Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Arde Mayhew’

As Canada continues to shiver in the grips of winter, I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, through the thaumaturgical principles of Sympathy, I can help to dispel the cold by means of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  After all, this week I am wrapping up the novella “Winterfair Gifts”, wherein Miles Vorkosigan gets married, in the middle of winter…and so, after that, it’s got to get warmer, right?  If only thaumaturgy wasn’t complete bunk.  (Well, I suppose if it wasn’t, then science would be out the window, and I like science, and besides, not everyone would use it for the pure purposes that I would.)  This week, as I mentioned, brings the last installment, as Roic and Taura alert Barrayaran Imperial Security about the peculiar contamination Taura found on one of the wedding presents…

Winterfair Gifts, Part 3

Roic debates waiting for Pym’s return, but decides that he is a Vorkosigan armsman, and senior on the scene, so he contacts ImpSec HQ as soon as possible.  Within half an hour, an ImpSec captain has arrived to take their statements and other evidence; Roic tries to be a clear and straightforward witness, though he does elide his initial suspicions of Taura.  He takes care to emphasize their doubts that Elli Quinn actually sent the gift, and the captain duly takes the cat blanket as evidence, as well as the pearls and any associated packaging; he’s done and gone before another half hour has passed.  Roic asks Taura if she wants to go get some sleep, but she says she wouldn’t be able to.  They settle down to wait.

“Quiet around here at night,” she said after a moment.

She was speaking to him again. Please, don’t stop. “Yeah. I sort of like it, though.”

“Oh, you too? The night watch is a philosophical kind of time. Its own world. Nothing moving out there but maybe people being born or people dying, necessity, and us.”

“Eh, and the bad night people we’re put on watch against.”

He asks her about Quinn, and she tells him how Quinn was “original equipment” with the Dendarii, and they’ve been through a lot over ten years together.  He expresses sympathy with her for her earlier dilemma, likening it to finding out his liege lord was conspiring against the Emperor, or trying to kill the Empress.  She says that as soon as she thought of it she couldn’t enjoy the party, as much as Miles wanted her to, and had to come back home.  She asks Roic what he would do, and he admits it’s a puzzle, but the Count has always said that there’s a “higher honour”, so they shouldn’t obey unthinkingly. Taura says that must be where Miles gets it from, and Roic quotes Mark as saying that integrity is a disease you can only catch from someone else who has it.  Roic says that he hopes he’d have the courage to turn on his lord if he had to.

He’s trying to bring himself to actually take Taura’s hand when he’s notified that the Vorkosigans and their party are returning from the Residence.  Pym, in attendance on the Countess, asks Roic absently if there’s anything to report, but his attention is caught when Roic tells him seriously that there is.  Once he has Pym alone, he gives him a summary of the night’s events; Pym isn’t certain there’s anything wrong, because he’d checked the necklace himself–though he didn’t touch it himself–but he allows that Roic was right to act on the suspicion, and ImpSec can handle the work.  Taura is a little disappointed by Pym’s reaction, but Roic says that’s probably the best they can hope for based on the little evidence they have.

Taura asks if she can stay with Roic until they hear back, and Roic agrees; he takes her down to the kitchen for refueling, guessing correctly that she’s running low on fuel again.  As they finish up, Pym comes to find them, looking almost sick as he tells them that ImpSec in fact found a designer Jacksonian neurotoxin on the pearls, designed to be activated by body heat and enough to kill anyone who wore it for as little as half an hour.  Roic says that Madame Vorsoisson had them on for about five minutes, and asks if she’s in danger; Pym says ImpSec is dispatching an expert to check her for symptoms, but says that she would be dead by now if the poison was going to kill her.  He thanks Roic again, several times, and says he’s going to brief Lord Vorkosigan on the situation.

Taura notes that the Jackson’s Whole origin doesn’t prove much, since they’ll sell to anyone, but Miles did make some enemies there as Admiral Naismith; by now that cover identity was pretty much blown.  She yawns, impressively, and Roic is struck not only by how tired she must be, but how lonely, in such a strange place.  He asks her if she could sleep, if he promises to wake her up if there’s any news; she says she could give it a try.

He escorted her to her door, past m’lord’s dark and empty suite. When he clasped her hand briefly, she clasped back. He swallowed, for courage.

“Dirty pearls, eh?” he said, still holding her hand. “Y’know . . . I don’t know about any other Barrayarans . . . but I think your genetic modifications are beautiful.”

Her lips curved up, he hoped not altogether bleakly. “You are getting better.”

When she let go and turned in, a claw trailing lightly over the skin of his palm made his body shudder in involuntary, sensual surprise. He stared at the closing door, and swallowed a perfectly foolish urge to call her back. Or follow her inside . . . he was still on duty, he reminded himself.

