaze with sudden unholy joy. “He’s no Betan, Cavie.”

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DUN DUN DUN!

Metzov turning up here was admittedly a nice plot twist, far trumping the Cavilo = Livia Nu thing.  I mean, sure, Cavilo has been a mystery for, what three chapters now, and Livia Nu an enigmatic figure for a couple before that, so I recall being surprised when it was revealed they were one and the same, but Metzov’s appearance was both a surprise (what the hell?  Wasn’t he back on Barrayar?) and an immense complication, because he is one of the few people in the Hegen Hub who could recognize both Miles and Gregor for who they are.  And given that he’s left Barrayar after being unfairly treated (as he would see it) by the current government, and is working for a mercenary outfit, his loyalties are unlikely to still be to Gregor.  Anyway, it does finally tie “The Weatherman” more solidly into the rest of the novel.

The whole conversation about Miles not wanting to help out the Dendarii is somewhat frustrating.  Reading the books in publication order, as I did, I knew that Miles was with the Dendarii in later books (so this doesn’t count as a spoiler, really), so I wanted them to join up again right away…and instead Miles waffled and hemmed and hawed and turned them down, even though we suspect that he’ll be sorry for doing it.  When he does fall into Cavilo’s hands on Vervain Station, I was all, like, “See?  I told you so!”  Oh, well, as I once read in a Dragon Magazine article, it’s not the end of the world if your characters get captured.  It’s just a different complication for them.  And Cavilo has once disadvantage over Oser–she doesn’t realize how dangerous Miles’s tongue is.

Chapter Twelve

Metzov tells Cavilo that Miles is a Barrayaran, and they have to get him out of sight, and he presumes Gregor is his bodyguard.  Then Metzov takes a closer look, and doesn’t quite recognize Gregor until he hears his voice.  Gregor asks Miles who this is, and Miles tells him this is Metzov.  Metzov asks Gregor in disbelief where his security is, and Cavilo asks who they are.

“Power. Money. Strategic leverage. More than you can imagine,” Metzov answered.

“Trouble,” Miles put in. “More than you can imagine.”

Metzov insists again that they be taken back to the ship, and they march off.  Once on board, Cavilo orders that they be taken to Medical for interrogation or the brig, but Metzov is unwilling.  He asks Gregor for his parole, to Cavilo’s bafflement; Gregor asks if Metzov is thus declaring himself Gregor’s enemy.  Metzov then says that they should go to his cabin, without witnesses or recordings, at least for the initial discussion.  Cavilo agrees provisionally.

In his cabin, Metzov ties up Miles with tangle-cord but gives Gregor the best chair in the room, and Cavilo questions his logic.  Metzov says she can keep her stunner out if she wishes, but he can’t decide if he should take out a weapon in front of Gregor.  Cavilo, exasperated, asks him to explain.  Metzov introduces Miles first, as Aral Vorkosigan’s son, though since he’d heard Miles was under arrest by ImpSec, he’s not sure what he’s doing posing as a Betan gunrunner.  At last, he introduces Gregor as Emperor of Barrayar, which sparks Cavilo’s interest.

Cavilo begins to speculate on what they can get for these prisoners, and Miles advises them to let him and Gregor go, and collect the gratitude of Barrayar instead.  Metzov growls that he owes Barrayar nothing, and says they can go down to the brig now.  Cavilo says that Miles can go, since he’s nothing, by comparison, but Gregor she sends instead to a comfortable visiting officer’s cabin, and adjacent to her own, though one with the commlink cut off.

Cavilo joins Miles’s escort to the brig.  As they enter, the Vervani captain is just leaving with assurances of his family’s continued health, when Miles says he should ask to see them in the flesh.  Cavilo refuses, and the captain says that he won’t work for her anymore, so Cavilo orders him taken to his family’s cell and locked in.  As he is turning to go, Cavilo shoots him with a nerve disrupter, and warns Miles not to call her bluff again.  Miles, cowed, agrees.  On the way to Miles’s cell, Cavilo asks for the recording of Metzov’s quarters.

The guards re-searched Miles, and took ID scans. Cavilo blandly informed them that his name should be entered as Victor Rotha.

As he was pulled to his feet, two men with medical insignia arrived with a float-pallet to remove the body. Cavilo, watching without expression now, remarked tiredly to Miles, “You chose to damage my double-agent’s utility. A vandal’s prank. He had better uses than as an object-lesson for a fool. I do not warehouse non-useful items. I suggest you start thinking of how you can make yourself more useful to me than as merely General Metzov’s catnip toy.” She smiled faintly into some invisible distance. “Though he does jump for you, doesn’t he? I shall have to explore that motivation.”

Miles asks her what use Metzov is to her, and she says he’s an experienced ground-combat commander, and then that he amuses her.  Miles wonders what use Metzov’s skills will be to her in a space fleet as he is locked into his solitary cell.  He’s left alone there for an undetermined time, only a nearly-inedible ration bar for company, as he contemplates how close they still are to the Barrayaran Consulate.  He doubts that its notional diplomatic immunity would hold against Cavilo for long if she needed something from it, though.

A visitor some time later proves to be General Metzov.  Not invited to dinner with the Emperor, though he is confident that Cavilo, only a woman after all, will come to her senses and seek out his expertise in Barrayaran matters soon enough.  He asks what’s going on, and Miles tells him that Gregor got separated from his security and they’re trying to return to the Barrayaran Consulate.  Not satisfied, Metzov asks why they are there, why they came from Aslund.  Miles tells him how Cavilo killed the freighter captain, so there’s nobody to corroborate his story anyway.

He asks Metzov to guess what’s going on, and Metzov concludes that Miles has concocted some plot to get the Emperor alone, probably to assassinate or brainwash him, unless there’s some secret mission.  Miles points out that in the latter case, the Emperor should have some security, and in the former, Miles would have brought some himself.  Metzov decides that with fast-penta they’ll find out his secrets soon enough, or he’ll break one of Miles’s bones every day until he talks.

Miles begins to wonder what this visit is about, since it’s not a proper interrogation, and realizes that Metzov, excluded by his lover Cavilo, is lonely and homesick.  He tries to draw Metzov out, asking whether Cavilo’s changed his mind about female soldiers.  Metzov is confident that he’ll be taking over Randall’s Rangers within a few months, and Cavilo won’t be a problem.  After giving Miles one last chance to confess his plans, he leaves.  Miles tries again to work out what’s going on in the Hegen Hub.  If Vervain is planning something which involves a planetary invasion, are they going after Pol or Aslund?  Aslund, as a cul-de-sac, isn’t that attractive, but attacking Pol will just drive them to ally with Barrayar.  Miles concludes that he’s still missing something, and he wonders how well Gregor is doing against Cavilo, if he’s falling victim to her wiles.

Miles is left in the cell for another couple of days; in desperation he begins trying to make macrame letters out of loose threads to try to send out a message.  In this endeavour he is interrupted by another visitor, this time Cavilo.  She comments on how poorly he looks, and Miles says he needs a library viewer, or maybe an exercise period.  She begins to ask Miles about his mother, touching mostly on the topic on how she came to marry Lord Aral Vorkosigan and become accepted by Barrayaran society.  She concludes that despite Barrayar’s dislike for offworlders, Cordelia’s military background helped win her some respect.

Miles asks after Gregor, and Cavilo says he’s well, and amusing her.  Miles hopes that he’s being fed better than Miles himself, and shows her the ration bar; she claims to be surprised and deplore such paltry rations, and offers him a more regular menu.  Miles warns that she’s coming close to causing an incident between Vervain and Barrayar, but Cavilo claims she’s only keeping him safe from the secret police.  Miles asks why he’s locked up, and Cavilo says that it’s to keep him safe from Metzov, rapidly using his usefulness, and his threats of bone-breaking.  Realizing that means she’s heard Metzov’s earlier conversation, he asks if Metzov’s disloyalty is the problem, but she says the strategic situation is changing and he may no longer be necessary.

Returning the conversation to Gregor, Cavilo asks about the urgency of Gregor marrying and getting an heir, and Miles confirms the civil war that would result otherwise.  He suddenly realizes that Cavilo is angling to marry Gregor and become Empress herself.

“Commander Cavilo, I don’t think you understand Barrayar. Or Barrayarans.” Actually, there’d been eras in Barrayaran history where Cavilo’s command style would have fit right in. Mad Emperor Yuri’s reign of terror, for example. But they’d spent the last twenty years trying to get away from all that.

