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If all you wanted for Christmas (or something other than Christmas) was the final installment of The Warrior’s Apprentice on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, then you’re in luck this year, because here it is.  This week we shall cover the final chapter plus the epilogue, as some plot threads and character arcs get tied off, some of them predating this book entirely.  Also, Ms. Bujold (that’s Lois McMaster Bujold, the author of the series, in case I haven’t mentioned) makes me well up not once but twice.

Chapter Twenty-One

Miles and Ivan fly over Vorbarr Sultana in a lightflyer, approaching Vorhartung Castle.  Ivan notes that all the Counts seem to be present, judging by the banners he can see, including the Emperor’s.  Miles notes the security men with their guns trained on the flyer, and carefully sets it down outside the castle walls.

“Y’know,” said Ivan thoughtfully. “We’re going to look a pair of damn fools busting in there if it turns out they’re all having a debate on water rights or something.”

“That thought has crossed my mind,” Miles admitted. “It was a calculated risk, landing in secret. Well, we’ve both been fools before. There won’t be anything new or startling in it.”

Miles begins to feel a paralyzing funk, and has a glimmer of what Baz Jesek felt before he deserted.  Ivan chivvies him until he gets out of the lightflyer, and they head up to the castle.  Miles introduces himself to some guards and says the Emperor has summoned him; they are skeptical until one of them recognizes him.  As they are escorted in, Miles can hear Count Vordrozda speaking inside the chamber; one of the guards tells him this has been going on for a week, and they are into the final summing-up.  Miles hears Admiral Hessman’s voice too, which is odd in a hearing sealed to the Counts alone.

“. . . If our illustrious Prime Minister knew nothing of this plot, then let him produce this ‘missing’ nephew,” Vordrozda’s voice was heavy with sarcasm. “He says he cannot. And why not? I submit it is because Lord Vorpatril was dispatched with a secret message. What message? Obviously, some variation of ‘Fly for your life—all is revealed!’ I ask you—is it reasonable that a plot of this magnitude could have been advanced so far by a son with no knowledge by his father? Where did those missing 275,000 marks, whose fate he so adamantly refuses to disclose, go but to secretly finance the operation? These repeated requests for delays are simply smokescreen. If Lord Vorkosigan is so innocent, why is he not here?” Vordrozda paused dramatically.

Ivan tugged Miles’s sleeve. “Come on. You’ll never get a better straight line than that if you wait all day.”

Miles enters the room, seeing Vordrozda in the speaker’s circle, Hessman on the witness bench, and the Emperor and many others in their service uniforms.  Miles is conscious of the drabness of his own outfit in comparison.  Miles asks Vordrozda and Hessman to answer their own question.  He watches for his father’s reaction, conscious of how old his father looks; Aral sees Ivan and is startled into asking where he’s been.  Ivan says Hessman had sent him to look for Miles, but that wasn’t what he’d really wanted.  Miles tells the assembled Counts that his invitation to attend got lost, as Ivan can attest; Gregor looks askance at Vordrozda, and Aral smiles in sudden enlightenment.

Vordrozda seems to be annoyed with Hessman, and Miles realizes he must capitalize quickly on the rift before it closes up.  He accuses Hessman of sabotaging Dimir’s ship and attempting to murder Ivan along with the others.  Vordrozda says the charges belong in military court, and Miles points out that then Hessman would have to face them alone, without his co-conspirator Vordrozda.  He asks Hessman whether he thinks Vordrozda would really substantiate any claims that Hessman’s actions were at Vordrozda’s order.  As Miles badgers Vordrozda about his connection with Hessman, Hessman stands up and admits that Vordrozda had first talked to him about Miles back at Winterfair.

Vordrozda yells at Hessman to shut up, pulling out a needler pistol from his robes and aiming it at Hessman before realizing what he’d done by pulling a weapon in the presence of the Emperor.  Dozens of military men from among the Counts instantly move to take down Vordrozda and protect the Emperor, Ivan first among them.

After Vordrozda and Hessman are arrested and led out of the chamber, Miles faces the Emperor.  The Emperor declares an hour recess to examine new testimony, summoning Aral and Miles as well as Lord Vorhalas and Lord Vorvolk for witnesses.  Henri Vorvolk is a personal friend of Gregor’s, but Lord Vorhalas is a longtime enemy of Aral’s, ever since Aral had to execute his sons, one of them for the soltoxin attack that crippled Miles in the womb.  Miles wonders if Vorhalas was connected to the conspiracy to destroy him, in revenge, but decides that Vorhalas has more honour than that in his antagonism.

Aral asks Miles what happened, telling him that Illyan is in prison as part of the conspiracy, so his reports haven’t been getting through.  Gregor points out that the question is whether Illyan served Aral or the Emperor.  Aral asserts that all who serve him serve the Emperor through him, and Illyan has served faithfully all this time.

Miles tells the story in full, starting with his meeting with Arde Mayhew, deciding after a brief hesitation to include Baz Jesek’s name as well.  The only thing he does omit is Elena Visconti’s story of Prince Serg’s depravities.  As he is winding down, he remembers the antacid he needs to drink, and has some, offering his father a swig when he asks (which he accepts).  Ivan supports the parts of Miles’s story that he witnessed himself, and Miles explains his plan to surprise his accusers by arriving in secret.  Gregor seems unhappy at the revelations about Vordrozda, his new advisor.  He asks Miles why he raised the Dendarii, if not for treasonous purposes.

“My liege.” Miles lowered his voice. “When we played together in the Imperial Residence in the winters, when did I ever demand any part except that of Vorthalia the loyal? You know me—how could you doubt? The Dendarii Mercenaries were an accident. I didn’t plan them—they just happened, in the course of scrambling from crisis to crisis. I only wanted to serve Barrayar, as my father before me. When I couldn’t serve Barrayar, I wanted—I wanted to serve something. To—” he raised his eyes to his father’s, driven to a painful honesty, “to make my life an offering fit to lay at his feet.” He shrugged. “Screwed up again.”

“Clay, boy.” Count Vorkosigan’s voice was hoarse but clear. “Only clay. Not fit to receive so golden a sacrifice.” His voice cracked.

Gregor says he is unhappy to have come so close to dispensing injustice, and asks the witnesses if they are satisfied that the charges of treason are unproven.  Vorvolk agrees, and so does Vorhalas, but he also asks about the original charge of violating Vorloupulous’s Law.  Vorvolk asks who would dare bring such a charge, and Aral says that a man devoted to justice, with nothing to lose, might do so.  Vorhalas asks Aral to beg for his son’s life, and Aral does so on his knees with no compunctions; Vorhalas throws his begging back in his face.

Miles points out to Vorhalas that he would have to face Cordelia with the same accusation.  Vorhalas asks if she can’t understand the desire for vengeance, looking at what happened to her son.

“Mother,” said Miles, “calls it my great gift. Tests are a gift, she says, and great tests are a great gift. Of course,” he added thoughtfully, “it’s widely agreed my mother is a bit strange . . .” He trapped Vorhalas’s gaze direct. “What do you propose to do with your gift, Count Vorhalas?”

Vorhalas, somewhat deflated, grumbles that he’s not a saint, and Gregor points out that it does him no good if his loyal servants are at odds.  Vorhalas subsides, waving Aral away, and asks what they are to do about the Dendarii Mercenaries.  Gregor asks Miles if they’re likely to go away on their own, but Miles says that they seemed rather to be thriving.  Gregor ponders, noting that he doesn’t dare change Vorloupulous’s Law, wondering if he can change the context like Miles did to break his blockade.

Miles suggests that the Emperor take the Dendarii for his own, declare them a Crown Troop, if only as a legal fiction, and privately, so that the Dendarii don’t know who they are currently working for.  He adds that they could be added to Illyan’s Imperial Security, since a mercenary fleet would probably prove quite useful to them somehow.  They agree that this is an eminently suitable solution, Vorhalas grudgingly, though he asks what they should do with Miles.  Aral agrees that Miles should be kept in line, perhaps in some sort of discipline, perhaps in the Imperial Service Academy, much to Miles’s shock and delight.  Aral asks Miles if he can go back to being a student, and a subordinate, after promoting himself to Admiral.

Count Vorhalas raised skeptical brows. “What sort of ensign do you think he will make, Admiral Vorkosigan?”

“I think he will make a terrible ensign,” said Count Vorkosigan frankly. “But if he can avoid being strangled by his harried superiors for—er—excessive initiative, I think he might be a fine General Staff officer someday.”

Two days later, Miles is acquitted of all charges, not least because Gregor, who as Count Vorbarra had a vote but usually abstained, voted for the acquittal.  Only Vorhalas abstained.

Later, at Vorkosigan Surleau, Miles digs Bothari’s grave himself, with a shovel, his hands soon bleeding.  His mother points out that it would be quicker with a plasma arc, but Miles quotes Bothari that “Blood washes away sin”.  She says no more, watching as he finishes digging, lowers the float pallet with the coffin, and fills the grave in.  He prepares the bowl for the burnt sacrifices, including Elena Visconti’s hair and his own; Cordelia supplies some of hers and Aral’s.

“I’m afraid I made a most improper Baba,” he whispered in apology. “I never meant to mock you. But Baz loves her, he’ll take good care of her . . . My word was too easy to give, too hard to keep. But there. There.” He added flakes of aromatic bark. “You shall lie warm here, watching the long lake change its faces, winter to spring, summer to fall. No armies march here, and even the deepest midnights aren’t wholly dark. Surely God won’t overlook you, in such a spot as this. There will be grace and forgiveness enough, old dog, even for you.” He lit the offering. “I pray you will spare me a drink from that cup, when it overflows for you.”

Comments

Two highly moving moments, the ceremony at the end, of course, but also Aral’s “feet of clay” line.  *sniff*

Miles’s entrance into the Counts’ Chamber is almost Matlockian, the sudden arrival of the witnesses with new evidence, stampeding one of the bad guys into a confession…  But it does ring true.  If Hessman hadn’t turned on Vordrozda, then Vordrozda would have had nothing to gain (except keeping his honour) by substantiating anything Hessman accused him of.  So if you buy that Vordrozda is willing to compromise his honour to save his own skin, and Hessman buys it, and Hessman is sure that Ivan’s testimony will convict him, then he has nothing to gain by keeping his mouth shut.  Of course, Vordrozda condemned himself by pulling out his gun, which was an appalling loss of control on his part, so I guess you’d have to buy that Miles had rattled him enough to forget where he was, and to be desperate enough to want to kill his co-conspirator.  On the other hand, if Hessman had been provoked into drawing a weapon, then maybe Vordrozda could have taken him out without as much suspicion.  Except for the whole “carrying weapons into the presence of the Emperor” thing.  Why had Vordrozda taken that risk?  Was he allowed, as a Count, as long as he didn’t draw it?  Not sure if that’s quite clear.  If he wasn’t allowed, then why did he do it?

The scene with Vorhalas was a fair resolution of the plot thread left over from Barrayar.  Obviously Vorhalas would have been an implacable foe of Aral’s after the executions of his sons, but if he was honourable, he’d have to wait for an opportunity to take advantage of, rather than making his own.  I suppose that Vordrozda did the same, but less scrupulously, presumably once he’d heard about Miles’s adventures, but he had been actively pumping Hessman for intelligence on Miles’s activities.  Vorhalas wouldn’t push on the false treason charge, but was happy enough to want to use Vorloupulous’s Law (boy, am I tired of typing that–I think I’ve been misspelling it, too) to engineer Miles’s death and bring the same kind of pain to Aral.  He could withstand Aral’s pleading, as Aral had done his own, but Miles and Gregor wore him down.

Epilogue

The emergency docking drill was called in the middle of the night cycle, naturally. He’d probably have timed it that way himself, Miles thought, as he scrambled through the corridors of the orbital weapons platform with his fellow cadets. This four-week stint of orbital and free-fall training was due to end tomorrow for his group, and the instructors hadn’t pulled anything nasty for at least four days. Not for him the galloping anticipation of upcoming leave planetside that had formed the bulk of the conversation in the officer’s mess last night. He had sat quietly, meditating on all the marvelous possibilities for a grand finale.

His partner for the drill is Kostolitz, who comments disdainfully on Miles’s knife.  Miles contemplates how to deal with Kostolitz and his class-consciousness, something he’ll have to deal with throughout his career.  Kostolitz wears a green armband, which the instructors use to designate someone who they judge would have been injured in a real-life situation; yellow armbands indicate death in the same way.  Ivan has two greens and a yellow, and another cadet has give yellows, but Miles himself has no armbands at all.  Some cadets want to team with him as a good luck charm, but others avoid him as they realize the instructors are beginning to target him.  Miles happily anticipates something sneaky on the part of the instructors in this drill.

Miles and Kostolitz begin inspecting the shuttle, each taking a side.  Kostolitz hastily counts the breath-masks, while Miles carefully examines a first-aid kit, finishing more slowly.  Miles pretends to have lost his light-pen, and when the instructor takes out his, Miles spots three breath masks in his pocket.  The two cadets take their seats and Kostolitz begins piloting the shuttle to its designated position.

A sudden loud noise announces the challenge of a coolant leak spilling gas into the cabin.  Kostolitz dives for the breath masks, but Miles takes the controls instead and sets the shuttle to spinning, leaving the heavier coolant gas to pool against the aft bulkhead.  Kostolitz rejects one breath mask, clearly out of oxygen, then another, as Miles heads for the first-aid kit instead.  As Kostolitz realizes that the masks are all exhausted, Miles takes some IV tubing from the kit, splices them together with his knife and surgical tape, then attaches it to the emergency oxygen canister.  The instructor takes one breathing tube, and Kostolitz returns to take another.  Miles left himself the only long section of the tube, so the other two are forced to sit at the control panel while he goes to turn the emergency shutoff valve.