It’s close to dawn when M’lord returns to the house, looking more ghastly and strung-out than Roic has ever seen him, even after the disastrous dinner party.  He thanks Roic effusively, and tells him that Madame Vorsoisson was feeling better after the ImpSec doctor left; he castigates himself for having missed the signs of poisoning, from the necklace he’d put on her himself, which is like metaphor for this whole wedding.  Both of them had thought it was just her nerves, which he says can’t be a good sign.  He says there won’t be any long-term effects, luckily.  Roic is about to bring up the crying fit he’d witnessed before the pearls arrived, but thinks better of it.  Roic tells him that ImpSec has already come to check all of the other gifts, just in case, and hopes to have them back by afternoon.

He asks M’lord if he thinks Elli Quinn could have done it, and M’lord says it’s impossible–she’d beat Miles up personally if she was that mad at him; in any case, he’d broken up with Quinn months before even meeting Ekaterin, so jealousy doesn’t make sense.  Actually, he points out that it’s odd for the attempted poisoner to use Quinn’s name at all, because she’s linked to Admiral Naismith rather than Lord Vorkosigan, and hopes that that will give ImpSec a lead to use.

M’lord thanks Roic profusely for saving this wedding, and thus saving the whole future of the Vorkosigan house.  Roic admits that it was Taura who found the initial evidence, and Miles blesses her, saying he should kiss her all over.

Roic was beginning to think that line about the barbed wire choke chain wasn’t such a joke after all. All this frenetic tension was, if not precisely infectious, starting to get on what was left of his nerves. He remarked dryly, in Pym-like periods, “I was given to understand you already had, m’lord.”

M’lord jerked to a halt again. “Who told you that?”

Under the circumstances, Roic decided not to mention Madame Vorsoisson. “Taura.”

“Eh, maybe it’s the women’s secret code. I don’t have the key, though. You’re on your own there, boy.” He snorted a trifle hysterically. “But if you ever do win an invitation from her, beware—it’s like being mugged in a dark alley by a goddess. You’re not the same man, after. Not to mention critical feminine body parts on a scale you can actually find, and as for the fangs, there’s no thrill quite like—”

They are interrupted then by the Countess, somewhat to Roic’s embarrassment, though he reminds himself that the Vicereine is Betan, after all.  Miles begins telling her all about the poisoning, and threatening the culprit with dismemberment, before the Countess cuts him off, saying she’s been kept fully apprised, and recommending that he get some sleep so he’s not a total loss at his own wedding.  Miles insists he has to check everything first.

“The garden is fine. Everything is fine. As you have just discovered in Armsman Roic, here, your staff is more than competent.” She started down the stairs, a distinctly steely look in her eye. “It’s either a sleeptimer or a sledgehammer for you, son. I am not handing you off to your blameless bride in the state you’re in, or the worse one it’ll be if you don’t get some real sleep before this afternoon. It’s not fair to her.”

“Nothing about this marriage is fair to her,” m’lord muttered, bleak. “She was afraid it would be the nightmare of her old marriage all over again. No! It’s going to be a completely different nightmare—much worse . How can I ask her to step into my line of fire if—”

“As I recall, she asked you. I was there, remember. Stop gibbering.” The Countess took his arm, and began more-or-less frog-marching him upstairs. Roic made a mental note of her technique, for future reference. She glanced over her shoulder and gave Roic a reassuring, if rather unexpected, wink.

Roic goes to get some sleep himself, since he will also need to be rested for the afternoon’s events.  He’s woken up early by Armsman Jankowski though, summoned to a briefing in M’lord’s suite, right away, so he doesn’t stop to shave or do more than put on last night’s clothes.  He arrives to find M’lord waiting with Taura and Ivan Vorpatril, his cousin and Second; he recalls how a stern warning from the Count had suppressed Ivan’s mischievous nature, and Roic was betting, literally, on it lasting quite a while.  They are joined by General Allegre of ImpSec and the Count, and then the Countess and Ekaterin.

Allegre gives M’lord back the pearls, which he says have been thoroughly cleaned and pronounced safe; M’lord asks who precisely he has to think for this thoughtful gift.  Allegre says that the packaging shows that it came from Barrayar itself–not Escobar as the forged stamps claimed–but the pearls were of Earth origin, which helped to narrow it down.  The purchase has been traced to Lord Vorbataille, but they followed it further back to Vorbataille’s Jacksonian consultant, a man named Luca Tarpan, who they have also apprehended.  M’lord doesn’t recognize the name, but Allegre says he’s linked to the Bharaputrans; M’lord says that explains how he knew about both Quinn and Lord Vorkosigan, but isn’t sure that explains the vicious attack.  Allegre says it was just an attempt to sow confusion, ideally to cover their escape, but Vorbataille was already in custody by that point.  He apologizes for not having turned up this scheme in Vorbataille’s fast-penta interrogation; M’lord says pointedly they’d have found out about it in about an hour, and Allegre agrees, and proffers an apology to Madame Vorsoisson and the Vorkosigans.

He looked up at Roic and Taura, sitting side by side on the sofa opposite. “Fortunately, ImpSec was not your last line of defense.”

