Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Auson’

While surfing the web, you hear a knock on the door.

>OPEN DOOR

You see a Vorkosigan Saga Reread here.

>EXAMINE REREAD

The Vorkosigan Saga Reread is an ongoing series dedicated to exploring the Vorkosigan Saga, a science fiction series written by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Its main character, Barrayaran Lord Miles Vorkosigan, has a double life as mercenary Admiral Miles Naismith, a recently-discovered clone-brother, lots of friends and enemies, and a few relatives.  It looks like the Vorkosigan Saga Reread is about to start a new book.

>EXAMINE BOOK

Mirror Dance is a Hugo-winning novel which, in the opinion of the Reread’s author, begins the strongest sequence of books in the entire series, as Miles meets up with his clone-brother once again.

>ENTER REREAD

Chapter One

The row of comconsole booths lining the passenger concourse of Escobar’s largest commercial orbital transfer station had mirrored doors, divided into diagonal sections by rainbow-colored lines of lights. Doubtless someone’s idea of decor. The mirror-sections were deliberately set slightly out of alignment, fragmenting their reflections. The short man in the gray and white military uniform scowled at his divided self framed therein.

He examines his reflection, dwarfish and subtle deformed, in a generic mercenary uniform.  The booth opens and the woman inside emerges, taken aback by his glower and quickly excusing herself; he manages to mutter something polite in return, before entering the booth and closing the door.  He pauses to gather his courage, noting that there’s a damned mirror inside the booth as well.  He inventories his remaining personal possessions–300 Betan dollars on a credit chit, three false identities, none of them matching whoever he was now, a comb, and a data cube.  Finally he punches in a long-memorized number and puts at least a neutral expression on his face.

The woman who answers identifies herself as Dendarii Comm Officer Hereld, and immediately, and enthusiastically, recognizes “Admiral Naismith”.  He asks for a pickup at the station, and when asked says it’s just him, no Elli Quinn, no other personnel or equipment.  He pauses to wonder nervously whether he should include something personal for Hereld, then confines himself to adding that he wishes to be taken directly to the Ariel, and to notify Captain Thorne that they will be leaving orbit soon.

“Naismith out.” He cut the comm. She vanished in a haze of sparkles, and he let out a long breath. Admiral Naismith. Miles Naismith. He had to get used to responding to that name again, even in his sleep. Leave the Lord Vorkosigan part completely out of it, for now; it was difficult enough just being the Naismith half of the man. Drill. What is your name? Miles. Miles. Miles.

Lord Vorkosigan pretended to be Admiral Naismith. And so did he. What, after all, was the difference?

He is, of course, really Miles’s clone Mark, but right now he wills his name to be Miles Naismith; leaving the booth, he heads off at a trot to where the shuttle will be picking him up.

The pilot of the shuttle seems as eager to see Naismith as Hereld was, as if he were “about to pull treats from his pockets”.  Mark fends off the pilot’s enquiries mildly and feigns tiredness.  As he pretends to doze, he thinks about how everyone seems to be so damned energized by Miles’s mere presence–even his enemies, and wonders how the hyperactive idiot did it.  Nobody ever reacted to the unalloyed Mark that way…  Bel Thorne will be a bit of a test for him, an old friends of Miles’s, as well as one who knows about Mark’s existence, so any mistakes might lead him to the truth about Mark’s identity.  It annoys him that Miles is now claiming that Admiral Naismith is a clone of Lord Vorkosigan, just another swipe at Mark’s identity.  But he reassures himself that he’ll be fine with Thorne, as long as he avoids Elli Quinn, who’s off with the real Miles anyway.  After twenty years of imprisonment by the Komarrans, and two years of one disaster after another, this is his last chance, so he has to make it work.

The shuttle docks at the Ariel, which Mark thinks is a good, fast ship for running away in.  They dock, and Mark dismisses the pilot and debarks, to meet Captain Thorne at last.  Mark isn’t bothered by Thorne being a hermaphrodite–as a clone, he has sympathy for the genetically different–but he is a little disturbed by Thorne’s “I-love-Naismith” face.  He’s completely caught off guard when Bel steps forward and hugs him, and only barely endures it, relieved that Thorne doesn’t try to kiss him, too.  Thorne asks what the matter is, and Mark says he’s just tired.  He says he’d rather just go straight to the mission briefing–just to Thorne, so he doesn’t have to risk contact with more of the crew than necessary.