The panel door on which he rested his weight gave way with a sudden crack, and he swung out over the evilly heaving green gas. The oxygen tube ripped from his mouth and flapped around wildly. He was saved from yelping only by the fact that he was holding his breath. The instructor, forward, lurched futilely, tied to his air supply. But by the time he’d fumbled his pocket open, Miles had swallowed, achieved a more secure grip on the wall, and recovered his tube in a heart-stopping grab. Try again. He turned the valve, hard, and the hissing from the hole in the wall a meter astern of him faded to an elfin moan, then stopped.

Miles returns to his seat as the fans clear the last of the coolant gas and Kostolitz pilots the shuttle back to dock.  The chief instructor is waiting with two yellow armbands, and is disappointed and intrigued when the instructor from the shuttle indicates they won’t be needed.  Kostolitz comments the knife was handy, and Miles says they can be more useful than a plasma arc when you’re surrounded by inflammable gas.  Seeing an opportunity, Miles tells Kostolitz about a place where he can buy a good quality blade, and offers to take him there when they’re back planetside.

Comments

Miles is already becoming a target for his superiors, as they try to catch him up.  As they will realize, you can’t catch him out, apparently, on anything requiring any sort of problem-solving skill–only his body, or his sense of honour, will betray him.  Is it implausible for him to be so incredibly capable?  Well, of course he has his physical limitations–being barely able to reach the shuttle foot-controls, for instance–but apparently his mind is so highly developed that he more than compensates for it.  Of course, having established this fact, Bujold has to keep him from just brute-thinking his way out of every situation…that may have been one of the problems with Cryoburn, actually.

Having closed off so many other character arcs in the book, Bujold also decided to return to Kostolitz in the epilogue.  It could have been any other cadet, of course, even Ivan, perhaps, but adding Kostolitz gives him a chance to deal with someone less sympathetic to him.  Of course, Miles himself doesn’t have much of a problem with class consciousness, but of course he has to get along with others who may.

Closing Comments

All in all, a pretty good book, much different in mood, overall, from the two Cordelia books.  That’s only to be expected, because Cordelia and Miles are very different characters.  While Miles does have his dark moments, he tends to solve his problems by thinking and talking at them, so he’s very bipolar that way.  His adventure is more outlandish and fun, overall, with plenty of humour and wit.

The biggest problem with the story is that its two pieces don’t fit as well together as they could.  The return to Barrayar at the end feels a little bit forced and rushed.  The foreshadowing of Vorloupulous’s Law sticks out a bit, and the fact that Miles doesn’t think of it until near the end is fairly implausible.  I can see that Bujold didn’t want to sever Miles’s ties to Barrayar just yet, but somehow she snaps him back a bit fast.  If she’d had the leeway for extra word count that today’s thicker books allow, would the transitions have been less abrupt?  Perhaps, but it’s hard to second-guess these things, no matter how we try.

From the afterword in the Young Miles omnibus, I discovered that the title was supposed to be a reference to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, except…as a mercenary instead of a wizard?  So it’s about how Miles’s attempts to fix matters leads them to ballooning further and further out of control.  I guess that makes sense, but I’m still not comfortable with it, because I still want to know, who’s he apprenticed to?  I’ve never been that keen on The Vor Game as a title either…Shards of Honour is good, the planet titles are okay…I suppose Mirror Dance would be my favourite title that way, because it matches the book on so many levels.


After the Christmas break, I’ll return with “The Mountains of Mourning”.  Since it doesn’t have chapter breaks, I still haven’t decided if I’ll do it all at once, or if I’ll have to subdivide it some other way.  (Makes me glad I’m not doing a reread of Mr. Terry “I don’t believe in chapter breaks” Pratchett…)  So I’ll see you all back here on January 3rd, 2012, for the next bit of Miles Vorkosigan’s career.

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Coming to you a little earlier than usual this week (because I have tickets to see Prince tonight) is another episode of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which, for the uninitiated, is a reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, following the exploits of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, for the most part.  In Part 10 of the reread of The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first proper book of Miles’s adventures, I will be covering chapters Nineteen and Twenty of the book, which takes us almost to the end.

In honour of the occasion, I was going to try to work a whole bunch of Prince song titles into this introduction, but I decided not to go crazy, kill any doves, or incite controversy, so you’re on your own there.

Chapter Nineteen

Miles finds Elena and Baz in the Triumph‘s mess hall and tells them he’s reconsidered, and offers them his blessing on their marriage.  While Elena is initially dubious, Miles promises to follow the forms, with a little ingenuity.  First he takes the role of Baz’s liege-lord, and Baz, taking his cue, asks for his permission to wed.  Miles then takes the role of the Baba, hobbling over to Elena as an arthritic old woman, and play-acting an exchange between Baz’s liege-lord (Miles) and Elena’s ward (also Miles).  Baz and even Elena are duly amused as Miles performs the pantomime, until he finishes, collapses into a chair and pronounces them betrothed.

He suggests that they get married right away, if they can, because he wants to be at the wedding and he’s leaving the next day.  Baz and Elena are shocked; Miles tells them only that he needs to deal with Calhoun, and see Bothari buried.  Baz protests that Miles is needed to run the Dendarii, and Miles promptly appoints Baz the commander, Elena his executive officer and apprentice, and Tung as their chief of staff.  He convinces Baz that he’s capable of doing it, and is deliberately vague on when he will be back.  As a last instruction, he tells Baz to leave Tau Verde and find a better contract, somewhere away from Barrayar.

Next, he seeks out Elena Visconti.  Visconti is resistant to the idea of getting to know Elena, but Miles says that this will be her last opportunity, since soon the short-contract Dendarii will be let off at Dalton Station to make their own way home.  Miles says that surely Elena is innocent of Bothari’s sins, but Visconti says that she brings back the nightmares.  Miles offers to pay her to do some acting, for Elena’s benefit, to give her some good memories; Visconti is repulsed, but admits that Miles does seem to care for Elena, even if she’s with Baz instead.

Miles begins to tell Visconti how Bothari had dreamed of her, making her a wife in his head, which she finds even more disturbing.  Miles gets down on his knee and begs for her forgiveness, in Bothari’s name, for at least a death-offering.

“What do you want from me? What’s a death-offering?”

“Something of yourself, that you burn, for the peace of the soul of the dead. Sometimes you burn it for friends or relatives, sometimes for the souls of slain enemies, so they don’t come back to haunt you. A lock of hair would do.” He ran his hand over a short gap in his own crown. “That wedge represents twenty-two dead Pelians last month.”

Visconti gives in and cuts off a small lock of her hair, which Miles wraps up in a cloth.  He promises not to bother her again, but Visconti tells him that he’ll likely bother her for some time.

Next up is Arde Mayhew; Miles tells him that they are selling the RG-132 for an in-system freighter, and he’ll split the price with Mayhew.  He asks Mayhew about his plans, gently diverting him from coming back to Barrayar as his armsman.  Mayhew doesn’t think much of retraining as a shuttle pilot or tech, being that close to ships without piloting them.  Miles points out that there may still be some unaccounted-for RG-132 freighters out there, possibly with intact Necklin Rods, and he promises that he will authorize Baz to acquire them if they are found.  He inspires Mayhew with the idea of the quest.

“That’s the spirit! Forward momentum.”

Mayhew snorted. “Your forward momentum is going to lead all your followers over a cliff someday.” He paused, beginning to grin. “On the way down, you’ll convince ’em all they can fly.” He stuck his fists in his armpits, and waggled his elbows. “Lead on, my lord. I’m flapping as hard as I can.”

The next day, the departing passengers assemble in the docking bay.  Bothari’s coffin is loaded onto the fast courier, a loan from the Felicians, to the puzzlement of General Halify.  Ivan appears, a little unsteady, remarking favourably on the previous night’s wedding party.  To Ivan’s disappointment, the only woman accompanying them is Elli Quinn, nearly faceless, her head covered with unmarked skin except for mouth, nose-holes, and ear-holes.  Miles has a flask of stomach medicine which he promises the doctor to drink from regularly.

Miles’s hopes to leave quietly are dashed when Elena and Baz appear; Elena thanks him for a gift she never expected to receive–herself.  As Elena releases him from a farewell hug, the crowd of Dendarii come to watch the departure has grown too large to be ignored.  After calls for “Naismith”, he is hoisted on Baz and Elena’s shoulders to make a speech.

“As you can see, I am high because you all have raised me up,” he began, pitching his voice to carry to the last and least. A gratified chuckle ran through them. “You have raised me up on your courage, tenacity, obedience, and other soldierly virtues,” that was it, stroke them, they were eating it up—although surely he owed as much to their confusion, bad-tempered rivalry, greed, ambition, indolence, and gullibility—pass on, pass on—”I can do no less than to raise you up in return. I hereby revoke your provisional status, and declare you a permanent arm of the Dendarii Mercenaries.”

He informs them that Commodore Baz Jesek will be in command, and will not desert them.  As they set Miles down, Baz asks him which Barrayaran house he serves.  Surprised that Elena hasn’t told him already, Miles tells him the livery is brown and silver; Baz is stunned as he works it out in his head.  The last thing he sees before boarding the shuttle is Elena Visconti heading to her daughter’s side.

Ivan express his envy at Miles’s treatment; Miles says he’d like it better if his name were really Naismith.  Ivan continues to try complimenting Miles on what he’s achieved, but Miles says he didn’t want the fleet, and he hates Ivan to think he was “playing soldiers”, wasting days doing nothing while Aral was being ganged up on back on Barrayar.  Ivan asks what he’s going to do when they get home, and Miles says he’s still thinking.

Comments

I guess one reason to send Miles back to Barrayar is to give him the chance to cut loose from the Dendarii, and cut them loose from him.  He grants Baz his independence, makes his peace with Elena marrying Baz, tries to reunite Elena with her mother, and tries to give Mayhew hope again.  If he’d stayed there, he might have been able to put off doing these things, but his deadline, upon learning of his father’s danger, gives him the impetus to clear them all away.

I was tempted to quote more of the Miles baba scene, but you’re just going to have to get your own copy.  I always get it mixed up with Cordelia’s baba scene in Barrayar, and I always remember it being longer than it really is, but it’s still pretty funny.  Miles has the classic “class clown” instincts, to defuse tense situations with humour, or try to, and is less afraid of personal humiliation than many other fates.

In the departure scene, Miles refers to Baz and Elena as “Commodore Jesek” and “Commander Jesek”, and then comments on how confusing that is.  I wonder if that’s why, in later books, Elena is always referred to as “Elena Bothari-Jesek”.  Or did she change her mind for other reasons–for example, coming to terms with her father’s name.  I could see a desire to leave it behind her being part of her desire to marry Baz, but as time goes by she must be able to look past Bothari’s monstrous past and remember the father he was to her.  Same with Visconti, who seems to be at least slightly reconciled to her daughter in later books.  The central issue, of course, is redemption–what kind of crime is too great to be expiated, and what kind of expiation is great enough for a horrific crime?  Miles, as one of the greatest beneficiaries of Bothari’s penance (as well as Aral and Cordelia, of course) is better placed than many to see both sides of the man.

Ivan’s role in this chapter is mostly to be insensitive, to serve as a contrast to Miles’s conscientious and sympathetic nature.  Bit of a pity, but I guess he acts more like a teenager than Miles does, especially given his upbringing, trying to rebel against his mother and her future plans for him.  It takes him a while longer to come into his own, sadly.

Chapter Twenty

Back on Beta Colony, Miles is disguised as a pilot as they approach his grandmother’s underground apartment building.  HIs real identity would have entangled him with both the Betan legal system and the Barrayaran embassy, so he’d rather remain incognito.  Guiding Elli Quinn by voice, he is startled to see Tav Calhoun lying in wait in the lift tube.

Calhoun grabs Miles and asks what happened to his ship; Miles tells him about the damage to the Necklin rods, but offers him the money to pay it off.

 Calhoun’s hold did not slacken. “I wouldn’t touch your money with a hand-tractor!” he growled. “I’ve been given the royal run-around, lied to, followed, had my comconsole tapped, had Barrayaran agents questioning my employees, my girlfriend, her wife—I found out about that damned worthless hot land, by the way, you little mutant—I want blood. You’re going to therapy, because I’m calling Security right now!”

Calhoun heads for the comconsole to log Miles’s citizen’s arrest, as Miles asks Ivan for help.  Calhoun easily dodges Miles, but Elli Quinn trips him up and then throws him across the foyer and puts him in an armlock.  Ivan takes over the hold, asking Elli admiringly how she did that, and Elli mumbles that she used to practice fighting blindfolded.  They drag Calhoun to a janitor’s closet on the second floor, tie him up with wire, and stuff money in his clothing to pay off the ship.

Ivan scratched his head. “Y’know, there’s something backwards about this. . . .”

Calhoun was rolling his eyes and moaning urgently. Miles ungagged him for a moment.

“—plus ten percent!” Calhoun panted.

Grandmother Naismith greets Miles in relief that Captain Dimir had found him.  Miles introduces Elli Quinn as an offworlder in need of help, and Mrs. Naismith expresses willingness to help another of her grandson’s “strays”.  She asks why Miles didn’t go to the embassy first, and where Bothari and Elena are.  Miles tells her that Bothari died and Elena stayed behind, and that because of Barrayaran politics he doesn’t want to approach the embassy just yet.

