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Posts Tagged ‘Baz Jesek’

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

Winterfair Gifts (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But they’re our Vor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A stunning vision in hunter green stepped through behind her.

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

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

Roic closed his mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

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It’s the First of May, and the next book on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread starts today.  (What were you expecting?)  Having finished off the first of the truly great Vorkosigan Saga books, Hugo-winner Mirror Dance, we move on to what may be my personal favourite book of the entire series, Memory.  Which originally I thought had the dullest title of the whole series (which it really does), but I’m long past holding that against it.  Feast your brains now upon the first two chapters of the book now…

Chapter One

Miles regains consciousness, his thoughts very scattered, and tries to figure out what’s going on.  He’s in zero gravity, strapped to a surface and wrapped in medical foil, wearing the lining from his space armour.  He doesn’t seem to be injured, though.  He had been on a Dendarii mission, he and Quinn and a patrol rescuing Barrayaran Lieutenant Vorberg from hijackers…and that’s the last thing he remembers.  He hears moans from nearby, so obviously someone else is wounded; he concludes he’s in a Dendarii shuttle, at the emergency medical station, with a medtech near the injured person.  He’s not sure why he’s strapped down, though–apart from a headache, somewhat like a post-stun migraine, he seems to be fine.

The medtech sees him awake and comes to check him out; he tells Miles that he had some sort of seizure, which lasted close to five minutes, and he was unconscious for half an hour.  Miles tries to get up, and the medtech says that Quinn had ordered Miles sedated if he did.  Miles asks about the hostage, Vorberg, and the medtech says they should be able to reattach his legs, but he refuses to give more details, referring him to Captain Quinn.

He doesn’t see Quinn until they dock, and Vorberg is rushed off to sickbay.  Quinn first reports that the rescue had gone well, all the crew from the hijacked ships recovered.  They captured the hijackers’ main ship and took nineteen prisoners, but half a dozen more are on the run in a pinnace.  Miles tells her to interrogate the prisoners, and hopefully they’re the same crew who did another job the year before, which would enable the Dendarii to collect another reward for them.

Miles asks what exactly happened to Vorberg.  Quinn says that Miles keeled over, the plasma arc in his combat suit locked on, and sliced Vorberg’s legs off just below the knee, as well as cutting through several walls, before they could open up his armour and deactivate it.  Quinn had to stun Miles to get him to go limp, which explains his headache.  She asks him what happened, and Miles explained about his seizure.  Quinn is less than impressed that he hadn’t told her about the prior seizures; Miles said there had been a few shortly after his cryo-revival, but they’d seemed to stop on their own.  He admits that he hasn’t informed ImpSec yet, mostly for fear they’ll put an end to his Dendarii assignments and give him a desk job, or a medical discharge.  He’s only told the fleet surgeon, who hadn’t solved the problem yet.

Quinn, still annoyed that he hadn’t told her, his second-in-command and lover, tells him to report to sick bay while she finishes mopping up, and he acquiesces.  There he is scanned, sampled and tested, before being left alone to wait for the surgeon.  He assures himself that Quinn is competent to finish up the mission, and reexamines his scars from the last time she was left in charge.  He’d worked hard to overcome his physical limitations, and found a perfect niche for himself as a covert agent with the Dendarii Mercenaries.  This mission had seemed right up their alley–a hijacking which had included a Barrayaran Imperial Courier, who they’d tried to auction off.  Simon Illyan had authorized him to recover the courier over as many dead hijackers as necessary, and even make it clear that it was the Barrayarans who’d authorized it this time.  Miles itches to find out if it was just happenstance, or if they’d gone after the courier on purpose.

The surgeon arrives, fresh from fixing up Vorberg, and says he’ll recover, though he will be a few centimetres shorter, and be recovered in about six weeks.  Miles winces, but reassures himself that at least the damage was reparable.  She checks over the scans, and still can’t find anything suspicious, adding she really needs to monitor him during an actual seizure, though they’d tried to trigger one before and failed.  Miles had not been wearing the monitor she’d given him, since it didn’t fit under his space armour.

Her teeth clenched. “Couldn’t you have at least thought to — to disable your weapons?”

“I could hardly be of use to my squad in an emergency, disarmed. I might as well have stayed aboard the Peregrine.”

“You were the emergency. And you certainly should have stayed aboard the Peregrine.”