He lets Thorne lead him to its private quarters, making careful note of the route, because Naismith is intimately familiar with the Ariel‘s layout.  In its cabin, Thorne gets out some tea and offers some to Mark, who asks for “the usual”.  Mark sips the tea, finding it pleasant if not quite sweet enough for him, but decides not to risk asking for sugar.  Thorne says the mission is obviously going to be a “lovely” one, from “Miles”‘s mood, and Mark confirms it.  He tells Thorne that they’re going to be hitting the Bharaputra clone creche on Jackson’s Whole.  Thorne, dismayed, asks if they’re going to be killing the clones; Mark says they’ll be rescuing them, to Thorne’s relief and wholehearted endorsement.  Thorne says that he’s long hated the House Bharaputra brain-transplant business, to Mark’s surprise and pleasure.

The arrangement was simple, though the surgical procedure upon which it was based was fiendishly complex. A clone was grown from a customer’s somatic cell, gestated in a uterine replicator and then raised to physical maturity in Bharaputra’s crèche, a sort of astonishingly-appointed orphanage. The clones were valuable, after all, their physical conditioning and health of supreme importance. Then, when the time was right, they were cannibalized. In an operation that claimed a total success rate of rather less than one hundred percent, the clone’s progenitor’s brain was transplanted from its aged or damaged body into a duplicate still in the first bloom of youth. The clone’s brain was classified as medical waste.

The procedure illegal everywhere except Jackson’s Whole, which allows them to a keep a monopoly on it.  Mark finds himself genuinely touched by Thorne’s anger over the practice, and he finds himself on the verge of tears.  Thorne asks if taking the Ariel is a good idea, since Baron Ryoval may recognize it; Mark has no clue what he’s talking about, and says they’ll just avoid House Ryoval.  Thorne asks what the real motivation for the mission is, since it knows that their employers must have a hidden purpose.  Mark tells Thorne his prepared story, that one of the clones is of particular interest, but he’d prefer that they treat all of the clones alike, so that the Bharaputrans won’t have a clue which one is the real target.

Thorne asks if they have any backup, and Mark tells Thorne not to count on it.  Thorne asks if there are any known threats, apart from Bharaputra, Ryoval and Fell, and Mark doesn’t have any more information, but tells it to take over the planning and logistics and Mark himself will look after the final assault on the creche.  There will be about fifty or sixty kids, which should fit aboard the Ariel, though it will be a little tight.  Speed is of the essence, since every week means another young clone murdered, and Thorne takes this to mean that their target’s surgery is coming due.

Thorne asks about funds, and Mark says the mission is strictly cash on delivery.  To authorize withdrawing what money they need from the Fleet funds, Thorne scans Mark’s palm.  The scanner rejects it the first time, but while Mark is on the verge of panic, Thorne is apparently used to it malfunctioning, and it works the second time.  Thorne says it knows which commando squad “Naismith” will want, and Mark faintly agrees.  Thorne tells him his “usual” cabin will be ready for him, and asks when Quinn will be joining them.  Mark says she won’t be coming along, and Thorne is extremely interested by this.  Mark tells them to send “his” kit over from Triumph and send him up a meal.  Thorne is happy to note that “Miles” seems to be eating better, though not sleeping as well; Mark has in fact been having trouble keeping his weight down to fit Miles’s uniforms.

After leaving Thorne’s quarters, Mark has to try a number of room locks before finding the correct one.  He has a shower and emerges just in time for his meal, which he notes is calculated for Miles’s tastes, and appetite, to the smallest detail.  As he’s finishing that, a Dendarii non-com brings in his gear from the Triumph.  The non-com offers to be his batman for the trip, and Mark eventually has to show a little exasperation to get rid of him.  Left alone, he opens the crate with anticipation, like what he imagines birthday presents would be like.  There are, indeed, many suits of clothes in all styles, including real space battle armour and half-armour for ground combat, and a command headset which he resolves to learn how to use.

He packs it all up again and is just about asleep when Thorne buzzes him to tell him the commando squad is assembled and ready for him to inspect.  With a sigh he gets back up and dressed, manages to pick the right shuttle bay, and pauses to observe the commandos before stepping among them.  As he’s inspecting them, one more emerges from the shuttle.

He stood paralyzed with panic. Whatinhell was it? He stared at a flashing belt buckle, then tilted his head back, straining his neck. The freaking thing was eight feet tall. The enormous body radiated power that he could feel almost like a wave of heat, and the face—the face was a nightmare. Tawny yellow eyes, like a wolf’s, a distorted, outslung mouth with fangs, dammit, long white canines locked over the edges of the carmine lips. The huge hands had claws, thick, powerful, razor-edged—enamelled with carmine polish. . . . What? His gaze traveled back up to the monster’s face. The eyes were outlined with shadow and gold tint, echoed by a little gold spangle glued decoratively to one high cheekbone. The mahogany-colored hair was drawn back in an elaborate braid. The belt was cinched in tightly, emphasizing a figure of sorts despite the loose-fitting multi-gray flight suit. The thing was female—?

“Sergeant Taura and the Green Squad, reporting as ordered, sir!” The baritone voice reverberated in the bay.