Mrs. Naismith tells them that the charge against Miles has been changed from Vorloupolous’s Law to treason, attempting to usurp the throne.  She adds that Aral has apparently been trying to goad Vordrozda to the greater charge, which Miles realizes is clever, since he’s not guilty of that one.  Miles says he really only needs to show up to disprove it, though Ivan points out that Vordrozda probably has enough votes sewn up regardless of any evidence.  Miles says he thinks that Ivan is the key to it, especially since Hessman and Vordrozda think Ivan’s dead, though Miles doesn’t quite know how yet.  He says that after the betrayal of Dimir, he doesn’t trust the embassy staff either.

“Miles, your mind is crookeder than your bac—I mean—anyway, are you sure you’re not catching Bothari’s disease?” said Ivan. “You’re making me feel like I’ve got a bull’s-eye painted on my back.”

Miles grinned, feeling bizarrely exhilarated. “Wakes you up, doesn’t it?” It seemed to him he could hear the gates of reason clicking over in his own brain, cascading faster and faster. His voice took on a faraway tone. “You know, if you’re trying to take a roomful of people by surprise, it’s a lot easier to hit your targets if you don’t yell going through the door.”

They dump out the rest of the money they brought, paying Mrs. Naismith back for her investment and appointing her to distribute the rest of the necessary reimbursements.  After giving her the money to pay for Elli’s new face, he has a little left over.

Ivan snickered. “By God, Miles, you’ve made a profit. I think you’re the first Vorkosigan to do so in five generations. Must be that bad Betan blood.”

Miles tells Ivan how his father gave away 275,000 Barrayaran marks when he left the regency, just to avoid having made any money out of the office; they secretly gave most of it to charity.

As they leave, Miles tells his grandmother to wait a day before contacting the Barrayaran Embassy, and also to perhaps check on the closet where they tied up Calhoun.  At the last minute, Miles presses the leftover money into Elli’s hand as a combat bonus.

Comments

A brief chapter, tying up some loose ends from Beta Colony, the highlight of course being the forcible repayment of Tav Calhoun.  There’s very little not to like about that scene, unless of course somehow Calhoun has managed to earn your sympathy.  I also like the unexpected reapparance of the “don’t yell going through the door” rule, one of those things that makes me cackle with glee at the backward reference.  Speaking of which, the 275,000 marks is a bit of a forward reference, since it comes up in the next chapter as well…

Elli Quinn doesn’t get the longest shrift this book–apart from her questions in the meeting back on Auson’s ship, what she mostly manages to do is get her face burned off.  So it’s nice to see her competence in this chapter, under admittedly awful conditions, though also against an admittedly low-caliber opponent.  (Though apparently better than Ivan…)  That’s about the only clue to her prominence in later books, though her starring role in Ethan of Athos is a much bigger indication, especially since Ethan was the next book she wrote…


The big finale to go–okay, I guess it is still a climax–and the epilogue, and that’s it.  Should be worth coming back for…

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This is Part 9, being the ninth part of The Warrior’s Apprentice in the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This part, the ninth, of the Apprentice of the Warrior, contains two chapters, those chapters being the Seventeenth and Eighteen Chapters, which number two in the counting thereof.  The author of this book, this saga, but not this post, Lois McMaster Bujold, wrote the book about a Warrior who supposedly had an Apprentice.  I’m going to tell you about them here–not the warrior or his apprentice, since I really have no firm idea who those people are in the context of this book, but the chapters.  Numbered 17 and 18.  In the book.  Which is in the saga.  I hope that’s all clear now.

Chapter Seventeen

Miles drifts in and out of consciousness, visited by Tung and Elena, calling for Bothari, then going into delirium.  Later he would discover that he had an allergic reaction to the sedative.

When he awakens, he sees Ivan Vorpatril by his bedside with Elena, and is disappointed by his new hallucination.  Elena tells him that he should be okay in a couple of weeks; the surgeon did the operation mostly via his throat, including installing a chip on his vagus nerve to keep his stomach from hurting.  Miles is skeptical at her claim that he almost bled to death from his bleeding ulcer, but he swears it’s true.  When Miles founds that he’s been out of three days, he panics over the raid, but Elena tells him everything went fine, and says he should talk to Ivan without the Dendarii around.

He asks Ivan what he’s doing there; Ivan says he’s looking for Miles.  He was with a group sent out with a Captain Dimir of ImpSec, who left a day ahead of him in a fast courier, and he’s surprised that Dimir hasn’t contacted Miles by now.  Ivan got left behind after an assignation with a Betan girl, and hitched a ride with a merchant vessel that dropped him off at the refinery.

Miles asks Ivan to start at the beginning.  Ivan tells him there was a big flap, first that he’d been kidnapped by a deserter, but Cordelia and her mother put that to rest.  After that, information from the military spy in Tau Verde stirred up a lot of people in Vorkosigan House, ImpSec, the Imperial Residence, and the Council of Counts; Ivan wasn’t quite sure why, though there was a rumour about Miles building up his own mercenary fleet, which at the time he’d dismissed.  Miles asks if Ivan ran into Calhoun, and Ivan says he told him Miles was probably in Kshatriya, as far away as he could think of.  Miles says they might as well wait for Dimir, and asks Ivan to keep his mouth shut about Miles’s real identity, then send Elena to fetch Baz.

“Sorry to hear about old Bothari,” Ivan offered when she’d left. “Who’d have thought he could do himself in cleaning weapons after all these years? Still, there’s a bright side—you’ve finally got a chance to make time with Elena, without him breathing down your neck. So it’s not a dead loss.”

Miles exhaled carefully, faint with rage and reminded grief. He does not know, he told himself. He cannot know. . . . “Ivan, one of these days somebody is going to pull out a weapon and plug you, and you’re going to die in bewilderment, crying, ‘What did I say? What did I say?'”

“What did I say?” asked Ivan indignantly.

Baz and Elena return, along with Tung and Auson, and Baz gives Miles some plastic flimsies, transcripts of the conversations between Oser and the Pelians.  Ivan is confused–he knew they were messing with Oser’s payroll, but surely they could just repay?  Miles explains that Baz and his team actually sent Oser an eightfold overpayment, nicely calculated to be too much for the Pelians to let slide, but not enough that Oser would feel obligated to return it.  Auson adds that four Oseran captain-owners have taken their ships and left the system, apparently not planning to return.

Miles congratulates Elena on her successful battle, which had been crucial to the plan.  Tung said that it was the worst boarding battle he’d ever seen, and Elena admits privately to Miles that she didn’t know that it wasn’t supposed to be that bad.  Tung admits that it would have been worse if Elena hadn’t refused to give up, since they wouldn’t have gotten anything for their losses.

Thorne bursts in, excited, telling them at Oser and his fleet have arrived at the refinery, and he’s asking permission to dock his flagship–Tung wonders who’s guarding the wormhole, then?  Miles springs out of bed and calls for his uniform.

Miles meets with Oser in the docking bay; Oser has brought five captains with him, three piloting Oser’s ships and two who own their own.

“Since the day you entered Tau Verde local space, I’ve felt your presence. In the Felicians, in the tactical situation turning under me, in the faces of my own men—” [Oser’s] glance passed over Tung, who smiled sweetly, “even in the Pelians. We have been grappling in the dark, we two, at a distance, long enough.”

Miles briefly wonders if the man is challenging him, but instead Oser says that rather than prolonging the agony, he wants to know if the Dendarii are still looking for recruits; Miles realizes that Oser is surrendering.  Miles leads Oser to a private room to work out the details.

Comments

The reappearance of That-idiot-Ivan is a little unexpected.  Up to this point, you could be forgiven for thinking that Miles was going to eventually cut his ties to Barrayar, and it would be a mere footnote to his career as Admiral of the Dendarii.  But I suppose that Miles’s proposal to Elena shows that he still thinks of Barrayar as home, and even the name of his fleet hearkens back to it.  Elena, of course, doesn’t want to look back, and her opinion of Ivan is not the best, but her recent victory in battle has boosted her confidence enough to point he’s nothing more than an annoyance.

One thing I’ve never quite gotten accustomed to in the books is “plastic flimsies”.  This is, I suppose, a replacement for paper.  Barrayar, having all that wood that Cordelia drooled over, probably wouldn’t need them that much, but I guess on less pastoral planets (like Beta Colony), or on a spaceship, it’d be easier to make sheets out of plastic.  I suppose you could even write on them, given proper implements (Sharpies?), or if they had a texture to absorb ink, and of course your comconsoles could print on them.  Maybe it’s just the name that bothers me–too reminiscent of “floppies”, which would have dated the book horribly if she’d used it.  It’s like naming something based on its worst quality, though I guess it really just implies that they had earlier plastic sheets which were more rigid and probably annoyed everybody when they wouldn’t bend…

Not sure what the vagus nerve thing is really intended to do–the ulcer has been stopped, but surely not noticing the pain would just mean that he wouldn’t notice if it came back.  I notice that while a few years ago it was declared that ulcers were caused by bacteria, full stop, now people are wavering and wondering whether stress might help the bacteria get a foothold in the first place…  I think in some later book it was implied that the vagus nerve thing actually helped with zero-gravity nausea, so it’s doubly confusing.

Chapter Eighteen

Miles surveys the Dendarii fleet, nineteen ships, and close to 3000 personnel, and tries to convince himself that they are his.  The details of Oser’s surrender, though, were more complex than that.  Many of the ships are partly owned by various creditors, including banks on Jackson’s Whole, whose economy was largely based on things illegal everywhere else.  The Ariel and the Triumph, Miles had captured in battle, but Auson had been in debt to Luigi Bharaputra’s company on Jackson’s Whole, who are supposedly sending an investigator.  Furthermore, their contract with Felice, ample for 200, is now insufficient for fifteen times as many, and growing as more recruits turn up from insystem and out.  Some people are even talking of starting up the blockade again, for Felice this time, which Miles thinks is a bad idea.

He hears Elena and Baz approaching, discussing whether to ask Miles about something.  They approach Miles and Baz says that, since Bothari’s death, Miles is now Elena’s guardian, and he asks for Elena’s hand in marriage, as well as asking Miles, as his liege-lord, for permission to marry.  Miles controls his initial flash of jealous rage and spells out the difficulties.  He had sworn to Bothari to marry Elena to a proper Barrayaran officer; Baz points out, dismayed, that as an oathsworn armsman he is surely the equivalent, and Miles tries to backpedal, while Elena asks furiously how he can owe Bothari anything, monster that he was.  Baz tells Elena that maybe they should ask later, and Elena asks him to move off to she can talk to Miles alone.
She tells Miles that she wants a fresh start, away from Barrayar, and Miles tells her how much she means Barrayar to him.

“If Barrayar were my right arm, I’d take a plasma arc and burn it off. Your father and mother knew what he was all the time, and yet they sheltered him. What are they, then?”

“The Sergeant was doing all right—doing well, even, until . . . You were to be his expiation, don’t you see it—”

“What, a sacrifice for his sins? Am I to form myself into the pattern of a perfect Barrayaran maiden like trying to work a magic spell for absolution? I could spend my whole life working out that ritual and not come to the end of it, damn it!”

“Not the sacrifice,” he tried to tell her. “The altar, perhaps.”

Miles says she belongs with him, because they both carry Bothari in them, and it will colour the way both of them see the world.  Elena tells Miles he makes her ill, and stalks off.

Ivan enters then, keeping a careful berth around Elena, and asks Miles if there’s any news about Dimir and the fast courier.  It’s been two weeks, and it bothers both of them that it hasn’t turned up.  Miles wonders if they were suddenly ordered elsewhere, and reassures Ivan that at least he managed to successfully find Miles, which was his original mission.  Ivan admires the fleet, and Miles asks if he wants to join.

Ivan chuckled. “No, thanks. I have no desire to diet for the Emperor. Vorloupulous’s law, y’know.”

They both realize, at the same time, that Miles could be considered in violation of the law against private armies for having raised the Dendarii.  Ivan tries to reassure him that, as mercenaries, they surely don’t count, except for Baz and Mayhew, his sworn armsmen.  He asks curiously about who Baz is, and Miles manages not to mention him being a deserter, wondering if there is really any chance of obtain a pardon for Baz when he returns home.

Considering Ivan, Miles begins to wonder out loud why Ivan was sent on the mission in the first place, as a cadet still in training.  Ivan says that Admiral Hessman gave him the orders in person, in the middle of the night; Miles points out that Hessman is in Procurement, not Security or Intelligence.  He tells Ivan that Hessman is working with Count Vordrozda, which Aral deplores, and also under suspicion of peculation of funds, which Aral wanted to get Illyan to investigate.  Miles also reminds Ivan that he is technically Miles’s heir; Ivan says he hopes he never inherits, not being fond of the Vorkosigan hillfolk.

Miles tries to work out the lines of descent in his head.  Ivan’s heir is Lord Vortaine, but according to Ivan, Vortaine’s on his last legs.  Vortaine only having a daughter to inherit, his titles would go to Count Vordrozda.

Ivan tells Miles that Dimir was getting orders just as he left with his pass, and describes them to Miles.

“It was the damnedest packet. In the first place, it was delivered by an Imperial Household courier in full livery. Lessee, four data discs, one green for Intelligence, two red for Security, one blue for Operations. And the parchment, of course.”