Miles’s presence had been necessary, however, to use ImpSec recognition codes for Vorberg, but he concedes that he’ll try to restrain himself until they’ve fixed the problem.  She tells him he’ll need to go to a specialist in cryo-neurology to find his answers, then releases him to oversee the interrogation.

Comments

This chapter both starts with a protagonist who doesn’t know where he is, and has a lot of recap, so I guess it’s meant to orient people who haven’t read the rest of the series.  And yet, it heavily depends on prior events, particularly the cryo-revival from Mirror Dance, so in some ways it’s the least amenable to reading out of order, at least for best effect.  Many of our prior cast reappears, from sources as disparate as Brothers in Arms and “The Mountains of Mourning”.  There’s still enough information for, hopefully, one to orient oneself if the rest of the series is unread, or at least not fresh in your memory, but for best results read the prior books in the series, to get the full “spearpoint” effect.

It was really kind of a dick move, not telling Quinn about the seizures, but Miles is scared stiff of them.  He’s not quite ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away, but he’s nonetheless hoping they’re no big deal, so he’s not going to bother telling people about them.  Maybe after they’re cured, ten years later, he’ll bring it up as an anecdote one day.  “Oh, yeah, I had seizures a few times after that time I got killed and revived.  No big deal, they went away.”  Given Cordelia’s assessments of his sanity, and Admiral Naismith’s necessity to it, in the last book, I’m sure his brain is working hard to keep from dealing with the fact that the Admiral’s existence may be threatened.  Although I think part of the goal of this book is showing that things weren’t as bad as Cordelia had thought.

Chapter Two

Miles composes his umpteenth report for ImpSec–well, it can’t be more than forty missions, he calculates, but he no longer knows the number offhand.  He’s leaving in a lot of raw data for the ImpSec analysts and just adding a personal synopsis.  They’re at Zoave Twilight, collecting money from insurance companies, salvagers, and governments, which Miles dutifully includes in an appendix.  Another appendix includes interviews with their captives, showing that they probably weren’t after Vorberg specifically, unless only the deceased hijackers (which included captain and senior staff) were in on it.  All in all, they’ve made a fair profit on the mission, and Miles hopes that maybe this will encourage Illyan to finally promote him to Captain.  If only it weren’t for the combat armour recordings, including Miles’s accidentally slicing up Lieutenant Vorberg.

Suit #060’s vid recording had some really great close-ups of Lieutenant Vorberg, shocked from his doped stupor, screaming in agony and toppling unconscious in one direction while his severed legs fell in the other. Miles found himself bent over, clutching his chest in sympathy.

This was not going to be a good time to pester Illyan for a promotion.

Vorberg has been sent home already, and he never got a good look at Miles, during or after the rescue.  Miles wished he could delete his squad’s recordings, but that would be too obvious.  Unless he omitted all of them, which would make it less obvious that he was trying to cover something up.  He debates it with himself–he could describe it in neutral language and blame it on an equipment malfunction.  It would be lying, even if by omission.  But it would be good practice to make up a fake report so he’d be better able to detect fake reports in future.  He’d be sure to miss some reference elsewhere in the report, though, and then he’d be in even more trouble…but then again, it might not be that hard to find them all.  Eventually, he tries it; it takes him twenty minutes, and the whole thing lifts right out.  He’d half-proud, half-disgusted with his accomplishment.  Neither of ImpSec’s observers in the fleet have enough information to contradict him, though.  He files both versions of the report to decide later.

Baz Jesek and Elena come to his quarters and ask to talk to him.  Miles wonders what would have happened if Elena had consented to marry him, instead of leaving Barrayar with him on the journey that had ended up spawning the Dendarii Mercenaries–if they’d be happy, or regretful, if they’d have children…  He briefly entertains the thought of something happening to baz, and him having to console the grieving widow…except that Elena’s more regularly in dangerous situations than her husband.

She took a deep breath. “My lord — ”

Another sure sign of something unusual, when she addressed him in terms of their Barrayaran liege relationship.

” — we wish to resign.” Her smile, confusingly, crept wider, as if she’d just said something delightful.