“I need your cooperation,” Cavilo said. “Or at any rate, it could be very useful. To both of us. Your neutrality would be . . . tolerable. Your active opposition, however, would be a problem. For you. But we should avoid getting caught in negative attitude traps at this early stage, I think?”

Miles asks about the freighter captain’s family, and Cavilo claims that the Vervani had demanded their release, and she merely hadn’t wanted him to know she had no more hold over him, and that executing him herself was no different from ordering it done.  Miles begins to understand Cavilo more, as a homicidal paranoid, just like good old Bothari.  He starts trying to change his attitude, as if he was grudgingly being won over, but isn’t sure how he can protect Gregor from her.  Trying to seduce her himself doesn’t seem like it would work.

She keeps her promise to change his rations, his next meal being delivered in five courses with two bottles of wine, and shortly thereafter he receives clean clothes, underwear and toiletries.  He wonders about Cavilo’s background.

God, where had she come from? A mercenary veteran, she had to have been around for a while to have risen this far, even with shortcuts. Tung might know. I think she must have lost bad at least once. He wished Tung were here now. Hell, he wished Illyan were here now.

Her flamboyance, Miles increasingly felt, was an effective act, meant to be viewed at a distance like stage makeup, to dazzle her troops. At the right range, it might work rather well, like the popular Barrayaran general of his grandfather’s generation who’d gained visibility by carrying a plasma rifle like a swagger stick. Usually uncharged, Miles had heard privately—the man wasn’t stupid. Or a Vorish ensign who wore a certain antique dagger at every opportunity. A trademark, a banner. A calculated bit of mass psychology. Cavilo’s public persona pushed the envelope of that strategy, surely. Was she scared inside, knowing herself for overextended? You wish.

He wonders if Cavilo is actually winning Gregor over, or if he’s stringing her along with a story of a despised prospective bride.  Or maybe there really is such a bride.

Cavilo returns with another soldier in tow, who identifies Miles as “Admiral Naismith”.  Miles realizes he must have been another mercenary at Tau Verde, as he tells Cavilo that he should hire Naismith, he’s a military genius.

Cavilo reappeared after a moment, to stand in the aperture with her hands on her hips and her chin outthrust in exasperated disbelief. “How many people are you, anyway?”

Comments

Luckily, Metzov turns out to be a lot less effectual that one might fear.  I guess the fact that he was exiled to Kyril Island should have been an indication.  He can’t bring himself to actually give Cavilo the respect she deserves, assuming her a fallible woman who needs his help, and probably fancies her in love with him as well.  His ambivalence about the Emperor shows that he hasn’t quite made up his mind about Barrayar yet, either.  Cavilo, on the other hand, is all decisiveness, even at the risk of making the wrong decision.  Perhaps her earlier loss that Miles theorizes were because of indecisiveness, either hers or someone else’s.

Again, reading these books in publication order would lead you to worry less about Miles getting injected with fast-penta, since his first, memorable experience is definitely in Brothers In Arms.  And his first experience using it, of course, at least for real, was back in “Mountains of Mourning”.  Breaking his bones as a threat…well, that might work eventually, but Miles is probably less scared of it than many people, having experienced it so many times.

We’ve been given little enough evidence of Gregor’s reliability that there is a reasonable doubt about how well he’ll do against Cavilo’s wiles.  Unless, of course, you remember that Cordelia was the major mother-figure for most of his childhood.  Even if Gregor is experimenting with rejecting Barrayar and its planned destiny for him, he must still remember his lessons from Cordelia, and considering her profound doubts about Barrayaran society, he’s probably drawing on them rather than reject them too.  If he’s smart enough, that is.


Five chapters left in the book, which means that once again there’ll be a one-chapter week in there somewhere.  I always feel like we should continue on into the Dendarii novellas after that, but instead we jump around in publication order again, first up several years to Cetaganda, and then, since I have committed myself to it, back several years to Ethan of Athos.  In the reprint omnibuses, I guess that means I go on to Miles, Mutants and Mayhem.  But first, three more weeks of The Vor Game, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, shall we?  See you next week…

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Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome…back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I will endeavour to entertain you with the aid behind the scenes of Ms. Lois McMaster Bujold, author of the books I am so determinedly summarizing and analyzing.  Our show for tonight consists of Chapters Nine and Ten of The Vor Game, the second novel, chronologically, featuring our star, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan.  Confused?  Don’t be.  It will all become clear if you just take a deep breath and pay attention.  Now, on with the show!

Chapter Nine

On the Jacksonian jump point station, Miles and Overholt are waiting to take a long ride home via Escobar.  Ungari had “sold” Rotha’s ship and crew to an agent who would deliver them back to ImpSec, and then departed for Aslund, forbidding Miles to do any more investigation on his own, after receiving a coded message that obviously shook him badly.  Overholt has been acting less subordinate and refusing to let Miles do anything at all risky.  Miles is browsing for book-disks, virtuously avoiding the large quantities of pornography in favour of slim pickings in military history.

Miles brooded on Livia Nu. In fleeing from her erotic invitation he’d surely missed the adventure of his short lifetime. Yet that hadn’t been the look of love on her face. Anyway, he’d worry about a woman who could fall madly in love at first sight with Victor Rotha. The light in her eyes had been more on the order of a gourmet contemplating an unusual hors d’oeuvre just presented by the waiter. He’d felt like he’d had parsley sticking out of his ears.

He wishes, though, that they’d found out more about her, because he has a hunch that she’s an important piece of the Hegen Hub puzzle.

Two men approach Miles, Jacksonian Consortium security goons.  They inform “Victor Rotha” that an arrest order has been purchased for him by someone named Cavilo, and ask him if he wants to try to outbid the price of 20,000 Betan dollars.  Miles protests he doesn’t have that much on him, and they tell him he’ll have to make arrangements from Detention.  Miles tells them he’ll miss his ship, and they agree that that’s probably the general idea.  He consults quickly with Overholt, who urges him to try to make a run for the ship and out of their jurisdiction.

As Overholt tries to take out the two goons, Miles eludes them and escapes, but a third man in plain clothes catches him with a tangle field.  As Miles goes down, he sees that Overholt is stunned on the ground.  The goons inform him that resisting arrest comes with a 10% surcharge, then they beat him into unconsciousness with a shock-stick.

They drag him into a detention centre, awake but unable to control his muscles, and an officer there scans him into the system and tells them to dump him in the cooler until he stops twitching.  They throw him on a bunk in the less inhabited end of the room and leave him there.  Through the haze of pain and convulsions he sees a familiar face.

“Gregor! Am I glad to see you,” Miles burbled inanely. He felt his burning eyes widen. His hands shot out to clench Gregor’s shirt, a pale blue prisoner’s smock. “What the hell are you doing here?

Gregor tells him it’s a long story, admonishes him to keep from saying too much in the open cell, and says that he’s going by the name Greg Bleakman.  He admits to Miles that he left under his own power, running away from home as it were, and has already realized that it was a very bad idea.  He tells Miles that he had a berth on a freighter, but they dumped him here, where he was picked up for vagrancy and is about to be send to Aslund Station on a work detail.  Miles can’t let Gregor go without him, so he tries to convince the man in the next bunk to swap clothes and IDs with him.  As Miles pleads, Gregor pounces, throwing the man to the floor, subduing him and stripping off his clothing.  Miles puts it on, with only a little help from Gregor for his shaking hands, and successfully makes it out with Gregor and the other press-ganged workers.  He drops the ID card soon, fearing it might be tracked, and they are taken on board a ship.

He and Gregor manage to get a compartment to themselves just before the ship undocks.  Miles begins to realize how stupid the idea was, that he should have just waited, gotten himself free, and then come after Gregor.  Gregor asks if he wasn’t sent by Illyan, and Miles admits he wasn’t, and asks Gregor to tell the whole story.  Gregor was on Komarr, involved in negotations on wormhole treaties, or at least signing them.  One evening, he found himself on a balcony, unattended, somewhat drunk, and feeling depressed, and decided to just go over the edge.  He caught himself on some plants, climbed down, and made it out to the spaceport without being intercepted by his guardians.  He got a berth on an outgoing ship that night.  The ship went through Pol to the Jacksonian Consortium station, where they dumped Gregor off.

Miles chewed his knuckles. “So from ImpSec’s point of view, you evaporated from a fully guarded room. No note, no trace—and on Komarr.”