Miles points out that there are very few orders sent out on parchment:  “Imperial edicts, the originals of the official edicts from the Council of Counts and from the Council of Ministers, and certain orders from the Council of Counts to their own members.”  Miles suddenly tells Ivan that he knows what colour the ribbon on the parchment was–black, for an arrest on a capital charge, Miles’s for violation of Vorloupolous’s Law.  He surmises that Dimir’s ship was probably sabotaged, Necklin Rods warped so it would disappear in hyperspace, a fate that Ivan narrowly missed.  Hessman, and whoever else is behind the plot, wanted the parchment to get “accidentally” lost, so that Miles wouldn’t show up to defend himself.  The conviction would break Aral, forcing to either lose his morale as he watched his son die of exposure, or become an outlaw himself in rescuing Miles.  The parchment would mean that they had brought Gregor into the plot somehow.

Ivan wonders why Vordrozda would be helping Hessman.  Hessman would obviously benefit from Miles’s father, who had him under investigation, being taken out of the picture, but what about Vordrozda?  Miles says that Vordrozda has only Ivan–scheduled to be lost in hyperspace–and Vortaine–not long for the world either–between him and Miles’s inheritance.  He also points out that, if the Salic law against inheritance through the female line was put aside, Aral would be Gregor’s heir.  With Aral and Miles out of the way too, that would pass to Vordrozda.

Ivan says that Miles is being too paranoid, but Miles tells him to consider how he was bundled off by Hessman in the middle of the night, nobody else knowing where he was, no messages from Aral, Cordelia, or Illyan, and then ask whether he’d drink a glass of wine given to him by Hessman with his own hands.  Ivan reluctantly agrees that he wouldn’t.

Comments

Whoo, that’s a tangled plot to unravel.  I’ve never been quite at ease with this part of the book, frankly.  Like I said, up until Ivan’s arrival we could easily have followed Miles, like Elena, as they left Barrayar far behind.  Now the author is dragging him back, but by means of plot threads which we haven’t seen since Chapter Four, with Admiral Hessman and Count Vordrozda.  It is nice, I suppose, for some of the facts dropped way back then to show up again, but I can’t help but think that Bujold would have done it more skillfully if she were writing this book now.  Then again, I have this kind of reaction to a lot of revealed convoluted plots in books, so maybe I’m just wondering what a political intrigue plot is doing in my space opera.

The fact that Miles had never clued in that he might be violating Vorloupolous’s Law (man, I’m tired of typing that name) also kind of bothered me, even on my first read through.  Again, it’s introduced a long way back, when Miles was recruiting Baz, and explained to the handy know-nothing Betan who happened to be nearby, and then Miles never considers it when he begins claiming to be commander of a mercenary fleet.  Bothari never mentioned it again, either, and even when Miles found out that there was a Barrayaran spy in the Oseran fleet reporting on his activities, even when he sent him an order with the freakin’ Vorkosigan Seal on it, it never occurred to him that he was in trouble.  Well, I guess that’s one of the things that makes him seem realistically a teenager, his failure to realize when he’s getting into trouble.  Okay, I suppose he does know he’s getting into trouble, but he’s only worried about the immediate problems, not about any rules he may happen to have broken along the way.

I wonder about the prohibition on inheritance through the female line being called “Salic”.  It’s a bit of an obscure cultural reference, which I confess I was only aware of because of a solitaire game named “Salic Law” which excluded the queens.  It’s bad enough that some medieval Europeans brought it up to try to squeeze other medieval Europeans out of the line of succession, but it strains my credulity for the Barrayarans to have preserved the term, through their Time of Isolation.  Maybe I should just be considering them to be using an equivalent Barrayaran term (Vorsalic?), but it still jars.  Yes, I know, the Time of Isolation doesn’t imply that everybody forgot everything about their history, but surely they had other considerations…  No, wait, I get it.  Somebody tried to dig it up to prevent somebody else inheriting on Barrayar, looking for historical precedents from feudal times on Earth…  Still, stretching it.

I don’t quite remember if this chapter was the first mention of Jackson’s Whole, but I suspect it was, and it contained an intriguing amount of information.  We don’t get to see it until “Labyrinth”, and then of course Mirror Dance.  I don’t remember if anything much comes out of Auson’s ship being mortgaged to House Bharaputra, though.


Three more chapters, plus the epilogue.  The Dendarii plot is almost wrapped up, so we can go finish the Barrayar plot.  This is one of the few books where the Barrayar scenes are not my favourites, sadly, but it’s still early days…
Tune in next week for more…

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[Hearty greeting]!  [Summary of facts: 1. Lois McMaster Bujold, Author; 2. Vorkosigan Saga, Series; 3. The Warrior’s Apprentice, novel; 4. Chapters, 4a. Fifteen, 4b. Sixteen].  [Reiteration of weekly nature of post].  [Abjuration of further ado].

Chapter Fifteen

Miles spends time practicing tactical patterns on Triumph‘s computer instead of sleeping; Elena wanders in and joins him.  Miles teachers her a few patterns, which she takes to easily, and Miles wonders how Ivan Vorpatril can go to the Academy and not Elena.  Elena asks if he’s serious about breaking the blockade, and Miles says that their fast courier hasn’t shown up yet, so they’ll have to keep trying at least to break a path through.

This was just the sort of thing he would have been taught how to do at the Imperial Service Academy, he thought with an inward sigh. There was probably a book on it. He wished he had a copy; he was getting mortally tired of having to re-invent the wheel every fifteen minutes. Although it was just barely possible there was no way for three small warships and a battered freighter to take out an entire mercenary fleet.

Miles is just working up the courage to make a move on Elena when Auson contacts him, telling him that Ky Tung is back, on some kind of passenger ship, wanting to talk.  When Miles contacts him, Tung asks if the job offer is still open.

They rendezvous in two shuttles.  Miles wonders how he can prove that Tung and his men are loyal, and Tung says he’ll have to take it on trust.  Miles says he cannot give Tung back his ship, just one of the stolen Pelian ships, and a staff officer position; he’ll have to work with Auson and Thorne, and get paid in millifenigs.  Miles asks Tung why he really returned, and Tung says that Oser violated his contract, refusing to give Tung another ship, and publicly humiliated him, and Miles’s force is the only one capable of doing Oser any inconvenience.  Tung says he brought all of his crew, including his pilot officer, but excluding his communications officer, who is actually a spy for the Barrayarans.

“B—” choked Miles, and swallowed the rest. Ye gods. Had he been recognized? If the man was one of Captain Illyan’s agents, almost certainly. And what the devil had the man made of the recent events, seen from the Oseran point of view? Miles could kiss goodbye any hope of keeping his late adventures secret from his father, then.

In the end, his stomach queasy, and not wishing to get a reputation for space sickness, Miles accepts Tung’s offer, ruefully accepting the rank of Admiral that seems to have stuck to him.

The Ariel, which had been sent with Bel Thorne, Baz Jesek and Arde Mayhew to deliver the Betan weapons to Felice, and return with the fast courier, is five days late in returning.  Bel smugly promises a surprise in the docking bay, and when Miles arrives, they unload a mixed bag of personnel, soldiers and civilians.

There was a group of a dozen or so black-uniformed Kshatryan Imperial mercenaries who formed their own tight little island in the sea of color; on closer look, their uniforms, though clean and mended, were not all complete. Odd buttons, shiny seats and elbows, lop-worn boot heels—they were long, long from their distant home, it seemed. Miles’s temporary fascination with them was shattered at the appearance of two dozen Cetagandan ghem-fighters, variously dressed, but all with full formal face paint freshly applied, looking like an array of Chinese temple demons. Bothari swore, and clapped his hand to his plasma arc at the sight of them. Miles motioned him to parade rest.

Freighter and passenger liner tech uniforms, a white-skinned, white-haired man in a feathered g-string—Miles, taking in the polished bandolier and plasma rifle he also bore, was not inclined to smile—a dark-haired woman in her thirties of almost supernatural beauty, engrossed with directing a crew of four techs—she glanced toward him, then frankly stared, a very odd look on her face. He stood a little straighter. Not a mutant, ma’am, he thought irritably. When the flex tube emptied at last, perhaps a hundred people stood before him in the docking bay. Miles’s head whirled.

Baz introduces them as Dendarii recruits; he admits he wasn’t actually tasked to recruit, but he applied some “forward momentum” to help solve their personnel problems.  Most of them were just galactics trapped in Felice by the blockade, and Baz accepted anyone who didn’t look too hopeless with a weapon.  Miles asks about the Cetagandans, and is assured that they know about the Barrayaran connection–the Dendarii Mountains were an infamous site in the Cetagandan invasion–but they need a ride out of the system.  Most of the recruits have hired on under the condition that they be discharged outside of Tau Verde.

Miles examines his new recruits’ dossiers, especially the beautiful dark-haired woman.  Her name is Elena Visconti, she used to fight for Escobar, and she was discharged for medical reasons after the Barrayaran invasion…around the same time as Bothari.  Surely not, he thinks…she lists herself as unmarried, with no dependents, but the resemblance to Elena Bothari is tantalizing, even if he can’t figure out how Visconti and Bothari would have gotten together.  He decides to try to bring them back together innocently, and see what happens.

After running an officers’ meeting the next day to try to brainstorm ways to break the blockade, Miles returns to his quarters to see what can be done to fit all seven of them on the fast courier, trying to convince himself that if necessary he can leave behind Elli Quinn, and possibly Baz Jesek to save him from Barrayaran desertion charges.  Elena and Bothari are with him; Elena tells him she’s set up physical training for the new recruits, and urges Miles himself to come, despite his protests about his stomach.

Visconti arrives, and Miles’s cheerful welcome dies when he sees the needler pistol in her hand.  She addresses Bothari, sure now that she recognizes him; Bothari, incredibly, lets his weapon fall.  She tells Miles about his “bodyguard”–an ex-Barrayaran soldier, Admiral Vorrutyer’s chief torturer and rapist, helping to supply pregnant women for Prince Serg’s benefit.  The Escobaran government let the war criminals go in the peace settlement, but she urges Miles to arrest Bothari.

“I don’t—it’s not—” began Miles. He turned to Bothari, his eyes imploring denial—make it not be true—”Sergeant?”

The explosion of words had spattered over Bothari like acid. His face was furrowed with pain, brow creased with an effort of—memory? His eyes went from his daughter to Miles to the Escobaran, and a sigh went out of him. A man descending forever into hell, vouchsafed one glimpse of paradise, might have such a look on his face. “Lady . . .” he whispered. “You are still beautiful.”

Visconti shoots Bothari, who collapses against the wall, before Miles and Elena can restrain her.  Bothari coughs up blood from the internal wounds of the tiny needles, and dies.  Elena begins to put a stranglehold on Visconti, and Miles tells her to stop, that this might be her mother.  Visconti examines her, disdainfully, calling her “that one’s spawn”, and wonders aloud if Miles is another such “experimental fetus”.

Mayhew opens the door, sees Bothari, and runs for a medtech.  Visconti apologizes for executing the criminal in front of Miles, who thinks to himself that it was suicide, he couldn’t have been caught off-guard without acceding to it willingly.

He looked up at her across a vast gulf, one meter wide. “I don’t mock you. But—until I was four, almost five years old, I couldn’t walk, only crawl. I spent a lot of time looking at people’s knees. But if there was ever a parade, or something to see, I had the best view of anybody because I watched it from on top the Sergeant’s shoulder.”

Visconti spits on Bothari’s corpse, and Miles’s rage is forestalled by the medtech’s arrival, asking what happened.

His mouth was stiff; he made it move by force of will. “An accident. He was cleaning the weapons. The needler was set on auto rapid-fire.” Two true statements out of three.

Miles asks about the cryo-chambers; they’re all in use, says the medtech, but she can dump one if necessary, preferably the ones with the least chance of recovery, there being two worse than Bothari.  Miles considers it for a moment, then says not to bother, that Bothari hates the cold.

Elena was turning around and around between the dead and the living, like a creature newly caged discovering that cold iron sears the flesh. “Mother?” she said at last, in a tiny voice not at all like her own.

“You keep away from me,” the Escobaran woman snarled at her, low-voiced and pale. “Far away.” She gave her a look of loathing, contemptuous as a slap, and stalked out.

Mayhew leads Elena out of the room, leaving Miles to ask Bothari’s dead body what he should do now.

Comments

Again, without the knowledge of Shards of Honour, this would be a vast surprise, though not without a certain amount of foreshadowing throughout this book as well.  Having read Shards, you can see the trouble building as Miles makes his plans for the happy reunion.  You feel bad on Elena’s behalf, but you can’t blame Visconti (can’t call her Elena too, can I?) for her behaviour.  It’s hard for a victim to give their torturer the benefit of the doubt for their claims of redemption.  I do recall that there is some mention of rapprochement between mother and daughter later in the series.  I don’t think that Visconti stays with the Dendarii, and I imagine she realizes how uncomfortable it would be for her after that point; even if she thinks that Miles approved her action by claiming it was an accident, she would probably be uneasy around Elena.

Who are the seven for the fast courier?  Miles himself, Elena, Bothari, Mayhew, Baz, Elli Quinn…who am I missing?  Had he added Elena Visconti to his plan by this point, in advance of himself?  I’m sure he’s leaving Thorne, Auson, Tung and the rest of the Oserans behind, not to mention the Felicians.

Tung’s defection comes as a bit of a surprise, but I guess it’s just Oser’s diplomatic nature coming to the fore.  We do meet Oser this book, as I recall, though I recall him more from The Vor Game.