Miles is flabbergasted, and asks why.  Baz says he’s been offered a position at a shipyard at Escobar, which would pay enough for them to leave the mercenaries.  Elena denies that they’re unhappy with their pay–they want to start a family.  Miles feels like he’s been hit with another rocket-grenade.  Elena says that as his vassals, they have to petition him for release from their duties.  Miles is dubious about losing his two top officers, but Baz says his engineering second is ready to take over, and Elena says that Elli Quinn is also ready to move up.  Miles wonders if Illyan will have a problem with Quinn, a non-Barrayaran, but Elena said it didn’t seem to bothering him during the previous crisis.  Miles asks if they’ll really need to fully retire, instead of just taking a leave of absence, and Elena says she doesn’t know if she’ll want to come back.

“I thought you wanted to become a soldier. With all your heart, more than anything. Like me.” Do you have any idea how much of all this was for you, just for you?

“I did. I have. I’m . . . done. I know enough is not a concept you particularly relate to. I don’t know if the wildest successes would ever be enough to fill you up.”

That’s because I am so very empty. . . .

She says she’d always taken for granted that the military was the only worthwhile career, because that’s what she was taught, but also that she couldn’t do it.  She’s proven the second wrong, and now she’s wondering about the first.  When she spent time on Barrayar with Cordelia, they talked a lot; Cordelia told her a lot about all the things she’d done in her career, and Elena wanted more of that variety for herself.  She says by the time she’d be ready to come back, the Dendarii will likely not even be around any more, and she’d rather move on, maybe become a commercial shipmaster.

Miles says he’s sure she’ll be great at anything she tries to do.  He does note that he can’t actually release them from being his vassals, but he can agree to let them go their own way for as long as they want.

It wasn’t fair, for people to go and change on him, while his back was turned being dead. To change without giving notice, or even asking permission. He would howl with loss, except . . . you lost her years ago. This change has been coming since forever. ‘You’re just pathologically incapable of admitting defeat. That was a useful quality, sometimes, in a military leader. It was a pain in the neck in a lover, or would-be lover.

He releases them from their oaths, and asks them to name the first child after him, but Elena says they’re planning on a girl, and there aren’t any good female forms of his name…  Elena asks when they can go, and Miles says as soon as he’s notified Quinn, who’s currently down on Zoave Twilight.  He leaves a message for her to get in touch with him as soon as she’s back, and, after the Bothari-Jeseks leave, he works on rearranging crew assignments to fill the gaps.

He was not, he assured himself, in shock about this. There were limits even to his capacity for self-dramatization, after all. He was a little unbalanced, perhaps, like a man accustomed to leaning on a decorative cane having it suddenly snatched away. Or a swordstick, like old Commodore Koudelka’s. If it weren’t for his private little medical problem, he would have to say the couple had chosen their timing well, from the Fleet’s point of view.

When Quinn arrives, she brings a package from ImpSec, which includes a credit chit for their latest mission, and a coded mission chip for his eyes only.  When he decodes it, all it says is for him to report to ImpSec HQ immediately, via a government courier ship at Tau Ceti.  He notes that these orders would have taken precedence over any current missions, and he can’t think what that would be, except for a new mission assignment, and why would he need to go all the way back to Barrayar for that?  He begins to worry that it might be bad news about his parents, but he tells himself that they’re both important enough figures that news would have filtered out here if anything had happened to them.

Quinn asks what happens if he has another seizure when he’s travelling, and then asks him why he’s so strongly in denial about it.  She encourages him to seek help at ImpMil Hospital, but he says it’s too late for him to come forward with this by now.  She asks him to throw himself on Illyan’s mercy, but he says that after what happened to Vorberg, there’s little chance of that any more.  He tells her that it lifts out of the mission report, and she’s aghast that he would even consider that.  Annoyed, he tells that Illyan doesn’t really know everything, but Quinn is dubious that he’ll be able to keep it a secret.  She accuses him of being as bad as Mark, which isn’t a good sign, especially when she accuses Mark of having caused the whole thing in the first place by going down to Jackson’s Whole.

It ends up in a shouting match, which Miles caps by telling her, at the top of his lungs, about Bez and Elena leaving and her getting promoted.  He dismisses her, but she asks him who’s going to bodyguard him to Tau Ceti then.  He says he’ll get Taura to do it, which infuriates Quinn, and she stalks out of the room.  Miles then goes to his comconsole, deletes the long form of the report, and dumps the doctored version onto a card to take home with him to Barrayar.