Mark is barely able to speak from shock, but he dismisses them and tells them to get their orders from Thorne.  Taura stays behind to thank him for the mission, surprising Mark with her familiar attitude.  She is also extremely interested by Elli’s absence, and tells him that she’ll be his bodyguard any time, “lover”…  She places her mouth on his in what he belatedly realizes is a kiss, and he has to feign recent illness to explain it.  She offers to carry him to sickbay, but he insists he just needs rest.  On his way back to the cabin, he wonders what the hell his crazy clone-brother had been up to with that eight-foot monstrosity, and wonders how his briefings could have missed so many little details about Admiral Naismith’s life.

As he lies back down, he feels the ship unclamp from the Escobar orbital station and head off towards Jackson’s Whole.  Exhilarated, he realizes he’s done it, stealing an entire Dendarii ship and crew from his brother, and now he’s on the way to claim his own destiny.

But if you claim your destiny, his demon voice whispered at the last, before the night’s oblivion, why can’t you claim your name?

Comments

I took as few classes in English literature as I could, so I’m not normally good at catching symbolism and stuff, but by this point I can pick up on the obvious mirror imagery here.  The mirror dance itself dates back to Barrayar, and makes a reappearance later in this book, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that’s there’s a lot more to it than that.  The whole book is an examination of Miles vs. his clone, comparing and contrasting–not just the author, but each of them comparing himself with the other…Mark more vigorously than Miles, because Miles is getting pretty content with himself these days.  (He should know better–Bujold is not the kind of author to just leave you do that, except maybe between books…)

Of course, there are also ample elements from “Labyrinth” in here–Taura, Bel Thorne, House Bharaputra, Jackson’s Whole–showing good reuse as an author should.  Mark had said in Brothers In Arms that taking out the illegal cloning and brain-transplant industry was what he’d really like to do with his freedom, and while he seems to have squandered the money that Miles left him with in that book, he does have other resources, though this does seem to be a bit of a last-ditch move.

Actually, in some ways this is just like The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Miles bluffed his way to an Admiralcy in that one, pretending to be something he wasn’t, and now his clone-brother has managed to get himself a ship and crew pretty much the same way.  I wonder if that would make him feel any better?  Probably not, or this wouldn’t have been his last resort.  One does presume, by the way, that he knew enough to wait for a time when Miles wasn’t actually with the fleet, or else his gambit would have failed right off the bat.  Presumably he had to track down the Dendarii Fleet, and then watch to make sure Miles was elsewhere…I don’t recall any specific references made to that in the book, but it stands to reason.  Though Mark doesn’t always think things all the way through…

Chapter Two

Quinn and Miles disembark onto the same Escobar orbital station arm in arm, and Miles revels secretly in how he receives so many envious looks for being with her.

Liquid brown eyes informed her face with wit. But it was the perfect, sculptured curves and planes of the face itself that stopped men’s voices in midsentence. An obviously expensive face, the work of a surgeon-artist of extraordinary genius. The casual observer might guess her face had been paid for by the little ugly man whose arm she linked with her own, and judge the woman, too, to be a purchase. The casual observer never guessed the price she’d really paid: her old face, burned away in combat off Tau Verde. Very nearly the first battle loss in Admiral Naismith’s service—ten years ago, now? God. The casual observer was a twit, Miles decided.

As an example, Miles considers the man who’d been hitting on Quinn on the flight from Sergyar, like a blond version of Ivan, who sighs regretfully as he gathers his own luggage.  Elli admits to Miles that she mostly strung him along because she thought he might be an agent of some kind.

Miles says it was nice traveling under the pretense of being a married couple, and asks why they can’t actually get married.  Elli asks why they’re having this conversation again; she says she’d be perfectly happy married to Miles Naismith, but she doesn’t want to be Lady Vorkosigan, trapped on a planet for the rest of her life, especially not Barrayar.  Miles says that his mother likes her, and Elli agrees, but says that Cordelia Naismith would have been in charge of the Betan Astronomical Survey by now if she’d stayed on her homeworld.

She says that Barrayar is sucking the life out of Cordelia, and will do the same for Miles.  She’s seen how he damps himself down on Barrayar, and Miles says that he can’t push things too far, since his deformities are already provocative enough to Barrayarans.  Elli says that must be why they send him offplanet so much, not to mention having him gather all this experience which they’ll then make him use in their service.  Miles says he’s always in their service; Elli says that when they do call him back, she wants to be Admiral, and Miles agrees.