He tells Gregor that Illyan, far from being right on Gregor’s trail, will likely conclude initially that it’s a politically-motivated kidnapping, or assassination, by Komarran rebels.  He realizes that the message that Ungari received before he left was probably a notification from Illyan nonetheless.  Gregor says that he saw on the news that he was announced to be resting in seclusion at Vorkosigan Surleau; he knew it was a bad idea, but he couldn’t make himself get off at Pol, still feeling rebellious over the strictures of his life.  Miles tells him it was a childish stunt.  He realizes that he’s the only person in the galaxy who knows where the Emperor of Barrayar is, and that he could also be considered to be Gregor’s heir, so if anything does happen to him…
If anyone else does find out, in the Hegen Hub, then Gregor will become a pawn in the power struggle, or worse, end up in Cetagandan hands to be brainwashed or subverted.

Miles was an ImpSec officer, now, however junior or disgraced. And ImpSec’s sworn duty was the Emperor’s safety. The Emperor, Barrayar’s unifying icon. Gregor, unwilling flesh pressed into that mold. Icon, flesh, which claimed Miles’s allegiance? Both. He’s mine. A prisoner, on the run, trailed by God-knows-what enemies, suicidally depressed, and all mine.

Comments

Two chapters after Gregor talks to Miles in ImpSec HQ and complains about how constricted he feels, here he is having secretly escaped his keepers.  I know that a lot of time passed in there, while Miles was working at ImpSec, while he was traveling to the Hegen Hub with Ungari, etc., but it feels quick in terms of story.  Gregor would have been on Komarr around the same time Miles was outbound, probably, but perhaps he could have mentioned it during his evening with Miles.  Maybe his ImpSec guards would have advised him against it, Miles being a possible security risk, I don’t know.  But it’s not the smoothest of transitions.

Still, it does up the stakes nicely, and gives Gregor a chance to be an actual character in a way he hasn’t been, so far.  Not until Memory and A Civil Campaign does Gregor get much of a role (maybe he does make an appearance in Mirror Dance, I suppose), and by then he has matured so noticeably that I suppose he may have needed some kind of tempering experience.  He was led by the nose in The Warrior’s Apprentice, so that must have shaken his worldview a bit, leading to this crisis of self-doubt.  Well, no, as I recall there’s another trigger for this crisis, but it hasn’t been mentioned yet, so I’ll save it until later.

I’m not sure I find the Jacksonian arrest procedure that plausible, but if they always have guys waiting incognito with tangle-fields, I guess it might work for them, as long as the prisoner doesn’t run the wrong way.  And I suppose it’d nice for the people who can afford to outbid the person pressing charges in the first place.  According to the goons, the person purchasing the arrest can withdraw the arrest bid, losing their deposit; do they get the deposit back if the other person outbids?  Not clear, but I suppose it would be only fair, if fairness is really required in the Jacksonian system…

And how do tangle-fields work, anyway?  I never got a clear picture of that.  It talks about it buzzing around Miles’s ankles…does it actually physically keep him from moving, or just make him lose control over his muscles?  In the Vorkosigan Companion it says

Used by police for arresting or restraining suspects, it is a   grenade-sized device that can be thrown at a fleeing target. Upon impact, it tangles around the person’s limbs, effectively restraining them while also imparting a burning sensation to inhibit further resistance.

So there must be some kind of wire or fibers in there.  I guess it’s one of those things that the author doesn’t need to describe because the narrator already knows how it works…

Chapter Ten

As his mind clears, Miles realizes that Gregor will be safer on the ship if Miles isn’t there, and resolves in future never to make decisions while having electro-shock induced convulsions.  The only place he finds to conceal himself in the cabin is in a shallow maintenance recess under a loose floor tile, and when he hears angry voices in the corridor outside, he wedges himself in with Gregor’s help.  Guards enter the room and ask Gregor about his “mutie roommate”; Gregor claims innocence, even when they apply some muscle.  The guards conclude that Miles probably doubled back onto the station before the ship undocked, but decide they have to search the rest of the ship anyway.  While he waits for Gregor to release him, he worries about the kind of hazardous jobs that Gregor will have to do on the station, as a drafted contract worker.  He looks forward to turning Gregor over to Ungari and having the problem off his shoulders.

Just as Miles is growing concerned about whether Gregor has been taken away, he lifts the lid off of Miles’s hiding place.  Gregor says he was tapped on the cheek with a shock stick, and it hurt less than he was expecting, but Miles deflates him by asserting that it was on low power.  Miles tells Gregor his plan to contact Ungari, and Gregor says he had been planning on contacting the Barrayaran Consul on Aslund…but he admits that he also considered not contact the Consul, either, and tells Miles it’s a good thing he’s there.  Gregor says that this opportunity for escape will never come again, and Miles asks him to estimate how many people would die on Barrayar if he did succeed in “escaping”, probably several thousand based on the Vordarian Pretendership, not even counting Komarr.

[Gregor’s] mouth twitched in an irony altogether devoid of humor. “Don’t worry, I’m not serious. I just . . . wanted to know. I could have made it on my own, don’t you think?”

“Of course! That’s not the question.”

“It was for me.”

“Gregor.” Miles’s fingers tapped in frustration, against his knee. “You’re doing this to yourself. You have real power. Dad fought through the whole Regency to preserve it. Just be more assertive!”

“And, Ensign, if I, your supreme commander, ordered you to leave this ship at Aslund Station and forget you ever saw me, would you?”

Miles swallowed. “Major Cecil said I had a problem with subordination.”

Gregor says that if he can’t even control one small ensign, can he control a government?  And worse, should he?  He points out how poorly he did against Vordrozda’s machinations, and he has to do better, or he’ll be worse than no emperor at all.  Miles says he didn’t answer the question as an Ensign, but as Lord Vorkosigan, and Gregor’s friend, and rescuing Gregor will make him feel better, whether Gregor needs it or not.

Miles hid out under the floor tiles a lot over the next two days, only once because of guards; the other times are because of other prisoners coming to chat with Gregor, and Miles encourages him to make friends.  When they dock at the station, Miles waits until the others have left the ship before leaving himself, still wearing the stolen blue uniform.  A guard watches him leave but doesn’t stop him.  He marches off “purposefully at random”.  Passing a fighter deck, he thinks that Ungari would be interested in it, but he can’t see Ungari anywhere nearby.  Looking out a transparent portal into space, he is chagrined to see the commercial transfer station a few kilometers away in space.

A man summons him over, saying he needs his help, especially when Miles says his specialty is drains.  He leads Miles over to an intersection between two corridors, where a sewer pipe runs between two walls, and asks him to find the leak.  Miles is relieved to find that the pipe isn’t hooked up yet, and, borrowing a handlight from the other man, squeezes between the walls to look for the leak.

He slid in and inched along the smooth round surface, listening and feeling. About seven meters in he found it, a rush of cool air from a crack under his hands, quite marked. He shook his head, attempted to turn in the constricted space, and put his foot through the paneling.

He stuck his head out the hole in astonishment, and glanced up and down the corridor. He wriggled a chunk of paneling from the edge and stared at it, turning it in his hands.

Two men putting up light fixtures, their tools sparking, turned to stare. “What the hell are you doing?” said the one in tan coveralls, sounding outraged.

“Quality control inspection,” said Miles glibly, “and boy, do you have a problem.”

After briefly considering enlarging the hole and walking back around, he slides back through the wall instead, reporting the location of the leak as well as the demonstrably shoddy paneling.  Leaving the man to his problems, Miles ducks around another corner and almost runs into a pair of Oseran Mercenaries.  They only glance at him in passing, but Miles wonders how many others are on the station; most of them wouldn’t help him, but if he can find Elena, she might help him.  If she’s not under a cloud the way that Baz Jesek and Ky Tung are, that is.  He’s not sure of his feelings for her anymore, but she knows him, and she also knows Gregor, so she might be able to help them both out.

He decides he needs to keep a lookout, so he stations himself half-concealed behind a wall near the cafeteria, pretending to be busy fixing something while watching the comings and goings.  It seems to mostly be workers, with a few Aslunder guards, but eventually he sees a few Oserans, though still none he recognizes, or trusts enough to contact when he does.

Finally he sees, and is seen by, Sergeant Chodak, and calls him over to talk.  Chodak asks how he even got on the station, and if he knows how much danger he’s in, with Oser’s guards watching for him all over the transfer station.  Miles tells Chodak he needs to contact Baz or Elena, or even Tung, Mayhew or Elli Quinn.  He tells Chodak to tell Elena to meet him and “their old friend Greg” at Greg Bleakman’s cubicle.