Comments

A shouting match with Elli Quinn?  That’s not a good sign.  Even Mark’s coup on Jackson’s Whole hasn’t done much to change her attitude toward him, apparently, but this is really about the seizures, and Miles’s avoidance of them, with Mark pulled in as one of those long-term-couple grievances that end up sneaking into arguments if they go on long enough.  I’m not sure if she knows about Miles’s romantic history with Taura–which predates their own affair, admittedly–but if she did, that would explain her fury at Miles selecting Taura as bodyguard instead of Quinn.  Is this the end of Miles and Quinn’s relationship?  (Yes, I believe so.)

It’s tempting to conclude, based on later events, that Miles doctoring this report is what really gets him in trouble, but the peremptory summons was already on his way by that point.  I guess I’ve never been clear if ImpSec had belatedly found out about the seizures anyway, and were planning to castigate him for not mentioning them earlier, or what was going on.  Maybe this time through I’ll figure it out, because I normally just conclude that the report was the problem, when it was just a symptom.  Anyway, Miles is beginning the downward slope–screwing up on the Dendarii mission, losing Elena from his support system, alienating Elli…  And let’s note that he’s already lost Ky Tung and Bel Thorne.  But he’s got a few more big stops before he reaches bottom.


Two chapters done this week, despite the rush of last-minute taxes submission.  This was helped along by my actually getting a digital copy of Memory, so I am able to cut-and-paste the quoted sections after all.  Twenty-nine chapters in this book, so there’ll be at least one single-chapter week in there somewhere, but I’m glad not to have wasted it this early.  Also, I note that I’m getting close to the two-year anniversary of this blog (though, even with the changed day of the week, I won’t be posting on May 17th itself).  I know I’m impressed that I’ve kept it up this long, and I think by this point I might as well keep going.  Who knows, there may be another book out by the time I’m done…

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So, you know that clever interactive-fiction-style intro I did last week?  Yeah, that was probably a mistake, because this week, like most weeks, I got nothin’ resembling a clever idea about this opening.  So instead you just get this thing, which is a kind of apologetic introduction to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  What else do I usually say?  Right, it’s a series by Lois McMaster Bujold.  We’re in the book Mirror Dance now, but that was already in the title, along with the fact that this is the second installment.  I almost always do two chapters per post, so simple math could probably lead you to conclude that this post will contain Chapters Three and Four, which in fact it does.  So, intro schmintro, here’s the stuff you came to read.

Chapter Three

Mark feels the sensations of wormhole jump, fourth out of nine in the voyage, three days after leaving Escobar for Jackson’s Whole.  He knows it’s almost time to emerge and deal with the ­Ariel‘s crew again, though by now he’s read up on enough of the Dendarii logs to feel more confident in dealing with them.  He doesn’t find many references to what happened with him and his clone-progenitor on Earth, though.  Many of Miles’s orders, especially within his inner circle, are verbal and not logged, to keep the details from the Dendarii themselves, which Mark has used to his own advantage, but makes it harder to fill in the gaps.

He leaned back in his station chair and glowered at the comconsole display. The Dendarii data named him Mark. That’s another thing you don’t get to choose, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan had said. Mark Pierre. You are Lord Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, in your own right, on Barrayar.

But he was not on Barrayar, nor ever would be if he could help it. You are not my brother, and the Butcher of Komarr was never a father to me, his thought denied for the thousandth time to his absent progenitor. My mother was a uterine replicator.

But the power of the suggestion had ridden him ever after, sapping his satisfaction with every pseudonym he’d ever tried, though he’d stared at lists of names till his eyes ached. Dramatic names, plain names, exotic, strange, common, silly . . . Jan Vandermark was the alias he’d used the longest, the closest sideways skittish approach to identity.

He vehemently denies to himself that he’s Miles’s brother, but it still seems to leave a gap inside him.  He thinks about how they had shaped him to be so much like Miles, how every visit to the doctor had left him more stunted and twisted to match his original.  They’d even replaced perfectly healthy bones with plastic because Miles’s brittle ones had been replaced.  At least, growing up on Jackson’s Whole, he had been given hope by his deformed body that he wouldn’t be used for brain transplanet like his crechemates.  After the Komarrans had picked him up, and he’d learned his true purpose, he had striven to become like Miles, but somehow Miles seemed to change faster than he could keep up.