He prepares himself mentally to return to his Naismith persona, and feels Naismith filling him up, displacing dull old due-for-promotion Lieutenant Vorkosigan.  They pass through customs, and then Miles sees the mirrored comconsole booths and suggests they check up on their injured soldiers from Red Squad.  Elli goes into the booth to make the call, leaving Miles to wait outside.  He considers how comfortable he feels in civilian clothes, when he used to hide inside uniforms to feel more secure.  He’s even come to terms with his body, and hasn’t been seriously injured since the bone replacements after the hostage rescue mission.  He tells himself he’s twenty-eight, he’s probably reached some sort of physical peak, and it will be all downhill from there…  Quinn is talking to Hereld, as Miles can barely see from his angle.  Quinn tells Hereld she wants to pick up Red Squad, and asks for a status update.

In the crowded concourse a man in Dendarii grays walked past. He saw Miles, and gave him a hesitant, cautious nod, perhaps uncertain if the Admiral’s civilian gear indicated some sort of cover. Miles returned a reassuring wave, and the man smiled and strode on. Miles’s brain kicked up unwanted data. The man’s name was Travis Gray, he was a field tech currently assigned to the Peregrine, a six-year-man so far, expert in communications equipment, he collected classic pre-jump music of Earth origin . . . how many such personnel files did Miles carry in his head, now? Hundreds? Thousands?

And here came more. Hereld turned back, and rattled off, “Ives was released to downside leave, and Boyd has been returned to the Triumph for further therapy. The Beauchene Life Center reports that Durham, Vifian, and Aziz are available for release, but they want to talk to someone in charge, first.”

“Right-oh.”

“Kee and Zelaski . . . they also want to talk about.”

Quinn says they’ll be on their way, and arranges a small personnel shuttle for transport to the surface.  Miles remembers the mission where the Red Squad members had been injured, continuing their aid to the rebels on Marilac.  One of the combat drop shuttles had been hit, with Red Squad and some Marilacan VIPs on board, and Durham, the pilot, had brought it in for a passable dock with Triumph so that the passengers could be retrieved, and they made it out before the Cetagandans caught them.  Seven of the squad had been injured badly enough to require cryofreezing, and the Beauchene Life Centre on Escobar has been trying to resuscitate them; now Miles and Quinn will find out how successful they’ve been.  Miles had almost ended up on that shuttle himself.

The hospital smell in the Life Centre, so often associated with pain in Miles’s experience, makes his adrenaline start to flow, and he tries to calm himself down.  They meet with Dr. Aragones, who obviously wishes he had better news, but he complains that the patients are often so poorly prepped.  Miles said they got a lot of casualties all at once and had to do the best they could; they make arrangements for recertification of Dendarii personnel in the latest techniques.  Aragones tells them that Kee and Zelaski couldn’t be revived, and they arrange for disposal of the bodies according to their wishes.  Durham and Vifian have cryo-amnesia, the pilot’s more severe because of the removal of his neural implants, which Aragones isn’t sure yet will be replaceable; for those, they make plans to send them back to their families to help with the recovery.  Aziz, on the other hand, suffered severe brain damage because of a bad prep, and he is now essentially a ­tabula rasa.  Since he had no next-of-kin listed, Miles tells them to transfer him to a long-term care facility, and he’ll set up a trust fund to pay for it.

Before they leave, Miles insists of seeing Aziz, and telling him about his old self, in hopes that he might remember it later.  Afterwards, Elli asks Miles why he does that to himself, and Miles says that Aziz made the ultimate sacrifice, and he has to show some respect for that.  He says that Aziz represents what he fears the most, loss of mind and self, because he relies on his mind so much.  They escort Durham and Vifian back, and by the time they reach the Triumph both of the amnesic crewmen have shown some flashes of memory.  Miles frets about how much they spend on rehabilitation, and how he needs to make sure it doesn’t short-change the rest of the medical budget, though it’s still funded by the Barrayarans.  Elli asks if Simon Illyan is still concerned about Dendarii expenditures, but Miles says it’s mostly because Illyan keeps getting accused of sloppy budgeting by having to seemingly squander so much money all the time.  Sergeant LaJoe, the pilot, joins them, and they stop talking about Barrayaran matters.  LaJoie shares some good news with them–on Escobar, he’d caught a small news story about how the Cetagandans are withdrawing from Marilac.

“The Cetagandans have just announced their withdrawal from Marilac. They’re calling it—what was that, now—’Due to great progress in the cultural alliance, we are turning police matters over to local control.’ ”

Miles’s fists clenched, joyously. “In other words, they’re abandoning their puppet government! Ha!” He hopped from foot to foot, and pounded Quinn on the back. “You hear that, Elli! We’ve won! I mean, they’ve won, the Marilacans.” Our sacrifices are redeemed. . . .

He regained control of his tightening throat before he burst into tears or some like foolishness. “Do me a favor, LaJoie. Pass the word through the Fleet. Tell them I said, ‘You folks do good work.’ Eh?”