“Indeed,” rumbled the Count, who had seated himself on a straight chair turned backwards, arms comfortably crossed over its back, listening intently but without comment till now. Countess Vorkosigan stood by his side; her hand touched his shoulder, and he caught it under his own thicker one.

Allegre said, “Illyan once told me that half the secret of House Vorkosigan’s preeminence in Barrayaran history was the quality of the people it drew to its service. I’m glad to see this continues to hold true. Armsman Roic, Sergeant Taura—ImpSec salutes you with more gratitude than I can rightly express.” He did so, in a sober gesture altogether free of his sporadic irony.

Roic isn’t sure if he’s supposed to say something in response to that, like when he had to give a speech after the incident in Hassadar.  Conversation moves on, though, M’lord asking Madame Vorsoisson that that was her last warning.  He says he’ll have the pearls destroyed, but Madame Vorsoisson insists that she will wear them after all, as a defiance to their enemies.  The Countess reminds them that they still have to get dressed for the wedding, and ushers them out; Roic tells her that M’lord seems to be looking better, and she confides to him that they’d slipped him a double dose of tranquilizers, which seems to have calmed him down sufficiently.

Taura tells Roic that she hadn’t been sure Ekaterin was a match for Miles, but now she sees that Ekaterin has this “Vor” thing, which Elli never could understand, deep in her bones; Roic agrees.  She asks what he’s doing later, and he says that he has night duty all week…and probably for the rest of her stay on the planet.  He then dashes off to get changed.

By the time Roic makes his way downstairs to take his place next to Pym, guests are starting to arrive.  Already present had been Lady Alys and Simon Illyan, the Bothari-Jeseks, Mayhew and Nikki, and some Vorvaynes who hadn’t been able to fit in the Vorthyses’ house.  Duv and Delia Galeni arrive with the Vorbrettens and Vorrutyers, then the Koudelkas; Martya is standing in for her sister Kareen as Ekaterin’s Second.  Mark and Kareen were unable to attend because of their classes and the travel time, but Mark had sent a gift certificate for a Betan vacation as his wedding present, to encourage them to visit.  Martya heads upstairs while Dr. Borgos is searched for any contraband bugs, but she comes back downstairs sooner than Roic would have expected.  The rest of the Vorvaynes arrive, and Nikki proudly shows off his new jump-pilot friend Arde to his cousins, convincing him to hold forth with exciting war stories.

Finally, Gregor and Laisa show up, in attendance as Count and Countess Vorbarra so as not to outrank the Vorkosigans, and to grant them more social freedom.  Shortly thereafter, all hundred and twenty guests head back outside for the ceremony proper.

The air was cold but not bitter, and thankfully windless, the sky a deepening clear blue, the slanting afternoon sun liquid gold. It turned the snowy garden into as gilded, glittering, spectacular and utterly unique a showplace as m’lord’s heart could ever have desired. The flowers and ribbons were concentrated around the central place where the vows were to be, complementing the wild brilliance of the ice and snow and light.

Although Roic was fairly sure that the two realistically-detailed ice rabbits humping under a discreet bush were not part of the decorations m’lord had ordered . . . they did not pass unnoticed, as the first person to observe them immediately pointed them out to everyone within earshot. Ivan Vorpatril averted his gaze from the cheerfully obscene artwork—the rabbits were grinning—a look of innocence on his face. The Count’s menacing glower at him was alas undercut by an escaping snicker, which became a guffaw when the Countess whispered something in his ear.

In the center of the garden, on a circle of brick decorated with the Vorkosigan crest, are the circles of groats, and the groom’s party take their places.  Roic, with the armsmen, is concerned not to see Taura among the guests anywhere.  The bride’s party make their way out on foot, Miles having been dissuaded from fetching his bride out on horseback in Old Vor style; Lady Alys is in the lead, followed by Ekaterin on her father’s arm, still defiantly wearing her pearls.  Roic’s gaze is immediately caught by Taura, walking in the procession as the bride’s Second, and he spots Martya Koudelka with the rest of the guests, watching Taura almost smugly.

Taura’s dress was everything that Lady Alys had promised. Champagne-colored velvet exactly matched her eyes, which seemed to spring to a brilliant prominence in her face. The jacket sleeves and long swinging skirt were decorated on their margins with black cord shaped into winding patterns. Champagne-colored orchids coiled in her bound-back hair. Roic thought he’d never seen anything so stunningly sophisticated in his life.

Everyone took their places. M’lord and m’lady-to-be stepped into the inner circle, hands gripping hands like two lovers drowning. The bride looked not so much radiant as incandescent; the groom looked gobsmacked. Lord Ivan and Taura were handed the two little bags of groats with which to close the circle, then stood back to their star points between Count and Countess Vorkosigan and Vorvayne and his wife. Lady Alys read out the vows, and m’lord and m’lady-to . . . m’lady repeated their responses, her voice clear, his only cracking once. The kiss was managed with remarkable grace, m’lady somehow bending her knee in a curtsey-like motion so m’lord didn’t have to stretch unduly. It suggested thought and practice. Lots of practice.