Once the real pursuit of Miles had begun, repeatedly losing him until bumping into him by accident on Earth, the clone had become disillusioned with his Komarran masters and their continued lack of success.  His education had taught him how to think, and the painful operation to replace his leg bones made him wonder if even worse could lie in store.  He began to resent the Komarrans for having stripped him of his own identity to replace him with a copy of Miles, and Miles himself for existing so they could do it.
Deciding the time has come, he cleans up and heads down to Thorne’s quarters.  After Thorne admits him he discovers that he’d woken the hermaphrodite from sleep, and the flesh revealed by the frilly nightgown is somewhat unsettling.  He apologizes and says it’s time for the detailed mission briefing, and Thorne brushes off the apologies and says that what it’s been waiting for.

While Thorne putters around in its nightgown making tea, Mark brings up the map of House Bharaputra’s medical complex.  He tells Thorne that there is more security than most hospitals, but mostly against ordinary burglars or inmates trying to escape.  Thorne examines it and suggests they capture the shuttle bays first, but Mark says the clones are on the other side of the complex and he’d rather just land on the nearer exercise court instead.  They should drop at night, because during the day they’ll be more spread out at various activities–not education, though, because nobody cares about the clones’ brains, just their bodies.  Mark thinks to himself that that was one of the ways he knew he was different–he actually had tutors.  He tells Thorne that the clones will mostly be about ten or eleven years old, but they’ll look like they’re in their late teens because of their artificially accelerated growth.

“Do they . . . know? Know what’s going to happen to them?” Thorne asked with an introspective frown.

“They’re not told, no. They’re told all kinds of lies, variously. They’re told they’re in a special school, for security reasons, to save them from some exotic danger. That they’re all some kind of prince or princess, or rich man’s heir, or military scion, and someday very soon their parents or their aunts or their ambassadors are going to come and take them away to some glamorous future . . . and then, of course, at last some smiling person comes, and calls them away from their playmates, and tells them that today is the day, and they run . . .” he stopped, swallowed, “and snatch up their things, and brag to their friends. . . .”

Thorne was tapping the vid control unconsciously in its palm, and looking pale. “I get the picture.”

“And walk out hand-in-hand with their murderers, eagerly.”

Thorne asks him to stop, and Mark mocks it for its squeamishness, since it must have known about this for years.  Thorne tells him that last time it wanted to fry them from orbit, and Mark wonders what it’s referring to.  Thorne wonders if the clones are going to be scared of them, but Mark says that the clones do have their own culture, and there are whispers of what’s really going on, which their handlers have tried to stamp out.  He stops himself short of revealing how he knows all this, but tells Thorne that he should be able to convince them.  Thorne notes that there are two dormitories, and Mark tells him that there is sexual segregation, since the female clients are expecting their new bodies to be virginal.

Thorne notes that the clones won’t be as practiced in shuttle loading as the Marilacans were, and asks what they’ll do if the Bharaputrans show up before they’ve escaped.  Mark says that the clones will act as hostages, since the Bharaputrans won’t want to risk them if there’s any hope of retrieval, but Thorne points out that they’ll also want to discourage similar activities in future; they may try to blow up the Ariel to prevent their escape.  Thorne suggests that, if speed isn’t enough, they try to take refuge with Baron Fell, which puzzles Mark, who doesn’t know what Fell has to do with all this, and says that no Jacksonian is to be trusted.

Thorne says that they won’t be able to jump out of the system the way they entered, since Bharaputra has a lot of influence at the that jump point; Jumppoint Five, which is more Fell-controlled, might be an easier option.  Mark is less enthused about it, since it passes through Pol, Komarr and Sergyar, and he wishes to avoid the Barrayaran Empire if at all possible, though of course he can’t tell Thorne that.  Thorne turns pensive and asks if any clones have escaped before, besides his own; Mark points out that “his clone” was just picked up by those who bought him in the first place.

“Fifty kids,” Thorne sighed. “Y’know—I really approve of this mission.” It waited, watching him with sharp and gleaming eyes.

Acutely uncomfortable, he suppressed an idiocy such as saying Thank you, but found himself with no remark to put in its place, resulting in an awkward silence.

“I suppose,” said Thorne thoughtfully after the too-long moment, “it would be very difficult for anyone brought up in such an environment to really trust . . . anyone else. Anyone’s word. Their good will.”

“I . . . suppose.” Was this casual conversation, or something more sinister? A trap . . .

Thorne, still with that weird mysterious smile, leaned across their station chairs, caught his chin in one strong, slender hand, and kissed him.