LaJoie leaves with pleasure, and Miles exults in what he and the Dendarii had accomplished, stymieing a Cetagandan invasion without breaking Barrayar’s budget.  Elli comments that she’d thought that ImpSec wanted Cetaganda bogged down on Marilac for a while yet.  Miles says he’d followed the letter of Illyan’s orders, and he says that four years was long enough.  Elli wonders how long it’ll be before Miles gets in trouble for interpreting orders his own way.

Elated, he gives Elli a kiss and they go to their separate quarters.  Miles wonders at how much this cabin has become home, and how much the fake persona of Admiral Miles Naismith had become real.  Since Ky Tung’s retirement, he has really come into his own, with encyclopedic knowledge of the fleet and its personnel, knowing how to use them to best advantage.  He takes a shower and emerges to find, in puzzlement, that he can’t find any of his clothes.  His uniforms are gone, and most of his civilian clothes, except for a few of the more outlandish.  He wonders if it’s a practical joke, but his space armour is missing too.  Perforce, he puts back on the civilian clothes he’d worn on the shuttle.

On the way to the briefing he bumps into Sandy Hereld, who is surprised that he’s back already.  Miles assumes she’s speaking of the trip downside, since the Barrayar trip took several weeks, but doesn’t have time to pursue the matter.  In the briefing room is most of his senior staff–Auson, the Bothari-Jeseks, and the rest of the senior captains, except for Bel Thorne, for some reason.  While waiting for Thorne, Miles asks Elena about visiting her mother on Escobar, which apparently went well.  Quinn arrives with the briefing materials, but still no Thorne.

Talk died away. His officers were giving him attentive, let’s-get-on-with-it looks. He’d better not stand around much longer with his thumb in his ear. Before bringing the console display to life, he inquired, “Is there some reason Captain Thorne is late?”

They looked at him, and then at each other. There can’t be something wrong with Bel, it would have been reported to me first thing. Still, a small leaden knot materialized in the pit of his stomach. “Where is Bel Thorne?”

By eye, they elected Elena Bothari-Jesek as spokesperson. That was an extremely bad sign. “Miles,” she said hesitantly, “was Bel supposed to be back before you?”

Elena tells him that Bel left with him three days ago.  Elli and Miles protest that that’s impossible, but Miles begins to get an inkling.  He asks what the Ariel‘s destination had been, and the answer of Jackson’s Whole confirms it, and Elena and Elli begin to catch on as well.

“You see,” Miles explained in a hollow voice to the What-the-hell-are-they-talking-about? portion of the room, “some people have an evil twin. I am not so lucky. What I have is an idiot twin.”

Comments

Compare and contrast…Miles, so at ease with his life and his body, barely even noticing the mirrored comconsole doors.  Plus, he has those little personnel files for all of the Dendarii, while Mark struggles to figure out whether each one is somebody he has to treat like he knows them or not.  They’re potential obstacles, not people.  Miles does seem more alive as Naismith than as himself, but he still feels duties to Barrayar as Lord Vorkosigan, whereas Mark resents having to play either of Miles’s roles.  Still, the parallelism between these first two chapters, Mark’s arrival and Miles’s, is a great start to the back.

Irony here, or perhaps foreshadowing, as Miles thinks about being at his physical peak…yeah, this is probably as good as it’s going to get, because your physical condition is due for a sharp downturn in the not-too-distant future…  I totally understand Miles’s fear of losing his mind…one of the scariest horror stories I ever read was Flowers For Algernon.

It seems a little odd, in some ways, for Quinn to be the one talking to Hereld, in such a way that Hereld never sees Miles with her.  If she did, of course, the moment of realization would come a lot sooner, so maybe it’s more like one of those bedroom-farce moments where things are comically timed to lead to the maximum level of misunderstanding.  Quinn also uses “I” instead of “we” most of the time, so there’s no need to explain who else might be with her…  Similarly, the Dendarii in the concourse might have heard about Mark’s departure with Ariel and wondered what the heck he was doing back already…  It is a nice scene when the other shoe drops in the briefing room, so it would have been a shame to waste that.

It is nice to see some rapprochement between Elena and her mother (Elena Visconti), considering her origins, as a child of rape.  Miles did manage to convince Visconti to reach out to her daughter back in The Warrior’s Apprentice, and the passage of years seems to have mellowed things out a lot more.  One presumes they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about Bothari, Elena’s father and Visconti’s rapist, but Elena has enough of a life post-Bothari by this time.

Finally, we do get more of a look at the victims of cryo-trauma, just like that brief glimpse we saw in Brothers In Arms.  A little bit of foreshadowing…


There’s thirty-two chapters in Mirror Dance, but some of them are quite short, as I recall, so I’m not quite sure how long this is going to take, but most of winter, I imagine (adjusting for hemisphere as necessary).  Tune in next week for another exciting installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I’ll have to think of something besides a fake interactive fiction game for doing the introduction.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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

Chapter Thirteen

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

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

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

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

“That’s a chance I must take.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Collins.”