Chodak leaves, and Miles heads off to Gregor’s quarters himself.  Gregor is off-shift and wakes up when Miles enters, telling Gregor that he’s contacting Elena.  Gregor is almost cheerful, saying he’s done nothing more dangerous than putting up light fixtures.  They wait for Elena’s scheduled arrival, Miles fighting fatigue, but when the door opens, a squad of Oserans are there with stunners and shock-sticks to take them into custody.  Miles doesn’t even bother to resist, though Gregor disarms one man before being shoved against a wall.  They wrap Miles up in a tangle-net and the squad leader calls in the capture.  As he and Miles are dragged away, he spots Chodak standing in a side corridor and curses his instincts in trusting the man.

They are dragged on board the Triumph, and Miles notices that two of the squad are clearing the corridors ahead of them, keeping any potential witnesses away.  As Miles gets his Admiral Naismith personality in order, and tries to think of an innocuous explanation for Gregor, they are taken to a small briefing room where Oser waits with an unfamiliar blond companion.  Miles and Gregor are seated and a single guard stationed outside; Miles thinks to himself how Oser reminds him of General Metzov.  Oser asks Miles why he’s there, and Miles says, half-truthfully, that he’s doing a “military survey of the Hegen Hub for an interested non-combatant”, though he denies that it’s Barrayar when Oser asks.  He says that Barrayar is busy enough with Komarr, Sergyar, and its own frontiers to have any interest in Aslund.  He also says that Pol should be safe enough if unprovoked, but he admits he hasn’t checked on Vervain yet.

Oser says he could execute Miles as a spy, and asks what his interest is in the Oserans.  Miles says he just wants to know how they fit into the overall scheme in the Hub.  He asks for more details on their contract with Aslund; when Oser doesn’t reply, he asks how much he could do as one man.  Oser reminds Miles that he had four people with him in Tau Verde, and ended up taking over Oser’s own fleet, which it took him three years to win back.  Oser asks about Gregor and Miles dismisses him as his batman, though Oser thinks he looks more like an officer, which Gregor finds heartening.  Miles points out that Tung looks like a wrestler, and Oser turns frosty, asking Miles how long he’s been in communication then Tung, then ordering them to be spaced.

“You,” the pointing finger collected Oser’s silent lieutenant, “go with them. See that it’s done. Use the portside access lock, it’s closest. If he,” pointing to Miles, “starts to talk, stop his tongue. It’s his most dangerous organ.”

Miles asks if he doesn’t want to interrogate them, and Oser says he doesn’t want Miles to contaminate his intelligence section; depriving him of oxygen is the safest way to deal with him.  The guards drag Miles and Gregor down to the airlock, Gregor raging at dying at the hands of “bloody peasants“.  Miles tells the guards that there’s a huge ransom if they can get them loose; when the guards pause, the lieutenant pulls out a vibra-knife and grabs Miles’s tongue, apparently to cut it out.

Miles bites the man’s fingers and throws himself back at the guard behind him, stinging him with the tangle-net.  The guard releases him and Miles rolls against the lieutenant’s legs and trips him up.  Gregor’s guards, distracted by the melee, are hit by a stunner from a cross-corridor, and Gregor and the stunner, wielded by Sergeant Chodak, take out the lieutenant as well.

“Damn fine soldiering,” Miles panted to Sergeant Chodak in the sudden silence. “I don’t think they even saw what hit them.” So, I called him straight the first time. Haven’t lost my touch after all. Bless you, Sergeant.

“You two aren’t so bad yourselves, for men with both hands tied behind their backs.” Chodak shook his head in harried amusement, and trod forward to release the tangle-fields.

“What a team,” said Miles.

Comments

Admiral Oser is one of those Bujold villains that embodies her conviction that the bad guys should not be stupid.  He has Miles’s measure, calling his tongue his “most dangerous organ”, and trying to keep him from using it.  If it weren’t for people whose loyalty Miles had already won, it would even have worked.

Once again, the unknown quantity of Sgt. Chodak helps with the tension, because we don’t know how trustworthy he is.  I don’t know how they traced Miles to Gregor’s apartment, but I suspect that it wasn’t Chodak who spilled the beans.  Hopefully they reveal more in the next chapter about what really happened.  (No, apparently not.  Well, whatever.)  Miles isn’t exactly inconspicuous, just from his size, and Oser’s paranoid enough to have people on the lookout for him…

I’m not sure if inspecting an empty sewer line counts as plumbing, but Miles did volunteer his expertise in drains, so close enough.  The broken wall scene is pretty funny.

Gregor continues to wrestle with his self-worth, wanting to earn something, some respect at least, for himself, and not for the Emperor of Barrayar.  We’ll see how long it takes his experiences to convince him that being Emperor isn’t so bad, especially if he can do it on his own terms.

<hr>

Now the plot, like a pot of soup to which cornstarch has been added, begins to thicken.  There’s a couple more major plot twists to come in the next chapter, too, but you’ll have to wait until next week for those.  Until then, I remain, your sincerely, etc.

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Sing “hey”, my fine fellow, hearken thee to the publication of another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I reiterate and explicate the events of the Vorkosigan Saga novels of Lois McMaster Bujold, a brace of chapters at a time.  At this juncture, I will yield to you some stuff about Chapters Seven and Eight of The Vor Game, a novel written out of sequence but occurring chronologically after the stuff I did before but before the stuff I haven’t done yet.  I promise that there is less bathos to come.

Chapter Seven

Miles is moved from the informary to an apartment one floor down in ImpSec Headquarters, a small one-room efficiency usually used by protected witnesses and “political unpersons”.  All his possessions from Kyril Island are there.  Miles wonders if it’s bugged, or if nobody is bothering.  He seems to be allowed to roam around, but not to leave the building, and soon discovers that even roaming around is discouraged.  After unpacking and cleaning up his possessions, he spends most of his time pretending he’s in a cabin on a spaceship.

Two days later he receives visitors–first ImpSec officers who give the apartment, and Miles himself, a thorough sweep, and then the man they are escorting, Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, dressed innocuously in undress greens.  He sits down in one of Miles’s chairs to relax, offering a bag with a pair of bottles of Vorkosigan wine.  Gregor tells Miles that Cordelia sent him, but he can’t stay long, his time scheduled down to the minute as usual.

Miles contemplated his old playmate. If they’d been even a little closer in age, he and Gregor, they might have fallen more into the role of foster-brothers; Count and Countess Vorkosigan had been Gregor’s official guardians ever since the chaos and bloodshed of Vordarian’s Pretendership. The child-cohort had been thrown together anyway as “safe” companions, Miles and Ivan and Elena near-agemates, Gregor, solemn even then, tolerating games a little younger than he might have preferred.

Gregor commiserates with Miles about his abbreviated military career, saying that while he did have some ship duty himself, it was mostly just “pretend” patrols, in orbit, with Gregor as a pretend commander, no real risk allowed.  He tells Miles that it’s the unplanned experience, like Miles’s and Prince Serg’s, among others, that makes one a “real” officer.  Miles keeps quiet on what he knows about the real Prince Serg.

Miles decided to change the subject. “So we all know what happened to me, what have you been up to for the last three months? I was sorry to miss your last birthday party. Up at Kyril Island they celebrated it by getting drunk, which made it virtually indistinguishable from any other day.”

Gregor grinned, then sighed. “Too many ceremonies. Too much time standing up—I think I could be replaced at half my functions by a life-sized plastic model, and no one would notice. A lot of time spent ducking the broad marital hints of my assorted counsellors.”

Miles expresses the wish that Gregor does settle the succession soon, because after Gregor things get quite muddied, with half a dozen claimants with equally good, if remote, claims.  Miles admits that he’s on the list himself, but would rather flee for his life than end up on the throne.  Gregor empathizes with the desire to flee, recalling a tale of a former Chinese emperor who ended up working as a janitor somewhere, but Miles says that he hopes Illyan would find him first.

Trying to change the subject again, Miles notices the tacti-go game that Gregor brought.  They start playing, and Miles’s beats Gregor too quickly the first time, but tries harder to make the games close after that, aided by the second bottle of wine.  Gregor says that Miles should be an officer, it’s been so long since Gregor could beat him at tacti-go, but Miles points out the lack of variables which make it a poor simulation of real battle.

Gregor says that with Miles’s real experience with the Dendarii Mercenaries, he shouldn’t have needed to prove himself on Kyril Island, but Miles reminds him how secret that escapade is, and how without Ky Tung he wouldn’t have pulled it off in any case.  Gregor wonders why Illyan hasn’t done more with them, but Miles says that their belonging to ImpSec is mostly just a legal fiction, and Illyan mostly just wants to keep them away from Barrayar; besides, they’re the wrong size to really accomplish much with.