Mark, not knowing how to react, does nothing, wondering if Miles is sleeping with Thorne as well, and trying to decide if he’s at all tempted.  Thorne eventually withdraws, apologizing for “teasing” him, admitting that it’s cruel, and goes off to change into its uniform.  Mark is left wondering if it was a test, and if he’d passed or failed, but concludes that since Thorne hasn’t called in security, he must have passed.  Thorne returns and takes the data cube, saying it needs to plan the assault with Sergeant Taura.  Thorne also suggests going on a communications blackout, which Mark heartily agrees with, having wanted to do that himself but considering it too suspicious.  He’d been half-expecting messages from the real Admiral Naismith demanding their return, since Miles had obviously been due back soon.

Thorne asks if his “black miasma” has passed over yet, or if it should tell the crew to leave him alone for a while, which offer Mark also accepts eagerly.  Thorne tells him not to worry about the mission, it’ll take care of all the details until it’s time for him to deal with the clones.  Mark returns to his cabin, and finally finds the references to the last Jackson’s Whole mission, which started out as a routine arms deal.

Completely without preamble, Thorne’s breathless voice made a cryptic entry, “Murka’s lost the Admiral. He’s being held prisoner by Baron Ryoval. I’m going now to make a devil’s bargain with Fell.”

Then records of an emergency combat-drop shuttle trip downside, followed by the Ariel’s abrupt departure from Fell Station with cargo only half loaded. These events were succeeded by two fascinating, unexplained conversations between Admiral Naismith, and Baron Ryoval and Baron Fell, respectively. Ryoval was raving, sputtering exotic death threats. He studied the baron’s contorted, handsome face uneasily. Even in a society that prized ruthlessness, Ryoval was a man whom other Jacksonian power-brokers stepped wide around. Admiral Naismith appeared to have stepped right in something.

Fell was more controlled, a cold anger. As usual, all the really essential information, including the reason for the visit in the first place, was lost in Naismith’s verbal orders. But he did manage to gather the surprising fact that the eight-foot-tall commando, Sergeant Taura, was a product of House Bharaputra’s genetics laboratories, a genetically-engineered prototype super-soldier.

Mark almost feels like comparing notes and reminiscences with Taura, but that would, of course, be foolish.  He also discovers that Baron Fell had been planning a brain-transplant of his own, which reinforces his desire to avoid working with Fell if at all possible.  He returns to training with the command helmet, determined to bring this mission off somehow.

Comments

At what point does Bel Thorne figure it out, I wonder?  Obviously by the end of the scene, it’s actively working to help Mark, offering radio blackout and giving him an excuse to hide out from the crew.  Did it know before then, though?  It must have its own reasons for going along with the scheme, though; its enthusiasm for the idea is unfeigned, though I’m not sure exactly how it thinks it’s going to get away with it.  I guess, if Mark succeeds, and then leaves, and Bel can claim to have been fooled…  This is, of course, not what happens, because, you know, Bujold.

I do wonder that Thorne’s order of communication silence is actually effective–how does it work, precisely?  Do they just shut down all their receiving equipment?  Surely they must have some automated systems which rely on it, like navigational equipment which uses beacons and the like.  So maybe they just ignore any actual communications?  Or do they record them all to look at later?  If they have someone listening but not responding, then what would that person do when they receive a message that claims to be from the real Admiral Naismith?  Yeah, I think that Thorne would try to avoid that if at all possible.

I can’t remember if it was ever established whether Bel and the other Betan hermaphrodites have both female and male genitalia, or if they just have male genitalia and breasts, which is what Mark seems to have concluded.  Mark is still a virgin, and apparently his treatment by Ser Galen is likely to have given him a few sexual hangups, so while he feels a certain sympathy with Bel Thorne as a fellow genetic experiment, he probably doesn’t know how to deal with any stirrings of desire for a hermaphrodite…

Chapter Four

Miles has been trying to get in contact with Bel Thorne, but communication through wormholes can be slow; the only way to do it is to send your message to a courier which will jump through and beam them to other couriers at other jump points, and between Escobar and Jackson’s Whole the couriers only jump every four hours.  Miles has sent the message through with three couriers, and received no response.  He knows that he’s taken advantage of that kind of lag to conceal activities from his superiors in the past, but he’s annoyed that Bel is trying it now, and his orders for Thorne this time were particularly clear.  He considers the possibility that Ariel may have suffered a rare jump malfunction and disappeared or been destroyed, but the couriers would have noticed a missing ship along this route.  Finally he calls a meeting of his inner circle–Elli Quinn and the Bothari-Jeseks.