“Collins. Thanks.”

“Good man.”

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Fourteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elena grinned. “That, I believe.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

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 »

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

Chapter Eleven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There’s only one ship.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

<hr>

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

Read Full Post »

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

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But he’s your liegeman now.”

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

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

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

“Now sleep.”

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

Read Full Post »

A new month has rolled around, and as the fingers of many are turning to the mass production of words that is National Novel Writing Month, I’m taking a pass this year.  Which is lucky for you, because it means that I can turn out some installments of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread this month instead.  This week, we visit Chapters Seven and Eight of The Warrior’s Apprentice, second novel written, third chronologically (if, as I do, you omit Falling Free), and first to star the inimitable (or, at least, only imitable with great difficulty) Miles Naismith Vorkosigan.

Chapter Seven

Miles, Bothair and Mayhew arrive at the hotel room belonging to their Felician contact.  Miles tells Mayhew to stop calling him “kid”, since he’s now Mayhew’s liege lord, trying to explain the concept in terms he’ll understand.  Nettled by Bothari’s obvious disdain for his new fellow liegeman, Mayhew does his best.

Miles presses the buzzer, and they are greeted by Carle Daum, who is surprised at first by Miles’s stature.  Miles and Mayhew sit down, Bothari preferring to stand, and Daum begins to ask them about their ship.  Mayhew describes its low but steady acceleration; when Daum asks about its maneuverability, Miles cuts to the chase and says it probably won’t be able to evade the wormhole blockade.  Daum is about to give up, discouraged, when Miles begins to outline his plan to camouflage the cargo instead.

Miles made a calculation, based on the Felician’s age and bearing, “Major Daum?”

The man twitched. Ah ha, thought Miles, nailed him on the first try. He compressed this internal crow to a suave smile.

“If you’re a Pelian spy, or an Oseran mercenary, I swear I’ll kill you—” Daum began. Bothari’s eyelids drooped, in a pose of deceptive calm.

“I’m not,” said Miles, “although it would be a great ploy, if I were. Load up you and your weapons, take you halfway, and make you get out and walk—I appreciate your need for caution.”

“What weapons?” said Daum, attempting belatedly to regain his cover.

Miles pretends to play along with Daum’s subterfuge, but says they should stop playing around, both being professionals and all.  Daum leaps to the conclusion that Miles is a mercenary, and Mayhew suddenly believes he understands what Miles meant about looking for “desperate men”.  Daum begins to believe, and asks Miles how many ships he has.  Miles has to backpedal, claiming to be detached from his unit and on Beta for medical reasons, but open to a little independent venture while waiting to rendezvous with the rest of his outfit.  Daum asks about his rank, and Miles is tempted to promote himself, but decides to leave it at “Mr. Naismith”.  He tells Daum his outfit is the Dendarii Mercenaries, after a mountain range in the Vorkosigan District.  Daum decides to take a chance with Miles and his crew, since further delay will be almost as risky as betrayal.

After leaving Daum, Bothari is unhappy with Miles’s insistence to go along, despite not trusting Mayhew’s competence, preferring a nice boring visit to Miles’s proposed excitement.  Back at Mrs. Naismith’s, they find Elena incensed at a Betan holovid; Miles initially assumes it was pornography, but it turns out to be a historical film about the Escobar invasion, which Elena considers to be full of slander and inaccuracies.  Miles remembers how his father had ended up in charge of the retreat from Escobar, which was considered exemplary by the Barrayarans.

“It’s—it’s . . .” Elena turned to Miles. “There isn’t any truth in it—is there?”

“Well,” said Miles, equable from years of practice in coming to terms with the Betan version of history, “some. But my mother says they never wore the blue uniforms until the war was practically over. And she swears up and down, privately, that she didn’t murder Admiral Vorrutyer, but she won’t say who did. Protests too much, I think. All my father will ever say about Vorrutyer is that he was a brilliant defensive strategist. I’ve never been quite sure what to make of that, since Vorrutyer was in charge of the offense. All my mother says about him is that he was a bit strange, which doesn’t sound too bad, until I reflect that she’s a Betan. They’ve never said a word against Prince Serg, and Father was on his staff and knew him, so I guess the Betan version of him is mainly a crock of war propaganda.”

Elena asks her father to bolster the Barrayaran view of events, since he was there.  Bothari says he doesn’t remember Escobar, and Miles realizes that that probably explains the medical discharge, if he received a head wound, which Bothari doesn’t deny.