Miles diffidently mentions that he doesn’t really think it proper to ask Gregor’s help to get him out of his situation, but…  Gregor says that he’s another prisoner of ImpSec himself, and in any case Illyan is determined to keep Miles out of sight for a time.

“Time.” Miles swallowed the last of his wine, and decided he’d better not pour himself any more. Alcohol was a depressant, it was said. “How much time? Dammit, if I don’t get something to do soon, I’m going to be the first case of human spontaneous combustion recorded on vid.” He jerked a rude finger at the ceiling. “I don’t need to—don’t even have to leave the building, but at least they could give me some work. Clerical, janitorial—I do terrific drains—anything. Dad talked with Illyan about assigning me to Security—as the only Section left that would take me—he must have had something more in mind than a m-, m-, mascot.” He poured and drank again, to stop the spate of words. He’d said too much. Damn the wine. Damn the whine.

Gregor, who had built a little tower of tacti-go chips, toppled it with one finger. “Oh, being a mascot isn’t bad work, if you can get it.” He stirred the pile slowly. “I’ll see what I can do. No promises.”

Two days later, whether by Gregor’s doing or not, Miles is assigned a job working in the ImpSec building’s administration, assisting the guard commander.  The initial novelty of the job has worn off after a month, and Miles realizes that in a sense he is his own guard, his own loyalty being used against him to keep him from escaping.

Was he going to get out of this bloody box before Winterfair? How long did it take the world to forget him, anyway? If he committed suicide, could he be officially listed as shot by a guard while escaping? Was Illyan trying to drive him out of his mind, or just out of his Section?

He begins to amuse himself in his off hours by watching all of the training vids in alphabetical order, but after several weeks, is only up to “L” before he is summoned to Illyan’s office.

There is another man there when Miles arrives, who Illyan introduces as Captain Ungari, one of ImpSec’s galactic operatives.  Illyan then asks Miles if he’s heard from the Dendarii Mercenaries recently.  Miles replies truthfully that all he’s had was a birthday message from Elena about a year ago, which Illyan already knows about.  Illyan shows Miles a wormhole map which he recognizes as the Hegen Hub–a system with no planets, but multiple gates to Pol (adjacent to Komarr), Vervain (adjacent to the Cetagandan Empire), Jackson’s Whole (another nexus, and a center of criminal activity), and Aslund, which only has the one jump point.

Illyan says that though the Hegen Hub is as crucial to Cetagandan trade and civilian travel as it is to Barrayaran, there may be trouble brewing there.  Pol is beefing up its defenses, on the side opposite the Barrayaran Empire, which is disturbing; Jackson’s Whole is doing the same on its side of the Hub.  Vervain has hired a mercenary fleet, Randall’s Rangers.  This has caused some concern for Aslund, so they have started building their own jump-point defense station, and have hired their own mercenaries–formerly known as the Dendarii Mercenary Fleet, though they have reverted to the Oseran Mercenaries more recently.

Illyan postulates that Cetaganda sees an opportunity to seize complete control of the Hegen Hub, which would mean that they would control two of Komarr’s four jump routes.  As Miles knows, the best way to capture a jump point is from both sides at once, so if the Polians have discovered a connection between the Oseran/Dendarii Mercenaries and Barrayar, namely Miles, they might panic and seek out a Cetagandan alliance.  Illyan says he wants more information, and asks Ungari if he thinks Miles is suitable.  Ungari is a little dubious, because of Miles’s conspicuousness and physical limitations, but Illyan says he trusts Aral’s judgement on the matter, and thinks that Miles is so conspicuous as to make a good “stalking goat”.

Illyan asks Miles if he could play Admiral Naismith again, and Miles replies, half-seriously, that the problem would be to stop playing Naismith once he started.  Illyan tells Ungari that Miles is his; first of all, to determine what’s going on in the Hegen Hub, and secondly to try to move the Dendarii/Oserans out of the equation, up to and including supplying a bogus contract with ImpSec money.  Miles is to pretend to Admiral Naismith traveling incognito, with Ungari as a bodyguard, but there will be an additional real bodyguard if Ungari has to operate separately.  Miles accepts the assignment readily.

Comments

The conversation with Gregor is interesting because of his repeated references to being trapped and wishing for escape, which seems at first like just commiserating with Miles, but there will turn out to be something deeper than that to it.  Gregor resents his ImpSec escort, his overscheduled time, and in particular the sham that his military career seems to be without “real” experience.  He even envies Miles’s exploits with the Dendarii.  Most of this is only clear in hindsight, so I’m helpfully pointing it out to you now.

The whole lecture about the Hegen Hub is a kind of “As You Know Bob” conversation, as Illyan gets Miles to recite what he knows about them, but it puts me in mind of similar scenes in James Bond movies and the like, so I guess it works okay.  It works better if you have a map, which, as I said, the digital copy doesn’t.  There’s one in the Vorkosigan Companion (included with the CD that came with the Cryoburn hardcover); there’s also a version at http://pw1.netcom.com/~fresne/nexus.htm, and there may be others.  All of them are highly schematic, of course, since the positions are fairly arbitrary–I don’t know if wormholes are supposed to take one in the direction they’re “facing” or not, for instance–so you can probably arrange them however you want as long as the lines all connect.

Chapter Eight

Miles takes the role of Victor Rotha, “Procurement Agent”, a.k.a. Arms Dealer.  Rotha is purportedly Betan, and so is his ship, now docked at Pol Six.  The trip from Barrayar was uneventful, though Ungari took as many opportunities as possible to gather data about every single jump station on the route.  Pol Six, Pol’s station in the Hegen Hub, had started out as a communication station, but has grown to much more than that, with Navy ships visible all around.

Ungari tells Miles to be conspicuous, drawing attention away from Ungari himself, and maybe even try to make a few contacts.  He is escorted by his bodyguard, Lieutenant Overholt, who is dressed like a bodyguard trying to look like a tourist, which should help with “Victor Rotha”‘s noticeability.  They make their way through security and onto the space station, where “Rotha” has an appointment set up.

A curious trio idled just across the busy concourse from Miles. A big man dressed in loose clothing ideal for concealing weapons scanned the area uneasily. A professional counterpart of Sergeant Overkill’s, no doubt. He and Overholt spotted each other and exchanged grim glances, carefully ignored each other after that. The bland man he guarded faded into near-invisibility beside his woman.

She was short, but astonishingly intense, slight figure and white-blond hair cropped close to her head giving her an odd elfin look. Her black jumpsuit seemed shot with electric sparks, flowing over her skin like water, evening-wear in the day-cycle. Thin-heeled black shoes boosted her a few futile centimeters. Her lips were colored blood-carmine to match the shimmering scarf that looped across alabaster collarbones to cascade from each shoulder, framing the bare white skin of her back. She looked . . . expensive.

Just then, Miles is startled by his first appointment, a Mr. Liga, a man supposedly after better armaments for his mining facility guards.  Liga notes that the man that the blonde woman was talking to was a representative of House Fell, arms dealers of Jackson’s Whole.  He takes Miles and Overholt to an otherwise unoccupied hotel room, where Miles shows him vids of the weapons he has for sale–for educational purposes only, since they are all illegal on Pol Six, though Liga points out that Pol’s authority doesn’t extend far into the free space of the Hegen Hub.

When Liga disparages Miles’s price for nerve disrupters, Miles takes out a hidden vid and shows Liga a Betan nerve disrupter shield net, a new development not yet officially on the market.  Liga is intrigued, and borrows the vid to show to his supervisor, despite the high price tag that Miles quotes him.  After they leave, Miles asks Overholt if he did well, and Overhold says he was “very smooth”.

As they are eating lunch afterwards, Miles is surprised to be greeted as “Admiral Naismith”, by someone that he recognizes as Clive Chodak, a Dendarii commando.  Chodak is with another man, unfamiliar to Miles.

“I’m sorry, you’re mistaken,” Miles’s denial was pure spinal reflex. “My name is Victor Rotha.”

Chodak blinked. “What? Oh! Sorry. That is—you look a lot like somebody I used to know.” He took in Overholt. His eyes queried Miles urgently. “Uh, can we join you?”

“No!” said Miles sharply, panicked. No, wait. He shouldn’t throw away a possible contact. This was a complication for which he should have been prepared. But to activate Naismith prematurely, without Ungari’s orders . . . “Anyway, not here,” he amended hastily.