Ivan opens up the groat circle and collects his kiss from the bride as Lord and Lady Vorkosigan make their way out, past the row of armsmen, saluting with their sword, Pym leading the Armsmen’s Shout; Taura follows on Ivan’s arm, followed by the rest of the guests.  Pym looks like he wants to faint in sheer relief at how perfectly the ceremony came off.

The main dining room of the house seats ninety-six, with the overflow in an adjacent room joined by an archway.  Roic is on duty, not serving at table, but to deal with any emergencies or miscellaneous guest needs; Taura is sitting at the head table between Ivan and Gregor, glowing from the attention, and Roic wishes he was in their place.

Martya Koudelka comes up and greets him, noting how wonderful Taura looks; she explains how she heard the story of what happened last night, and Ekaterin asked her to let Taura take her place.  She was happy enough to do it, since it meant she wouldn’t have to sit with Ivan; Ekaterin said it was one honour she could bestow of herself.  She gives Roic a kiss on the cheek for his own part in the night’s events, for saving them from having to live with a really crazy Miles Vorkosigan.

At the dance afterwards, Taura sits out, commenting to Roic as he passes by that she doesn’t know any of the dances anyway.  Roic says he can’t dance, being on duty and all, but also admits he doesn’t know them either.

On the sixth number, m’lady danced past Roic with her eldest brother Hugo.

“Splendid necklace, Kat. From your spouse, is it?”

“No, actually. From one of his . . . business associates.”

“Expensive!”

“Yes.” M’lady’s faint smile made the hairs stir on Roic’s arms. “I expect it to cost him everything he has.”

Before the evening is too advanced, the bridal couple make their escape via aircar to their Vorkosigan Surleau honeymoon retreat.  The rest of the guests will mostly stay in the capital for a few more days, though the galactic guests will make their way down to Vorkosigan Surleau as well–Elena in particular, to burn a death-offering for her father.  Armsman Jankowski is flying the aircar; Pym, who would normally be doing it, informs Roic that he’s shuffled the duty schedule.  Pym himself, who apparently feels he hasn’t been getting the blame he deserves for letting the pearls slip past, is punishing himself with the night shift, and giving Roic, at m’lady’s request, the week off with double pay, as soon as the Vorbarras leave.  The sendoff is capped with fireworks, both official and unofficial; the latter batch, discreetly supplied by the Count, are administered by Arde Mayhew and, mostly, Taura.

The party winds down slowly, sleepy children being carried off, the Vorbarras and their discreet ImpSec servants leaving, and the younger generation taking over the dance floor with more energetic music while their remaining elders head off to quieter rooms for wine and conversation.  Roic happens upon Taura going through a platter of treats in a side room, and asks if she’d had a good time; she says it was wonderful, and enthuses about her visit to Barrayar.  Roic reminds himself he’s off-duty and sits down with her.

She’s there for ten more days, he realizes, which doesn’t seem like it would be enough time to spend with her.  He asks her if she thought of staying there, finding a place for herself; she says she already has a place, and Roic asks if she’s sure being a mercenary is much of a future.  After a moment, she tells him how her genetic modifications include a shortened lifespan; she says that the doctors tell her that she only has a year left, but she adds that they’ve been saying that for several years already, and the lifespan of a soldier is uncertain anyway.

“Part of me wishes the medics would get it settled. Part of me says, the hell with it. Every day is a gift. Me, I rip open the package and wolf it down on the spot.”

He looked up at her in wonder. His grip tightened, as though she might be pulled from him as they sat, right now, if he didn’t hold hard enough. He leaned over, reached across and picked off the fragile petal, touched it to his lips. He took a deep, scared breath. “Can you teach me how to do that?”

Her fantastic gold eyes widened. “Why, Roic! I think that’s the most delicately-worded proposition I’ve ever received. S’ beautiful.” An uncertain pause. “Um, that was a proposition, wasn’t it? I’m not always sure I parlay Barrayaran.”

Desperately terrified now, he blurted in what he imagined to be merc-speak, “Ma’am, yes, ma’am!”

This won an immense fanged smile— not in a version he’d ever seen before. It made him, too, want to fall over backwards, though preferably not into a snow bank. He glanced around. The softly-lit room was littered with abandoned plates and wineglasses, detritus of pleasure and good company. Low voices chatted idly in the next chamber. Somewhere in another room, softened by the distance, a clock was chiming the hour. Roic declined to count the beats.

They floated in a bubble of fleeting time, live heat in the heart of a bitter winter. He leaned forward, raised his face, slid his hand around her warm neck, drew her face down to his. It wasn’t hard. Their lips brushed, locked.

Several minutes later, in a shaken, hushed voice, he breathed, ” . . . wow . . .”

Several minutes after that , they went upstairs, hand in hand.