To divert Elena, he tells her that they have their cargo, and asks her to buy supplies for the trip, overriding her doubts by assuring her that she shouldn’t have any trouble, though encouraging her to search for bargains, to keep from eating up the remainder of his travel allowance.  He lists the expected crew and passengers, and Elena instantly notices that she’s not on the list and takes Miles to task for it.  Miles leaves it up to Bothari and his grandmother.  Mrs. Naismith says Elena’s welcome to stay, but Elena pleads with Miles to tell her father to let her go.  Mrs. Naismith, picking up her cue, suggests some possible activities for Elena’s stay on Beta, including desert-trekking with some of her hermaphrodite friends.  Bothari is, Miles knows, particularly revolted by hermaphrodites, and, though furious, allows Elena to come along, then retreats to patrol the hallway.

The next two days are very busy, requiring not only regular preparations for the ship, but also extras for the camouflage.  They buy other things to hide their real cargo, as well as false bulkheads to conceal it and expensive, hard to obtain, mass detector jammers to keep scanners from picking the crates up.  Miles hopes that Baz Jesek is qualified to set up the jammers, especially since he hasn’t shown up yet.  Fees pile up for the ship, requiring Miles to spend his travel allowance, then cash in his, Elena and Bothari’s return tickets.  He relies on Mayhew’s green bottle of liquor a lot.

At the end of two days he found himself teetering atop a dizzying financial structure compounded of truth, lies, credit, cash purchases, advances on advances, shortcuts, a tiny bit of blackmail, false advertising, and yet another mortgage on some more of his glow-in-the-dark farmland.

They load the supplies, including Daum’s cargo.  Jesek shows up and is set to making last-minute hasty repairs to the ship.  Finally, in the docking bay, ready to go, they are confronted with a “waldo handling fee”.  Miles, Daum, and Mayhew have already exhausted their resources, even with a loan from Mrs. Naismith, so Miles has to prevail upon Bothari to pay for him, promising to reimburse him twofold.  Bothari considers scuttling the whole endeavour right there, but loyally gives Miles his money.  Miles thinks wistfully of the bankroll provided to military ship captains.

As they are preparing to leave orbit, a message is forward to them by traffic control.  Lieutenant Croye, from the embassy, is calling to inform Miles that Baz Jesek is a deserter, and that they need to send him down to be taken into custody, and that Calhoun is at the embassy, complaining about something or other.  Dismayed, Miles fakes a communications problem and disconnects, then tells Mayhew to leave orbit right away.

Miles starts to feel ill, and thinks at first that it’s merely the stress, then maybe some illness, then realizes what it is–the green liquor, which Mayhew calls “creme de meth”, catching up to him.  Mayhew calls Bothari to come look after Miles, and Elena comes too.

“Well, at least he’ll stop bouncing off the walls, and give us all a break,” said Mayhew cheerfully. “I’ve never seen anybody overrev on that stuff the way he did.”

“Oh, was that liquor of yours a stimulant?” asked Elena. “I wondered why he didn’t fall asleep.”

“Couldn’t you tell?” chuckled Mayhew.

“Not really.”

Miles twisted his head to take in Elena’s upside-down worried face, and smile in weak reassurance. Sparkly black and purple whirlpools clouded his vision.

Mayhew’s laughter faded. “My God,” he said hollowly, “you mean he’s like that all the time?”

Comments

More distorted tidbits of the Shards of Honour story coming to light–though the Betan version is probably not much more accurate, overall, than the official sanitized Barrayaran story, having both of them might allow you to get closer to the truth.  Bothari’s true role is still mysterious to Miles and Elena, though.  Again, reading this before Shards the first time, I imagine that I had no clue what revelations were to come…

Miles’s teetering pile of finances makes me think of a similar situation later, in Brothers In Arms, which makes his thoughts about how easy it would be, being on the Emperor’s payroll, quite ironic.

“Creme de meth”–clever.  But what’s hilarious is Mayhew’s reaction to the fact that Miles is normally as hyperactive as creme de meth would make a regular person.  Is there some medical source for Miles’s hyperactivity, something genetic, something to do with the treatments for his bone problems, something to do with the fact that it took him so long to be able to walk?  (See the epilogue to Barrayar.)  Whatever the source, it’s an inextricable part of his personality, and his dynamism is part of what makes him such an engaging viewpoint character.  The failure at the exams seemed to bring him to a stop, but it didn’t take him long to start revving up in a different direction, did it?

Chapter Eight

Miles finishes welding up the fake bulkheads, and, after seven tries, Baz Jesek’s mass detector doesn’t register the cargo hidden behind it; Daum is pleased and relieved.  Mayhew calls them up to the bridge where he plays them a message from a warning buoy set up by the Oseran mercenaries.  It warns any incoming ships that they will need to submit to search for contraband, but it also says that any pilot officers will be held in custody until the ship concludes its business in local space.  Daum says this is new, but at least it means that the war isn’t over yet.  Miles decides that they will have to be “meek”.