Chodak tracks Miles down after he’s returned to the ship, but before Ungari’s return, and after some deliberation Miles authorizes Overholt to let him in.  Chodak is reluctant to talk until Overholt leaves, and is pleased that Miles remembers him.  He asks Miles what his plans are, but Miles is coy, presuming Chodak to be a spy on Pol Six for the Oserans.  Chodak apologizes for having inadvertently blown Miles’s cover, and asks why he was away so long; Miles says that he spent some time in prison (Kyril Island, close enough), and then with his other interests.  He asks why he hasn’t heard from Commodore Jesek, and Chodak tells him that Jesek has been demoted to fleet engineer, and Ky Tung to chief of personnel, leaving Admiral Oser in charge.

Chodak warns Miles that his superior, who was with him at the time, is loyal to Oser (Chodak implies he’s more loyal to Tung, without saying it outright), and will probably report back on sighting Miles.  Miles says as long as he doesn’t know that Chodak spoke to Miles privately, it’s okay; he may be able to make a deal with Oser.  Chodak warns him that Oser doesn’t think that he got the better of his last deal with Miles, that he thinks Miles was a scammer and would have lost if Tung hadn’t switched sides.  As Chodak leaves, Miles tells him to cover his ass.

Miles wonders whether he shouldn’t just leave the mercenaries to Oser after all, though it nags at him that he still has three liegepeople among them, but it is ultimately Ungari’s decision.  Ungari is not happy at Miles’s blown cover, though Miles points out that Chodak was the one who blew it, and he wonders whether Chodak did it intentionally, to hedge his bets.  Ungari opines that it may be too risky to activate Admiral Naismith after all, and he had half a mind to confine Miles to the ship, but Liga had made another appointment with Victor Rotha, and Ungari wants to know who’s behind Liga, particularly if it happens to be the Cetagandans, before they move on to Aslund Station.

Miles shows up at Liga’s hotel room only to find the blonde woman there instead, dressed more seductively than before, who introduces herself as Livia Nu.  She says she’s Liga’s superior, “in a sense”, and disapproves of Miles’s attempts to find out more, though Miles says that unlike House Fell, he needs to be careful who deals with.  Livia dismisses her bodyguard, and Miles sends Overholt out as well.  Once they are alone, Livia reaches into her cleavage and produces the vid disc he’d given to Liga, and asks how many he can provide.  Miles says a strictly limited number, since he’s not a manufacturer, but promises to undercut anyone else’s price.  She wonders what she can do with so few, and Miles suggests she sell them to governments as samples.  He says he could do so himself, but he came in through Pol and has to leave through Cetaganda or Jackson’s Whole, and doesn’t think he’ll be able to take his cargo out past them without it being confiscated.

She asks if he can provide one sample, in her size, but Miles says that they’re standard size and he hasn’t had any luck cutting one small enough to fit either of them yet, and prefers to sell them in lots anyhow.  He says he’ll moving on to Aslund soon, and Livia says they can come to some agreement, starting to move in on him.  He mentions her boss from House Fell, and asks for a meeting with him, but Livia says “business before pleasure”.  Unnerved as she puts her hand on his neck, he breaks away and flees the room, taking the vid disc with him, and promises to set up a meeting later.

Ungari wakes him up in the middle of his sleep period, telling their pilot to move off from the station, outside of Polian space.  He tells Miles that Liga’s body was found in the hotel room, and an arrest warrant is being issued for Victor Rotha, since the murder seemed to have happened around the time of Miles’s second meeting there.  Miles tells how he didn’t even meet with Liga the second time, only Livia Nu, and he’d have told Ungari if he’d killed anyone.  Ungari says that Miles is being framed, and Miles realizes that Livia Nu might not be Liga’s boss, but instead just killed him and took the disc that way.

Miles says that if he was wrong about who she was, they need to find out more about her, but Ungari says that now they can’t go back through Pol, and can’t go to Aslund because of the “mercenary complications”; it’ll have to be the Jackson’s Whole station.  Ungari will double back to Aslund, while Miles and Overholt take the long way home.  Miles wonders if whoever framed him anticipated them cutting and running, but Ungari is confident they couldn’t know about his information source.  Miles notes that they could plan for both contingencies, like he would himself, but Ungari has left the cabin.

Comments

There were, of course, lots of Dendarii, so it’s kind of nice that the first one we see in the book is not one of the major ones we’d seen before, but nonetheless somebody that Miles knew, at least slightly.  I don’t remember what happens with Chodak in the book, so I guess I’ll have to wait and find out.

I can’t help but feel that Ungari is being a bit of a buttwad about Miles’s cover being blown, but one would hope that maybe he’s just being mad that it hadn’t occurred to him that the Dendarii/Oserans would have anyone on Pol Six that would recognize Admiral Naismith while he was out and about as the absolutely conspicuous Victor Rotha.  This is one of the ways that Ungari fails to endear himself to the reader throughout this book, and provides another bad example for Miles, another superior officer that he knows better than and that the reader wants him to insubordinate, the way we want Harry, Ron and Hermione to not listen to Professor McGonagall when she tells them not to go investigating on their own…  (Though Professor McGonagall is really much nicer.)

Also the introduction of Livia Nu (as we know her in this chapter, at least).  I can’t remember if she was honestly trying to seduce Miles or if she was more likely to try to kill him first.  After all, how did she get close enough to kill Liga?  I suppose she could have just broken in to the room and hidden in the bathroom or something.  Does that mean that Liga was in there the whole time she was meeting with Miles?  Hmmm.

Miles’s escape from the room…what was the reason?  Later in the series he expresses a preference for tall women, but in this chapter he thinks to himself “I finally meet a woman who’s barely taller than I am, and I don’t even know which side she’s on,” so maybe he hasn’t realized it yet.  What have his sexual experiences been up to this point?  There was supposed to be some girls on Beta Colony, I think, though none of them particularly good experiences.  No women at the Academy, no women on Kyril Island, no women in ImpSec…  So he might not have gotten laid in several years, but I guess he wasn’t desperate enough for lust to overcome his better judgement, because his instincts were spot-on in scarpering.  He was probably also thinking that Overholt would be able to tell what was going on, and Ungari would not be impressed, unless he had something solid to show for it.  And doubting Livia’s motivations, with good reason.


As we reach the Hegen Hub, the space-opera section of the plot is beginning to thicken, but a few crucial ingredients have yet to appear, or reappear…  Probably at least one of them will do so in the next couple of chapters, so come back next week for another exciting installment!

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It’s time once again for that old favourite, the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which is what I call this thing I do where I read a couple of chapters of one of the books in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, then summarize them for the assembled masses of the Internet and add a few modest comments of my own.  This week I cover Chapters Five and Six of The Vor Game, fourth book chronologically and I’m not even such which one in publication order, since they often don’t match up for this series.  There may be spoilers, though I try to be a little coy about them, and if you don’t start at the beginning, you may be a little bit lost, because I may not stop to summarize things that the author recaps for the benefit of new readers–be warned.

Chapter Five

Miles is awakened by a klaxon, but soon realizes that it’s not the wah-wah warning, or any attack.  The klaxon stops, and Miles checks the time; it’s only evening.  He decides to get up and find out what’s going on.  He finds Lt. Bonn walking purposefully, and asks him what’s going on.  Bonn says it’s an accident in a toxic stores bunker, and possibly a very bad one.

At the bunker, they find the surgeon loading two injured soldiers for transport, and giving them instructions to decontaminate themselves and everything they’re wearing.  He tells Miles and Bonn that the two men were moving things around in the bunker to make room for a new shipment, when they flipped their loader (probably through horsing around), breaking one man’s leg and also breaking open at least two barrels of fetaine.  Miles recognizes it as a mutagenic terror weapon never actually used in combat, but apparently still stored on Kyril Island.  Bonn comments that if those barrels, supposedly indestructible, have broken open, the rest are likely also dangerous.

Miles suggests torching the whole bunker, since heat will dissociate the fetaine, and he, Miles, and the fire marshall come up with a plan to do so safely using plasma mines and some sealant.  Since it will depend on the wind direction, Miles heads back to his office to refine his forecast, with Bonn and Lt. Yaski, the fire marshal, coming back to the admin building as well to work out the details.  While he’s working, though, he sees Bonn and Yaski leaving the building.  Since his new forecast is not much different from what he’d already told them, he stays put, wanting to avoid the risk of fetaine contamination, but he finds himself unable to contemplate going back to sleep.

When Bonn and Yaski return again, Miles goes to give them the new forecast, and finds them in General Metzov’s office.  It emerges that Metzov wants to order techs into the bunker to clean it up, which Bonn recommends against, even with environmental gear, since fetaine can likely penetrate it.  Metzov is angry that Bonn didn’t order the techs, as Metzov had ordered him, and refuses to consider destroying the fetaine, since they are charged with storing it.  Miles asks if they can’t just mix up some more, and Metzov threatens him with charges if he cracks one more joke.