Comments

Once they’ve settled on notifying ImpSec, most the “action” the occurs after that is offscreen.  ImpSec gathers information and then manages to identify and chase down the culprits.  Who are, perhaps unsurprisingly, related to the Auditor case that Miles has just been working on, which can now be seen to be a sort of Chekov’s Gun–if they weren’t important to the plot, why had they been brought up earlier?  Sort of like the offhand mention near the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice of the conspirators who show up at the end.  There is some tension–first, about whether Taura’s guess is correct, and then, about what’s going to happen to Ekaterin–and then, I suppose, on whether this is going to quash the wedding entirely.  But Ekaterin reaffirms her dedication to life with Miles, however risky it will be, and all is well again.

Duv and Delia are already married by this point, apparently, having managed to sneak their wedding in between Gregor’s and Miles’s, and Martya and Enrique still seem to be together, too.  And the reference to “the Vorrutyers” makes me wonder if Dono and Olivia are already wed, too.  Or maybe that was supposed to be Dono and Byerly…probably not, since I’m not convinced that By was invited.  Maybe he was; on some level, perhaps, Miles and Ekaterin may owe their getting together to him.  After all, without By’s efforts, would Richars have ended up provoking Ekaterin into proposing?  Well, that’s a little questionable, though.  I’m inclined to think that Roic would have made some comment about By’s presence, so perhaps he wasn’t there after all.  Or maybe the author just didn’t want to reintroduce him…

The romance plotline winds up after the wedding; Roic and Taura were already mostly reconciled after his earlier gaffe about mutations, after joining forces over the pearls, so all it takes is for him to actually have an opportunity to seize.  Pym’s guilt provides him the opportunity, and then he actually takes it.  I’m always surprised that Roic doesn’t find out about Taura’s reduced life expectancy until right at the end there, but I guess it’s not something that she necessarily advertises.  I confess that I’m not convinced that the resolution of the plot is going to be true love or anything, but a certain amount of seizing of the moment, at least, perhaps a ten-day fling.  (Is that a week, on Barrayar, to coincide with Roic’s vacation?  I can’t remember.)  Roic and Taura’s long-term relationship prospects are about as good as Miles and Elli’s were, for about the same reasons…but they can have something, if not a life together.

<hr/>

And now, having wrapped up “Winterfair Gifts”, and Miles In Love, I will once again be taking a week off before heading into Diplomatic Immunity.  I may have mentioned that we’re out of the Vorkosigan stories that I love, and into the ones that I like somewhat, or are okay.  Of course, Diplomatic Immunity is the only one I’ve read more than once, so maybe I’ll like the others better on reread, but who knows.  In any case, I might as well keep going…after my week off, of course.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

As snow, accustomed or unaccustomed, blankets much of North America, we must turn to indoor pursuits to keep us warm and entertained.  So let’s…read a story set in the middle of winter?  Well, at least it’s mostly indoors…  I am, of course, referring to Lois McMaster Bujold’s novella “Winterfair Gifts”, a somewhat interstitial story which actually depicts the wedding strongly implied by the ending of A Civil Campaign…which, of course, ended with a completely different wedding.  The novella originally appeared in the anthology Irresistible Forces, dedicated to science fiction and fantasy romance tales (later reprinted, of course, in the omnibus Miles in Love, as were the two previous novels), and as such is a romance…though not, this time, starring Miles Vorkosigan, despite the fact that it’s his wedding we’re here to see…

Winterfair Gifts (Part 1)

After notification by the gate guard, Armsman Roic drops the house shields and prepares to admit Lord Vorkosigan and his guests.  He checks that his uniform is spotless, flashing back, as he does so, to the horrible humiliation when Lord Vorkosigan had arrived with other guests, to find Roic clad only in briefs and bug butter.  He’s afraid that Lord Vorkosigan thinks he’s an idiot, and castigates himself for not having blocked the Escobarans’ incursion in the first place, even though he hadn’t been on duty at the time.

The groundcar arrives, and Armsman Pym emerges, glancing inside as if to assure himself that there won’t be a repeat of the previous drama for M’Lord’s Important Off-World Wedding Guests.  Pym has also seemed to treat him like an idiot since the bug-butter incident.  Roic stands to attention as Lord Vorkosigan enters with his guests, and Roic identifies them to himself.  The couple with the baby are the Bothari-Jeseks, and Pym has informed Roic that Elena Bothari-Jesek has full rights to the house, as the daughter of a former Armsman.  The man with the jump pilot implants must be the Betan, Arde Mayhew.  The other one…

The hulking figure unfolded from the groundcar and stood up, and up. Pym, who was almost as tall as Roic, did not come quite up to its shoulder. It shook out the swirling folds of a gray and white greatcoat of military cut, and threw back its head. The light from overhead caught the face and gleamed off . . . were those fangs, hooked over the out-slung lower jaw?