They spend half a day in final preparations outside of the wormhole.  Miles takes Mayhew aside for a discussion, to ask whether he’s willing to go through with it.  He says he won’t order Mayhew to become a hostage, or leave him stranded there, and if Mayhew refuses, they’ll go back to Beta, even though Calhoun will likely repossess the ship and Miles will be much poorer.

“What if—” began Mayhew. He looked at Miles curiously. “What if they’d wanted, say, Sergeant Bothari instead of me? What would you have done then?”

“Oh, I’d go in,” said Miles automatically, then paused. The air hung empty, waiting for explanation. “That’s different. The Sergeant is—is my liegeman.”

“And I’m not?” asked Mayhew ironically. “The State Department will be relieved.”

There was a silence. “I’m your liegelord,” replied Miles at last, soberly. “What you are is a question only you can answer.”

Mayhew says he doesn’t know what he is, but he’ll make the jump.  At the other side of the wormhole, he says it’s an interesting jump, but will never be popular.  There is nobody to meet them, though, not for hours, before a ship approaches at a leisurely pace to board them.  Miles torments himself with worst-case scenarios as he waits for the boarders.  There are nine of them, all armed men, but Miles notices they seem a little “motley”, one of them maybe even drunk.

The captain of the boarders, Auson, asks who’s in charge, and obviously dismisses Miles as a threat when introduced.  He orders his men to search them, and after that they continue to Nav/Com and the personal quarters, turning them upside down looking for anything valuable.  They complain about not finding anything until they run across Miles’s grandfather’s dagger, an old Vorkosigan relic with gold decorations on the hilt.  Auson takes it, gives it a once-over, then jams it in his belt.  Miles protests, trying to keep within his Betan persona and not make Auson suspicious; the captain keeps the dagger anyway.

After the search, in the wardroom with five of his men, the captain demands all their off-planet currency, which is contraband.  Reluctantly, they do so; the mercenaries are once again disappointed at the small haul, and Miles explains their strapped status.  Three of the mercenaries go down to Engineering and fetch Baz and Elena back up; Auson brightens on seeing Elena.  Elena proves to have a fair-sized bankroll in Betan dollars, which she says Cordelia gave her.  Auson asks if the manifest is correct, and his soldiers confirm that the cargo they opened up seemed to match.

Auson considers Mayhew, asking him if he’s ready to go, annoyed when Mayhew looks to Miles for instructions, as Elena and Bothari had earlier.  Auson decides that he’s tired of Betans, and he’ll let them keep Mayhew; he’ll take Elena instead.  Elena asks Miles for help, and Miles tells Auson to choose another.  He grabs Auson’s arm, and Auson easily lays Miles out on the floor.  After watching for any more signs of resistance, he grabs Elena and starts to lead his soldiers out of the room.

Miles tells Bothari “Now!” and they move into action.  Miles launches himself at the soldier he thought was drunk.  Bothari throws a chair at a soldier with a nerve disruptor, Daum disarms one and tosses his stunner to Mayhew.  Miles disables his man with a blow to the stomach while Bothari takes out a couple more soldiers.  Elena breaks Auson’s nose and bears him down to the floor.

“That’s enough, Elena,” said Bothari, placing the bell-muzzle of a captured nerve disruptor against the man’s temple.

“No, Sergeant!” Miles cried. The yelling stopped abruptly, and Auson rolled fear-whitened eyes toward the gleaming weapon.

“I want to break his legs, too!” cried Elena angrily. “I want to break every bone in his body! I’ll Shorty him! When I’m done he’s going to be one meter tall!”

Bothari stuns Auson and the rest of the soldiers instead, then reminds Miles that there are still three more in the rest of the ship.  Miles tells him and Daum to take care of them, but leave them alive, and take at least one conscious for him to question, then wonders to himself what he’s going to do with them now.

Comments

The part where they are trying to be meek beneath the bullying of Auson and his crew is almost painful to read, but at least the melee at the end is cathartic.  Miles is now in a bit of a situation, though, with six people against twenty of the Oseran mercenaries.  How will he get out of this one?  Ah, that’s the fun part, in the next chapter.  Auson does eventually get what he deserves, too.  Seriously, these guys do give off the initial impression of being pretty much scum, especially when Auson decides to take Elena, but I guess they haven’t encountered too much resistance up to now.

First appearance of the grandfather’s dagger, which, as I recall, turns up a few times in the series, though I don’t remember specifics right now.  And…not much else to say about this chapter.  Unpleasant, then triumphant.  And next chapter is, as Wallace Greenslade would say, where the story really starts.


And that’s it for another week. Tune in next week for the Dendarii Mercenary Recruitment Drive, as Miles decides to build them from the ground up.  Well, so to speak.  What could go wrong?

Read Full Post »