He paces around the Triumph‘s briefing room as they assemble–Elli first, then Baz, and finally Elena.  He contemplates how Baz and Elena have risen, with his help as well as their own capabilities, and yearns briefly for Elena again.  Then he starts right in, telling them that Ariel is incommunicado, and he wants to go after it.  Quinn points out that Mark will be expecting that, and may have laid a trap.  Miles says that he considered that, and has been waiting for Mark to slip up, and Thorne to notice it and contact Miles again.  He wonders if Thorne has been killed–which seems unlikely, with the commando squad that Mark made a point of bringing along–or suborned, possibly talked into going along with Mark’s scheme.  Baz wonders if they’re really headed for Jackson’s Whole, or through the system to somewhere else; Miles says that Jackson’s Whole is important to Mark, and likely to figure in whatever scheme he’s come up with.

Elena asks why ImpSec didn’t warn them about Mark, since they were supposed to be keeping track of him.  Miles says last he heard Mark was on Earth, but the time-lag in reports that have to go through Simon Illyan on Barrayar means that Mark could easily have outrun them.  He says that every time he’s tried to contact Mark and invite him to meet, or to come to Barrayar, Mark has panicked and vanished from sight, until Illyan told Miles to stop.  Her mother really wants Mark to come to her, but she refuses to let ImpSec kidnap him.

“As your clone, he—” began Baz.

“Brother,” Miles corrected, instantly. “Brother. I reject the term ‘clone’ for Mark. I forbid it. ‘Clone’ implies something interchangeable. A brother is someone unique. And I assure you, Mark is unique.”

“In guessing . . . Mark’s next moves,” Baz began again, more carefully, “can we even use reason? Is he sane?”

“If he is, it’s not the Komarrans’ fault.”

Miles tells them what Illyan has found out about Mark’s background.  His childhood in the creche wasn’t too bad, but once the Komarrans picked him up…  Ser Galen seemed to flip back and forth between treating Mark as their last great hope of destroying the Barrayaran Empire and treating him as a stand-in for the hated Aral Vorkosigan which he would inflict imaginative punishments on, supposedly in the name of “training”.  He gives the example of how they tried to control Mark’s weight, which always tended much higher than Miles’s, because of his different metabolism:  Galen would starve him for days, then let him stuff himself and then overwork him until he threw it up again.  Miles admits that Galen may have actually been intending to create a Mad Emperor Miles.

Elena tells Miles he can’t blame himself for not stopping this, when not even ImpSec had known about his existence, but Miles says they should have.  He admits he’s not entirely rational on the subject of Mark, which is one reason he wanted to talk to them all, as a sanity check.  The other reason was to tell them about the actual mission he’d been going to send them on when the whole Mark/Ariel/Bel Thorne thing distracted him.

The mission is a “no-combat special”, practically a paid vacation.  ImpSec wants to provide aid to Vega Station, near the borders of the Cetagandan Empire, but its neighbours are not too receptive to the idea.  One is an outright Cetagandan satrapy, one is at least an occasional Cetagandan ally, and the third wants to maintain their neutrality.  Miles tells them they’re “smuggling pack-horses”.

“You’ve never heard that story? From Barrayaran history? It goes, Count Selig Vorkosigan was at war with Lord Vorwyn of Hazelbright, during the First Bloody Century. The town of Vorkosigan Vashnoi was besieged. Twice a week Lord Vorwyn’s patrols would stop this crazy, motley fellow with a train of pack horses and search his packs for contraband, food or supplies. But his packs were always filled with rubbish. They poked and prodded and emptied them—he’d always gather it carefully back up—shook him down and searched him, and finally had to let him go. After the war, one of Vorwyn’s border guards met Count Selig’s liegeman, no longer motley, by chance in a tavern. ‘What were you smuggling?’ he asked in frustration. ‘We know you were smuggling something, what was it?’

“And Count Selig’s liegeman replied, ‘Horses.’

Miles says that what they’re smuggling is spaceships–Triumph, Ariel, and one other, all fleet-owned–taking them to Vega Station and leaving them there, continuing on to Illyrica where they pick three entirely new ships.  ImpSec is taking care of all the permits and visas and so on, so all the Dendarii should have to do is quietly make their way through.  The problem is that the Ariel is, of course, not available, and they have less than a week before the window that ImpSec has opened up for their passage closes.  Miles gives Baz the specs and asks if he thinks they can talk Captain Truzillo into trading his ship, the Jayhawk, for one of these, even though it’s not technically a step up for him.  Baz looks over the specs, exclaiming with delight, and says he thinks he can talk Truzillo into it.