Sergeant Taura was the name that went with it, by process of elimination. One of m’lord’s old military buddies, Pym had given Roic to understand, and—don’t be fooled by the rank—of some particular importance (if rather mysterious, as was everything connected with Lord Miles Vorkosigan’s late career in Imperial Security.) Pym was former ImpSec himself. Roic was not, as he was reminded, oh, three times a day on average.

Sergeant Taura enters with the rest, and Roic is startled to discover, after the removal of the greatcoat, that Taura is female.  Lord Vorkosigan asks Roic about his parents, and Roic informs him that they have arrived home from their earlier engagement.  Miles tells Elena that he’ll have to take her and Baby Cordelia up to meet her namesake right away, or else.  He tasks Roic with showing Mayhew and Taura to their rooms, and says they’ll all meet up in the library later.  Roic manages to ask Taura if he can carry her bag, and she acquiesces; he carries it up the stairs for her, though it’s much heavier than he’d expected.  Mayhew, tired and jump-lagged, goes to his room first, and Roic shows Taura to hers.

Taura asks if Winterfair weddings are a custom, and Roic explains it’s mostly because Madame Vorsoisson is a student, between semesters–though a widow, not a young student.  He asks her if Mayhew likes children, since Nikki Vorsoisson is mad for jump pilots; Taura admits that she’s not sure, since the fleet doesn’t encounter that many, and Roic makes a mental note to make sure Nikki doesn’t meet up with a rebuff.  Taura muses that it makes sense for Miles to wed a Vor woman, though she’s not sure what that means, precisely; she asks Roic to explain Vor to her, but he has difficulty articulating it.

“Now that Barrayar has modernized, isn’t a hereditary aristocracy resented by the rest of your classes?”

“But they’re our Vor.”

“Says the Barrayaran. Hm. So, you can criticize them, but heaven help any outsider who dares to?”

“Yes,” he said, relieved that she seemed to have grasped it despite his stumbling tongue.

She asks Roic if this Madame Vorsoisson loves Miles, and Roic assures her that she does, though privately he wonders at her dark and pensive mood of late.  Taura asks if he’s served Lord Vorkosigan long, and Roic says he’s been there about a year, brought up from the Hassadar Municipal Guard when a vacancy came open.  He asks her the same question, and she says she’s served Miles all her life–all her real life, at least–and asserts that he’s a great man.  Roic isn’t sure of that, but Count Vorkosigan certainly is, of course.  He likes Lord Vorkosigan well enough, and sympathizes with the challenges he’s faced because of his…birth injuries.  He tells her the way to the library, says she doesn’t need to dress formally, and takes his leave.

He makes a security circuit of the house, and then returns to the library, where Taura and Mayhew are examining the wedding gifts that have arrived so far–each of them unwrapped, checked by Pym, and rewrapped before the bride and groom even get to see them.  Some of them have been unwrapped again, and Mayhew and Taura look for their own, and Elli Quinn’s–who is not attending.  Taura holds up Elli’s gift–a bioengineered cat blanket–and they speculate on whether it’s the same one that Miles once gave to Elli, or if it’s a new one, and what message she’s trying to send by it; Taura tells Mayhew not to say anything of this to the bride, or else.

Lord Vorkosigan pokes his head out of the library and says that Elena is feeding the baby, and they’ll be down in a little while; he tells Taura to come in and try his cook’s hors d’oeuvres.  As M’Lord looks up at Taura, Roic is suddenly struck that regular women are, to M’Lord, the same proportion as Taura is to Roic.  As Taura heads in, Lord Vorkosigan tells Roic that, tomorrow, he’ll be escorting Taura to Alys Vorpatril’s modiste in the Old Town to get her a proper lady’s wardrobe.  Roic is daunted with the prospect of being in the formidable Lady Alys’s presence, and asks how he managed it; M’Lord says that she relishes and challenge, and hopes that she’ll be able to convince Taura to wear something other than the wholly unsuitable colour pink, which she clings to because it’s supposed to be non-threatening.

He tells Roic to be sure to endorse whatever Lady Alys picks, and also to be sure to try and safeguard Taura from any insult or snub that might make her uncomfortable, as much as possible.  He’d be there himself, but he won’t have time this close to the wedding.  Roic asks after Lady Vorsoisson, thinking of a crying jag he’d come across in a back corridor; M’Lord says she’s under a lot of stress, which he’s trying to minimize, and Roic wonders if he knows too.

M’lord brightened. “Anyway, I want Sergeant Taura to have a great time on her visit to Barrayar, a fabulous Winterfair season. It’s probably the only chance she’ll ever have to see the place. I want her to look back on this week like, like . . . dammit, I want her to feel like Cinderella magicked off to the ball. She’s earned it, God knows. Midnight tolls too damned soon.”

Roic tried to wrap his mind around the concept of Lord Vorkosigan as the enormous woman’s fairy godfather. “So . . . who’s t’ handsome prince?”

M’lord’s smile went crooked; something almost like pain sounded in his indrawn breath. “Ah. Yes. That would be the central problem, now. Wouldn’t it.”