“Have you never heard of the fine old battlefield practice of shooting the man who disobeys your order, Lieutenant?” Metzov went on to Bonn.

“I . . . don’t think I can make that threat, sir,” said Bonn stiffly.

And besides, thought Miles, we’re not on a battlefield. Are we?

“Techs!” said Metzov in a tone of disgust. “I didn’t say threaten, I said shoot. Make one example, the rest will fall in line.”

Bonn persists that the techs could easily refuse to be that reasonable, and he feels unreasonable on the matter himself.  Metzov decides to give Bonn and the techs a lesson in obedience, since Bonn is “pretending” to be an officer.  He tells Bonn and Yaski to assemble their men outside so they can have an “old-fashioned discipline parade”.

Bonn and Yaski and their men stand in their weather gear outside the building.

Metzov smiled, a gloss over rage, and turned his head at a movement down the road. In a horribly cordial voice he confided to Miles, “You know, Ensign, there was a secret behind that carefully cultivated interservice rivalry they had back on Old Earth. In the event of a mutiny you could always persuade the army to shoot the navy, or vice versa, when they could no longer discipline themselves. A hidden disadvantage to a combined Service like ours.”

“Mutiny!” said Miles, startled out of his resolve to speak only when spoken to. “I thought the issue was poison exposure.”

Metzov says that with Bonn’s incompetence, it turned into mutiny when his techs refused his orders.  The infantry grubs appear in their winter gear, led by their sergeant, an old crony of Metzov’s, and armed with nerve disrupters.  The sergeant lines up the grubs, excited to have real weapons, and orders them to point their weapons at the techs.  Metzov orders the techs to strip, and that when they’re ready to obey their orders, they can get dressed again.  The techs, including Olney, Pattas, and several other Barrayaran Greeks, stand shivering, but showing no willingness to clean the fetaine.  While Yaski steps back, Bonn moves forward to join his techs, taking off his own clothes.  Metzov willingly condemns him along with his men.

Metzov tells Miles to make himself useful and grab a weapon, or leave.  Miles takes a nerve disruptor, though he leaves the safety on.  He wonders if the infantry grubs know about criminal orders, a seminar his own father used to teach to officer cadets at the Academy.  With the techs being notionally military, but in peacetime, the situation is highly ambiguous.  Miles watches as Bonn freezes with his men, entertaining brief fantasies of killing Metzov, and then probably being fried by the grubs.  He could just follow his orders, but he doesn’t relish the thought of these frozen ghosts following him the rest of his career.  Instead, Miles sneaks behind the grubs, drops his weapon, takes off his own clothes and goes forward to join the techs.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Ensign?” Metzov snarled as Miles limped past him.

“Breaking this up, sir,” Miles replied steadily. Even now some of the shivering techs flinched away from him, as if his deformities might be contagious. Pattas didn’t draw away, though. Nor Bonn.

“Bonn tried that bluff. He’s now regretting it. It won’t work for you either, Vorkosigan.” Metzov’s voice shook too, though not from the cold.

You should have said “Ensign.” What’s in a name? Miles could see the ripple of dismay run through the grubs, that time. No, this hadn’t worked for Bonn. Miles might be the only man here for whom this sort of individual intervention could work. Depending on how far gone Mad Metzov was by now.

Miles tells Metzov that while he might be able to cover up the deaths of Bonn and the tech’s, there’s no way he could cover up Miles’s death.  Metzov asks what happens if there’s no witnesses, but Miles reminds him that the grubs themselves are witnesses, and that living or dead, his story will prevail.  Metzov continues to wait, and Miles continues to freeze, swiftly catching up to the techs because of his lower body mass.  Miles sees that Metzov can’t back down from his discipline exercise now, so he tries a different tack, tempting him with the benefits of stopping, arresting the techs, Bonn and Miles as mutineers.  Their careers would all be in ruins, including Miles’s own.  Metzov likes the idea if bringing down the holier-than-thou Count Vorkosigan, and tells them they’re all under arrest, and to get dressed.

The others looked stunned with relief then. After a last uncertain glance at the nerve disrupters they dove for their clothes, donning them with frantic cold-clumsy hands. But Miles had seen it complete in Metzov’s eyes sixty seconds earlier. It reminded him of that definition of his father’s. A weapon is a device for making your enemy change his mind. The mind was the first and final battleground, the stuff in between was just noise.

Lt. Yaski had disappeared into the admin building with Miles’s distraction, and the surgeon, Metzov’s second, and the infantry commander all appeared in quick succession.  As they are led to the stockade, Bonn asks Miles if he’s supposed to thank him; Miles points out that they’re still alive, and now Metzov has no choice but to destroy the fetaine before the wind shifts.

Miles awakens in his cell later, where Bonn is being brought back in; he tells Miles that Service Security has arrived to investigate the matter, and that he’s just verified the destruction of the fetaine.  The guard summons Miles next, and soon he realizes that it’s not Service Security, but ImpSec, who has taken charge.  Miles gives a handprint, with difficulty since his hands and feet are swaddled in plastic and frostbite-healing gel, for travel orders, but is unable to get any more information from the ImpSec officers about what is going on.

General Metzov ducked through the door from the inner office, a sheaf of plastic flimsies in one hand and a Service Security captain at his elbow, who nodded warily to his counterpart on the Imperial side.

The general was almost smiling. “Good morning, Ensign Vorkosigan.” His glance took in Imperial Security without dismay. Dammit, ImpSec should be making that near-murderer shake in his combat boots. “It seems there’s a wrinkle in this case even I hadn’t realized. When a Vor lord involves himself in a military mutiny, a charge of high treason follows automatically.”

“What?” Miles swallowed, to bring his voice back down. “Lieutenant, I’m not under arrest by Imperial Security, am I?”

The lieutenant produced a set of handcuffs and proceeded to attach Miles to the big sergeant. Overholt, read the name on the man’s badge, which Miles mentally redubbed Overkill. He had only to lift his arm to dangle Miles like a kitten.

Overholt informes Miles he’s being detained indefinitely, pending further investigation, and will be taken back to ImpSec HQ in Vorbarr Sultana.  As Miles is led out to the courier shuttle, he notes from the feeling in his sinuses that the temperature will be stabilizing soon, and realizes that it’s time to get off of Kyril Island.

Comments

I suppose that a remote arctic island may be the best place to store those kind of toxic chemicals, if you must store them and not destroy them in the first place–and how often does the military throw away a potential weapon?  I’m reminded of the weapons used against Aral Vorkosigan back in Barrayar, the soltoxin and the sonic grenade, also from weapon stores…  Wonder how the author really feels about that?

Here, of course, is where Metzov really melts down, getting to play out his vision of what it would really be like if they were at war again.  One is not meant to have a lot of sympathy for him, though I expect that Miles may be able to squeeze out a tiny teaspoonful, at least for the military men who are lost without the clear-cut black-and-white morality of war.  Metzov may verge into sadism, or sociopathy, and outside of the military he might very well have turned into a murderer, or he may just have turned into a grumpy old man as Miles concludes early on.  But in the military there’s at least a chance he can be “useful”, I suppose.

What is it that really motivates Miles to join in the mutiny and turn the tide?  It’s probably a combination of all the things he says–how he can’t stand by and watch the techs die, even if it’s the career-smart thing to do, and how he reasons out that he can bring some of his weight to bear and stop the killing, even if he has to do so as a Vor lord and not an Ensign, poisoning his own career.  It shows that he can’t separate his Vor self from the rest of him, that his sense of Vor duties, his noblesse oblige, informs his every decision.  Even as Admiral Naismith, he feels the obligation to his subordinates, and of course let’s not forget his explicit ties to Arde Mayhew and Baz and Elena Jesek…

Chapter Six

The autumn weather in Vorbarr Sultana is a welcome change after Kyril Island, though Miles doesn’t get to see much of it before he is ushered from the shuttle into ImpSec Headquarters.  Overholt takes Miles to an upward tube, not down to the holding cells as Miles half expected, but up to the more fearsome confrontation with Simon Illyan.  Illyan dismisses Overholt, dryly telling the concerned lieutenant that he should be safe.  Miles is acutely conscious of his grubbiness and the medical mittens on his frostbitten hands and feet.