Miles says he’s putting Baz in charge of the Vega Station mission, then, and he’s taking Peregrine, Elena’s ship, and heading off after Ariel.  Elena says they can be ready to go in an hour, and Miles says that they will; speed is essential, and he regrets the extra day, but he had hoped the problem would have solved itself by then.  Quinn will be coming along to help with Jacksonian intelligence, having dealt with House Bharaputra before.  Baron Ryoval is also a danger; he seems to send assassins after Admiral Naismith once a year, and he would happily revenge himself on Mark thinking he’s Miles.

Quinn suggests that they could alert Baron Fell to the problem and have him capture the Ariel and take Mark into custody.  Miles admits he’s considered it, but Mark is paranoid enough already, and if Bel Thorne has been fooled by him, they might resist and get themselves killed.  He also wants to eventually convince Mark to trust him, and that doesn’t seem a good way to go about it.  Quinn asks if Simon Illyan will see it that way when he gets the bill for this mission, and Miles says he’ll gladly pay it.  Miles is, in some views, in line to inherit the Imperial Throne, and if he is, then his clone-brother is as well, so ImpSec has to keep track of him, admittedly as much to keep him from getting involved in plots against the Imperium as to keep him safe.  Baz says that Barrayarans already seem dubious enough over the prospect of Miles becoming Emperor, having his clone on the throne would probably seem even worse.  Miles says that the Komarrans never seemed to realize that in creating a fake claimant to the throne, they’d created a real one as well.

Comments

I’ve heard the “smuggling horses” story done with the guy smuggling wheelbarrows, and I believe it’s supposed to date back at least to Nasrudin or even further.  Snopes has a nice article on it which describes a few variations on the legend.  TV Tropes describes it as a type of “Kansas City Shuffle”, conning someone who’s even expecting to be conned, though in this case I don’t know if anyone will really be that suspicious of the Dendarii, which is probably part of the point.  I confess I was a little sad that they were supposed to be trading in Ariel and Triumph, two mainstays of the Dendarii fleet, or at least the two ships we personally saw the most of.  But then, after this book we don’t spend that much time with the Dendarii any more, so I guess it’s not that bad.  I’ve upgraded enough computers in my day not to be too attached to any of them, despite, or perhaps because of, the number of hours I spend on them, so maybe it’s the same with spaceships…

Foreshadowing here of some of the Mark scenes from later in the book, as they talk about his upbringing and Ser Galen’s abuses of him.  They didn’t really get into this in Brothers In Arms, but I can’t say it really contradicts anything from that book either; it seems entirely in character for Galen.  Miles does have a few complexes himself, but I’m sure Mark’s are even worse, because he also has to pretend to have a lot of Miles’s.

Miles does at least consider the truth–that Thorne has seen through Mark, but is going along with his goals–though he doesn’t have enough information to determine that it is correct.  They touch here on the fact that that would technically be mutiny–knowingly following the orders of someone you know isn’t really your superior officer, and taking steps to avoid receiving any orders from your real superior.  As I said before, Bel is taking a huge risk here.

This chapter was a bit short to summarize, partly because it contained a lot of backstory which, as readers of the whole series, you already know, like Baz and Elena’s histories.  Mark’s backstory covered a bit of what we already knew about him, though it did add more details, so that wasn’t too bad.


I have to say that the beginning of the book is not my favourite part, as Mark goes hurtling into disaster and Miles has to try to pull his fat out of the fire.  But Memory is like that too, starting with a screwup, continuing into inconceivable disaster, and then providing the opportunity to…not quite snatch victory from defeat, but at least get past the defeat and into something positive.  But first you gotta have the low moments, apparently.  I don’t think we’ll get to that next week, but I guess I’ll find out…

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

Chapter Fifteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


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

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

Chapter Eleven

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

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

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

“It was by mistake,” said Gregor.

“No lie. Whose?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry,” said Miles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

DUN DUN DUN!

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

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

Chapter Twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

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

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

Chapter Nineteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s the spirit! Forward momentum.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty

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

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

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

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

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

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

“—plus ten percent!” Calhoun panted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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


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

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

Chapter Seventeen

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did I say?” asked Ivan indignantly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Eighteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


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

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