Lady Vorpatril’s modiste is identified by only a single plaque reading Estelle, and Roic is a little daunted as he leads Taura up the stairs.  They enter a room that looks like nothing more than a Vor lady’s drawing room; Lady Vorpatril is already there with another woman, and turn to greet Taura and Roic as they enter; they seem to take Taura in stride, obviously having been pre-warned, but aren’t quite so equable about her pink pantsuit.  Roic not being sure how to do the introductions, Lady Alys takes matters into her own hands and greets Taura warmly; Taura, a little shyly, says she hadn’t known what to expect–someone older and not so beautiful, perhaps.

“I’m very happy to have a chance to visit Miles’s—Lord Vorkosigan’s homeworld,” Taura told them. “Although when he invited me to come for the Winterfair Season, I wasn’t sure if it was hunting or social, and whether I should pack weapons or dresses.”

Lady Vorpatril’s smile sharpened. “Dresses are weapons, my dear, in sufficiently skilled hands. Permit us to introduce you to the rest of our ordnance team.” She gestured toward a door at the far end of the room, through which presumably lay more utilitarian work rooms, full of laser scanners and design consoles and bolts of exotic fabrics and expert seamstresses. Or magic wands, for all Roic knew.

Roic asks, in mild panic, what he should do, and Lady Alys just tells him to wait.  Not daring to sit on the furniture, he keeps standing, in a position he can maintain for hours if necessary.  Lady Alys returns shortly with Taura’s pink outfit, and gives them to Roic with instructions to see them hidden, or burned, so that they won’t fall into Taura’s hands again.  She dismisses him and tells him to come back in about four hours; ornamental as he is, there’s no need for him to clutter up the reception room.  When he returns, he has to wait for a little longer before Lady Alys emerges, watching carefully for his reaction.

A stunning vision in hunter green stepped through behind her.

Oh, it was still Taura, certainly, but . . . the skin that had been sallow and dull against the pink was now revealed as a glowing ivory. The green jacket fit very trimly about the waist. Above, her pale shoulders and long neck seemed to bloom from a white linen collar; below, the jacket skirt skimmed out briefly around the upper hips. A narrow skirt continued the long green fall to her firm calves. Wide linen cuffs decorated with subtle white braid made her hands look, if not small, well-proportioned. The pink nail polish was gone, replaced by a dark mahogany shade. The heavy braid hanging down her back had been transformed into a mysteriously knotted arrangement, clinging close to her head and set off with a green . . . hat? feather? anyway, a neat little accent tilted to the other side. The odd shape of her face seemed suddenly artistic and sophisticated rather than distorted.

“Ye-es,” said Lady Vorpatril. “That will do.”

Roic closed his mouth.

Taura asks how she’s supposed to bodyguard anyone in an outfit like this; Lady Alys says that men will be lining up to deal with annoying people, which Roic enthusiastically agrees with.  Taura asks if it’s effective, and Roic agrees that it’s terrifying; this dampens Taura’s enthusiasm, and she complains that she already terrifies people, and asks if she shouldn’t wear the pink after all…  Lady Alys desperately tries to persuade her that that’s for younger girls, and she herself would never wear pink bows…  Taura will just have to settle for braver men, she says; Taura says she already knew that, but hoped that fewer of them would be put off.  Although the one she wants is already taken, she says, and Roic wonders what giant of a man she’s referring to.

Lady Alys then takes them to an exclusive tea room, at least partly to refuel Taura’s metabolism, but also for Lady Alys to brief her on proper conduct and manners; Taura absorbs the instruction with fair ease, before Roic’s eyes.  Roic is used as a practice gentleman in some examples, bringing him in for some correction himself, but he reassures himself that next to Taura he’s almost invisible.

During Lady Alys’s brief absence, Taura says that she’s obviously very good at what she does, as Miles’s people generally are.  Just then, a woman passes by the table with a small child, who points out Taura to her mother; Taura tries a reassuring smile, but the child screams in fear, and her mother swiftly takes her out of the tea room.  Taura’s mood seems utterly deflated, and Roic castigates himself for not having dealt with the incident, which was exactly the kind of thing Lord Vorkosigan had tasked him to do.  Lady Alys returns and tries to reassure Taura, but Taura starts to withdraw into herself and try to hide her mouth.  Roic wishes he was back in Hassadar.

He feels much the worse for wear when he arrives back at Vorkosigan House with Lady Alys and Taura, carrying an armload of parcels (and that only a part of what they had bought at Estelle’s).  M’lord calls them in to the library, where he introduces Taura to Madame Vorsoisson, who greets the large galactic woman with aplomb despite her visible fatigue.  M’lord compliments Taura’s new outfit and hairdo, though Taura points out that she does use dye to hide the gray.  Voices from the hall turn out to be Pym admitting Simon Illyan, who takes Lady Alys’s arm and tells Taura he’s glad to actually meet her at last.