Practically everyone on Barrayar feared this man’s name, though few knew his face. This effect was carefully cultivated by Illyan, building in part—but only in part—on the legacy of his formidable predecessor, the legendary Security Chief Negri. Illyan and his department, in turn, had provided security for Miles’s father for the twenty years of his political career, and had slipped up only once, during the night of the infamous soltoxin attack. Offhand, Miles knew of no one Illyan feared except Miles’s mother. He’d once asked his father if this was guilt, about the soltoxin, but Count Vorkosigan had replied, No, it was only the lasting effect of vivid first impressions. Miles had called Illyan “Uncle Simon” all his life until he’d entered the Service, “Sir” after that.

Miles asks if he’s under arrest, and Illyan says that’s what they will be determining.  Rumours are spreading all over the Service, and mutating; Illyan wonders why Miles couldn’t have just tried to kill the Emperor or something instead.  He asks how Miles could have betrayed his father’s hopes, and Miles says that he doesn’t think he did.

Aral himself enters just then, and tells Illyan that he’s not officially there, so Illyan turns off his recorder.  Illyan asks Miles what really happened on Kyril Island, and Miles sums up the previous night’s events for them.  Aral is outraged at Metzov using trainees for his firing squad, jumping the chain of command and perhaps ruining the boys forever, and he assures Miles that Metzov will not escape his wrath.  Miles and mutineers will have to be dealt with separately, though.  Miles tells them that the mutineers were techs, and mostly Greeks, which of course would have inflamed the cultural minority if they had been killed, and might still; he said that one reason he interposed himself was that thereby he would prove it couldn’t all be blamed on the high Vor.

Miles asks if he’ll be arrest for high treason again, and Illyan says no, they’ll just have to hide him somewhere, other than Kyril Island, of course.  Miles says that he can’t ask for better treatment than the mutineers get, and Aral agrees to have their charges quashed, but with a price.  Miles would have to resign his commission, since this incident would poison any relationship he’d ever have with a commanding officer, not to mention any trust people might have that he was a regular officer and not someone untouchable with special privileges.  Miles, though sick at heart, agrees to pay the price, since the techs were, in some weird way, his men.

Illyan suddenly asks about an earlier comment of Miles about Metzov’s behaviour in the Komarr Revolt, which of course was sealed to ImpSec.  Miles tells him, with some embarrassment, about how he was able to get access to the files using Ivan and the facing screens.

“Perfect security,” said Count Vorkosigan in a choked voice. Chortling, Miles realized in startlement.

Illyan looked like a man sucking on a lemon. “How did you,” Illyan began, stopped to glare at the Count, started again, “how did you figure this out?”

“It was obvious.”

“Airtight security, you said,” murmured Count Vorkosigan, unsuccessfully suppressing a wheezing laugh. “The most expensive yet devised. Proof against the cleverest viruses, the most sophisticated eavesdropping equipment. And two ensigns waft right through it?”

Goaded, Illyan snapped, “I didn’t promise it was idiot-proof!”

Illyan tells Miles that, with this, house arrest is no longer enough–he won’t feel safe until Miles is “locked in a cell with hands tied behind his back”.  Aral notes that since ImpSec will need to keep an eye on Miles, for his own safety–and everyone else’s, Illyan adds–he should just be assigned there.  Miles says it wasn’t on his list of assignment choices, and Aral tells him that Major Cecil thought he showed major aptitude nonetheless.  Illyan reminds Aral that no commander in the Service will want Miles as an underling, and that Illyan himself is no exception.  Aral reminds Illyan that Illyan has one difference–Aral can lean on him to make him take Miles anyway.  It will look right, the transfer, a kind of internal exile, without the disgrace of actual resignation.  And Security does need Miles’s talents, to help preserve the Emperor’s honour as well as his life.  Illyan acquiesces with bad grace, and Aral tells Miles he needs an infirmary and leads him off to find one.

“Other than that, how was Kyril Island, Ensign Vorkosigan?” inquired the Count. “You didn’t vid home much, your mother noticed.”

“I was busy. Lessee. The climate was ferocious, the terrain was lethal, a third of the population including my immediate superior was dead drunk most of the time. The average IQ equalled the mean temperature in degrees cee, there wasn’t a woman for five hundred kilometers in any direction, and the base commander was a homicidal psychotic. Other than that, it was lovely.”

Aral says it doesn’t sound like it’s changed in twenty-five years; he tells Miles that he spent his own period of disgrace and exile there when his career was in eclipse, before becoming Captain of the ­General Vorkraft.  He admits that he coped with it mostly by drinking.  Miles asks his father if he did the right thing; Aral says he did a right thing, possibly not the best, but he makes it a practice never to second-guess the decisions of the man on the spot.

Aral takes Miles to an infirmary in ImpSec itself, small but adequate, where they are soon attended upon by a Security surgeon.  The doctor seems daunted by Aral, and Miles wonders why he isn’t affected that way; he must be acclimatized.

The former Lord Regent was the man who used to take a two-hour lunch every day, regardless of any crisis short of war, and disappear into his Residence. Only Miles knew the interior view of those hours, how the big man in the green uniform would bolt a sandwich in five minutes and then spend the next hour and a half down on the floor with his son who could not walk, playing, talking, reading aloud. Sometimes, when Miles was locked in hysterical resistance to some painful new physical therapy, daunting his mother and even Sergeant Bothari, his father had been the only one with the firmness to insist on those ten extra agonizing leg stretches, the polite submission to the hypospray, to another round of surgery, to the icy chemicals searing his veins. “You are Vor. You must not frighten your liege people with this show of uncontrol, Lord Miles.” The pungent smell of this infirmary, the tense doctor, brought back a flood of memories. No wonder, Miles reflected, he had failed to be afraid enough of Metzov. When Count Vorkosigan left, the infirmary seemed altogether empty.

Miles stays in the infirmary for a week, healing not only his frostbitten extremities but an incipient case of pneumonia requiring six days of antibiotics.  He’s the only patient for that period.  Miles complains to his mother, when she visits, about how he’s not quite under arrest but not quite free to leave either, just in limbo.  He wonders to himself why he never wants to be a ship captain like his mother, the daring Betan wormhole explorer.  She tells him that the other mutineers are being discharged, not dishonourably but without benefits, and so is Metzov.  Miles himself is listed as under indefinite detention by ImpSec.  Cordelia tells him he will stay in limbo long enough to convince the hardliners that he’s been sufficiently punished; Count Vorkosigan will be publicly angry with him and thus won’t be visiting again anytime soon.  She asks Miles if he’s ready yet to consider another career, another way of serving.

That evening Miles tries to call Ivan, but Ivan doesn’t want any “limbo” to rub off on him and hangs up.

Comments

So now we know how Miles got sidelined into ImpSec instead of keeping his nose clean and ending up with ship duty.  In chapters like this one I remember how The Vor Game was written after several chronologically-later books–by Brothers In Arms, for instance, we know he’s working for ImpSec.  How much of this did Bujold know by that point?  That’s always the question.  Did she only know that he got himself in trouble somehow and ended up in ImpSec as a penance?  Or did she try to get him in there willingly and end up realizing it just didn’t work?  Or was Kyril Island her plan the whole time?

It’s a nice footnote that Aral spent time there too, and it makes perfect sense although it never came up in, say, Shards of Honour.  It’s nice to leave enough gaps in your timelines, whether for characters or nations or planets, that you can insert things like that, unconsidered when you first conceived the timeline, without contradicting anything else you’ve already said.  As long as it doesn’t turn into leaving enough gaps for anything that may happen to be useful in your current book, like adding a skill they never needed before…  That makes me wonder if any of those plumbing scenes were in books written before this one.

Miles’s relationship to Simon Illyan is a little odd; he still seems daunted by him, if not scared, despite the fact that he’s more resistant to the influence of so many of his father’s other colleagues.  Illyan’s reputation must be very effective, despite the fact that neither of Miles’s parents are affected by it.  This is a theme that we’ll revisit, to powerful effect, in Memory.  (I am so looking forward to that, it’s not even funny.  Seriously, it’s possibly her best novel.  You’re gonna love it, but we have to get through the others first, or it won’t have the same effect…)

Lt. Bonn’s fate kind of sucks, and I suspect we don’t know whatever happened to him.  He probably never joined the Dendarii Mercenaries or the Vorkosigan household, so.  He deserves better than Metzov, and we never know if he got it or not…

Also: Security surgeon at ImpSec, no name.


And that’s all for this week. Next week we move past “The Weatherman” and into The Vor Game proper, which as I recall is one of the slower parts of the book.  So there’s that to look forward to, at least.  And I could be wrong–things may have picked up already by the end of Chapter Eight.  I guess you’ll have to wait until next week to find out, unless, of course, you have your own copy of the book or something…

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