Five more references to his stomach, this time mostly associated with pain or nausea.  Nice the way she manages to sneak them in, until you begin to wonder if there’s something more to it than just indigestion and stress…

Chapter Sixteen

Miles begins to cry three days later, at night.  His stomach hurts constantly, and he stops eating much.  Elena isn’t doing too much better.  Miles stop contributing much at Dendarii staff meetings, and he snarls at Mayhew when he attempts to warn Miles about leaving them out to dry.  Miles returns to his cabin, throws up, not for the first time, resolves to do something, then collapses into sleep.

He is very slowly getting himself dressed when Elena comes in, exclaiming over how messy his cabin is now that he no longer has a batman to keep it tidy.  Miles half-jokingly suggests he take on Mayhew instead.  Miles has been keeping Bothari’s coffin in his room, rather than the cold morgue.  Elena tells him how things are falling apart without him, everybody working too hard and arguing with each other.  Miles says he doesn’t know what good he is–everyone else does something real except him.
Elena says that Miles never doubted Visconti’s accusations, and Miles says he knew Bothari better than she did.  Elena remembers how excited she used to get for rare visits from her father, or summers when he was at Vorkosigan Surleau all the time, and now she discovers all the time he was a monster.  Miles tries to persuade her that he was trying to make himself better, and Elena says she’s more worried about turning out a monster herself.  Miles tries to reassure her that she’ll be her own person, and Elena says that’s rich, coming from him, flower of the Vor.  Miles begins to babble about how the earlier generations weigh down heavily on him.

“Elena, I love you, I’ve always loved you—” She leaped like a startled deer; he gasped and flung his arms around her. “No, listen! I love you, I don’t know what the Sergeant was but I loved him too, and whatever of him is in you I honor with all my heart, I don’t know what is truth and I don’t give a damn anymore, we’ll make our own like he did, he did a bloody good job I think, I can’t live without my Bothari, marry me!” He spent the last of his air shouting the last two words, and had to pause for a long inhalation.

Elena says she’s worried about her own genetic risks now, and about what Miles’s family will think.  Miles says he doesn’t care, but Elena refuses to go back to Barrayar.  Miles offers half-heartedly to live with her somewhere else, but Elena says that he’ll go back when it’s his turn to be Count Vorkosigan.  Miles says he’ll give it up to his heir, Ivan Vorpatril, instead, and Elena tells him how Ivan used to try to grope her when they were alone.  She tells Miles that she does love him, but she has to be something on her own, not just an annex to Miles.  She admits she has promised herself to Baz, and admonishes Miles when he asks her to break her word.  She shames him into coming to the staff meeting, then retreats.

The meeting, to plan the blockade-breaking, starts with the animosity between various representatives that has been growing over the past week, and General Halify watches in dismay.  Pet plans are brought up yet again and shot down–piracy, hit-and-run tactics, raiding the Pelian capital.  Miles speaks up, comparing their ideas to a chess player who can’t play until he’s cleared most of the pieces off the board.  Then he has an idea, but is drowned out when he tries to describe it.  He throws his grandfather’s dagger up, to land, ringing, in the middle of the table, then gets up on the table to retrieve it, this time with everyone’s undivided attention.

Miles yanked the dagger out, resheathed it, and strode up and down the tabletop. His leg brace had developed an annoying click recently, which he’d meant to have Baz fix; now it was loud in the silence. Locking attention, like a whisper. Good. A click, a club on the head, whatever worked was fine by him. It was time to get their attention.

He tells them that they can’t beat the Oserans straight up, but their real mission is just to remove their power from the system.  The weak link there is their relationship with the Pelians, and Miles proposes striking at it by going after their payroll.

First, they send some former Oserans to pick up the payroll directly, just ahead of the real Oserans.  They slug it out with the Pelian ship guarding the next shipment, settling for blowing it up when the Oserans themselves approach.  After that, Miles is forced to use his ace in the hole, sending a message to the Barrayaran spy signed with the Vorkosigan seal to get an inside line on the Oserans; the spy surreptitiously microwaves the next shipment into ash.

He sends Baz, Visconti, and other techs to sneak into the Pelian capital and intercept the next digital transfer.  Meanwhile, he plans an attack on the next payroll shipment of Betan dollars before the Oserans can pick it up.

His space armour modified by Baz to fit him perfectly, he suits up along with Elena and the other assault teams.  Seeing Elena’s bleak face, he warns her that he can tell she’s thinking of suicide, but she shuts him out.  They have made sure to disconnect the remote overrides in the Oseran armour, after using against the Oserans themselves earlier.

As they are moving towards the shuttle, he is suddenly struck by a painful cramp, and begins to throw up inside his spacesuit.  Alarmed by his odd telemetry, one of the mercenaries opens his faceplate, to discover Miles’s vomit is almost pure blood.  They take off his armour, and Elena hovers anxiously over him.  He orders her to take charge; she says she can’t do it.

“Liege-lady. You can. You must. I’ll be with you.” He writhed, gripped by some sadistic giant. “You are true Vor, not I. . . . Must have been changelings, back there in those replicators.” He gave her a death’s-head grin. “Forward momentum—”

She rose then, determination crowding out the hot terror in her face, the ice that had run like water transmuted to marble.

As the medtechs put him onto a float pallet and take him away, he hears Elena urging them to win the battle for Admiral Naismith, and wonders how he manages to make so many heroes without becoming one himself.  Soon he is sedated into unconsciousness.

Comments

The first part of the chapter is one of the harder sections to read, as it’s never fun to see the normally manic Miles sunk into depression.  Not without reason, of course–it never is–but I still want to shake him and get him moving again.  That’s practically what Elena does, coming in as someone who is suffering as much as Miles is, in her own way, and yet someone who knows him well enough to be able to prod him out of himself again.

Miles’s unrequited love for her is finally dealt with, perhaps not as gently as it might have been.  You can’t blame her for her feelings about Barrayar, which has never treated her particularly kindly, barring her from so many opportunities on account of her sex, not to mention her father’s own betrayal, as she sees it.  Her father was insane, her mother despised him…  Miles is the only thing that could really tie her to the planet, but she wisely sees that she couldn’t bear to actually be married to him.  Does she return to the planet at any time before “Winterfair Gifts”?  Probably not.  Perhaps, if Miles had asked her before they left Barrayar, before he gave her the opportunity to blossom, she might have settled for him, and they could have been unhappy together.  It is better for both of them in the long run, but you always gotta root for the guy, don’t you?

Great ending to the chapter, the stomach foreshadowing coming to a head, as Miles pays the price for neglecting his own health.  In a spectacular fashion, too.  I can’t help but noticing that this also cleverly gets the author out of having to write another space battle/spaceship boarding scene.  I’m sure that wasn’t the main goal or anything, but considering that she can now replace that tension with the suspense of what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-Miles, it’s a reasonable exchange anyway.  You can’t do the same kind of scene in a book too many times anyway.

Also–“Forward momentum”, once in each chapter.  I keep expecting to run across some reference to Ms. Bujold saying that that was her originally suggested title, but the publishers picked this one instead.  Must be just me, I guess.


I think we’re getting close to the climax now.  Actually, I’m not quite sure where to put the climax of the book–maybe the blood-vomiting scene is it, or the death of Bothari, or maybe it’s yet to come.  (Yes, there is a major scene of conflict left to come in the book, but to me it feels too close to the end, and not tied closely enough to the main plot, to be the real climax of the book.)   There’s twenty-one chapters in total, plus an epilogue, so three more weeks should do it.  Then maybe I’ll take a weeks or two off for Christmas…  I should still be here next week, though.

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Good evening, or morning, or noon, or dusk, wherever and whenever and whoever you may be.  Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, covering Lois McMaster Bujold’s stellar (and I’m not just saying that–this is science fiction, there’s stars all over the place) Vorkosigan series.  This week we cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first Miles Vorkosigan book.

Had a nice chat about Bujold with Jo Walton at a convention this past weekend, which was a good time.  Since I seem to do all my work on Monday and Tuesday anyway, it didn’t hold me up much, but here I am, still at the last minute, but persevering for the benefit of all my loyal readers.  (Note to self: Get more loyal readers.  Some of Jo Walton’s would do nicely.)

Chapter Thirteen

Bothari takes charge of their horde of new prisoners, leaving Elena as Miles’s bodyguard, though Miles gets her to take notes for him as well.  Miles has the Triumph‘s medical staff take care of Tung’s own wounded, with a couple of guards to watch over them.  The Felician Colonel Fehun Benar and two others are all but catatonic after their torture, done mostly through hypospray.
Doctors from both sides work on a temporary face replacement for Elli Quinn, which Miles and Elena force themselves to watch.  Even when Miles is ready to leave, Elena wants to stay, to harden herself like she thinks a real soldier should.  He persuades her to leave anyway, and they argue about whether women should even be in combat at all.  Miles adds that his mother was a real soldier, and she never hardened herself like that.

Miles organizes a staff meeting to plan for the counterattack.

He quickly slid into the role of referee, controlling the flow of ideas while concealing his own dearth of hard factual information. He folded his arms, and said “Um,” and “Hm,” but only very occasionally “God help us,” because it caused Elena to choke. Thorne and Auson, Daum and Jesek, and the three freed Felician junior officers who had not been brain-drained did the rest, although Miles found he had to steer them gently away from ideas too much like those just demonstrated not to work for the Pelians.

He urges Daum to continue trying to contact his government.

Miles is given the executive suite, though housekeeping has been neglected, with detritus on the floors and fuzzy patches on the bathroom walls.  After trying the null-gee bed and rejecting it, he ends up going out for a walk, looking for Bothari and a bottle of scotch.  Seeing an observation deck, he heads for that, until he hears a cry of distress from Elena.

Rushing up onto the catwalk, he sees Bothari trying to strangle Baz Jesek, while Elena, clothes in disarray, is trying to stop him.  Elena appeals to Miles to stop her father, and despite his own rush of jealousy, he orders Bothari to stop.  Bothari doesn’t respond, and when Miles tries to pry his grip loose, threatening to break his brittle fingers, he relents.  As Elena rushes to Baz’s side, Bothari says that he caught Elena “nuzzling” with “that coward”.  Elena fiercely defends Baz’s bravery, though Miles realizes that she’s crediting Baz with the soldier Miles himself killed with his space armour’s medkit.  Miles tries to persuade Bothari that Baz is a fellow armsman, which Bothari rejects; he is also still intent on a better match for his daughter.

Baz croaked out words. “No . . . dishonor!” Elena hushed him, and lurched to her feet to face Bothari, fiercely.

“You and your military honor! Well, I’ve faced fire, and I’ve killed a man, and it was nothing but butchery. Any robot could have done it. There was nothing to it. It’s all a sham, a hoax, a lie, a big put-on. Your uniform doesn’t awe me any more, do you hear?”

Trying to defuse the situation, Miles sends Elena to take Baz to the infirmary, and then asks Bothari to share his scotch.  Once Bothari calms down a little, Miles asks for assurances that he won’t kill Baz, if only because they need techs.  Bothari grumbles, but assents, then asks Miles to promise that if Bothari dies, Miles will see to Elena’s future himself, with a “proper baba” to arrange the marriage.  A little while later, Bothari asks Miles to also promise not to leave his body out in space if he dies there, but to see him buried back on Barrayar, at Cordelia’s feet.

Baz is back on duty, albeit with a neck brace, the next day, and they are working feverishly to fix up the Triumph–ostensibly to help fight off the Pelians, but Miles also thinks to himself that it’s their only hope to all escape, if they can persuade one of Tung’s pilot officers to take them.  Of course, that would leave them back on Beta Colony without the profits they need to pay off their mountain of debt.  They install Daum’s weapons on the refinery, but they are still critically short of personnel, so Miles tries another tactic.

Armed with wine, fruit, packaged delicacies, and folding chairs, Miles makes his way to Ky Tung’s prison cell to attempt to woo him.  When Miles arrives, Ky Tung is trying to pry open his light fixture, but he gives up when he sees Bothari at Miles’s side.  At first he refuses more than “name, rank, serial number”, but Miles promises not to interrogate him, and pours him some wine.  Tung starts by asking about his troops, and Miles tells him about their status.

“Sorry things got so messy,” Miles apologized. “I realize how it must burn you to have your opponent blunder to victory. I’d have preferred something neater and more tactical myself, like Komarr, but I had to take the situation as I found it.”

Tung snorted. “Who wouldn’t? Who do you think you are? Lord Vorkosigan?”

Miles inhales some wine in startlement before he realizes that Tung is talking about Aral, and says that Aral is now Count.  Tung begins to rhapsodize about Aral’s book on the Komarr invasion.  When Miles lets slip that he’s actually met Aral, Tung is more interested, and asks if he has a companion volume about the retreat from Escobar.  Tung says that he was a junior lieutenant in a small mercenary fleet at Komarr, and begins replaying the invasion from his perspective, which Miles soaks up avidly.

When Tung finishes, Miles offers him a position with the Dendarii, but Tung is still skeptical, annoyed at losing his ship, and determined not to betray his employer.

Tung eyed him with amused tolerance. “Now, regardless of what that ass Auson seems to think, I have you pegged as a hotshot junior officer in over his head—and sinking fast. Seems to me it’s you, not I, who’s going to be looking for a new job soon. You seem to have at least an average grasp of tactics—and you have read Vorkosigan on Komarr—but any officer who can get Auson and Thorne hitched together to plow a straight line shows a genius for personnel. If you get out of this alive, come see me—I may be able to find something on the exec side for you.”

Miles insists that he has his own contract, and Tung says that he doubts that Felice would honour any contract Daum made.  As Miles is leaving, Tung asks for a screwdriver, and Miles is half tempted to give him one.  Though Bothari wonders what he gained from it, Miles is satisfied with the progress he made.

Comments

Ah, the lovely irony of Tung expounding on Aral to Aral’s son (did he but know it).  I can’t remember if Tung and Aral meet at some point–at Miles’s wedding, perhaps?  Or in The Vor Game?  He is the most perceptive, as befits his senior status, but at least he sees Miles’s potential in “personnel”.  That is really Miles’s forte, come to think of it–I remember contrasting his first chapter in Mirror Dance with Mark’s, how he knows all the Dendarii while Mark is just faking his way through.  (Miles is still faking his way through most of the way right now, of course, but he’s getting better.)

You hear about protective fathers scaring off potential suitors, but Bothari takes the prize, I think.  Too bad that Elena has never fully agreed with her father’s plans, but she still doesn’t know what her father has to try to make up for–both in compensation and in amends.  Even Miles only has the barest inkling that Bothari’s family origins are that lowly, and his past crimes…well, there is one bit where drunken Bothari is mumbling about how blood washes away sins, from Cordelia’s frantic inspiration back in Shards of Honour, but Miles doesn’t seem to attach much significance to it.  Or maybe he’s just willfully blind…

But Elena is definitely beginning to turn away from her father and toward Baz.  Poor Miles, alas, is still outside her romantic considerations, being part brother, part friend, and part liegeman, that scene in the library earlier in the book notwithstanding.  (Is Baz supposed to be the guy in too little shirt on the original paperback cover?  I’ve always wondered, though it’s not how I pictured him…  It’s not Bothari, not Bel Thorne, probably not Auson or Arde Mayhew…)

Chapter Fourteen

When the Pelians come, they come without Oserans, obviously no longer trusting the mercenaries.  They come from the direction of the outer system, and they slow down, obviously intent on capture; Miles is delighted that he predicted them so precisely.

He is the last aboard the Triumph, needing to avoid being trampled by his own men; the ship is run by a bare skeleton crew.  Auson greets him as “My Lord”, and Miles tries to explain that only certain people get to call him that.  Arde Mayhew is piloting, manually, which he finds a chore. The refinery is loaded down with Daum’s weaponry, more than they have people to man them; Baz and Elena have tried to fix the control systems, but they’re still buggy.

The lead Pelian shop lets loose a bombardment of “dandelion bombs”, which split into separate needles after lauch, and the defenders try to take out as many of them as they can.  One Pelian ship is blown up by a lucky shot, and as the rest begin to scatter, Triumph and Ariel swoop in on either side.  As more of the Pelian ships are destroyed, they begin to accelerate again, trying to break off the attack.  One of the ships, as it passes, hits the refinery with an odd weapon that Miles can’t identify, and he asks Auson to try to capture the ship, over the captain’s objections.

As they overtake the Pelian ship, Miles decides that the Pelians will probably try to self-destruct their ship rather than surrender, but they’ll want to escape in their shuttle, so he decides to board the ship with a squad of engineers while they are running away.  They blast their way through the airlock after the shuttle leaves, and Miles and the four techs split up to search the ship.  One tech manages to prevent a chain reaction set up to implode the ship, but Miles encourages them to keep searching in case there’s more than one trap.  Miles finds a bomb made from an oxygen canister rigged up to the microwave, and disarms that one; then another tech, Kat, finds all the dandelion bombs in the armory rigged to go off.  She starts disarming them, and Miles and the other techs join her as fast as they can; they finish the last with seconds to spare.

When Miles returns the ship the refinery, he has not only the mysterious weapon, but a suit of battle armour almost his size, albeit with female plumbing.  The Felicians tell Miles that one of the beams hit the prison section, causing loss of air; Elena let the prisoners out rather than leave them to suffocate, and they haven’t all been recaptured yet.  She had to stun her father to do it, and Bothari is still out.  Miles publicly commends Elena for her merciful actions.  She says two were killed by the beam–an “electron orbit randomizer”, as Baz identified it–and eleven more asphyxiated, including one of Tung’s pilots, but Tung himself escaped.  Miles gives orders that the prisoners are not to be killed, afraid to lose the last pilot and their hope of escape.

He asks about the weapon, and according to Baz it’s a weapon from Beta Colony that never caught on, and he knows how to fix the shields to block it; Miles is disappointed that it’s not a new high-tech secret.  When he asks about Daum, another Felician officer, Lieutenant Gamad, tells him that Daum was killed in the attack, and Gamad is now the ranking officer.

It took three days to ferret out the escaped prisoners from all the corners of the refinery. Tung’s commandos were the worst. Miles eventually resorted to closing off sections and filling them with sleep gas. He ignored Bothari’s irritated suggestion that vacuum would be more cost-effective. The bulk of the round-up duty fell naturally, if unjustly, to the Sergeant, and he was tight as a drawn bowstring with the tension of it.

When the final head count was made, Tung and seven of his men, including his other Pilot Officer, turned up missing. So did a station shuttle.

Miles has no choice but to wait for the Felicians to come claim their cargo; the shuttle sent to contact them hasn’t returned.  He has half a mind to send Lt. Gamad off in another one, since Gamad is trying to throw his weight around, at least until he hears people calling Miles “Admiral Naismith”, a title which has spread through his troops.

Finally, after eight more days, a Felician cruiser arrives.  When its officers board, they bring plastic crates which Miles hopes contain money.  They ask after Daum’s manifest, but it is presumed lost when Daum was killed.  The captain goes off with Gamad to talk strategy, and, nettled, Jesek and Mayhew follow them.  The paymaster asks for the contract, and Miles says they had a verbal agreement, and argues with the paymaster over the validity of such a contract, but the paymaster concedes that if Miles has the cargo, he’ll get paid.

He opens the crates, and Miles inspects its content, brightly coloured paper money, which the paymaster identifies as Felician millifenigs.  When Miles asks how much it’s actually worth, the paymaster is eventually forced to admit that while they were listed last year as 150 to the Betan dollar, since the blockade they have dropped off the exchange entirely.

Miles fingered his dagger. “And just what are these—millifenigs,” he would have to experiment, he decided, to find just the right degree of venom to pronounce that word, “backed by?”

The paymaster raised his head proudly. “The government of Felice!”

“The one that’s losing this war, right?”

The paymaster muttered something.

“You are losing this war, are you not?”

Miles demands real Betan dollars, but the paymaster says that Daum took most of the offworld currency with him to buy the cargo in the first place.  Beaten, Miles lets the paymaster leave, and examines the bills.  He tries burning one, only to extinguish it hurriedly when it sets off alarms, and contemplates how many it would take to wallpaper Vorkosigan House.

He varied his financial structure by building a square fort, with corner towers and an interior keep. The gate lintel had a tendency to collapse with a slight rustle. Perhaps he could pass on Pelian commercial shipping as a mentally retarded mutant, with Elena as his nurse and Bothari as his keeper, being sent to some off-planet hospital—or zoo—by rich relatives. He could take off his boots and socks and bite his toenails during customs inspections . . . But what roles could he find for Mayhew and Jesek? And Elli Quinn—liege-sworn or not, he owed her a face. Worse, he had no credit here—and somehow he doubted the exchange rate between Felician and Pelian currency would be in his favor.

One of the mercenaries opens the door and says he heard that their pay had arrived.  Miles decides he can just give it out to them, omitting any mention of its actual worth, and hope he’s far away when they found out.  He deputizes the mercenary, Trainee Nout, to take the payroll to a safe place and guard it with his life, and Nout happily complies, dazzled with his new responsibilities.

Later, as Miles is watching repairs being made to the RG-132, Jesek and Mayhew return, claiming to have set the Felicians straight.  The Felicians themselves soon appear, apologizing to Admiral Naismith for not having understand the situation.  One of the Felicians introduces himself as General Halify, who has been ordered to hold the refinery, but only after sending the Betan armaments back to protect Felice itself.  In an effort to take the galactics out of the equation, Halify proposes hiring the Dendarii to break the Oseran blockade.

Miles temporizes that he lacks most of his forces, and Halify offers to let him send for them; the Felicians have a fast ship they can lend.

Miles was about to make a rude reply, when it hit him—here was escape, being offered on a platter. Pile his liege-people into the jump ship, have Thorne and Auson run him through the blockade, and thumb his nose to Tau Verde IV and all its denizens forever. It was risky, but it could be done—was in fact the best idea he’d had all day—he sat up, smiling suavely. “An interesting proposition, General.” He must not appear too eager. “Just how do you propose to pay for my services? The Dendarii do not work cheaply.”

“I’m authorized to meet whatever terms you ask. Within reason, of course,” General Halify added prudently.

“To put it bluntly, General, that’s a load of—millifenigs. If Major Daum had no authority to hire outside forces, neither do you.”

“They said, by whatever means necessary.” The general’s jaw set. “They’ll back me.”

Miles demands that he be paid in real Betan dollars, and asks for a written contract signed by someone with actual power to pay him.  Miles agrees, and General Halify pledges his personal word on it, which takes Miles aback.  Miles pledges his own word, wondering if he really means it, or if he’s already lost his honour.

Comments

Piled deeper and deeper…his payroll imaginary, and yet another layer of his bluff being called as he is asked to summon his real mercenary fleet.  And pledging his word on it, too.  After his protests to the paymaster that “his soul is in his breath”, can he break his word that easily?  Miles is like Matrim Cauthon that way–with more honour than he claims to have.  He claims to be on the verge of running, but the list of people he feels that he owes something to begins to grow longer and longer, so he can’t break away unless he can bring all of them with him too.

I wonder a little at Miles’s lack of reaction to the casualties in the battle with the Pelians, but I guess this is actual battle, so he’s going to feel better about killing enemy soldiers than he is about torturing prisoners for information.  And perhaps space combat is more bloodless that way…but cue “Aftermaths” again.  Who’s going to clean the Pelian corpses out of the asteroid belt after the battle, and send them home to their families?  We’ve barely seen any Pelians, though, mostly just Oserans who have largely been swayed to Miles’s side (the Pelians are right to stop relying on them, quite frankly).  Were there Pelians on the refinery when it was captured?  Were Pelians the ones who tortured Daum’s friend Fehun Behar, or was that Oserans?  I can’t remember if we get to find out who started the war between Felice and Pelias on Tau Verde IV…or if it matters.  It’s a little sordid, but then I’ve never been quite easy in my mind about the conquest of Komarr, either.

I almost forgot to begin looking for Miles’s references to his stomach hurting.  Going back, there’s one reference to his stomach hurting in Chapter Ten (after Auson kicked him there in Chapter Eight), an ambiguous reference in Chapter Eleven (“anticipation turning to lead in his stomach”), another one in Chapter Twelve (his stomach contracting after hearing about the casualties taking the refinery), and then, in Chapter Thirteen, his stomach “turning inside out” when he tries the null-gee bed.  All pretty innocuous.  In Chapter Fourteen?  “His stomach sent up a throat-burning, acid belch” while he’s disarming the dandelion bombs; his “heart sinks into his foaming stomach” when he heard one of Tung’s pilots is dead; and, when burning the millifenig note, trying “to see if anything could hurt more than his stomach”.  Of course, he’s under a lot of stress, but he’s not really paying as much attention to himself as he should be, too busy trying to take care of everyone else.  It’s kind of like when a female character keeps throwing up and you’re yelling at the book, “It’s morning sickness!  You’re pregnant!”  Except not quite like that.  Anyway, good foreshadowing on Bujold’s part, if you’re paying attention.


More to come, as always.  I’m not sure how close we are to the big plot twist yet, the one that was lightly foreshadowed back in the earlier chapters…  Next chapter looks pretty wrenching, as I recall, so it should be a fun time for all, next week…  See you all then!

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New post!  Vorkosigan reread!  Lois McMaster Bujold!  Warrior’s Apprentice!  Chapter Eleven!  Chapter Twelve!  Miles Vorkosigan!  Dendarii Mercenaries!  Now read!

Chapter Eleven

A week later, Miles is still in command as the Ariel nears a refinery in the asteroid belt, their planned rendezvous.  As they draw closer, Miles begins to think there aren’t enough lights or activities for it to be still operating.  Daum, who also doesn’t like the look of it, assures Miles that they sent the right recognition codes.

They receive a transmission from a Felician Colonel Fehun, and Daum relaxes at seeing the familiar face.  Miles is also relieved at the prospect of fulfulling his contract and getting rid of his “prisoners”.  The conversation with Fehun is frequently interrupted by static, and Miles suddenly notices that a small knick-knack on Fehun’s desk is switching position between shots.  He cuts the transmission, telling them to pretend technical difficulties, and tells Daum that this is just a recording, that the refinery has already been captured and Pelians and Fehun suborned.

Miles realizes that it’s all over–they’d be captured, their cargo taken by the Pelians, the Barrayarans held for ransom.  He wonders if he can arrange to be imprisoned on Beta rather than have to face his father.  Auson looks similarly dismayed at having to explain his failure, but Daum and Thorne are asking him for orders.

My God, thought Miles, don’t they realize they’re free? And more wildly, with new rocketing hope—They followed me home, Dad. Can I keep them?

Thorne, experienced, knew the ship, soldiers, and equipment intimately, not with facile surface gloss but with true depth; more vital still, Thorne had forward momentum. Miles stood straight as he could and barked, “So, Trainee Thorne, you think you’re fit to command a warship, eh?”

Thorne came to a stiffer attention, chin raised eagerly. “Sir!”

Miles asks Thorne, as an exercise, how he would take the station, and Thorne suggests counter-ambushing and capturing the refinery from within.  Miles, trying to sound knowledgeable, asks what they’d do about the other ships that are surely waiting nearby.  Daum suggests arming the refinery with the maser scramblers they were smuggling.  Miles reminds them that they can’t afford to squander personnel, and asks Thorne to convince him that it’s not “tactically premature” to capture the refinery.  Thorne says that any ships out here will certainly be Oseran, since Pelians don’t have many, and with their knowledge of Oseran codes and procedures, they’ll have the advantage.

Miles authorizes Thorne to lead the assault; Thorne asks for “Commanders” Elena Bothari and Baz Jesek, and Miles agrees.  Auson, arms still in casts, looks almost mutinous as the party moves out.

“May I point out, you’re still on the sick list, Trainee Auson.”

Auson waggled his arms. “I could’ve had these off day before yesterday, damn it.”

“May I also point out, that while I’ve promised Trainee Thorne a command, I have not said of what ship. An officer must be able to obey as well as command. To each his own test, to each his own reward. I’ll be watching you, too.”

“There’s only one ship.”

“You’re full of assumptions. A bad habit.”

“You’re full of—” Auson shut his mouth with a snap, and gave Miles a long, thoughtful stare.

Miles is disappointed to find that there is no space armour sufficiently small to fit him, and Bothari refuses to let him go in a mere pressure suit.  The equipment is in good condition after the week of inspections; Bothari gives covert instructions to his daughter on how to use her equipment, and Miles reminds Elena that she’s supposedly there as an observer.  Elena agrees, and thanks Miles for giving her the opportunity.  Miles quietly asks Baz to look after her as well, and Baz replies that he’d “follow her anywhere”.  Baz asks Miles if this “Commander” rank means anything, and Miles temporizes that it’s as real as the Dendarii themselves.

Baz’s eyebrows lifted. “And what does that mean?”

“Well . . . My fa—a person I knew once said that meaning is what you bring to things, not what you take from them. He was talking about Vor, as it happened.” Miles paused, then added, “Carry on, Commander Jesek.”

Baz’s eyes glinted amusement. He came to attention and returned Miles an ironic, deliberate salute. “Yes, sir—Admiral Naismith.”

Miles returns to the tactics room with Bothari, and monitors the transmissions along with Auson.  Miles and Auson agree that they’d love to be heading for that battle right now.  The communications officer puts up displays for the battle armour’s telemetry, and Miles tries to puzzle it out without making it too obvious.  Auson shows him Elena’s display, and tells him how they can monitor the suit completely, even take control of it remotely if necessary.  Auson says that feature is rarely used, and once he walked an unconscious man all the way back to the ship before discovering he’d lost his head.

The Ariel and the RG 132 are pulling into the dock; Miles wished he’d been able to contact Mayhew and let him on the plan, but they didn’t have any secure channels.  Miles suddenly wonders if the enemy have any similar systems in their battle armour, and Auson says that some of the Pelians do.  They can pick up enough to know the Dendarii are outnumbered about two to one.  Miles asks if they can use the Oseran codes to hack into their battle armour.  They can’t do anything too obvious, because the override can be turned off, but Miles thinks they can get away with it if they’re subtle.

They break into the Oserans’ system, and begin tinkering.  They back up the waste systems on one, and throw the targeting systems slightly off on another, before deciding to wait until Thorne launches his attack.  The Dendarii attack takes the defenders by surprise.

Miles hummed over his readouts. An enemy officer turned her head to look over her shoulder, calling orders to her platoon; Miles promptly locked the helmet in its position of maximum torsion, and the Oseran’s head perforce with it. He picked out another soldier, in a corridor his own people had not yet reached, and locked his suit’s built-in heavy-duty plasma arc into full-on. Fire flared wildly from the man’s hand at his surprised reflexive recoil, spraying floor, ceiling, and comrades.

Miles looks for Elena, finds her in combat, and tries to help her out, but her opponent is a Pelian in armour he can’t access.  He finds an Oseran drawing a bead on her, and spikes the man with his entire medkit at once, allowing Baz to come to Elena’s aid.  Auson pulls Miles’s attention away when he exclaims at the sudden appearance of a large Oseran warship behind them.

Comments

Miles moves forward from capturing ships to capturing…well, not quite battle stations, but a station, at least.  I suppose that Thorne can’t have been that happy under Auson, among the Oserans.  Or maybe it’s just that crush it has on Miles.  Anyway, it’s quite eager to prove itself, which Miles takes clear advantage of.  Note that, with hermaphrodites, Galactic Standard, a.k.a. English, seems to just use the vanilla third-person inanimate as a gender-neutral pronoun.  Sometimes it does get a little confusing…

Lots of stuff in this chapter.  More “forward momentum”…Elena getting another chance at combat…Elena and Baz drawing closer together…Baz actually calling Miles “Admiral”.  The high point, of course, has to be the armour hackage, which one presumes is a fairly original idea with Miles, or nobody would ever have that kind of remote control built into their suits.  Maybe they were just in a unusual position, knowing the Oseran security codes, but still, seems like a weakness that Miles himself would want to close off for his own troops now that he knows about it…

And then the enemy reinforcements arrive at the end.  All the better to pull you into the next chapter…

Chapter Twelve

Miles curses himself for not realizing that the full-feedback battle armour implied that the Oserans had a ship nearby to monitor it as well.  Auson says that it’s Ky Tung, a snobby Earther with a pocket dreadnought; he’s asking them to surrender, which Miles isn’t eager to consider, since Thorne is almost finished taking over the refinery.  Miles decides they should try to ram Tung’s ship, which incenses Auson, who doesn’t want “his” ship used for such a medieval purpose.

The communications officer calls their attention to the fact that Mayhew has started the RG 132 moving–despite its glacial acceleration, it does mass a lot more than the pocket dreadnought.  Tung takes too long to discern its intention, and belatedly starts to rotate the dreadnought into a position where it can thrust away, getting one shot off at the freighter.

Then, almost in slow motion, with a kind of crazy majesty, the RG 132 lumbered into the warship—and kept going. The dreadnought was nudged into the huge smeltery. Projecting equipment and surface housings snapped and spun off in all directions.

Action calling for reaction, after an aching moment the smeltery heaved back. A wave of motion passed down its adjoining structures, like a giant’s game of crack-the-whip. Smashed edges of the dreadnought were caught up on the smeltery, thoroughly entangled. Gaudy chemical fires gouted here and there into the vacuum.

The RG 132 drifted off. Miles stood before the tactics room screen and stared in stunned fascination as half the freighter’s outer hull delaminated and peeled into space.

Thorne and his commandos board the crippled dreadnought and capture its crew.  Only then can they spare attention for the RG 132.  When Mayhew comes on board the refinery, brushing off Baz’s compliments on his ramming action, he is distraught over the fact that his Necklin rods, essential for jump and machined to exacting tolerance, are now bent.  While the refinery can be set up to fix the ship’s hull, the rods themselves would have to be specially commissioned, and cost much more than the ship itself originally had.  Miles asks Mayhew why he did it, rather than just surrendering; Mayhew says he could see they were in trouble, and it seemed the kind of thing a proper armsman should do.

Thorne and Auson find them, and Thorne reports on casualties.  The Dendarii have suffered two dead and five wounded, including Elli Quinn, whose face has been ruined by a severe plasma burn.

“The enemy’s total personnel were 60 from the Triumph, Captain Tung’s ship—twenty commandos, the rest technical support—and 86 Pelians of whom 40 were military personnel and the rest techs sent to restart the refinery. Twelve dead, 26 injured moderate-to-severe, and a dozen or so minor injuries.

“Equipment losses, two suits of space armor damaged beyond repair, five repairable. And the damages to the RG 132, I guess—” Thorne glanced up through the plexiports; Mayhew sighed mournfully.

“We captured, in addition to the refinery itself and the Triumph, two Pelian inner-system personnel carriers, ten station shuttles, eight two-man personal flitters, and those two empty ore tows hanging out beyond the crew’s quarters. Uh—one Pelian armed courier appears to have—uh—gotten away.” Thorne’s litany trailed off; the lieutenant appeared to be watching Miles’s face anxiously for his reaction to this last bit of news.

On the bright side, Thorne says, they also freed 23 Felician prisoners, which could help their personnel problems.  Major Daum has, unfortunately, been unable to get in touch with his superiors.

Ky Tung is being marched past them when he sees Auson and Thorne.  He is surprised to see them alive, and then realizes that happened when he sees that they’re armed.

“I might have known. Oser was right to keep you two clowns as far away from the real combat as possible. Only the comedy team of Auson and Thorne could have captured themselves.”

Seeing Auson and Thorne united in their dislike of Tung, Miles seizes the moment and rewards them both–Thorne with captaincy of the Ariel, and Auson with command of Triumph.  As Tung is led away, with orders to be sedated, Miles wonders if he can make use of him as well, since Tung does have thirty years of experience.  He sends Auson to get his casts removed.

An engineering tech, Mynova, asks about their combat bonus and their pay schedule.  Miles says it will be monthly, even as he wonders where the money will come from if they’re still there in a month.

Thorne asks about the counterattack, which there is bound to be after the escaped courier.  Miles asks for suggestions, and Thorne begins to detail them; Miles realizes he isn’t tracking well, and says they’ll have a meeting later to discuss them.

Miles’s head spun. The jumbled geometries of the refinery, its ups and downs chosen, apparently, at random, did nothing to decrease his sense of disorientation. And it was all his, every rusty bolt, dubious weld, and stopped-up toilet in it . . .

Elena was observing him anxiously. “What’s the matter, Miles? You don’t look happy. We won!”

A true Vor, Miles told himself severely, does not bury his face in his liegewoman’s breasts and cry—even if he is at a convenient height for it.

Comments

Maybe another alternate title for the book could be “Mo’ Mercenaries Mo’ Problems”.  No?  All right.  Anyway, Miles’s impulse to save Arde Mayhew and his ship has led him into more and more complicated situations, like a Red Queen’s Race where he’s trying to keep from losing everything.  And now, ironically (as it just struck me) he’s actually destroyed, or crippled, Mayhew’s ship in the process…so his original goal has been lost.  Admittedly, with the state of mind he was in on Beta Colony, he was likely to get involved in something just as hare-brained eventually no matter what, trying to find some direction for his life, not to mention trying to impress Elena.

Why does Arde Mayhew’s ship never get a name, by the way?  I guess not everybody is sentimental enough to name their ships, especially cargo freighters, but I would have thought that Mayhew might have come up with something, since he was somewhat attached to it.  Maybe his mind just didn’t run that way.  And, speaking of namelessness, the “communications officer” who is a major player in the battle-armour scene never seems to get a name.  Was Bujold consciously trying to avoid cluttering her story with named characters who never come up again?  And yet the woman who asks about their pay at the end of the chapter get a name, if only because Miles has to directly address her.  Maybe Bujold’s editors complained about too many named characters, too.  And maybe I’m just too used to reading Wheel of Time books where one-shot characters get named all the time.

<hr>

And now we’re done for another week…two more chapters to come next week…we’ll see if Miles can pull something else out of his bag of tricks…but not until next Tuesday…good night, all…

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Good morning, class.  Today in our VOR 201 class, Intermediate Vorkosigan Studies, we’re going to look at some episodes in the early history of Miles Vorkosigan.  Please open your copies of The Warrior’s Apprentice to Chapters Nine and Ten, and follow along with me.  No talking, there at the back; there will be questions at the end of the lecture.  Now, let’s begin.

Chapter Nine

After the fight, Miles realizes that Baz Jesek hadn’t taken part, and sees him standing against a wall.  He orders Elena and Mayhew out into the corridor, hoping he can snap Baz out of his funk.  Miles tells Baz that now they have to take the Oserans’ ship, before they find out what happened to the shuttle.  He tells Baz that he’s the logical one to capture the engineering section, so he’s going to send Baz in with Elena, while Bothari and Daum go to Nav/Com and Miles and Mayhew stun everyone else they can.

Jesek shook his head. “I can’t,” he whispered.

“Look, you’re not the only one who’s terrified. I’m scared witless.”

Jesek’s mouth twisted. “You don’t look scared. You didn’t even look scared when that mercenary pig decked you. You just looked pissed.”

“That’s because I’ve got forward momentum. There’s no virtue in it. It’s just a balancing act. I don’t dare stop.”

The engineer shook his head again, helplessly, and spoke through his teeth. “I can’t. I’ve tried.”

Miles decides to try swearing Baz, which will be more complicated because Baz is technically already sworn to the Emperor as a soldier, and walks him through a highly modified oath, managing to omit Miles’s real name and titles.

Bothari and Daum return with the pilot officer as a prisoner.  Miles tells Baz to get Elena and Daum and haul the unconscious prisoners to the empty cargo hold and then get out their own concealed weapons.  Miles asks the pilot nicely for the recognition codes, but the pilot is unimpressed and refuses to talk, knowing they can’t risk killing him.  Miles takes Bothari aside and asks if they can risk going without the codes, but Bothari says they should try to get them.  Bothari says he knows how to break a pilot, and Miles, with misgivings, gives him leave to try.  Bothari takes Miles’s dagger and asks Miles and Mayhew to hold the pilot’s arms.  He smiles disquietingly, then begins to pry out an implant on one of the pilot’s temples.  The pilot is just beginning to get worried when Bothari rips the implant out out of his head.  Mayhew is violently ill.

Bothari puts his dagger to another implant on the pilot’s forehead, and the pilot begins telling them everything he knows.  Miles listens carefully, not wanting to have done this horrific deed for nothing.  Once he begins to repeat himself, they all board the shuttle.  Mayhew assures Miles that he can fly it, and asks Miles if he knew what Bothari was going to do.  Miles says that as Bothari’s liegeman he is responsible for his actions, no matter what they are.

They approach the ship, a small Illyrican warship named the Ariel.  They dock without incident, and Bothari heads out first, stunning one crewman almost immediately.  Miles tells Elena to keep Baz moving, and they split up, leaving Miles with Mayhew.  Mayhew is about to try to blast a door open with his plasma arc when Miles discovers that it isn’t locked; Mayhew leaps in with a war cry to find an empty storage room, and Miles debates with him whether or not war cries are appropriate when attacking from surprise.  On the next level up, they find a dormitory and stun three sleeping women, who Miles realizes are likely crew, and he wonders if Elena would have been all right with the Oserans after all.

Out in the hallway, another mercenary comes around the corner, and grapples with Miles for his weapon before being stunned by Mayhew.  Miles, dizzy from the nimbus of the blast, discovers the mercenary to be a Betan hermaphrodite.  They check a dozen more rooms, finding no more crew, before reaching Nav/Com and finding Bothari and Daum in charge.  They count up the stunned mercenaries, eleven in all, which seems to be all the remaining complement of the ship.  Miles insists on taking them prisoner over Bothari’s objections, not wanting any more blood on his hands.

Miles goes down to engineering to find Elena bandaging up a burn on Baz’s arm.  She describes the combat–they stunned two right away, Baz charged a mercenary who had a plasma arc, which is how he got burned, while Elena was grappling with the fourth.  Miles, a little jealous, starts to describe a better strategy, but relents at Baz’s crestfallen expression and says he might not have thought of it either in the heat of battle.  Baz asks Miles quietly how he knew he was ready to face combat, and Miles replies glibly that he just knew–part of being Vor.  Miles instructs Baz to figure out the ship’s systems and help Elena get the prisoners to the brig.

Miles goes back to the shuttle to retrieve the pilot, and finds him floating in zero-gee.  Miles realizes suddenly that the pilot is in bad shape, just before the pilot starts to convulse.  Miles cuts him loose and drags him into the ship; abandoning the pilot’s weight in gravity, he runs for sickbay and a stretcher.  He orders Bothari to try to find the medtech and meet him back at the shuttle.  When Bothari arrives, he says the medtech was too heavily stunned to rouse, and that the pilot is already dead anyway, likely having had a stroke from the damage when the implant was ripped out.  Miles finds a cryochamber to preserve the body in hopes of later revival, but it’s in pieces, in mid-repair.

Bothari asks to go supervise the prisoners; before he goes, Miles asks for the pilot’s implant, and Bothari gives it to him.

Bothari frowned a little, watching his face. “One casualty is not bad for an operation of this nature, my lord,” he offered. “His life saved many, and not just on our side.”

“Ah,” said Miles, dry and cold. “I’ll keep that in mind, when I come to explain to my father how it was we happened to torture a prisoner to death.”

After Bothari leaves, Miles washes the pilot’s face.

He drew his dagger and trimmed the trailing wires from the silver button, and pressed it carefully back into place on the pilot officer’s temple. After, until Daum came looking for him with some request for orders, he stood and meditated on the still, waxen features of the thing they’d made. But reason seemed to run backwards, conclusions swallowed in premises, and premises in silence, until in the end only silence and the unanswerable object remained.

Comments

I bet there are some teenagers would love to have a highly capable soldier at their beck and call.  Some might even like to have a psychotic killer.  I don’t know how much Miles knew about Bothari’s well-hidden propensities, but his smile at torturing the pilot probably gave him an indication.  He didn’t do the act himself, but he sanctioned it, and he’s feeling the weight of that responsibility, maybe more than if he’d killed the man himself–certainly more than if he’d done it in the heat of combat.  His reluctance to take more lives, and thus lose sympathy in the reader’s eyes, shapes a lot of the plot to come.  In many ways, Miles seems so competent and even mature that one forgets his youth.  Is this really a “coming of age” story, then?  To some extent, certainly.  Cast out of his prior certainties, he has to find a new balance within himself.

Also, Miles has now sworn another liegeman, sort of.  It’s almost seeming like this is his only trick, but luckily he’ll come up with a new one soon.  It does work, anyway, giving Baz a little more confidence, if nothing else.

You know, in some ways “Forward Momentum” might have been a better title for the book–it’s certainly a central metaphor.  “The Warrior’s Apprentice” really doesn’t describe the book very well.  Who the hell is Miles supposed to be apprenticing to, after all?

Chapter Nine

Miles prods a broken-armed Captain Auson into sickbay, armed with a nerve disrupter.  Auson’s first officer, the hermaphrodite Lieutenant Thorne, is there having a wound sealed, with Bothari looking on.  Thorne asks who they are, and Miles responds with enigmatic silence.

The prisoners are being troublesome–both groups, the one on Ariel and the one from Mayhew’s ship, are trying assiduously to escape whenever not actually stunned.  Miles knows that the situation is unstable, but still balks at killing all the Oserans, and keeping them stunned for too long isn’t good for them either.

He probes Thorne, asking about the Oserans.  Thorne says that there’s no command structure, every Captain-Owner being equal, and Auson says that he owns the contracts for everyone on the ship.  Miles taunts them with being “a sorry excuse for soldiers”.  Auson grumbles that he just wanted some action, which nettles Thorne.

I have you now. The certainty reverberated like a bell in Miles’s mind. His idle dreams of revenge upon the mercenary captain vaporized in the heat of a new and more breathtaking inspiration. His eye nailed Auson, and he rapped out sharply, “How long has it been since your last General Fleet Inspection?”

Auson looked as if it had belatedly occurred to him that he ought to be limiting this conversation to names, ranks, and serial numbers, but Thorne replied, “A year and a half.”

Miles swore, with feeling, and raised his chin aggressively. “I don’t think I can take any more of this. You’re going to have one now.”

Auson says he can’t figure Miles out; he was sure that Miles was a smuggler, and still is.  Miles says what he’s smuggling is “military advisors”.  He begins the inspection right there in sickbay, showing up some discrepancies in inventory of narcotics, then going on to malfunctioning equipment.  There is no shortage of that, so Miles leaves the cryochamber for last, pointing out that the pilot is dead now because of its condition (and deflecting Thorne’s query for more details on the death).  He orders the medtech to get the room in order, then leaves with Auson and Thorne.

In the hallway, with the two Oserans out of earshot, Bothari asks him what he thinks he’s doing.  Miles says he’s going to act like they’re some mercenary super-outfit, and keep the Oserans busy cleaning up their act, to salve their pride at being so easily defeated, and asks Bothari where to dig up more dirt.  Bothari suggests the crew quarters, but doesn’t think Miles’s plan will work.

Bothari takes the lead at inspecting the crew quarters, finding ample evidence of the crew’s vices, both openly known and concealed.  Thorne’s quarters are actually passable, and Auson’s mostly show signs of laziness.  Next, at the arsenal, Miles takes a supposedly uncharged plasma arc and shows its lethality by aiming it just past Auson’s head.

Before the inspection of engineering, Miles takes Baz aside and tells him he’s Commander Baz Jesek of the Dendarii Free Mercenaries.  He encourages Baz to act like his most annoying instructor at the Academy, let them answer his questions and not the other way around, and generally terrorize them.  Miles finds some cigar butts for Baz to chew to get into character.

Miles assembles the Ariel‘s entire crew in the briefing room, and gives them a lecture about the Dendarii Free Mercenaries–who don’t advertise their existence, and recruit selectively.  He says that he’d rather be rid of them, but one of his officers (strongly implied to be Elena) has asked for him to give the Oserans another chance, so he’s taken their contracts from Captain Auson.  This announcement causes some unrest, quickly quelled by Bothari bringing his nerve disrupter to bear.

Miles says that they are now all recruit-trainees, but he assures them that everyone starts at the bottom, even himself, and promotions can be swift; any of them could be captain in a few weeks.  Thus he hopes to set the former low-ranking crew against the former officers.  When asked his own rank, he simply asks them to call him “Mr. Naismith”, but says that he’ll shoot anyone who disobeys his orders.  Trainee Quinn asks for a copy of the Dendarii regulations, and Miles says they’ll have some tomorrow, realizing that he’ll have to come up with them from somewhere.  Then the crew start asking about medical and retirement plans, and other practical questions, and he promises them a brochure later, though he says that being alive is all the “fringe benefit” they get for the moment.

He tells them to see “Commander Elena” for their assignments, and dismisses them.  As they leave, he realizes that many of them have the same kind of hunger in their eyes that he saw in Baz and Mayhew’s.

He takes Bothari aside and asks for his Barrayaran Imperial Service regulations book, which he proposes to chop down for the Dendarii regs.  Bothari reminds him that those are the old regs, and that Lord Aral and the General Staff took two years to update them, but Miles is confident that he can do it faster than a committee.  Elena comes and asks him what she should do with the trainees, and he tells her to get them to demonstrate their fighting skills on each other, occupying them for a couple of days, and then generally tire them out.  Bothari can run them through weapons drills, and Baz will get the engineering section to peak performance.  Anything to keep them too tired to think too hard.  Mayhew is running his RG freighter solo.

“My lord,” said the Sergeant sternly, “there are twenty of them and four of us. At the end of the week, who do you think is going to be tireder?” He slipped into vehemence. “My first responsibility is your hide, damn it!”

“I’m thinking of my hide, believe me! And you can best cover my hide by going out there and making them believe I’m a mercenary commander.”

“You’re not a commander, you’re a bloody holovid director,” muttered Bothari.

Miles’s editing job on the regs takes all night, as he cuts out Barrayar-specific ceremonies, obsolete weaponry, and anything else he can.  He begins to realize that the essence of the regulations seems to be geared towards organization, getting everything necessary to the right place at the right time, and remembers his grandfather’s stories about the importance of good quartermasters.  He spends the next day trying to be seen everywhere, conveying grudging acceptance where necessary and stern disapproval otherwise.

They hold a funeral for the pilot that afternoon, which Miles turns into a general inspection as well, though Auson gives the actual ceremony.  Retreating to the captain’s quarters afterwards, he asks Elena if the crew seems to be buying it, particularly with his youth.  She says that Daum seems to be convinced that Miles was on Beta Colony for a secret rejuvenation treatment, which is widely believed in though utterly nonexistent, and so is much older than he looks.  Bel Thorne seems to have a crush on Miles, and Elena told Baz Jesek that Miles is the exiled and disinherited son of a Barrayaran Count.

He grinned in spite of himself. “Baz is a romantic.”

“He’s an exile himself, isn’t he?” she asked quietly. “Father doesn’t like him, but he won’t say why . . .” She looked at him expectantly.

“I won’t either, then. It’s—it’s not my business.”

“But he’s your liegeman now.”

“All right, so it is my business. I just wish it weren’t. But Baz will have to tell you himself.”

She smiled at him. “I knew you’d say that.” Oddly, the non-answer seemed to content her.

Elena says that she’s getting the more skilled of her combat students training the more hapless, which Miles approves.  She is quite happy to be doing things that she never thought she’d ever get to, brushing off Miles’s apologies for demanding so much of her.  Miles reminds her that this is all a hoax, but Elena tells him that Miles himself is holding it up.  Then she begins asking when he last slept, or ate, and when he can’t answer, and starts to become less focused and hyper, she leaves and returns soon with her father.  Bothari gives him some scotch and then puts him to bed.

“Now sleep.”

“Can’t sleep. Too much to do. Got to keep them moving. Wonder if I can fake a brochure? I suppose death-gild is nothing but a primitive form of life insurance, at that. Elena can’t possibly be right about Thorne. Hope to God my father never finds out about this—Sergeant, you won’t . . . ? I thought of a docking drill with the RG 132 . . .” His protests trailed off to a mumble, and he rolled over and slept dreamlessly for sixteen hours.

Comments

Miles begins to put flesh onto the fancy of the Dendarii Mercenaries that he started a couple of chapters ago.  Lacking the physical strength to keep the crew at bay, he turns his persuasive powers against them, to great effect.  I summarized a lot of the brilliant dialogue, but it’s well worth reading for itself.  I love it when the crew start asking for the regs and employment details, showing that they’re buying into his idea and catching Miles completely unprepared.  Perhaps the best scenes in the book, at any rate.

This chapter, and the one before, are the real beginning of the Baz-Elena relationship, starting with their being teamed in the assault on engineering, and Baz’s conspicuous bravery there.  Her discussion with Miles shows that she’s becoming curious about his past; reminds me a lot of Droushnakovi first asking questions about Koudelka in _Barrayar_.  Also the beginning of Bel Thorne’s crush on Miles, which takes a little while longer to pay off…  And the first appearance of Elli Quinn, even if she doesn’t get a first name yet–hi, Elli!

It’s hard to stop after these chapters–I actually just went ahead and read Chapter Eleven, and I was all like, “Oh, yeah!”


That’s all for this week, class.  I hope to see you all back here next week, though if you read ahead at home, I won’t take off marks.

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