Illyan tells Miles that ImpSec has arrested Lord Vorbataille as he was trying to sneak off the planet, and Miles is relieved to hear it, having hoped to get the case closed before Winterfair.  Taura asks for details, and M’lord explains that Lord Vorbataille, heir to a Countship, had gotten in deep with a Jacksonian smuggling ring; the Jacksonians have been dealt with, but Vorbataille was still at large until now.  M’lord expects that the Lord will either be given the chance for a proper suicide, or else merely executed.  The Emperor had, after the hijacking of the Princess Olivia, and the deaths of its passengers, been especially fervent in his desire to see them all brought to justice.  Roic wishes to himself that he’d been able to take part in the case, but Pym has had him on night duty for weeks and weeks.

To change the subject, M’lord encourages Madame Vorsoisson to open her next gift, another one from Elli Quinn, according to the card.  It turns out to be a triple-strand pearl choker, all the way from Earth; she puts it on just for a moment, but takes them off after a brief look in the mirror, saying that they’ll go better with her wedding outfit, and Lady Alys heartily agrees.  M’lord seems relieved to hear this, but Taura frowns.  M’lord says he needs to speak to Illyan, and Lady Alys takes Taura off to freshen up; Madame Vorsoisson says that Nikki is monopolizing Arde Mayhew, and heads off to rescue the pilot.

Roic asks Madame Vorsoisson if she knows how old Sergeant Taura is; she says Taura is twenty-six.  Roic wonders why she had gray hairs, if she’s bioengineered and all, and Madame Vorsoisson says it’s not hers to say.  She can tell him that Miles rescued her a super-soldier project on Jackson’s Whole, and adds that she’s become a valued operative and occasional lover.  Roic is surprised that she seems fine with that, and she says that it was before her time, and now that she’s met Taura, she thinks Miles was bragging a little when he told her of it.  Madame Vorsoisson refuses to comment on Roic’s incredulous queries on the logistics of it, apart from saying that “a height differential matters much less when two people are lying down”.

Only an hour later, Roic is asked to bring the ground-car around, to take Madame Vorsoisson back home; she seems to be feeling poorly, but she insists it’s just a headache, no fever.  M’lord hesitantly suggests that it might just be nerves; Madame Vorsoisson isn’t sure.  M’lord apologizes if the pressures of the wedding are getting too great, and says he’ll call it off if she wants him to.  She says she needs to get home in case she get seriously ill, and Roic takes her arm; M’lord says he’ll send Nikki home later as Roic helps her into the groundcar, where she sits with her head cradled in her hands.

Comments

This novella is such an odd duck for the Vorkosigan stories.  Roic as a viewpoint character, a plot as much concerned with the developing relationship between him and Taura as it is with the mystery of Ekaterin’s sudden illness…  Actually, in some ways I think of it was more of a novelette than a novella–a long short story, rather than a short novel.  The scene and timeframe are fairly compressed, the action somewhat more slight–I don’t think there’s really a physical confrontation at all, for instance.  “The Mountains of Mourning” might be on a similar scale, i suppose, as opposed to the more robust adventure of “Labyrinth” or “The Borders of Infinity”.  The “Weatherman” novella, drawn from the beginning of The Vor Game, might be even closer.

At this point we’d barely seen Roic, just as one of the new Armsmen from A Civil Campaign, and the one who got himself into the biggest mess (literally) at the end.  (I’m reminded of how Pym is “the new Armsman” back in “Mountains of Mourning”, which I suppose is a few years ago by now…)  It’s nice to see him with a little different background, a Hassadar police officer rather than retired ImpSec or other military service, though he is still a little awkward among the nobility.  I read this story somewhat after Diplomatic Immunity, where we see a little more of Roic, though not POV there either.

One of the struggles in doing things from Roic’s POV, for me, is trying to call the characters what he would call them.  So, not just using “Miles” or “Ekaterin”, but “Lord Vorkosigan” (thankfully, usually abbreviated to “M’lord”) and “Madame Vorsoisson”.  I confess I’m usually not nearly that scrupulous–even from Miles’s POV, I’ll usually just call his parents “Aral” and “Cordelia”, but I’ll try to keep it up for Roic’s story here.


I confess I may be a bit lazy in splitting the story up into three parts, as I am, but I found the long chapters of A Civil Campaign somewhat wearying, at times, and I’m happy enough to pull back a little.  I mean, some of those chapters were over 10,000 words–almost half the length of this novella–so maybe I could do it in one installment, but I’d wear myself out.  So I’ll pace myself more this time, and split it–at scene breaks, at least–into rough thirds.  Until next week, then…

Read Full Post »

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

Chapter Fifteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


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

Read Full Post »

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

Chapter Eleven

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

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

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

“It was by mistake,” said Gregor.

“No lie. Whose?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry,” said Miles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

DUN DUN DUN!

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

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

Chapter Twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

Read Full Post »

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…

Read Full Post »

[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.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »