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Posts Tagged ‘Bharaputra’

When so much in your world is changing, isn’t it nice to know that you can always rely on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  Even if I missed a few weeks in there, and changed what day I post…eventually there will be another installment in the blog devoted to a loving examination of Lois McMaster Bujold’s saga of the Vorkosigans.  For instance, this week I happened to do two more chapters in Mirror Dance, which follows Miles Vorkosigan and his clone-brother Mark (mostly Mark) through misadventures in and around the planet of Jackson’s Whole.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Miles and Rowan’s relationship continues to deteriorate in their shared confinement–she withdraws from interaction with him, and he keeps pacing and talking, trying to come up with an escape plan.  He admits that, with his memory back, he’s a little more reserved towards her.  They’ve been locked up for about four days, judging by meal frequency, and haven’t seen any more of the Baron; Miles wonders what his plans are, and if he’s been auctioned off yet.  Miles resolves to try something the next time their meal is brought.

The lock clicked. He spun, poised to dart forward. “Rowan, get up!” he hissed. “I’m going to try for it.”

“Oh, hell,” she moaned, emerging. Without faith, brow-beaten, she rose and trudged around the bed to stand by his side. “Stunning hurts, you know. And then you throw up. You’ll probably have convulsions.”

“Yes. I know.”

“But at least it’ll shut you up for a while,” she muttered under her breath.

Miles is surprised, though, when the servant with the food turns out to be Lilly Durona the younger.  Rowan approaches her, while Miles considers their options.  Rowan is bad at picking up his cues, but he can hope she’ll follow his lead.  He starts by pointing out how similar Rowan and Lilly look, then asks Lilly why she’s the one serving them.  Lilly says she doesn’t know what to make of Rowan; she denies that the Baronne sent her, but she told the guards that the Baronne wanted her to watch them eat drugged food.  Miles explains about Rowan and her relation to Lilly, and asks Rowan to tell her about the Duronas, though it takes him some time to settle down and let her talk.  Rowan asks Lilly if she knows about the brain transplanet, and Lilly says she does, and insists it’s her destiny to be united with her Lady, but Miles senses the faintest hint of doubt.

Miles wonders idly if they could wear each other’s clothes, then decides Lilly is probably too fat; to prove him wrong, Lilly insists on trying on Rowan’s clothes, which Rowan grudgingly assents to.  Once Lilly gets Rowan’s clothes on, they admit they were wrong, and Rowan tells Lilly to go look at herself in the  mirror.  Miles accompanies her, while behind them Rowan puts on Lilly’s clothes and fixes her hair to match, then is let out of the room by the guards.

In the bathroom, as Miles tries to distract Lilly, she brings up the clone rescue, and asks if he was their rescuer.  He hedges, still pretending to cryo-amnesia, saying it might have been him or his clone-twin.  Miles shows her the scars on his chest, and she’s convinced that he actually was killed.  She asks him about being dead, and he says he doesn’t remember much, but he does get a couple of flashes of memory.  He tells her she wouldn’t like it much, that being alive is better.

He kisses her, to show her the human contact that comes with being alive, and she comments that the Baron’s kissed her too.  The Baron seems to have been sampling her body already, though leaving her virginity intact, secure in the knowledge that her memories will disappear with her brain.  She is due to move back to the clone-creche when it’s completed.  Suddenly suspicious, she checks the bedroom and is dismayed to find Rowan gone.  Miles tells her that if she just keeps quiet about it, she won’t get in trouble, and that Rowan will probably be back soon.  He cajoles her into telling her about her life, what little there is of it, mostly sheltered except for the excitement of her capture/rescue by the Dendarii.

Eventually Lilly realizes that Rowan isn’t coming back after all, and Miles says she probably got away clean, or else they would have brought her back, or least come to fetch Lilly.  If anything, they might think that Lilly has gone missing.  Miles reassures her that Rowan probably wouldn’t have ended up taking Lilly’s place at the brain transplant, because closer inspection would reveal their differences.  Lilly is still upset, and Miles tells her that when they find out she can just tell them that he tricked her into staying.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “You are so beautiful . . . on the inside. You deserve to live. Not be eaten by that old woman.”

“My lady is a great woman,” she said sturdily. “She deserves to live more.”

What kind of twisted ethics drove Lotus Durona, to make of this girl an imitation-willing sacrifice? Who did Lotus think she was fooling? Only herself, apparently.

Lilly decides she wants to try kissing again, but after a while she comments that it’s different from that the Baron likes to do…she undoes Miles’s pants and starts to show him, but he pulls away, and she doesn’t understand why.

“Just exactly so.” She was a child, despite her grown-up body, he was increasingly certain of it. “When you are older . . . you will find your own boundaries. And you can invite people across them as you choose. Right now you scarcely know where you leave off and the world begins. Desire should flow from within, not be imposed from without.” He tried to choke off his own flow by sheer will-power, half-successfully. Vasa Luigi, you scum.

She frowned thoughtfully. “I’m not going to be older.”

He remembers his first encounter with Taura, which may be subconsciously influencing his decisions, and assures himself that it’s a different situation, because Taura’s fighting for more life, while Lilly is trying to throw hers away.  He asks her if she wants to live, and when she is uncertain, he tells her all the things that he has to live for, even an “ugly little man” like himself–family, even his clone-brother Mark.

He talks her into going to sleep, on the bed, while he tries to sleep in a chair, and on the floor, but both are too uncomfortable, and he curls up on top of the covers next to her instead.  In the morning, he drowsily embraces her before she wakes up and pushes him away.  There’s a knock on the door, and he urges her into the bathroom, so they can keep the charade going.  After the breakfast is delivered, she emerges, and Miles tries to convince her that she can have sugar and sweet things with her breakfast.

“I mustn’t get fat. My lady is my destiny.”

“Destiny! What do you know about destiny?” He rose and began to pace, zig-zagging around bed and table. “I’m a frigging expert on destiny. Your lady is a false destiny, and do you know how I know? She takes everything, but she doesn’t give anything back.

Real destiny takes everything—the last drop of blood, and strip out your veins to be sure—and gives it back doubled. Quadrupled. A thousand-fold! But you can’t give halves. You have to give it all. I know. I swear. I’ve come back from the dead to speak the truth to you. Real destiny gives you a mountain of life, and puts you on top of it.”

She tells him he’s crazy, and he says she’s never even met a sane person in her life.  He tells her she could go to the Durona Group and they’d take her in in a heartbeat.  He tells her that the Baron probably never planned to keep Rowan except to keep Miles’s location from getting out, so once the Baron gets rid of him, she’ll be free to go.  She protests that she couldn’t, but he says she just needs to keep her head down and not talk too much; he also points out that she could tell people where he is, and who took him.  She escaped from the Dendarii, after all; she just needs to do it for herself instead of her Lady.  He attempts to fix up her hair in Rowan’s sloppy manner, and after lunch the guards come for him.

Another man tells “Rowan” that he’s her driver, and Lilly asks to be taken home, after giving Miles a parting kiss.  Miles tries to escape twice, but just ends up being carried upside-down for his trouble.  They put him into a groundcar and take him to a transfer point, where he is bound hand and foot and put into a lightflyer in House Ryoval colours.

Rowan, if she’d made it, must send anyone looking for him to Bharaputra’s. Where Miles would not be. Not that he was so sure Vasa Luigi wouldn’t just cheerfully sic them right on to Ryoval.

But if Ryoval’s location was easy to find, they would have found it by now.

By God. I could be the first ImpSec agent on-site. He’d have to be sure and point that out, in his report to Illyan. He had looked forward to making posthumous reports to Illyan. Now he wondered if he was going to live long enough.

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Miles’s fast-talk skills come out once again, as he tries, and seemingly even succeeds, in winning Lilly Durona, Jr. over to his cause–or, at least, to her own, rather than Baronne Lotus’s.  It’s a lovely conversation, and it might now have worked on anyone much more worldly, but Lilly eats it up…at least, once he’s eroded her confidence in the “destiny” she’s been promised from childhood.  Seriously, Oser was the cleverest of Miles’s adversaries, the only one who figured out that you couldn’t afford to let him talk.

At least Rowan cooperated with him to some degree, however tired of each other they were by that point.  She probably thought his scheme was ludicrous, but by that point was willing to try anything to get out of there, get home, and get away from him.  I can’t remember at this point if they do somehow get the Duronas off of Jackson’s Whole, though at this point it seems unlikely, given their limited resources.  Maybe they do manage it, though.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

During one of Gorge’s force-feedings, Baron Ryoval comes to visit and the techs tell him that Mark seems to be enjoying his torture.  Ryoval speculates on what particular psychological adaptation is at work, but is surprised that it’s manifested already.  The tech says that his brain scans are unusual, and in an unusual way, as if parts of them were somehow shielded.  Ryoval is interested, and says that he should be able to deal with “Naismith”‘s defenses.  Gorge’s stomach begins to grow painful, but he won’t give in to Howl’s proddings; the Other still lurks, but he seems pleased when Ryoval asks them to bring Naismith to his quarters later for a closer examination.

He is brought to Ryoval’s rooms by two guards, his skin still patchy but bandaged up, and they put him in a chair, his hands bound behind his back.  They assure Ryoval that he’ll have trouble standing up readily, so he dismisses them and tells them not to interrupt; they obey, with a flat affect that shows they’ve been heavily conditioned.

Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other stared around with interest, wondering whose turn it was going to be next.

You just had your turn, said Howl to Gorge. It’ll be me.

Don’t bet on it, said Grunt. Could be me.

If it weren’t for Gorge, said the Other, grimly, I’d take my turn right now. Now I have to wait.

You’ve never taken a turn, said Gorge curiously. But the Other was silent again.

Ryoval plays a recording of one of Grunt’s sessions of sexplay, which Grunt watches with interest.  Ryoval wonders what the response will be if he sends the tape to the Dendarii mercenaries, but the Other is fairly sure that he’s bluffing, still wanting to keep “Naismith”‘s location secret.  The Other thinks that Simon Illyan would be an even better target, but he doesn’t speak.  Ryoval goes on to describe a potential scenario involving Elli Quinn, which even Grunt and Howl aren’t sure how to deal with, and they contemplate coming up with a new personality for the purpose.

The recording moves on to a torture session, one where Howl was given itching powder after the skin-removal treatment, and he’d scratched himself deeply.  He deliberately keeps himself blank, to deprive Ryoval of the pleasure.  The Other plans his move, after he’s recovered his breath, since soon Gorge will have made his plans physically impossible.  Ryoval wonders out loud how he’ll be able to bring him–or them–back.

Gorge and Grunt ask the Other what will happen to them; the Other promises that Mark will still feed Gorge and Grunt from time to time, possibly on Beta Colony, and Howl deserves a rest anyway.  He warns them that they might not like Ryoval’s plans, and they don’t need him to fulfill their needs.  Gorge asks how he can make promises for Mark, and the Other says he’s the closest to him.  Ryoval would hunt them down anyway, now that he knows they’re there.

Ryoval tells them that he’s bringing them a new friend, his clone-twin.  Lord Mark wakes up and screams; the Other pushes him back down.  Ryoval says that somehow Vasa Luigi acquired the clone, and he seems to be convinced that Ryoval’s is the clone and not the Admiral, but that won’t matter now that he has them both.  He tells them his plans, of which Grunt approves.  Ryoval then goes to unwrap his tools, while the Other negotiates with the other personalities to stay out of the way, to give him one chance.  Ryoval approaches with a surgical hand-tractor, and says that he’s going to pull out one eye.

Smoothly, Howl gave way. Last of all, reluctantly, Gorge gave way, as Ryoval walked toward them.

Killer’s first attempt to struggle to his feet failed, and he fell back. Damn you, Gorge. He tried again, shifted his weight forward, heaved up, stepped once, half-unbalanced without the use of his arms to save himself. Ryoval watched, highly amused, unalarmed by the waddling little monster he doubtless thought he had created.

Trying to work around Gorge’s new belly was something like being the Blind Zen Archer. But his alignment was absolute.

His first kick took Ryoval in the crotch. This folded him neatly over, and put his upper body within practical range. He flowed instantly into the second kick, striking Ryoval squarely in the throat. He could feel cartilage and tissue crunch all the way back to Ryoval’s spine. Since he was not wearing steel-capped boots this time, it also broke several of his toes, smashed up and down at right angles. He felt no pain. That was Howl’s job.

Killer falls over and tries to get back up, noticing Ryoval rolling around on the carpet clutching at his throat; he can’t use voice-commands on the computer any more, though.  He whispers to Ryoval that he was trained as an assassin, and hates being underestimated.  Finally he gets to his feet and kicks Ryoval until the Baron’s dead, a long, messy process that even Killer doesn’t enjoy.  Finally Mark emerges and praises Killer–originally one of Galen’s creations, he realizes–for his exquisite timing; Killer says he was taking Count Vorkosigan’s advice.

He finds a short-range laser-drill in Ryoval’s kit and uses it to cut open his shackles, though not without extreme difficulty.  Then he huddles in pain for a few minutes, before sparing a few thoughts for the poor clone-body that Ryoval had taken over.  Fearing the guards may come back in anyway, he uses the laser-drill to ensure that Ryoval’s brain won’t be recoverable.  He then waits for a while, in exhaustion, before deciding that the guards really won’t be entering their master’s quarters without orders, not for a long time.  It’s almost painful to begin hoping again, and though he blames ImpSec for not having rescued him, he’d forgive them anything if they showed up right then and spared him the work.

Lord Mark takes over and begins to plan their escape.  Ryoval must have had a backdoor, so Mark looks around.  He considers a shower, but doesn’t want to risk his healing skin, and thinks that at least he won’t have to worry about starving for a while.  Finally, in the back of the bedroom closet he finds the emergency exit.  Killer says it may be booby-trapped, but Mark says that it’ll be set up to faciliate a quick exit for Ryoval himself.  Killer breaks through the palm-lock with the help of Ryoval’s surgical kit, but it requires a further key.  Mark reasons that Ryoval would have kept such a key on his person, since he didn’t share any power within his house, and had no trusted subordinates.  He searches Ryoval’s body and finally settles on a ring on his right hand, cutting the hand free when he can’t loosen it; a little thought allows him to figure out which way Ryoval-in-a-hurry would orient it, and the door opens on a small lift tube.

Mark examines the tube, while the other personalities urge him to go, but he balks at the lack of a safety ladder.  He heads back to Ryoval’s bedroom to find some loose clothes he can stuff himself into, but nothing he can use for a ladder.  Instead, he cuts handholds in the side of the tube using the laser drill before turning on the anti-grav field, and climbs as normal, just using the grav field as a boost.  His broken foot slows him down, as does having to cut more handholds, but when he reaches a sound pickup and can’t produce a codeword in Ryoval’s voice, the grav field turns off and he almost falls under his suddenly-imposed weight.  The rest of the climb is slow and painful, but he reaches the top, disables the outward-facing defenses, and finds Ryoval’s private lightflyer.

Opening the door with Ryoval’s ring, he climbs in, figures out how to open the canopy, and lifts out into a barren, icy wasteland, the facility below completely hidden.  He heads east into the sunrise.

Comments

The dissociated personality here gets confusing more than once, because sometimes there’s a “he” where it’s not clear if it’s supposed to be the Other/Killer, or Mark (except that they don’t mention him waking up until after Ryoval’s death).  Not sure if it’s just an oversight on the author’s part, or what.  Luckily, he does seem to be reassimilating the other personalities to some extent, because he is feeling pain by the end, but they don’t disappear right away by any means.

Once again Mark’s supposed haplessness is belied by his assassin training.  The earlier scene in Vorbarr Sultana should serve as a reminder, and it’s possible that Ryoval would even know about the assassin trained by Galen, but he severely underestimated Mark’s level of competence.  I guess he was still thinking of Mark as “Admiral Naismith”, who was not noted particularly for hand-to-hand fighting ability…  Still, reasoning his way past Ryoval’s traps on the way out was all Mark.  Though Ryoval himself helped with his lack of delegation, so taking him out was really all that Mark needed to do.

Now, of course, Mark is heading out while Miles is being brought in.  I seem to recall that works out not too badly; Mark is really rescuing Miles again, this time in advance, sort of.  Leads to a fun conversation later, if nothing else.


After this we’re practically into the denouement, but I guess there’s a lot of knots to untie still–Mark and Miles to be reunited, the Duronas to be dealt with, and Baron Bharaputra, and probably Baron Fell, and it’d be nice if they got back to Barrayar…so still a few chapters, and a few weeks, left.  We’re out of the dark zone, at least; from here it gets more triumphant.  See you next week!

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The Vorkosigan Saga Reread continues this week with two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mirror Dance, of somewhat unequal lengths, though trust me, you wouldn’t necessarily want Chapter Twenty-Six to be any longer.  Miles and Mark have to deal with having fallen into the clutches of Jacksonian Barons, with little more than their brains to help them.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Miles keeps circling the room he and Rowan are confined in, tapping on the walls and talking about breaking through them; Rowan tells him to sit still and stop driving him crazy, and that they should just wait for Lilly to rescue them.  Their room is only a guest room, not a prison cell, with no windows, but Miles can’t tell whether it’s underground or not.  There are two guards outside their room, who resisted being lured in even when Miles had a real seizure.  Miles says it’s a soldier’s duty to escape, and Rowan counters that she’s not a soldier, and Vasa Luigi doesn’t seem to be planning to kill either of them.  Miles tells her, not for the first time, that she should have crashed the lightflyer.  Just then one of the guards opens the door and invites them to attend upon the Baron and Baronne Bharaputra for dinner.

The Baronne is, of course, the former Lotus Durona; Rowan refuses her offered hand.  The girl who serves them at dinner also has the Durona look, and is startled to see Rowan there; she is obviously the replacement clone.  Lotus calls her “Lilly”, which outrages Rowan.  Lotus counters that she is choosing life over death, and Rowan just hasn’t reached the age where she’ll have to make that choice yet.

“Lilly loved you as a daughter.”

“Lilly used me as her servant. Love?” The Baronne chuckled. “It’s not love that keeps the Durona herd together. It’s predator pressure. If all the exterior economic and other dangers were removed, the far corners of the wormhole nexus would not be far enough for us to get away from our dear sibs. Most families are like that, actually.”

The Baron takes that opportunity to offer Rowan a position at House Bharaputra, where her skills could earn her a good position.  Rowan refuses, and Lotus seems relieved.  Miles interrupts to ask about Ryoval and his clone, but the Baron says that he thinks Miles himself is the Admiral; after all, the other clone was being ordered around by his “bodyguard”.  Miles asks what Ryoval will do to him.

“Really, Vasa, this is not dinner conversation,” reproved the Baronne. She glanced curiously at him. “Besides—why should you care?”

” ‘Miles, what have you done with your baby brother?’ ” The quote came from nowhere, fell out of his mouth. He touched his lips uncertainly. Rowan stared at him. So did Lotus.

Bharaputra says that if Ryoval has figured out that he doesn’t have the Admiral, he won’t do much, and otherwise, he’ll be experimenting to find his prey’s weaknesses.  This doesn’t sound so bad, until the Baron goes on to tell the story of a man who’d tried to assassinate Ryoval and ended up a faithful servant, offering himself up to his master’s guests.  When Miles asks, the Baron admits that he hasn’t ruled out selling Miles to Ryoval, after the costly assault on his house made by his clone (with or without Admiral Naismith’s collusion), though he himself doesn’t see the point in revenge on a cryo-amnesic.

Lilly re-enters, and the Baronne seems displeased at how Vasa Luigi’s eyes follow her.  Miles suggests the Dendarii be allowed to bid for him, thinking to himself that they’ll mount a rescue if they can find out where he is.  The Baron says the Dendarii don’t seem to actually be on Jackson’s Whole, except for the tiny covert ops team who showed up at the Duronas.  He suspects there are other bidders in the game who haven’t revealed themselves yet, and he’d rather that “negative bidders” go knocking on Ryoval’s door instead.  He asks what Lilly Durona’s interest is in Miles and his revival, and Rowan deflects the question into more technical medical territory, which diverts Lotus and Rowan for some time, until the meal is served.

After dinner, they are escorted back to their chamber, one of a number of identical guest rooms, and he asks Rowan if she can tell where they are.  She says it’s not Bharaputra’s headquarters, which is under renovation after some recent commando raid.  He tells her that his new plan is to try to get a message out and encourage someone to rescue them.  He asks her about the Great Houses, and she tells him that House Fell is more powerful than Bharaputra or Ryoval, and he concludes that they would thus make a better ally against them.  He tells Rowan they need to call Baron Fell, or somebody, to let them know where he and Rowan are being held.  Rowan says she’d rather call Lilly, but Miles thinks to himself that Lilly doesn’t have the power to break them out.

He wandered into the bathroom and stared at himself in the mirror. _Who am I?_ A skinny, haggard, pale, odd-looking little man with desperate eyes and a tendency to convulsions. If he could even decide which one his clone-twin was, glimpsed so painfully yesterday, he could dub himself the other by process of elimination. The fellow had looked like Naismith to him. But Vasa Luigi was no fool, and Vasa Luigi was convinced of the reverse. He had to be one or the other. Why couldn’t he decide? If I am Naismith, why did my brother claim my place?

At that moment, he discovered why it was called a cascade.

The sensation was of being under a waterfall, of some river that emptied a continent, tons of water battering him to his knees. He emitted a tiny mewl, crouching down with his arms wrapping his head, shooting pains behind his eyes and terror locking his throat. He pressed his lips together to prevent any other sound escaping, that would attract Rowan in all her concern. He needed to be alone for this, oh yes.

No wonder I couldn’t guess. I was trying to choose between two wrong answers. Oh, Mother. Oh, Da. Oh, Sergeant. Your boy has screwed up this one, bad. Real bad. Lieutenant Lord Miles Naismith Vorkosigan crawled on the tiled floor and screamed in silence, just a faint hiss. No, no, no, oh, shit. . . .

He tries to re-evaluate recent events in light of his recovered memories.  He’s surprised that Mark had seemed so controlled and determined as Admiral Naismith, and he winces at how his amnesiac response must have hurt Elli.  He tries to recall his death–something to do with that commando raid on Bharaputra, and how he wanted to rescue Mark and show him the right way to do it.  He wonders what his mother knows about all this, how long he’s been dead, and where ImpSec is–apart from himself, of course.  He compares Rowan to Elli and decides their similarities may have been why he was attracted to her in the first place.

Lilly had told him that the Dendarii had escaped, so why are they back–even Taura, who might be on Ryoval’s revenge list herself?  Obviously, they’re here to rescue Miles himself, but they had the bad luck to run into Ryoval on the way.  He almost wishes he still couldn’t remember any of this.  Thinking of Baron Bharaputra’s earlier comment, he conceals his recovery from Rowan, pretending to be cryo-amnesic still, and wonders what he’s going to do next.

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Some interesting undercurrents here–Lotus, the clone Lilly, and Vasa Luigi seem to be on the verge of becoming a triangle.  Does Lotus worry that the Baron will be unable to keep his hands off of Lilly until Lotus is inside her body, or that he’ll somehow decide to sabotage her transplant and let the young, more easily manipulated clone live instead?  Surely not–Lotus’s skills are presumably still invaluable to House Bharaputra.  Lotus doesn’t seem that old, compared to Lilly–mostly gray hair, a few wrinkles–but I guess she doesn’t want to get as decrepit as her clone-mother before reclaiming her youth.  Her opinions on families are, of course, highly coloured by her own experiences, and I wonder how she accounts for Miles and Mark’s attempts to rescue each other…

And finally, Miles regains his memory, and has to pretend he still hasn’t.  Especially since Rowan is no longer a devoted ally, but somewhat weary of him, with diverging goals, and the wrong instincts.  Or, at least, her instincts aren’t likely to lead to the best outcome for Miles himself any more.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Mark remains under the tortures of Baron Ryoval, and his personality fragments under the pressure, into Gorge, Grunt, and Howl, and a nameless other figure.

He let Gorge go out to handle the force-feedings, because Gorge was the only one who actually enjoyed them. Gorge, after all, would never have been permitted to do all that Ryoval’s techs did. Grunt he sent forth when Ryoval came again with the hypospray of aphrodisiac. Grunt had also been responsible for the attack on Maree, the body-sculptured clone, he rather thought, though Grunt, when not all excited, was very shy and ashamed and didn’t talk much.

Having named them all, he finally found Mark by process of elimination. Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other had sent Lord Mark deep inside, to sleep through it all. Poor, fragile Lord Mark, barely twelve weeks old.

Ryoval could not even see Lord Mark down in there. Could not reach him. Could not touch him. Gorge and Grunt and Howl and the Other were all very careful not to wake the baby. Tender and protective, they defended him. They were equipped to. An ugly, grotty, hard-bitten bunch, these psychic mercenaries of his. Unlovely. But they got the job done.

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I quoted about half the chapter up there–it’s very brief, and very stark as a result.  Bujold has provided pretty all the torture porn that she’s planned to, so all we get to see is what happens to Mark on the inside.  Last I heard (though these things change) this was called “dissociative personality disorder” rather than “multiple” personality, and certainly not schizophrenia, which is something quite different.  It’s not that other personalities are actually appearing, more that aspects of the existing one are beginning to put up boundaries and establish separate identities.  A few years ago I read a book called When Rabbit Howls by Truddi Chase–or, rather, by “The Troops for Truddi Chase”.  Truddi herself was described as a dormant, protected personality somewhat like Lord Mark, with “The Troops” as her own gang of personality splinters.

It’s horrifying to see Mark unravel like this, but this is, at its heart, a defensive mechanism on the part of the mind.  Mark had identity problems enough before this, of course, but when he was just beginning to establish his “Lord Mark” personality, he gets thrown into the deep end.  Is this anything like the result that Ryoval was hoping for?  Perhaps not, since in some ways it’s a bait-and-switch–his real target is being protected, his personality fragments running interference for him–but perhaps having driven him so far is a victory in itself.  At least things can’t get any worse for Mark and his gang from here…


So you did get two chapters this week, even if one was just an itty-bitty one.  With any luck, there’ll be two more next week, probably closer to normal length, and there’s still seven left, ample time for the climax and some denouement.  Until next week, then.

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What’s that, emerging from underneath that big pile of cardboard boxes?  Why, it looks like another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, a little dusty, but mostly intact.  It even covers two chapters of Mirror Dance, the joint story of clone-brothers Mark and Miles Vorkosigan–will wonders never cease?  You’ve been waiting long enough, so here it is:

Chapter Twenty-Three

Miles spends three days of loveplay with Rowan, until the afternoon where Rowan leaves him alone but, unknown to her, awake.  Deciding that “out” seems to be too dangerous, he instead sets himself to explore within, to try to find the mysterious Lilly.  Jacksonian leaders seem to live in bunkers (like Ryoval, he thinks, with vague associations of a sub-basement) or towers (like Fell, in orbit); since he was already down, he decides to go up.

He gets dressed, slips out into the hallway, then up to the top floor.  There is another lift-tube going up, with a Durona-only palm lock, along with a spiral staircase that Miles perforce takes instead.  At the top he regains his breath, knocks, and tells the boy who answers that he wants to see his grandmother.  A woman’s voice calls him inside, and the boy, Robin, lets him in.

A shrunken old women sits inside, her long white hair being brushed by a young girl.  Miles sees a hundred years in her eyes and is sure that this is Lilly.  She tells him to sit down and sends the girl, Violet, to get tea, and Robin to get Rowan.  Miles sits.

Her vowels had a vibrato of age, but her diction, containing them, was perfect. “Have you come to yourself, sir?” she inquired.

“No, ma’am,” he said sadly. “Only to you.” He thought carefully about how to phrase his question. Lilly would not be any less medically careful than Rowan about yielding him clues. “Why can’t you identify me?”

Her white brows rose. “Well-put. You are ready for an answer, I think. Ah.”

Rowan appear in the lift tube, apologizing for leaving him unattended, and Lilly reassures her that it’s all right.  Rowan pours the tea, and then Miles asks for answers.  Lilly says it’s time to tell him a story of three brothers, just like in a fairy tale–the original and his two clones.  The eldest was born into a rich and powerful family, with a title and a father with power and influence.  His enemies tried to strike at the father through his son, and cause the two clones to be created.  She pauses to ask him if any names are springing to mind, but Miles says no, so she adds more details.

She says Miles Vorkosigan is the original, his first clone was made by House Bharaputra for Komarrans, and then escaped; Miles remembers Galen, who Lilly confirms was the leader of the Komarrans.  The other clone’s origins are more obscure, though the Cetagandans are the best guess; he appeared suddenly a decade earlier with a mercenary fleet and proclaimed himself Admiral Miles Naismith, and has certainly gone on to disoblige himself to the Cetagandans.  Lilly tells Miles that he is probably one of the two clones.

Miles asks why, when he arrived there in his frozen state, they went to such trouble with him, since clones can’t be that much of a novelty.  Lilly tells him how Bharaputra’s clone returned three months earlier, pretending to be Naismith, with a mercenary crew, and attached the clone-creche.  Naismith himself followed after, and in the ensuing battle one of them ended up dead; the other escaped, with the Dendarii, the clones and a captive Vasa Luigi, though they posted a reward for the recovery of the cryo-chamber with the dead clone’s remains.  The Dendarii claimed that the dead clone was the Bharaputran one, but Baron Bharaputra is convinced that Naismith was the one who actually died.  She adds that Baron Fell won’t even guess, and Ryoval would go to great lengths for the mere chance to get back at Admiral Naismith.

Miles finds the story familiar, but distant, like something he heard once, and discovers he’s starting to get a headache.  He asks about medical records, but they only have the Bharaputran clone’s, and only until the Komarrans took him, and no information on the other one.  Rowan tells them that half of his bones are plastic, and the rest have old breaks, and she’d have guessed him older than either of the clones, or even Lord Vorkosigan.  His memories are ambiguous–his knowledge of weapons could suit the Admiral, or the Bharaputran’s assassin training, and his memories of Galen and maple trees point to Earth and the Komarrans.

Miles asks why they revived him, rather than just turning him over to the Dendarii, or Baron Ryoval.  Lilly says she has bad blood with Baron Ryoval, and they haven’t ruled out dealing with the Dendarii, but they need to know who he is first.  She tells him how Naismith and the Dendarii got Dr. Canaba off the planet and successfully disappeared him, and says she wants them to do the same for the Duronas; Baron Fell is aging and soon their initial Deal with him will be over, and they’ll be in a much less desirable situation.  If he’s Naismith, then they’ll be in a good bargaining position, and if he’s the other they might be able to work out a ransom deal, but if he doesn’t remember either of them, he’s worth nothing to them.  With that implicit threat, they head back to Rowan’s room.

When they’re alone, Rowan asks him if any of that sounded familiar; Miles says that all of it does, but he doesn’t think he has the skills to get the Duronas off of Jackson’s Whole.  Rowan says his speech is improving rapidly, and she thinks he’s close to memory-cascade.  He says he remembers Galen and Earth, and asks what the clone’s name is; Rowan says she doesn’t know, and Miles says that he thinks Admiral Naismith’s name should be Mark Pierre Vorkosigan, but doesn’t know why.  He tries to conjure up a childhood raised by Cetagandans and then escaping from them, but nothing comes up.

Miles asks what they’ll do with him if he’s the wrong clone; Rowan says he’ll need to make his own way off of Jackson’s Whole, with the Bharaputrans looking for him, but she’ll try to help him, even though she’s reluctant to act apart from the rest of the clan.  She did spend time on Escobar taking her cryo-revival course, and she wonders how it would be to be on her own or part of a couple, like Lotus (the one who married into House Bharaputra).

He eyed her. “Were you ordered to sleep with me?” he asked suddenly.

She flinched. “No.” She paced again. “But I did ask permission. Lilly said to go ahead, it might help attach you to our interests.” She paused. “Does that seem terribly cold, to you?”

“On Jackson’s Whole—merely prudent.” And attachments surely ran two ways. Jackson’s Whole was no place to be alone. But you can’t trust anyone.

If anyone was sane here, he swore it was by accident.

Miles can now read for up to ten minutes before blinding headaches, which he does, with short breaks in between.  He studies up on the Great Houses of Jackson’s Whole, many of whom seem familiar to him; he thinks that Durona is on its way to becoming a House Minor on its own, budding off from House Fell.  But he still can’t manage to dredge up Admiral Naismith’s past, or the unknown clones either.  He wonders who the “Gran’da” from his memories is.  He decides to spend some time researching Miles Vorkosigan, something both clones must also have been familiar with, and starts with a general history of Barrayar.  It all seems achingly familiar, but all too soon he has to stop again.  He considers asking for another dose of fast-penta, in case it does jar something loose.  Rowan comes in and says that Lilly wants him upstairs.

“All right—” He made to rise, but she stopped him.

She kissed him. It was a long, long kiss, which at first delighted and then worried him. He broke away to ask, “Rowan, what’s the matter?”

” . . . I think I love you.”

“This is a problem?”

“Only my problem.” She managed a brief, unhappy smile. “I’ll handle it.”

She takes him up to Lilly’s penthouse, where Hawk is also present, looking more like a guard than an attendant.  Three strangers are also there–two women (one of them identified as “Bel”), and a short man who looks like him.  He’s wearing a military uniform, so Miles identifies him as Admiral Naismith, stocky and squared-off.  Unfortunately, he realizes that this means he’s the wrong clone after all.  One of the women says she recognizes Miles, but he has to admit he doesn’t know her.  Lilly tells them that he’s obviously alive and well, and they need to discuss the price.  Naismith says they’ll pay anything; the other women adds “within reason”, and wonders how good the revival job was, with his obvious problems.  Rowan breaks into say that the prep may have been botched, but he’s recovering quickly, pushing himself almost too hard, before Lilly shushes her.

She mentions the price, retelling the story of Dr. Canaba and his rescue from Jackson’s Whole, mentioning the Marilacan prisoner rescue as well.  Naismith says he will certainly be able to get the Duronas offplanet, once he makes contact with his backup, and Lilly says that once the extraction has been arranged, he can have his clone-brother.  They protest that they’d hoped to take him today, but Lilly says she prefers to hold on to her only bargaining chip, since she can’t give him half a clone in advance.  Naismith points out that also leaves her the freedom to auction him to other bidders, which he warns her not to try; Lilly says that only they can provide what she wants, too.

For a Jacksonian, this was bending over backward to encourage. Take it, close the deal! he thought, then wondered why. What did these people want him for? Outside, a gust of wind whipped the snowfall to a blinding, whirling curtain. It ticked on the windows.

It ticked on the windows. . . .

Lilly was the next to be aware, her dark eyes widening. No one else had noticed yet, the cessation of that silent glitter. Her startled gaze met his, as his head turned back from his first stare outward, and her lips parted for speech.

The window burst inward.

Pellets of safety glass bombard them, and Hawk and the mercenary women leap into action as a big aircar appears outside the window.  Four troops in biotainment gear leap into the room, and they seem to be shielded from Hawk’s stunner.  Someone named Elena calls on the mercenary Quinn’s radio, asking if she wants backup, which Quinn does, as she dodges stunner beams.  Hawk is stunned himself, and the troopers try to decide which of the two clones is their target, Naismith.  They decide to take them both, but Miles and Rowan dive into the lift-tube, just in time to see Naismith and the two Dendarii women stunned.

Once they reach the bottom of the lift-tube, Miles asks Rowan where the generators are, so they can turn the force-shield on and try to keep the kidnappers from leaving.  Other Duronas appear, and House Fell guards head toward the penthouse, but Miles tries to avoid them; he wonders who it was who turned off the force-screen in the first place, and Rowan says that it’s House Fell’s responsibility.  Miles peers out a window and sees more House Fell guards running around, trying to decide what to do about the aircar; as he watches, the troopers jump back aboard, carrying Naismith, and it departs.

Rowan tries to pull him away from the window, as a Dendarii civilian aircar lifts and tries to force the other aircar down, ending up crashing itself for its pains.  Miles thinks they have a good idea, and asks Rowan if there are any Durona aircars they can use.  The building is crawling with security now, though, and Miles wonders how he can get through unnoticed.  He tells Rowan to carry him out, getting Dr. Chrys to take his feet, to get him through the crowd and to the exit.  She obliges, and Miles runs for the outer door, wincing as the Fell guards fire a rocket launcher at the armoured aircar, which luckily doesn’t take it down.

“Take me to the biggest, fastest thing you can make go,” he gasped to Rowan. “We can’t let them get away.” We can’t let Fell’s men blow it up, either. “Hurry!”

“Why?”

“Those goons just kidnapped my, my . . . brother,” he panted. “Gotta follow. Bring ’em down if we can, follow if we can’t. The Dendarii must have reinforcements of some kind, if we don’t lose them. Or Fell. Lilly’s his, his liegewoman, isn’t she? He has to respond. Or _someone_ does.” He was shivering violently. “Lose ’em and we’ll never get ’em back. They’re figuring on it.”

“What the hell would we do if we caught them?” Rowan objected. “They just tried to kidnap you, and you want to run after them? That’s a job for security!”

As Miles tries to protest, his consciousness vanishes into another seizure, and he awakens to Dr. Chrys injecting him, back inside the building, only a minute or so later.  Lilly arrives and tells Rowan to get him out of there, since Baron Fell is going to be on the scene himself soon and they don’t want him to find the clone; they’ll hide the evidence and pretend he was never there.  She orders Rowan to take him someplace random, not one of their properties, and hide out with him there, calling only on secured lines.  Rowan obeys, taking a still-wobbly Miles into the underground clinic and out through a concealed tunnel into an underground parking garage where Rowan explains they sometimes have to smuggle things in or out.

As they get into an innocuous lightflyer, Miles protests that they have to go after Admiral Naismith, but Rowan says that he’s got all the Dendarii to look for him, and Lilly wants him back too.  Miles thinks miserably that he himself has no value except to Vasa Luigi, for things he doesn’t even remember doing.  He wonders out loud what resources the Dendarii have, what backup he has, and Rowan tells him not to worry about it.

The aircar’s lights go out, and it begins to drop; they’re being drained and forced down by another vehicle.  Miles urges Rowan to crash the aircar, make a big splash that can’t help but be noticed, and she just tells him he’s crazy and manages to set it down safely.  Before Miles can do anything else they’re surrounded by troopers, but not the same as those as attacked the clinic.  They handcuff him, Rowan protesting that they shouldn’t hurt her patient.

Another big man crunched through the snow. He pushed back his hood, and shone a hand light upon the captives. He appeared about forty-standard, with a craggy face, olive brown skin, and dark hair stripped back in a simple knot. His eyes were bright and very alert. His black brows bent in puzzlement, as he stared at his prey.

“Open his shirt,” he told one of the guards.

The guard did so; the craggy man shone the hand-light on the spray of scars. His lips drew back in a white grin. Suddenly, he threw back his head and laughed out loud. The echoes of his voice lost themselves in the empty winter twilight. “Ry, you fool! I wonder how long it will take you to figure it out?”

“Baron Bharaputra,” Rowan said in a thin voice.

Vasa Luigi “invites” them both to join him; Rowan says that he hasn’t regained his memory yet, but Bharaputra says that he only wants him as a bargaining chip.

Comments

I was confused at first about the identity of the two Dendarii women in the penthouse, since one of them was described as “graying”, which doesn’t sound like Elli or Elena, but then it turns out to be Bel.  Interesting that Miles sees Bel as female in this circumstance, not recognizing it as a hermaphrodite.  I guess the breasts are more visible than the penis…

It’s also interesting to see the Miles-clone story from the outside, where the existence of Lord Vorkosigan and his two clones is taken as truth.  Lord Vorkosigan has no reputation at all offplanet, and perhaps the scene near the end of Brothers In Arms is taken to be conclusive proof that he’s separate from Admiral Naismith.  Now the other clone showing up and pretending to Admiral Naismith must obviously be a third one, and besides, “Mark” has a verifiable past, from the Bharaputrans and the Komarrans.  Miles’s real identity, nobody believes…  Bharaputra “knows” that Miles isn’t Admiral Naismith, because of the chest scars, so therefore he must be the other clone…

I’d forgotten that Miles fell into the hands of Bharaputra at the same time that Mark fell into Ryoval’s (see below).  But now that I’ve been reminded, I kind of remember what happens.  The classic scene in this chapter, of course, is Miles trying to get Rowan to crash the flyer, and her refusing–the first sign that they’re not compatible for a long-term relationship after all.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Mark awakens from stun just enough to hear two voices arguing about whether to give him synergine; they decide to do it just to keep him from throwing up all over the aircar.  After that, he begins to recover, and notices that they switch vehicles at least three more times, then onto a larger vehicle, and then they go through decontamination.  And then he’s handed over to House Ryoval guardsmen, who put him into another lightflyer.

Miles is alive. The relief of that fact was so intense, he smiled in elation even with his face squashed into the sticky plastic seat. What a joyful sight the skinny little bugger had been! Upright and breathing. He’d almost wept. What he’d done, was undone. He could really be Lord Mark, now. All my sins are taken from me.

As long as he regains his memory, of course–he didn’t even recognize Quinn.  Mark is mostly just annoyed at Ryoval, for making a stupid mistake and getting the wrong man, but is confident that ImpSec will deal with him soon enough.

He’s offloaded in an underground garage, passed through security and then stripped.  He can’t figure out where he is–not a bordello, or a prison, smelling medical but not fancy enough for paying customers, too secret to be for the production of commercial slaves.  He’s still more worried about Ryoval’s troopers’ fates once the Baron discovers their goof than about himself.  Miles and the Dendarii seem to have escaped capture, so they or ImpSec can rescue him.

He’s brought before the Baron himself in private quarters, and he remembers the recording he’d seen of Ryoval’s messages to Miles, the promises of vengeance made there.  He sees that the Baron is wearing a young, obviously cloned body, which enrages him.  Ryoval tells the guards to leave him alone, and stares at Mark, visions of his vengeance seeming to dance in his head.  He tells the “Admiral” that he’s put on weight, and he’s glad, on the whole, that “Naismith” didn’t die in one of his mercenary actions, because he’s been planning “Naismith”‘s fate for four years now.  Mark realizes he has no clue that he’s not the Admiral Naismith he tangled with before.  At least it’s not amnesic Miles in this position, he decides.

After inspecting Mark, Ryoval declares that rather than starve him, as he’d originally planned, he’ll try force-feeding instead.  Mark tries to tell him that he’s got the wrong clone, but Ryoval is convinced that the Bharaputran clone was the one at House Durona, which he’s been watching closely because he knew Naismith would come for him.  He’s not quite sure why, speculating that Naismith and the clone might be lovers.  Mark tells him to do the scans and prove he’s telling the truth, but Ryoval says that it’s pointless, if even the Duronas couldn’t tell for sure.  Mark insists that he’s not Naismith, and Ryoval says that, in that case, he’ll practice on him for when the real Naismith comes along.

Ryoval summons his guards, who start beating Mark, who screams obligingly, but they don’t even break any bones.  They lock him in a tiny, cold room, where he tries to console himself that Ryoval will keep him alive, and relatively unharmed, as long as possible, to make the tortures last longer.  If he survives long enough, ImpSec will find him.  Mark will be able to resist the humiliations that may have broken Miles, he tells himself.

The technicians come for him and strap him down to force-feed him, a “repulsive high-calorie sludge” filled with anti-emetics so he can’t even vomit it up.  It must be something standard that Ryoval keeps on hand, for people who’ve taken his compulsive overeating to even higher levels.

Ryoval had stripped his very own rebellion of all its secret pleasure. The one somatic power that had been his call, his control, taken from him. Ryoval had hooked him, gotten under his skin. Way under.

After he’s given some time to assimilar that, he’s given a strong aphrodisiac and given to guards, or bordello employees, he can’t tell, drugged into his own degradation with cameras recording it from every angle.  Afterwards he realizes that at least it’s overcome his performance problems from the shock-stick incident.  Ryoval was watching, and studying, the whole time, watching for reactions and signs of weakness and vulnerability.  This is just a preamble to the real torture to come, the Baron learning his parameters.  His only clock is the every-three-hours force-feedings.

Suddenly, he saw what was coming, all whole. First, Ryoval would condition him to this, addict him by repeated doses. Only then would he add pain, and pin him, vibrating, between pain and pleasure; require him to torture himself, to win through to the dark reward. And then he would withdraw the drug and let Mark, conditioned to the scenarios, continue. And he would. And then Ryoval would offer him his freedom. And he would weep and beg to stay, plead to remain a slave. Destruction by seduction. End-game. Revenge complete.

Next they use special solvents to flay him, dissolving his skin but leaving the nerves intact, and then leaving him in his little cell with his pain from everything he touches, standing upright until he collapses.  He’s survived the first day, though.  He thinks that he would already have told them any information they asked for, but they’re not torturing him for interrogation purposes, just for torture itself.  They don’t even care what he knows.

I wanted to be Lord Mark. I just wanted to be Lord Mark. Was that so bad? He still wanted to be Lord Mark. He’d almost had it, brushing his grasp. Ripped away. He wept for it, hot tears splashing like molten lead on his not-skin. He could feel Lord Mark slipping from him, racked apart, buried alive. Disintegrating. I just wanted to be human. Screwed up again.

Comments

Yikes.  This is a disturbing chapter to read.  Then again, I’ve always been fascinated by stories like Piers Anthony’s “On The Uses of Torture”, so maybe I’m just a little twisted, because it doesn’t make me put the book down or anything.  I just keep reading.

Mark starts out, and to some extent remains, convinced that he’s won just by finding Miles alive, and keeping him out of Ryoval’s clutches.  He’s redeemed his earlier mistake by leading the Dendarii to Miles, and whatever else happens to him doesn’t matter.  But Ryoval, intent on getting under his skin (literally–ugh), is not so easily dismissed.  He’s definitely on the far side of crazy, perhaps even by Jackson’s Whole standards, and he doesn’t even seem to care if he’s got the right clone or not.  The way they’ve hopelessly muddied the waters on who’s who, they shouldn’t be surprised if people guess wrongly.  (As Mark realizes, Admiral Naismith doesn’t even exist, so Ryoval wants revenge on a phantom.)  Still, he does have different strengths than Miles, and this is where he really gets to find them, because everything else gets stripped away.


Sorry to keep you all in suspense for so long.  Packing, and moving, and unpacking, provided me with excuses for not working on the Reread even when it wasn’t actually depriving me of time, or access to my computer, or energy and motivation.  I had done about a third of Chapter Twenty-Three before the move, and luckily managed to get all of that and the second (much shorter) chapter done this week.  Wednesdays are definitely better, I’d have to say.

There are nine more chapters left, but it’s too soon for me to know how they’re going to fall out.  Chapter Twenty-Six is extremely short, but I hesitate to promise three chapters for next week; I’m more likely to just call it an easy week and leave another singleton for later.  But I can see Memory on the horizon, which will be another challenge, as the first I don’t have in digital format…but perhaps my favourite in the entire series.

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Wednesday is the new Tuesday!  Or perhaps Thursday is the new Wednesday.  In any case, it’s the day (or night) of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I make my way through the delectable works of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week we get another couple of chapters into Mirror Dance, which now once again features our usual protagonist Miles Vorkosigan sharing the stage with his clone-brother Mark.

Chapter Twenty-One

Mark and Elena get a ride on an ImpSec courier back to Komarr, and on their arrival Mark discovers that Medic Norwood’s personal effects have been shipped from the Dendarii fleet.  Although reluctant to beg another favour from impSec, Mark pleads to be given access, and is, once ImpSec themselves have been over it.  While Elena prepares their ship, Mark dives into Norwood’s box of effects.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of value, but he gives Norwood’s library and technical notes another go-over, just to be sure.

The second time through he notices a scrawled reference to meeting a “Dr. Durona”, which is a name Mark recognizes.  Norwood’s cryonic training was at Beauchene Life Center on Escobar, and though Mark checks, he finds no reference to a Dr. Durona working or teaching there.  Nonetheless, he’s sure he’s onto something.

He calls Elli Quinn, who is none too pleased to hear from him, and asks her if anyone else was trained at Beauchene around the same time as Norwood.  Elli says that there were a couple, one of whom is dead, but the other is on the _Ariel_.  Mark asks to go over there to talk to him, and Quinn bridles, asking him who he thinks he is to give her orders.

“Elena hasn’t told you much, I see.” Curious. Did Bothari-Jesek’s dubious Armsman’s oath then outrank her loyalties to the Dendarii? Or was she just too busy to chat? How much time had he been—he glanced at his chrono. My God. “I happen to be on my way to Jackson’s Whole. Very soon. And if you are very nice to me, I might ask ImpSec to release you to me, and let you ride along as my guest. Maybe.” He grinned breathlessly at her.

The smoldering look she gave him in return was more eloquent than the bluest string of swear words he’d ever heard. Her lips moved—counting to ten?—but no sound came out. When she did speak, her tone was clipped to a burr. “I’ll have your pod at the station’s hatch ring in eleven minutes.”

The medic is none too pleased to be interrogated again, ImpSec having already been at him, but Mark promises to ask just one question.  Mark asks the medic if he met a Dr. Durona anywhere, and the medic says he met lots of doctors, but doesn’t remember that one.  Mark thinks for a minute and supplies a description instead.  The medic, surprised, says there was, a fellow student that Norwood was pursuing for a while–Roberta or Rowanna, he thought.  He doesn’t recall her being from Jackson’s Whole, but admits that the clinic had people come from all over.

Mark goes to find Quinn, and asks her for a still from Taura’s helmet recorder; Quinn says ImpSec took them all, but reluctantly admits they had copies.  She brings him a disk, and (with her help to log in, because his palm-print is no longer recognized) finds an image of the dark-haired girl from the clone creche.  He shows it to the medic, who agrees that it looks like the same woman, maybe a little younger.  Quinn asks what’s going on, and he promises to tell her only after they’re on his ship and underway.  He doesn’t want to give ImpSec any hints yet.

“Where the hell did you get a ship?”

“My mother gave it to me.” He tried not to smirk.

“The Countess? Rats! She’s turning you loose?”

“Don’t begrudge me my little ship, Quinn. After all, my parents gave my big brother a whole fleet of ships.” His eyes gleamed. “I’ll see you on board, as soon as Captain Bothari-Jesek reports it ready.”

Mark is proud of having his own ship, belated birthday present it may be, a yacht that used to belong to a Komarran oligarch who’s upgrading to something better.  Quinn, Taura, and Bel Thorne are there waiting for Mark’s briefing, which starts after Elena confirms that the ship’s pilot has broken orbit.  He explains to them that this is neither an ImpSec nor Dendarii mission, but funded by Countess Vorkosigan.  Bel and Taura have been briefed on Admiral Naismith’s true identity, which Bel (and Ky Tung) had already guessed, and which Taura says explains a lot.

Quinn asks what Mark has found, and Mark explains about the Beauchene Life Center.  He knows ImpSec will hit upon the same lead eventually, but in the meantime he’s reprioritized his list of Jackson’s Whole sites to check.  He’s postulated that Miles has been recently revived, and asks Elena to confirm that if this is true, he’ll soon draw attention to himself.  Quinn notes the possibility of amnesia.  Mark says he’s afraid that soon someone else’s attention will be drawn to Miles if they don’t find him soon.

Mark explains his theory that Norwood met a Dr. Durona at Beauchene, and that that’s who he tried to send Miles to at Bharaputra’s.  Because there is a Durona Group on Jackson’s Whole, which works for House Fell–who, at that time, were their allies.  Quinn says that Fell claims not to have the cryo-chamber, and Mark gives them a little background.

Ninety years earlier, the father of the current Baron Ryoval decided to try growing himself some geniuses.  He started by creating a woman named Lilly Durona, who proved to be a genius in fact.  Unfortunately, after she started working for the Baron, he died in unsuccessful brain transplant, probably due to the efforts of his son, the current Baron Ryoval.  The new Baron cleaned house by killing or enslaving most of his numerous siblings and half-siblings, and threatened to do the same to Lilly Durona.  Lilly plotted her escape with the help of one of Ryoval’s half-brothers, Georish Stauber–the current Baron Fell–who used Lilly as his entrée into House Fell.  While Stauber rose in the House, Durona created her own research group by cloning herself over and over; the group now consists of 30-40 Duronas, and serves Fell as in-house medical staff, as well as developing chemical and biological weaponry.

Mark then asks about the Dendarii side of their encounters with Fell and Ryoval, which Bel supplies, telling Mark about their help with Dr. Canaba’s defection–including Taura’s rescue and the destruction of Ryoval’s samples, which is why Ryoval would be happy to get his hands on a revived Miles just to be able to kill him over and over again.  Mark adds another odd fact–Baronne Lotus Bharaputra, wife of the current Baron, is a former Durona clone who jumped ship herself for co-control of House Bharaputra, and the dark-haired clone girl who escaped is evidently her body-clone.  Durona don’t do brain transplants themselves, part of their original deal.  What Mark isn’t sure about, though, is why the Duronas seem to be concealing their possession of Miles’s body from House Fell itself, including dumping the cryo-chamber off-planet.

Quinn has prepared a kit for providing them with new identities before they arrive in Jacksonian space, because they’ll have to get past Fell Station again.  She admits grudgingly that Mark’s analysis is pretty good.

“Yes . . . he’s changed a bit, I think,” Bothari-Jesek observed judiciously. “Grown.”

“Yeah?” Quinn’s gaze swept him, up and down. “True . . .”

Mark’s heart warmed in hungry anticipation of a crumb of approval.

“—he’s fatter.”

Comments

So now we know what’s up with the Durona Group, as a link between the three Jacksonian Houses we’ve encountered the most so far–created by Ryoval, defected to Fell, and then one of them defected again to Bharaputra.  There’s supposed to be lots of other Jacksonian Houses, but somehow those are the only three we encountered for a long time, mostly because they were the ones that Miles ran afoul of back in “Labyrinth”.  Not until the latest book, in fact, did we really see anyone from another House.

I forgot that Mark’s clue to the Duronas comes after they leave Barrayar–I always remember it as being what impels him to leave Barrayar in the first place.  So he really has little or nothing to go on when he actually convinces Cordelia and Elena to let him go.  I sometimes forget that Mark knows so much about Jackson’s Whole, but he did spend a large chunk of his childhood there, even though the clones must have been somewhat sheltered.  After that, with Ser Galen, is when he spent all his time learning about Barrayar and Miles…

Chapter Twenty-Two

Miles, still amnesic, is trying to remember tongue-twisters so he can practice his speech, because he hates it when nobody understands him talking.  He is, at least, dressing himself and eating real food.  He finally manages to work his way through “She sells sea shells”, and then sees Rowan watching from the doorway.  She says he’s obviously been practicing, and he conveys that he needs to talk so he can issue commands.

Rowan says she’s brought him some “toys”, which turn out to be parts of disassembled hand weapons.  Miles expertly assembles four different weapons–stunner, plasma arc, nerve disrupter and projectile gun–and puts the remaining, extra pieces to one side.  He notes that the power cells are all dead, and Rowan comments that he nonetheless never pointed any of the weapons at either of them during the assembly.

She asks if any memories surfaced during the activity, and he says no, but tells her (in excitement and decreasing intelligibility) that he remembered something in the shower.  He describes a scene of riding on a horse with an old man beside him, and a number of trees connected with tubes, which makes his grandfather and the other men happy.

“What are they doing, in this scene?” she asked, sounding baffled. “These men.”

He could see it again in his head, the memory of a memory. “Burnin’ wood. Makin’ sugar.”

“That makes no sense. Sugar comes from biological production vats, not from burning trees,” said Rowan.

“Trees,” he asserted. “Brown sug’r trees.” Another memory wavered up: the old man breaking off a chunk of something that looked like tan sandstone and giving him a taste by popping it in his mouth. The feel of the gnarled old stained fingers cool against his cheek, sweetness tinged with leather and horses. He shivered at the overwhelming sensory blast. This was real. But he still could name no names. Gran’da.

“Mountains mine,” he added. The thought made him sad, and he didn’t know why.

Rowan is dubious about this memory, wondering if it might not be a dream after all, because it doesn’t fit with anything they know.  Miles immediately grabs her and asks what they know about him.  Eventually she tells him that they don’t know how he is, but they know some possibilities as to who he might be…but telling him anything, at his current stage of recovery, risks contaminating him with false memories that lead him to construct an identity out of them.  She says he’ll likely recover all his memories, but he’s more susceptible to this contamination than most people, for reasons she doesn’t explain.  She does mention the possibility of using fast-penta to help with the recovery process, because it sometimes triggers a memory cascade.

“However, it can also be embarrassing. Under its influence people will happily talk about whatever crosses their minds, even their most intimate and private thoughts. Good medical ethics requires me to warn you about that. Also, some people are allergic to the drug.”

“Where’d . . . you learn . . . goo’ med’cal ethics?” he asked curiously.

Strangely, she flinched. “Escobar,” she said, and eyed him.

“Where we now?”

“I’d rather not say, just yet.”

She gives him a patch test for the fast-penta, saying that he has a high risk of having been given an artificial fast-penta allergy.  When she removes the patch, his skin turns slightly pink there, but not read and itchy, which means he has a marginal sensitivity, but he pleads with her to take the risk.  She fetches a fast-penta hypospray, as well as an antagonist in case he does begin to have a reaction.  She doses him, and instead of relaxing as she says he will, he begins to get jittery, and she says that his blood pressure is rising.  He remembers then that fast-penta makes him hyper, and begins to mumble poetry, remembering that last time he did this somebody beat him up…somebody named Galen.  He tells her he beat Galen by reciting endless poetry until it wore off, and she recognizes the name but won’t tell him more.  He keeps finding himself making improper suggestions to her, which she takes in stride.

She decides that his reaction isn’t encouraging, and prepares to administer the antidote.  He suddenly remembers that he’s on Jackson’s Whole and bolts out of the room.  Rowan follows, calling for help, but Miles climbs up the lift-tube, darts into the lobby and out past a float-pallet and through the front doors, no force screen this time.  Guards in green parkas lower their stunners, but a voice behind him warns them not to stun him, and he keeps running, out into the street.  Soon he collapses, out of breath, and several Duronas pounce on him, picking him up and carrying him back into the building; Rowan gives him the antidote.

Once he’s back inside, they discuss how many witnesses there were to Miles’s escape this time.  An older Dr. Durona asks Rowan what’s going on, and she explains about the fast-penta reaction, and some odd things he said, which she needs to discuss with Lilly.  Miles then begins to go into a convulsion, and comes to with both women holding him down.  Rowan says they need to check on his sensitivity before giving him anything else whatsoever, and dismisses her attendants until he’s calmed down again.  Shortly thereafter, they move him, claiming they have other patients coming; he finds himself set up on a cot in Rowan’s rooms, where they eat dinner together.

She still would not tell him anything directly about himself, but she now seemed willing at least to talk about herself. His internal picture of the world shifted as they spoke. Why do I have wormhole maps in my head? Maybe he was going to have to recover himself the hard way. Learn everything that existed in the universe, and whatever was left, that dwarfish-man-shaped hole in the center, would be him by process of elimination. A daunting task.

He says that if he is on Jackson’s Whole, that means bad things, and asks about the Durona Clinic.  She says they work for House Fell, and he makes the connection to Fell’s weapons business and accuses them of making biological weapons.  He asks why he’s there, and she explains how he arrived, in a cryo-chamber with no return address, and they revived him to find out who he was.  She admits there’s more to it than that, but they won’t tell him.  She tells him that it’s dangerous for him to leave, but the precise danger depends on who he is.

Dr. Chrys gives him more physical therapy, and then leaves him to Rowan’s more tender mercies.  As she massages him, he feels himself becoming aroused, which Rowan discovers when he expresses reluctance to turn over.  She insists on examining him anyway, which devolves into kissing and then sexplay.  She praises his prowess, and he wonders how he got so good, if he was married; she says that he wasn’t, whichever he was.

“Huh.” He hesitated, winding her long hair in his fingers, spreading it idly out in a fan across the burst of red lines on his torso. “So who d’you think you were makin’ love to, jus’ now?”

She touched a long index finger gently to his forehead. “You. Just you.”

This was most pleasing, but . . . “Wuzzat love, or therapy?”

She smiled quizzically, tracing his face. “A little of both, I think. And curiosity. And opportunity. I’ve been pretty immersed in you, for the past three months.”

It felt like an honest answer. “Seems t’me you made t’ opportunity.”

A small smirk escaped her lips. “Well . . . maybe.”

Miles realizes that they have invested a lot of time in him, as if they’re expecting a big payback.  He asks who they’re hiding him from, and Rowan can only tell him “enemies”.  He wonders who he is, who they’re expecting him to be, who his princess needs him to be.

Comments

Another forgotten fact–the first of Miles’s seizures occurs here, after his stressful past-penta experience and paranoid flight.  I’m not clear how he realized he was on Jackson’s Whole–was it memory, or deduction, or just leaping to conclusions?  Was he remembering that he was on Jackson’s Whole last he saw?  Did he recognize the climate somehow from his brief nighttime excursion?  Some other clue?  Makes me wonder if fast-penta would help Miles’s deductive facilities if he used it judiciously…does he do that in some book?

So Miles and Rowan consummate their relationship, not one of his most successful ones, but then, it’s classic doctor-patient romance, paired with Miles’s amnesia (he can’t remember that he already has a girlfriend, so it’s technically not cheating, right?) and of course his irresistible charm.  After all, he’s regained his ability to talk, and there’s no Oser around to warn them to shut him up.

I like the part about how they know sugar doesn’t come from trees, and how Rowan thinks it’s a dream or hallucination.  I guess she’s just not used to the idea that you can actually harvest plant products, or something?  I know that Jackson’s Whole is a little inhospitable, but what about Escobar?  Is it also a marginal climate?  I realize that there’s a difference between fruit and sap, but surely the idea that sap may carry sugar around the plant isn’t that strange; did she not have to take any botany, just medicine?  I guess they must be pretty focused on their specialty to be so ignorant about things like that.

Obviously the Duronas are expecting this to be either Miles Naismith, or his clone, not Miles Vorkosigan–do they even know about him?  Now what use could they possibly have for a guy with a mercenary fleet…or a guy who could pretend to be the guy with the mercenary fleet?


I think I’m officially moving the Vorkosigan Reread post day to Wednesday (well, before midnight on Wednesday in my time zone), which works better for me, at least for now.  Probably I’ll adjust to this and end up putting off starting on it until Tuesday night, but maybe it’ll be okay.  The next two weeks may still be spotty, but after that hopefully things will settle down.

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It is a new year, at least by some calendars, and my holidays are coming to an end, and it’s also time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This week we continue through Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Mirror Dance, covering chapters Nine and Ten, wherein a body is not found, and someone does something reprehensible.

Chapter Nine

Bel Thorne, Elli Quinn, and Elena Bothari-Jesek are trying to prepare Mark for his impending talk with Baron Fell.  Quinn dressed Mark in Admiral Naismith’s uniform, and all three of them have been giving him advice on how to pretend to be mark, sometimes contradictory; Mark thinks he knows how to play his clone-brother well enough, thank you.  Thorne tells him specifically not to mention the non-existent Betan rejuvenation treatment, but doesn’t explain why.  They’ll be sitting out of camera view in the conference room during the video call, ready to prompt him via ear-bud.

Quinn hasn’t stopped to change out of her blood-spattered uniform, and Thorne hasn’t slept yet either; Mark himself is suffering under the side effects of a stimulant that Quinn gave him.  She warns him through the earpiece that the call is about to come through.

The image of Baron Fell materialized, and frowned at him too. Georish Stauber, Baron Fell of House Fell, was unusual for the leader of a Jacksonian Great House in that he still wore his original body. An old man’s body. The Baron was stout, pink of face, with a shiny liver-spotted scalp fringed by white hair trimmed short. The silk tunic he wore in his House’s particular shade of green made him look like a hypothyroid elf. But there was nothing elfin about his cold and penetrating eyes. Miles was not intimidated by a Jacksonian Baron’s power, Mark reminded himself. Miles was not intimidated by any power backed by less than three entire planets. His father the Butcher of Komarr could eat Jacksonian Great Houses for breakfast.

He, of course, was not Miles.

Mark starts off with monosyllabic responses to Fell’s jabs until Quinn tells him to start talking.  Mark tells Baron Fell he hadn’t planned on using Fell Station in this raid, and requests the Baron’s help to expedite their departure by assisting in negotiations with House Bharaputra.  Fell says that while his house and Bharaputra have been in vendetta, they’d been on the verge of bringing it to an end, and now Fell’s suspected of taking part.  Mark says Baron Bharaputra is alive and well, and encourages Fell to show good faith by helping to get him back.  All they want, he says, is to retrieve the body of his clone (“brother”, correct all three of his advisors–Thorne says that’s Miles always insists on it, which was his first clue to Mark’s identity when he didn’t), unfortunately left behind in the raid.

Baron Fell he has no such warm feelings about his own brother (Baron Ryoval, as Mark’s advisors unnecessarily inform him).  Ryoval’s resources are somewhat reduced by Miles’s last venture to Jackson’s Whole, but he’s still dangerous.  Mark asks slyly if Ryoval’s agents work so freely on Fell Station.

Thorne whispered, (“Yes, remind him you helped him with his brother.”)

What the hell had Miles done here, four years ago? “Baron. I helped you with your brother. You help me with mine, and we can call it square.”

“Hardly that. The apples of discord you threw among us on your last departure took far too much time to sort out. Still . . . it’s true you dealt Ry a better blow that I could have.” Was there a tiny glint of approval in Fell’s eye? He rubbed his round chin. “Therefore, I will give you one day to complete your business and depart.”

Mark gives Fell their best information on the cryo-chamber and its last known location, to pass on to the Bharaputrans, and that it may have been disguised or hidden.  He says they want it returned in good condition, so that their Baron will be, too.  Baron Fell tells Mark to be aware that he’s not on Mark’s side, though Mark detects a certain level of respect.  Fell asks about the other clones, and Mark says that they are not on the table, just Vasa Luigi.

“Yes, the trade seems uneven. What is so valuable about your late clone?”

Three voices chorused in his ear, (“Brother!”) Mark yanked the ear-bug out and slapped it to the counter beside the vid plate. Quinn nearly choked.

“I cannot trade back fractions of Baron Bharaputra,” snapped Mark. “Tempted as I am to start doing so.”

Baron Fell raised a placating plump palm. “Calm, Admiral. I doubt it will be necessary to go so far.”

“I hope not.” Mark trembled. “It’d be a shame if I had to send him back without his brain. Like the clones.”

The Baron promises to see what he can do and ends the call; Elena admits, with some surprise that Mark did that well.  Quinn muses that they can’t exactly trust Baron Fell, and tells Thorne to see if anything else has changed about the Jacksonian political situation that will jeopardize their negotations and departure.  After it leaves, Quinn and Elena talk about how and when to report back to Barrayar.  Quinn says there may be some deep-cover ImpSec agents in the fleet, but she doesn’t know how to contact them, and she’d rather have Miles’s body back first; they can’t risk sending anything by the standard jump-couriers anyway.

Mark asks how long he’ll have to keep playing Miles; Quinn says she’d prefer to wait until they can deliver Mark and Miles’s body to ImpSec HQ on Komarr.  Mark protests that a lot of people know what really happened; Quinn says the Dendarii will maintain discipline, and they’ll keep the clones under wraps.  Mark insists on seeing the clones, and Elena volunteers to take him down; Quinn agrees, reluctantly, as long as they put Mark back in his quarters under guard afterwards.

The clones are quartered on the Peregrine in some hastily-converted storage chambers with field-latrines and showers.  The boys glare at him like he’s their jailer; they all seem subdued, not like they’re happy to be freed.  He tries talking to them, but doesn’t make much progress.  Elena takes him to the girls’ chamber, where Sergeant Taura is taking them in hand, and seems to be winning them over.

Of all the Dendarii Taura had never, even in the most frantic moments, addressed the clones with anything but politely-worded requests. She now had all the air of a fairy-tale heroine trying to make pets of wild animals.

And succeeding. As Mark came up, two of the clone girls actually skittered around behind the seated sergeant, to peek at him over the protection of her broad shoulders. Taura frowned at him and looked at Bothari-Jesek, who returned a short nod, It’s all right. He’s with me.

Mark finds the platinum-blonde clone sleeping peacefully, and pulls her covers up.  He sees the Eurasian girl watching him, and warns Taura and Elena about her and her special conditioning.  Elena tells the guard outside to use wide-dispersal stun if necessary, and endorses Mark’s warning about the Eurasian girl.  As they leave Elena asks Mark if their treatment meets with his approval.  Mark says it does, but then bursts out that it’s not fair that they’re treating their rescuers like kidnappers.

“They’ve been rather traumatized. I wouldn’t expect too much if I were you, till they get a chance to see more evidence.” She paused, in speech and stride, and swung to face him. “But if you ever figure it out—figure out how to make an ignorant, traumatized, paranoid stupid kid trust you—tell Miles. He urgently wants to know.”

Mark stood, nonplused. “Was that . . . directed to me?” he demanded, dry-mouthed.

Elena escorts him to his quarters, where he sleeps heavily.  Quinn comes to wake him, changed finally out of her bloodstained fatigues; she says she needs him to talk to Fell, since either he or Bharaputra is giving them the runaround.  Quinn stands behind Mark, on-camera this time; Baron Fell is not best pleased to be contacted by them, but Mark says they’re merely concerned, and want to know any information about the search for the cryo-chamber, however flimsy.  Fell says point-blank that the Bharaputrans claim that they can’t find the cryo-chamber.  Mark quiets Quinn’s insistent outburst and asks Fell if he thinks the Bharaputrans are lying.  Fell says that they do seem to be really scrambling, and trying to marshall all their resources in the search.  He adds that the value of Baron Bharaputra will decrease over time, as some ambitious subordinate will eventually decide they don’t need to get their old Baron back after all–or, more likely, several, and House Bharaputra’s position will be affected severely by the turmoil; Jacksonians aren’t fond these kinds of changes to the balance of power.  Fell says that they will have about another day before Fell Station will no longer be able to harbour them, nor will he allow them to take Vasa Luigi out of Jacksonian space.

Quinn protests that they won’t give up Baron Bharaputra, their only card to retrieve the cryo-chamber, and threatens them with other allies, who’ll be perfectly happy to raze the entire planet until they find what they want.

Fell grimaced angrily. “Don’t be absurd, Captain Quinn. You speak of a planetary force.”

Quinn leaned into the vid pick-up and snarled, “Baron, I speak of a multi-planetary force!”

Bothari-Jesek, startled, made an urgent throat-slicing gesture across her neck, Cut it, Quinn!

Fell, unsettled, says she’s bluffing, that nobody would do that for a single dead body, and Quinn gets herself under control, only saying that he’d better hope she is.  After Fell signs off, Mark tells Quinn that she just about let slip Miles’s real identity, and upped the price for the cryo-chamber by letting him know how valuable it is.  They discuss whether Fell and Bharaputra are telling the truth or not; they are interrupted by Thorne saying that he has an informant for them to question.  Quinn tells Elena to make sure Mark is back in his quarters, and Elena tells Quinn to make sure she gets some sleep before she loses it completely.

While Elena is otherwise occupied, Mark tries the palm-lock on the briefing chamber door, and to his surprise, it opens, since it matches Miles’s palmprint.  Elena glances over, but doesn’t stop him, so he goes inside.  Mark wonders if there’s something he can find in the helmet recordings that the Dendarii would have missed, with his greater familiarity with the Bharaputran facility.  He checks for helmet recordings and discovers that Tonkin, Norwood’s escort, had a real-time audiovisual recording of their time together.  He loads it up and begins to watch it.

It’s jittery and disorienting to watch, but he sees his own separation from the two of them, Norwood’s departure and return without the chamber, and then his death by grenade.  Mark watches it through another time, slower, then slower again.  Finally he catches a glimpse of a sign on the wall, “Shipping And Receiving”.  He looks up to find Elena there, and tells her that he knows those corridors, he used to play hide-and-seek in them.  Norwood must have taken the cryo-chamber there and had the automated systems pack it up and ship it out to somewhere–some address he was familiar enough to come up with at short notice.  It must have gone out already, because otherwise the Bharaputrans would surely have run across it.

Elena notes with some surprise that Mark seems to do well enough when left alone in a quiet room by himself.  Mark says he’s not an adrenaline junkie like his brother–he can’t think when he’s scared or people are shouting at him.

“Then why do you . . .” she hesitated, as if choosing her words very cautiously, “why do you keep trying to be Miles?”

“I’m not, you’re making me play him!”

“I didn’t mean now. I mean generally.”

“I don’t know what the hell you mean.”

Comments

So Mark does a pretty good job playing Miles in this chapter, and I love the part where he pulls out his earpiece.  That could have been a preparation for confessing to the whole thing, but instead it gives him one of the most convincing Miles moments in the entire scene.  And then, at the end of the chapter, Elena calls him on how deeply he’s assimilated that trying to be Miles is the best thing to do.  That was drilled into him by Ser Galen for years, and while he’s consciously trying to avoid being Miles, he’s internalized it enough that his subconscious still seems to push him that way.  But he does make a crucial discovery, when left to himself, so he’s not a total loser, at least.  And that’s a good thing to discover about yourself.

Quinn really loses it in this chapter, coming close to outright threatening Jackson’s Whole with the wrath of Barrayar.  Would it really come to that, I wonder, if it came out that the Jacksonians were holding Miles hostage?  Would Aral, Cordelia or Gregor be prepared to actually invade?  It’s a bit of a stretch for them, though they did send troops just as far when they sent their fleet to Vervain back in The Vor Game.  This would be much less justified, and they’d have more trouble convincing Pol and other Hegen Hub folks about it.  Cetaganda would be watching eagerly for an opportunity out of the whole thing, and may even win Vervain back if they get scared enough about the Barrayaran threat.  If it did come out that it was the actual Miles Vorkosigan being held on Jackson’s Whole, they’d probably try diplomacy first, with the threat of a big fleet behind them.  So…it would probably be best if that doesn’t actually happen.

Chapter Ten

Peregrine and Ariel undock from Fell Station and head for Jumppoint Five, escorted by House Fell security ships, with no jump capacity but extra weapons and shields.  A Bharaputran ship trails them, ready to receive Baron Bharaputra when they reach the jump point.  Miles’s cryo-chamber is still missing; Quinn was on the verge of spacing Baron Bharaputra rather than leave without him, but Elena talks her down, convincing her that by this point they need the resources of ImpSec to have any chance of finding Miles.

“I will be back,” Quinn swore.

“That’ll be between you and Simon Illyan. I promise you, he’ll be just as interested as we are in retrieving that cryo-chamber.”

“Illyan’s just a Barrayaran,” Quinn sputtered for a word, “bureaucrat. He can’t care the way we do.”

“Don’t bet on that,” whispered Bothari-Jesek.

Mark is once again, he hopes for the last time, in his Admiral Naismith costume, at Elena’s insistence, to help convince the Bharaputrans that it isn’t the real Naismith in the cryo-chamber.  It doesn’t fit as well as it used to, as his weight continues to creep up.  They meet up with Quinn, Vasa Luigi and his Dendarii guards at the airlock, where they wait in silence until the shuttle docks.  A Captain from House Fell enters and says he’s returning something they “accidentally left behind”; it’s not the cryo-chamber, though, but the Dendarii spies Quinn had tried to leave behind on the station.

As Baron Bharaputra is beginning to walk toward the shuttle hatch, the Eurasian clone-girl rushes out of a corridor with the blonde clone, calling out for the Baron to wait.  Mark tackles the blonde girl to the ground, visions of her brain-removal surgery in his head, while the other girl makes it past the Baron and through the shuttle hatch.  She pleads to be united with her lady, and while Quinn protests, the Baron says she is clearly coming of her own free will, and if they try to remove her from House Fell’s shuttle, they will be jeopardizing their departure.  Mark passes the blonde girl to a Dendarii guard and lunges forward.

“Admiral?” The Baron raised a faintly ironic brow.

“You’re wearing a corpse,” Mark snarled. “Don’t talk to me.” He staggered forward, hands out, to face the dark-haired girl across that little, dreadful, politically significant gap. “Girl . . .” He did not know her name. He did not know what to say. “Don’t go. You don’t have to go. They’ll kill you.”

Growing more certain of her security, though still positioned behind the Fell captain and well out of reach of any Dendarii lunge, she smiled triumphantly at Mark and tossed back her hair. Her eyes were alight. “I’ve saved my honor. All by myself. My honor is my lady. You have no honor. Pig! My life is an offering . . . greater than you can imagine being. I am a flower on her altar.”

She extends a hand to the Baron, who shrugs and steps forward.  Mark implores Quinn to do something, but she says they need to jump away.  Baron Bharaputra turns back at the hatch and says the girl is his wife’s clone, and announces their tally at 49 to 1; he promises to even the score if they ever return to Jackson’s Whole, before stepping through the hatch.

Taura appears a minute later, and tells them that the Eurasian girl spread rumours that the clones were being sold into slavery, and organized a mass breakout.  Seven of them got away, and Taura kept them from heading for the escape pods, but Quinn tells her that the one girl actually managed to escape; at Taura’s objection, Quinn says that they chose not to start a firefight over her.  Taura says that only leaves one, and Quinn sends the former prisoner guards to help her track that one down.  Quinn says she has to go debrief the returned spies, and Mark volunteers to return the blonde clone to her quarters.  Elli frowns at him, and then says that, back on the planet, Mark’s plasma mirror would only have been able to absorb one more shot; her own was completely overloaded, so Mark did save her life when he jumped in front of her.  Mark doesn’t know what to say to that, and Quinn tells him he can take the clone back.

Mark asks her her name, and she says it’s Maree.  Even though he knows how engineered her beauty is, he is still captivated by it, and thinks that if he were the hero, she might be his heroine and reward.  He takes her arm and leads her back toward her quarters, reassuring her that although Taura may seem scary, she’s really there to keep the clones safe.  He says they’re not a slave ship, but thinks that as a near-prisoner himself, he can’t promise her freedom.  She coughs and says she needs a drink of water; they’re near Mark’s quarters, so he takes her there and they sit down on the bed.

He tells her that he’s not the real Admiral, just a clone, then gets her a glass of water from the bathroom.  He asks about her life, and she says she never got much schooling, though she did a lot of exercise…until her breast augmentation, after which she only swam.  She asks if it was really a lie about her mother coming, and Mark says it probably was.  She asks why he’s not good-looking like the other clones, and Mark, approving of her using her brain, tells her that he was made as a part of a plot against his progenitor.  He explains that since he couldn’t rescue his own clone-friends, he wanted to rescue another group of clones.  They feel an odd sensation, which Mark explains to Maree means they just went through hyperspace; he’s relieved that the Jacksonians hadn’t double-crossed them.

Mark thinks that he hasn’t gotten any reward for his rescue, or attempted rescue, of the clones, and wonders if he can at least get some recognition from one of them, from Maree.  He asks her for a kiss, for “pretend”, and she obliges.  Mark begins to lose control of himself, wanting more, kissing her again and wondering if he dared do more.  He begins to loosen her clothes, and his, and rolls her back onto the bed, and then his throat closes up, as he begins flashing back.

He rolled off her, icy sweat breaking out all over his body. He fought his locked throat. He managed one asthmatic, shuddering, indrawn breath. The flashbacks of memory were almost hallucinatory in their clarity.

Galen’s angry shouting. Lars and Mok, pinning him at Galen’s command, pulling off his clothes, as if the beating he’d just taken at their hands was not punishment enough. They’d sent the girl away before they’d started; she’d run like a rabbit. He spat salt-and-iron blood. The shock-stick pointing, touching, there, there, pop and crackle. Galen going even more red-faced, accusing him of treason, worse, raving on about Aral Vorkosigan’s alleged sexual proclivities, turning up the power far too high. “Flip him.” Knotting terror deep in his gut, the visceral memory of pain, humiliation, burning and cramps, a weird short-circuited arousal and horribly shameful release despite it all, the stink of searing flesh. . . .

Maree asks him, puzzled, what the matter is, if he’s dying…Mark is unable to speak.  He thinks how unfair it is that this incident, barely four years ago, seems to have crippled his sex life, as he tries to regain control of his breathing.  Taura and Elena open the cabin door and stop short at the scene inside.  Maree tells them that she only wanted a glass of water, and than Mark made her kiss him.  Elena asks Mark if he was trying to rape her, and his denial is ambivalent; Taura picks him up and shoves him against the wall and tells him to answer the question.

Mark remembers the second half of the Galen incident, how, when Galen had been forced to take him to the doctor, they’d claimed that the shock-stick wounds to his genitals were self-inflicted, and made Mark go along with it.  He tries to explain himself as clearly as he could, ugly as it sounds, though he leaves out the panic attack and the reason for it.  What he sees in Elena’s eyes tells him he’s probably lost the one ally he had among the Dendarii.  Elena confines him to quarters and they escort Maree away.

Comments

This is a difficult chapter to read, because of the scene with Mark and Maree.  It’s not quite a rape scene, but it’s very close to one, so it’s prone to make the reader lose their sympathy for Mark.  He’s a bit of an underdog, a screwup but with good intentions, trying to redeem himself and just digging himself in deeper…and now it turns out he’s got sex issues as well.  The shock-stick flashback, alluded to briefly earlier, explains some of his hangups, but it doesn’t really excuse his making a pass at Maree, who he knows is emotionally and chronologically underage.

It occurs to me that there are some parallels between the other clone-girl, the unnamed “Eurasian” who escapes with Baron Bharaputra, and Mark, if only because they were both clones that were screwed up by their upbringing.  Mark is still struggling to separate his identity from his imitation of Miles, whereas the girl has completely subsumed herself to her destiny.  Is there a reason why her brainwashing took to deeply while the others seemed able to overcome it a bit better?  Maybe we’ll find out more later, because we’re not done with her.

Is it just me who hates the term “Eurasian”?  These days you’re more likely to hear just “Asian”, which I confess I’m not at peace with either, though I’ve mostly come to terms with it.  But “Eurasian” literally means someone from Eurasia…which means Europe and Asia.  So everyone who looks like they come from anywhere in Europe or Asia should be able to be “Eurasian”…and yet somehow it always means people who look like they come from countries in eastern Asia–China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, maybe Mongolia…what used to be called “Oriental”, but apparently that’s not considered politically correct these days.  “Asian” excludes Europeans, at least, but still…what about people from Arabia, or India, or Kazakhstan?  Is Indonesia included in Asia, or the Philippines?  Of course, “Caucasian” isn’t much better, since as I understand it it relies on some deprecated historical theory that the great Indo-European conquest sprang from the horselords of the Caucasus, who swept away the hapless former inhabitants in glorious battle.  Considering that they don’t even speak Indo-European languages in the Caucasus these days, it seems nonsensical to me.


And that’s it for another week, and I suspect that will take us back to Barrayar at last, for what I recall are some of my favourite scenes in the book…but then, I’m a sucker for scenes involving Cordelia.  Until then, keep looking for that cryo-chamber…

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The weather outside is frightful (depending on your location, of course), but at least it’s better than Kyril Island, right (also depending on your location)?  So let’s snuggle up inside with a nice, warm, toasty Vorkosigan Saga Reread post, though I’ll have to say that the experiences of Miles Vorkosigan, his clone-brother Mark, and the rest of the supporting cast are not always precisely warm and toasty.  What with cryo-freezing and shocky shivering and all that.  But let’s just get going into the next two chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Hugo-winning novel Mirror Dance and see what happens next…

Chapter Seven

The sound of the explosion next to Mark deafens him, and it’s over too fast for him to comprehend–one minute Miles is yelling, and the next he’s crumpling backwards.  Mark and Elli Quinn are covered with blood, and his first thought is that Miles isn’t perfect after all.  Quinn screams and begins spraying plasma arc fire at the Bharaputrans above them, until someone grabs her arm to stop her because of the hazardous bits of ceiling falling down towards them; then she calls for Taura to get them.  Taura shoots her grapnel upwards and rises up to the catwalks, where Mark loses trap of her except for the Bharaputrans that begin to rain back down.  Mark can only think that modern warfare isn’t supposed to be this bloody.

Quinn, meanwhile, hesitates for a moment before grabbing Miles’s command helmet and putting it on her own head.  She calls the medic, Norwood, back to the building, telling him to bring the cryo-chamber, and then orders Taura to secure the building.  Quinn begins cutting Miles free of his clothing, and soon Norwood is there with the float-pallet, a few clones still in tow.  He protests that they can’t fit two people into the cryo-chamber at the same time, and Elli orders him, bleakly, to dump Phillipi.

“Quinn, I can’t!”

“On my order. On my hands.”

Quinn . . .” The medic’s voice was anguished. “Would he have ordered this?”

He just lost his damn vote. All right.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll do it. You start prepping him.”

Norwood accedes, under protest, and begins getting out his equipment while Quinn opens the chamber.  Freezing her own hands, she wrestles the body of Phillipi, the bike trooper from Taura’s squad, out of the cryo-chamber, then brusquely tells Mark to wrap her up.  Mark grabs some insulating foil and wraps Phillipi up as best he can.  Norwood is muttering to himself, having difficulty finding the ends of the some of the blood vessels in Miles’s shattered chest cavity; Quinn bends to help, cutting Miles’s throat to look for the carotid artery, and beginning to pump the green cryo-fluid in and blood out.  By the time Miles’s vessels are running green and not red, they’re almost out of the fluid; Quinn and Norwood heave Miles into the chamber and Norwood finishes up while Quinn returns to command duties.

Thorne tells Quinn that the Bharaputrans came up from tunnels underneath, which are secured now; Quinn, Thorne and eventually Mark start listening to comm feeds from their perimeter squads, who are seeing increased fire from the Bharaputrans as Quinn and her squad remain in one place.  Most of the clones are on the shuttle, except for Norwood’s batch, so it’s safe, but Quinn and her group are in danger of being trapped.  Quinn contacts Kimura in the other shuttle, who is also seeing stiffened resistance, but has “achieved her objective”.  Quinn tells Kimura she may have to come back for them.  Kimura asks where the Admiral is, and Quinn tells her that he’s “out of range”.  Mark wonders what Kimura’s objective was, but whatever it was, it was outside of the medical complex.

Quinn asks for options.  She suggests landing the shuttle on the roof, but Thorne says it would probably collapse.  Mark suggests going into the tunnels, since Taura’s squad all have the maps loaded into their helmets.  Thorne checks the maps and confirms a route which will bring them up close to the shuttle, and able to hit the Bharaputran forces from behind.  Quinn, muttering to herself about dirtside operations, orders them to move out.  Taura’s squad leads them into the tunnels, still carrying Phillipi’s body, though Mark isn’t sure why they’re bothering.

Mark found himself pacing beside the cryo-chamber on its float pallet, tugged along by the anxious medic. He glanced from the corner of his eye through the transparent cover. His progenitor lay open-mouthed, pale and gray-lipped and still. Frost formed feathers along the seals, and a blast of waste heat flowed from the refrigeration unit’s radiator. It would burn like a bonfire on an enemy’s infra-red sensor ‘scope. Mark shivered, and crouched in the heat. He was hungry, and terribly cold. Damn you, Miles Vorkosigan. There was so much I wanted to say to you, and now you’re not listening.

They pass under another building, and suddenly the power cuts out and they find themselves split in two by a Bharaputran squad coming down a lift-tube.  As plasma arc fire surrounds them, Norwood says that the cryo-chamber isn’t shielded.  Mark suggests they take a lift-tube to get out of the way, and Norwood agrees.  He drops down one on the float-pallet, and Mark, taking plasma fire on his shields, follows a trooper down an emergency ladder.  They scramble away from the bottom of the lift-tube, Mark wondering how many shots his shield has left.

They find themselves in an island of quiet, but Norwood wonders if they’ve found a dead end.  Mark finds a circuitous but still navigable route out, and Norwood takes Mark’s helmet to confirm.  Mark considers staying with Norwood and the trooper, which might be safer, but gathers himself and tells them he’s going back to meet up with Quinn, taking Norwood’s helmet.  They are glad enough to see him go, and Mark climbs back out of the lift tube.  The battle has moved on, and he follows in their planned track, almost running into more Bharaputrans; he laboriously contacts Quinn through Norwood’s helmet and informs her of the pursuit and Norwood’s situation.  Quinn tells Mark she’s going to drop the roof on the Bharaputrans, and that he should go back to Norwood.  Mark climbs frantically up the nearest lift-tube, not wanting to be trapped underground; as it is, the tube buckles when the roof collapses, but Mark clings to the ladder and makes his way out into an office, where he can see the collapsed roof of the next building, with the Bharaputrans doubtless trapped underneath.

Tuning back into Quinn’s frequency, he hears her order Norwood to rendezvous with the first shuttle, and tell Kimura to land on the new drop zone she’d just made in the crater from the collapsed building.  Mark heads for the crater too, hesitating briefly under a sagging balcony, running out from under it just before it collapses.  Quinn’s group also heads into the open; Bharaputran snipers on the next building are having to shoot carefully, because of the clones in their midst.  The shuttle lands and opens its hatch, and the Dendarii begin loading the clones into it.

The Bharaputrans change their tactics and focus their fire on Quinn, whose plasma shield begins to overload.  Mark, in desperation, throws himself in front of her, and as his mirror field begins to take the load, Quinn has a chance to recover and the two of them are able to board the shuttle, which takes off as soon as they’re aboard.

Mark rolled over on his back and lay gasping for air, lungs on fire. Quinn sat up, her face red in its circle of gray. Just a sunburn. She cried hysterically for three breaths, then clamped her mouth shut. Fearfully, her fingers touched her hot cheeks, and Mark remembered that this was the woman who had had her face burned entirely away by plasma fire, once. But not twice. Not twice.

Quinn gathers herself and heads forward; Mark looks around at the Dendarii–Taura’s familiar squad, and the strange one that Kimura had on her shuttle.  Their wounded seem to be under control, but their cryo-chamber is also occupied, and he wonders again if Phillipi has any chance at all.  He heads off after Quinn and stops short at the sight of their prisoner–Vasa Luigi, Baron Bharaputra himself.  He addresses Mark as “Admiral” and Mark automatically assumes the role, though he doesn’t answer the Baron’s question about the source of the blood on his shirt.  In the pilot’s compartment, Quinn is talking to Framingham on the other shuttle, who’s still on the ground, waiting for the squad to return from a “downed-man recovery”.

“Do you have everyone else? Do you have Norwood? I can’t raise his helmet!”

There was a short delay. Quinn’s fists clenched, opened. Her fingernails were bitten to red stumps.

Framingham’s voice at last. “We’ve got him now, ma’am. Got everyone, the quick and the dead alike, except for Phillipi. I don’t want to leave anyone for those bloody bastards if I can help it—”

“We have Phillipi.”

Framingham, relieved, says they’re ready to take off.  Quinn tells them to head for Fell Station, where they will find a welcome; Ariel is docked there, though damaged.  The Dendarii form up, the fighters still taking fire from Bharaputrans ships and one of them damaged, but they all manage to make it to orbit.  They arrive at Fell Station under armed escort to dock with Peregrine, which docks with the station.  Mark follows Quinn and Thorne as they head off to meet the other shuttle.  The wounded are being rushed out, and Mark is disturbed to see Tonkin, the trooper who’d accompanied Norwood, among them.  The flow of wounded stops, and Quinn, frowning, heads into the shuttle, which is full of clone-children, nauseous and crying.

“Framingham!” Quinn floated over and grabbed him by the ankle. “Framingham! Where the hell’s the cryo-chamber Norwood was escorting?”

He glanced down, frowning. “But you said you had it, Captain.”

What?

“You said you had Phillipi.” His lips stretched in a fierce grimace. “Goddammit, if we’ve left her behind I’ll—”

“We have Phillipi, yes, but she’s—she was no longer in the cryo-chamber. Norwood was supposed to be getting it to you, Norwood and Tonkin.”

Framingham says that Norwood was dead when they found him, and he and Tonkin had no cryo-chamber with them.  He asks what’s so important, if Phillipi wasn’t in it.  Quinn takes a moment to bite back anger and panic and then gathers herself.  She orders a complete communication lockdown, no contact with Fell Station that she hasn’t specifically authorized.  Then she tells Framingham that they lost the Admiral; Framingham is confused, then realizes that Mark is the clone.  Quinn says that nobody on Fell Station knows that, and Mark realizes that he’s going to have to play the part of the Admiral once again.

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Quinn does very well to keep herself going under extreme pressure, and the loss of Miles.  Her instincts lead her to call for the cryo-chamber, and even to trade Phillipi’s chance at life for Miles’s, though I’m sure she has to go through a moment of trying to decide if she’s being selfish to want her lover’s life over that of another.  Miles wouldn’t necessarily want to have traded his life for someone else’s, but rationally he is a more important individual, so her choice makes sense.  She switches plans on the fly, bringing down a building and allowing the other shuttle a chance to land(foreshadowed, I now realize, by Thorne’s prediction that the roof would collapse if the shuttle landed there–well done).

I had forgotten the twist that Kimura’s shuttle mission wasn’t just a distraction, but actual insurance.  It is one of Miles’s multi-layered plans, after all–if the Bharaputrans had believed that the kidnapping mission was the main one, then it would’ve made it easier to get Mark and the others out of there, and Kimura could just have aborted once the others were away.  If they thought of it as a decoy, then Kimura would be more likely to capture the Baron, which would be a definite asset if the other shuttle bogged down.

A lot of names coming up–the shuttle pilots, and various squad members being named all the time–Tonkin, Norwood, Framingham…  Not the easiest to keep track of, but I guess it’s easier than just calling them “the trooper doing such-and-such”.  Mark doesn’t know most of them, but Miles did, and Quinn does, of course.  I did elide the names of the different commando squads, which were all different colours–Green, Yellow, etc.  I was able to get through the retelling without that, and I don’t think it confused things too much, so there you go.

It’s also in this chapter, I believe, that Mark begins thinking of himself as “Mark”.  Or maybe that’s just the author needing a way to distinguish him without just using “he” all the time, as she did in the first few Mark chapters…but I think it’s deeper than that.  His experiences are finally getting him to the stage where he can begin to separate himself from his brother, not define himself either by being Miles or not being Miles.  Miles being dead now means he has nothing to push against.

It’s also somewhat impressive that Mark throws himself in front of Elli at the end there, even though he doesn’t know if his plasma shield will work or not.  I think that comes up again later…

Chapter Eight

They meet in a conference room on Peregrine–Elli Quinn, Elena, Taura, Framingham, Kimura, Lieutenant Hart (Bel Thorne’s second), and Mark, most of them still filthy from the mission and chowing down on painkillers, though Mark isn’t offered any.  Elena says they’re there to figure out what happened, and what to do next.  Helmet recordings are still on their way, though they’re missing Norwood’s, the most important, since it got blown up with the rest of him.  The tiny recorders are brought in on a tray, and Elli loads their records into the computer.

She brings up the positions of the helmets on a holographic map of the Bharaputra facility, and tags the most important ones–Tonkin’s, and Norwood’s original helmet.  She asks Mark, without looking at him, when they switched helmets, and Mark haltingly tells her.  They follow Tonkin’s helmet from where Elli last was contacted them to where Framingham got in touch with them, and they conclude that the cryo-chamber has to have been left somewhere in between.  Tonkin’s voice recordings aren’t helpful, since he never mentions it, just asks for help against the Bharaputran attackers.

Thorne enters the room, and Elli asks it if it got anything out of Tonkin.  Thorne said Tonkin was woken up briefly, and told what he knew of the story.

“He said when they reached this building,” Thorne pointed, “they were cut off. Not yet surrounded, but blocked from a line to the shuttle, and the enemy closing the ring fast. Tonkin said, Norwood yelled he had an idea, he’d seen something ‘back there.’ He had Tonkin create a diversion with a grenade attack, and guard a particular corridor—must be that one there. Norwood took the cryo-chamber and ran back along their route. He returned a few minutes later—not more than six minutes, Tonkin said. And he told Tonkin, ‘It’s all right now. The Admiral will get out of here even if we don’t.’ About two minutes later, he was killed by that projectile grenade, and Tonkin was knocked loopy by the concussion.”

Framingham nodded. “My crew got there not three minutes after that. They drove off a pack of Bharaputrans who were searching the bodies—looting, looking for intelligence, or both, Corporal Abromov wasn’t sure—they picked up Tonkin and Norwood’s body and ran like hell. Nobody in the squad reported seeing a cryo-chamber anywhere.”

Quinn chewed absently on a fingernail stump. Mark did not think she was even conscious of the gesture. “That’s all?”

“Tonkin said Norwood was laughing,” Thorne added.

Elena says that Norwood must have thought of something clever, or at least seemingly clever, but Quinn wonders how he could have pulled off anything clever in five minutes.  She notes that it’s been less than two hours, so the cryo-chamber must be down there somewhere; Kimura wryly suggests another drop mission, and Quinn asks if she’s volunteering.

In the meantime, they have Baron Fell to deal with; Elena asks if anybody knew what Miles had planned to do with the Baron, but nobody does, not even Quinn.  She does say that they should be able to get a favourable deal out of him somehow anyway, as long as they don’t let on that they lost Miles on the planet.  They all turn to look at Mark, and Mark, shivering with cold, tells them he doesn’t want to be Miles any more.

Elli and Elena exchange a glance, then Elli dismisses the rest of them.  She tells Thorne that it’s relieved of command, and Hart will take over.  Thorne asks if it’s under arrest, and Quinn says they may still need it, so it should place itself under house arrest and move into a visiting officer’s cabin on the Peregrine.  Mark makes to follow the rest of them out, but Quinn says that he is to stay, and then turns off all the recorders in the room.  The two women regard him silently, and Mark looks back at them, noting their similarities and speculating on whether Elli is, subconsciously at least, a replacement for the Elena that Miles couldn’t have.  His own taste in women is more like the little blonde clone, soft, timid and nonthreatening.

Elena asks Mark why he’s shivering, and Mark says he’s cold.  Quinn explodes in rage, and Elena says that Mark is obviously in shock, and whether they care how he feels or not, they have to take it into account if they want to make use of him.  Elena asks if Miles is really dead, or just misplaced; Quinn says harshly that Miles is dead unless they can get him back.  Elena asks if Mark will be able to fool Baron Fell, who’s met him before, and Quinn says that she hopes Bel Thorne, who was there at the time, will be able to help him out.  Elena notes that, despite everything, Mark hasn’t mentioned the name “Vorkosigan” and blown Miles’s deep cover; she asks why, and Mark mumbles that it’s really just habit.  Miles wouldn’t have slipped up, and so Mark can’t either when he’s playing the part.

“Who are you when you’re not doing the part?” Bothari-Jesek’s gaze was narrowed, calculating.

“I . . . hardly know.”

Trying to firm his voice up, he asks about the clones.  Elena quell’s Elli’s response and asks Mark what he wants to happen to them.  Mark says he wants them to go free, and out of Bharaputra’s clutches.  Elena asks why he was so focused on this mission, and what he hoped to gain by it, and Mark can’t think of a reason.  Elli snarls and calls him the “anti-Miles”.  Elena says that neither of them really knows what to do with Mark–the only person she can think of who would be up to it is Countess Vorkosigan.  Elli asks who gets to tell Cordelia about what happened to Miles, which leads to the question of who is actually in command of the Dendarii and thus has to report to Simon Illyan.  Elena is technically the senior shipmaster; Elli just took over under fire when she needed to.  Elena says that she’s fine with Elli taking charge, but she’s willing to take on the task of talking to the Vorkosigans.

That settled, Elena asks Mark if he wants to earn the clones’ freedom.  Quinn reminds Elena that they may yet need to trade the clones to get Miles back; when Mark protests, she says she traded Phillipi, she’d trade the clones in a heartbeat, she’d trade Mark himself if Miles wasn’t so damn obsessed with his clone-brother.  She tells Mark how they could have bought the rest of them back from the Baron, but Miles refused to leave Mark down there when the Baron wouldn’t sell him.  Elena asks if Mark is as dedicated to the clones as Miles was to Mark, if he’s willing to do anything to save them…even pretending to be his brother one more time.  Elena promises the clones’ safety, over Quinn’s protests; when Mark asks, she even gives her Barrayaran word of honour, as long as he cooperates with them fully.

Quinn is still doubtful, but Elena says that Mark just needs to be cleaned up and fed.  She takes him to an officer’s cabin and promises to send him clean clothes and food.  He asks why she’s being nice to him; she says she wants to find out what, and who, he is.  She notes that, unlike Miles, he’s very closed; Mark retorts that he doesn’t have a damn army, a harem, following him around all the time.

“You’re doing this for him, aren’t you. Treating me like this because you think he’d want it.” Not in his own right, no, never, but all for Miles and his damned brother-obsession.

“Partly.”

Right.

“But mostly,” she said, “because someday Countess Vorkosigan will ask me what I did for her son.”

“You’re planning to trade Baron Bharaputra for him, aren’t you?”

“Mark . . .” her eyes were dark with a strange . . . pity? irony? He could not read her eyes. “She’ll mean you.”

He showers until he stops shivering, then emerges to find clothes and food, enough food to fill him up, for once, and he eats until his stomach aches.  No longer cold and empty, he doesn’t know what to feel any more.  He didn’t even manage to rescue the clones, Miles and Quinn had to finish that for him, and now that he thinks about it, he’s not sure what he’d expected to happen even if he’d been successful.  Presenting Miles with a ­fait accompli on Escobar…and then what?

He tries to unravel his motives for rescuing the clones.  He didn’t truly feel free even after Miles set him free back on Earth, or happy either.  Did he just want to do something heroic so people would start treating him like a hero, like Miles?  To earn the respect of his biological parents, who he’d long since realized weren’t the monsters Ser Galen had painted them as, the Butcher and the Virago.  Panicking suddenly at the prospect of being taken to face them, he searches the cabin for some sort of suicide implement, but finds nothing.  Remembering Miles’s death again, he starts crying, and wonders why, since he’d hated the little bastard when he was alive.  He lies down but only manages an hour’s fitful nap before Quinn wakes him up again.

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I myself know from painful experience that it’s a bad idea to put anything somewhere “clever”, because months later, when I’m trying to find it, I’ll never be able to quite recreate the logic that led to the clever thought in the first place.  Norwood was also maddeningly coy about what exactly his clever solution was, and then ended up not having the chance to tell anyone else about it.  It’ll be a little while before we even get enough information to be able to guess at what he did, so don’t worry about it too much until then.

This is the first even-numbered Mark chapter of the book, for obvious reasons.  In some ways it’s a nice touch, to start with that strict alternation and then blow it completely out of the water.  So Mark gets a number of consecutive chapters, but he doesn’t get all of the rest of the chapters in the book, either; I don’t remember if we go back to alternation or not, so I guess we’ll find out.

Interesting insight about Elli and Elena being so similar.  I don’t picture either of them as being dark-haired, though, as they apparently are–they’re blondes in my head, apparently.  Not sure why that is, but I’m sure it doesn’t say anything flattering about me.  Mark thinks of Elena as “cool” and Elli as “hot”, in temperament I presume, though maybe it’s just that, in this circumstance, Elli is more hurt by Miles’s loss and fighting hard to keep herself from falling to despair, since she was actually in love with the man.  Elena was a childhood friend and loves him more as a sibling, I presume, which doesn’t make her loss any less painful, but it may be less sharp.  Elli can only see that Mark is to blame for what happened to Miles, not to mention having a certain grudge against him from Brother In Arms, but Elena has that extra distance, and can spare a thought for Mark as a person, as Miles and Cordelia would want to think of him.  I’ll be glad to see a little more of Elena, because Elli has been dominating for the last couple of books, while Elena tends to be more in the background.


So in the next installment we get to find out how they get away from Jackson’s Whole, and then I think maybe even get back to Barrayar, which is where the story really starts…my favourite part of the story, at least.  There may even be Ivan!  So there’s that.  Of course, next Tuesday is Christmas, and while last year I conveniently managed to finish a novel just before Christmas, this year I have to actually decide if I’ll be able to write and post once more this year or not.  New Year’s for sure, then, if not Christmas, I promise…

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Welcome back again, somewhat belatedly, to this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  We continue on through Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Mirror Dance, one of the highlights in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan, though in this book he’s sharing fairly equal time with his clone-brother Mark.  Today’s post covers chapters Five and Six, which portend a potential change in the proportion of chapters allotted to the two viewpoint characters.

Sorry for not having this up yesterday, but I wasn’t feeling well on Monday, and as usual I was relying on doing one chapter each on Monday and Tuesday, so I fell behind.  I contemplated putting up just one chapter on Tuesday instead, but Chapter Six is fairly crucial to our story, and I wanted to get it out there this week, so instead you just get two chapters a day late.  And here they are, with no further ado…

Chapter Five

Mark dons his “half-armour”–though he thinks of it as more like “triple armour”.  It includes protection from nerve disrupters and stunners, torso armour that resists needlers and small missiles, and a plasma arc mirror field.  It’s a little tight on him, though, his weight rising after only a week of inactivity, since he’s not a hyperactive anorexic like Miles.  His biggest weapon, though, is the command helmet, which he can use to command greater forces than he could ever carry on his person.

Thorne buzzes and Mark lets him in; it inspects his armour carefully, and Mark wonders if this is usual treatment for Miles.  It asks Mark if he thinks he can handle the command helmet, and Mark says he has before…

“These things,” Thorne lifted his own, “can be pretty overwhelming at first. It’s not a data flow, it’s a damned data flood. You have to learn to ignore everything you don’t need, otherwise it can be almost better to switch the thing off. You, now . . .” Thorne hesitated, “have that same uncanny ability as old Tung did, of appearing to ignore everything as it goes by, and yet being able to remember and yank it out instantly if it’s needed. Of somehow always being on the right channel at the right time. It’s like your mind works on two levels. Your command-response time is incredibly fast, when your adrenaline is up. It’s kind of addictive. People who work with you a lot come to expect—and rely—on it.” Thorne stopped, waited.

What was it expecting him to say? He shrugged again. “I do my best.”

Thorne offers to take over the raid, if Mark is still not feeling well, and Mark tells it to back off.  Thorne tells him that everything’s ready; at midnight they’ll drop from parking orbit directly down to Bharaputra’s facility, before people start wondering what they’re doing, and if everything goes according to plan they should be done in an hour.  They do a helmet communication check, going through all the channels, including those for eavesdropping on their enemies’ transmissions and for local entertainment.

Mark notices that Thorne seems apprehensive, and wonders again if he’s been found out, but reminds himself that Thorne would have pulled the plug if it knew who Mark really was.  He kids Thorne about it, and it snaps out of its reverie; they agree that it’s time to get moving.  They meet the commandos in the corridor to the shuttle, getting ready to board.  He considers Taura, thinking that they must have been at House Bharaputra at the same time, though their paths would never have crossed.  He also reminds himself that nobody he knew at the creche eight years ago would still be alive.

He stepped up to her. “Sergeant Taura—” She turned, and his brows climbed in startlement. “What is that around your neck?” Actually, he could see what it was, a large fluffy pink bow. He supposed his real question was, why was it around her neck?

She—smiled, he guessed that repellent grimace was, at him, and fluffed it out a bit more with a huge clawed hand. Her claw-polish was bright pink, tonight. “D’you think it’ll work? I wanted something to not scare the kids.”

He looked up at eight feet of half-armor, camouflage cloth, boots, bandoliers, muscle and fang. Somehow, I don’t think it’ll be enough, Sergeant. “It’s . . . certainly worth a try,” he choked.

He asks her if she knows much about this part of the complex, but she tells him she mostly lived in the genetics facility, except during a couple of years of fostering.  He asks her if she hates them; she says when she was growing up, they did a lot of tests, but she thought it was just science, not malicious.  Then they sold her to Ryoval–Ryoval mistreated her, but Bharaputra’s indifference hurt her more.  Then she was rescued by her knight in shining armour…  Mark is annoyed by this glowing reference to Miles, always the hero–well, now it’s his turn to be the hero.  But she admits that without House Bharaputra she wouldn’t even exist, and wonders if she should return there to kill.  Mark reminds her that they’re there to rescue clones, not to kill unless they have to.  She tells him she’s glad he feels better, and he promises they’ll have a chance to talk after the mission, only realizing after he’s said it that she’s misinterpreted as a completely different kind of invitation.

They enter the shuttle, and Mark examines the space, figuring out where the rescued clones can be put on the return flight.  There’s room for two squads, plus lots of medical equipment or vehicles, so it shouldn’t be a problem.  The medic is organizing his supplies, which include a portable cryo-chamber.  Thorne sits next to the shuttle pilot, and Mark sits right behind them.  Taura confirms that they’re all ready for drop, and as soon as Ariel reaches its orbit, the shuttle drops.

Literally drops, as Mark learns, nose-down into the atmosphere.  The pilot cheerfully hopes that they don’t happen to run into anybody, since nobody’s cleared any airspace for them.  They plunge across the terminator into night, through the clouds, and then all too suddenly over a city, and the Bharaputra facility, to land in a playing field.  Thorne barks an order and they debark, as silently as possible.  One of the commandos goes into the air on a float-bike, two stay in the shuttle, and two more as perimeter guards–fewer than Thorne had wanted, but Mark wants as many troopers as he can in the creche, to get the clones out before the Bharaputrans’ response stiffens up.  He wishes he’d ordered another commando squad back on Escobar, but he’d been concerned about life support for the clones on the return trip.

He watches his helmet displays for a little while, but finds it hard to focus on them, so he dims them down, as Thorne had recommended to him earlier.  He follows Thorne, Taura, and the rest of her squad as they trot through the complex, listening in on the Bharaputran guards’ channels as they begin to react to the noise of the shuttle’s arrival.  They reach the house–smaller than Mark remembered–and Taura blasts the doors open with a plasma arc.  The commandos rush inside, taking out alarms as they pass.  They stun the first guard they encounter and head up the lift tubes.  Taura takes two female troopers to the third floor, another trooper heads up to the roof, and Mark leads the rest to the second floor.  They stun two unarmed adults before reaching the doors behind which the male clones are locked, though they can hear pounding from the other side.  Thorne yells that they’re going to open the door, and the pounding stops; they cut the bolt and kick the doors open.

The clone nearest the door expresses surprise that they’re not firemen.  Thorne pushes Mark forward to address them; Mark asks him for a headcount.

He’d practiced the speech for this supreme moment in his mind ten thousand times, every possible variation. The only thing he knew for certain that he was not going to start with was, I’m Miles Naismith. His heart was racing. He inhaled a huge gulp of air. “We’re the Dendarii Mercenaries, and we’re here to save you.”

The boy’s expression was repelled, scared, and scornful all mixed. “You look like a mushroom,” he said blankly.

It was so . . . so off-script. Of his thousand rehearsed second lines, not one followed this. Actually, with the command helmet and all, he probably did look a bit like a big gray—not the heroic image he’d hoped to—

He tore off his helmet, ripped back his hood, and bared his teeth. The boy recoiled.

Mark yells at them that the rumours they’ve heard are true, that they’re going to be used for brain transplants, killed so someone can steal their body.  The boys starts to babble and scatter; one of them tries to escape past the troopers, but a trooper grabs him in an armlock.  Mark tells them to follow him, but Thorne doesn’t think they’re buying it.  It suggests stunning them all, which might be quicker, but Mark refuses.  Then Taura calls him to ask for help on the next floor, followed by the float-bike commando, who tells him several people are climbing down the balconies, and a Bharaputran patrol is getting close.  Frantically, he tells her to stop them, stun them if necessary, but not while they’re climbing down.  Then he responds to Taura, who says she needs him to talk to a “crazy girl”.  Mark tells her that everything’s not under control down here either; Thorne rolls its eyes and applies a light stun to the boy struggling in the trooper’s armlock.

Mark tells Thorne to round up the male clones and flees up to help Taura.  It’s less crowded up there, since male clones continue to predominate over female.  The girls are seated on the floor, a stunner trained on them, but at least are sitting still and quiet.  Taura is in a side room with a Eurasian girl sitting in front of a smoking comconsole; the girl expresses contempt for the whole affair.  Mark tries to explain the clone situation to her, and the girl says she knows perfectly well what’s going to happen, and accepts it as her destiny, to serve “her lady”.  Taura says the girl has already called House Security and told them a lot about the commando team; the girl says she’s “very important” and the guards will save her.  Mark tells Taura to stun her.

Mark asks if they have all of the girls; Taura says two of them fled down the back stairs, and she’s worried they’ll hide in the basement or something, and says they don’t have time to hunt them down.  Mark finds Thorne’s channel and asks if he has a head count; Thorne says they found it on a comconsole, and they’re missing four boys, three of whom have been seen going down the balconies.  Mark checks the girls’ count, and says they’re still missing one; Taura sends a trooper out to check, even as Thorne is complaining that they don’t have time to round up strays.

In the third room the trooper checked, she bent to look under a bed and said, “Ha! Got her, Sergeant!” She swooped, grabbed a couple of kicking ankles, and yanked. Her prize slid into the light, a short girl-woman in the pink crossover tunic and shorts. She emitted little helpless muted noises, distress with no hope of her cries bringing help. She had a cascade of platinum curls, but her most notable feature was a stunning bustline, huge fat globes that the strained pink silk of her tunic failed to contain. She rolled to her knees, buttocks on heels, her upraised hands vaguely pushing and cradling the heavy flesh as if still shocked and unaccustomed to finding it there.

Ten years old. Shit. She looked twenty. And such monstrous hypertrophy couldn’t be natural. The progenitor-customer must have ordered body-sculpture, prior to taking possession. That made sense, let the clone do the surgical and metabolic suffering. Tiny waist, flare of hip . . . from her exaggerated, physically mature femininity, he wondered if she might be one of the change-of-sex transfers. Almost certainly. She must have been slated for surgery very soon.

The girl whimpers that she can’t leave, her mother’s coming tomorrow; Mark tells them to stun her too, and a trooper does, gently.  Another trooper calls him on the helmet and says they just stunned a bunch of firefighters, but security people with anti-stun suits and heavier weapons are on their way; the commando in the air confirms that a heavy weapons team is coming from the south.  Taura picks up the two stunned girls and they herd the rest down the stairs.  Thorne has six boys stunned and the rest against the wall; Taura suggests having some of the boys carry the others, to keep them busy.

“Good,” said Thorne, jerking its gaze, with difficulty, from fascinated fixation on the doll-woman. “Worley, Kesterton, let’s—” its voice stopped, as the same static-laden emergency message over-rode channels in both their command helmets.

It was the bike-trooper, screaming, “Sonofabitch, the shuttle—watch out guys, on your left—” a hot wash of static, and “—oh holy fuckin’ shit—” Then a silence, filled only with the hum of an empty channel.

Mark realizes she must have lost her helmet, and who knew what else, and neither he nor Thorne can make contact with her, the shuttle pilot or the rear guards.  Thorne takes charge, telling Mark and one trooper to come with him to check things out, while Taura organizes the clones.  Outside, they reach the shuttle, apparently undamaged, though there is a body beneath one wing.  Thorne remotely opens the hatch and says it’s going in, overriding the trooper who insists he should go instead.  Mark and the trooper follow after Thorne gives the okay; the shuttle seems empty, but the pilot’s compartment is sealed.  Thorne opens it, and flames burst out until the trooper extinguishes it; the pilot and controls are burnt and slagged.  Thorne says that somebody must have taken a couple of the shuttle’s own thermal mines and tossed them in, after luring away or killing the shuttle’s few guards.

Thorne says all they can do now is pull back to the creche building and try to negotiate surrender terms.  The trooper says that Admiral Naismith will be able to come up with something, but Thorne reveals that they don’t have the Admiral with them, just his clone-brother.  Thorne’s known since before they reached Jacksonian space, but though it could bring the plan off anyway.

“We can’t—we can’t betray those children back into Bharaputra’s hands,” Mark grated. Begged.

Thorne dug its bare hand into the carbonized blob glued to what used to be the pilot’s station chair. “Who is betrayed?” It lifted its hand, rubbed a black crumbling smear across his face from cheek to chin. “Who is betrayed?” Thorne whispered. “Do you have. A better. Idea.”

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Miles was pretending to sell the nerve disrupter shields back in The Vor Game, and the plasma mirror shields were ship-sized back in Shards of Honour, and now his armour’s got that and more.  Except, of course, that Mark’s got his armour.  Still, apparently if you have the budget for it, all of the standard hand weapons are useless against you, which means the stage is set for another round of escalation…gravitic hand lances?

I’m not sure if this scheme would have gone better if Miles had been in charge, but it probably would have.  He would have brought the extra commando squad, probably, or at least half of one, he’d have protected the shuttle better, he’d have had some better contingency plans for unruly clones.  And I can’t help but think that while there may not be any faster way to get into the complex than by brute shuttle drop, there might have been quieter ones…  Of course, this isn’t any worse trouble, really, than Miles got himself into in “Labyrinth”, but he had a little more…charisma, I guess, working for him.

And Thorne did indeed know at least part of the time, as we see by its increasingly bold attempts to help out someone who’s obviously not Miles, with the command helmet and the half-armour.  So Mark’s failure is in the assumption that Thorne would immediately expose him once it cottoned on to the deception.  Instead, Thorne decided to take over the plan anyway.  Maybe it thought that Mark was more competent than he actually was, or just that the plan was actually more foolproof.  A bad miscalculation, which will cost it…

Chapter Six

Miles and the Peregrine arrived at Jackson’s Whole about nine hours too late to prevent Mark and Bel Thorne’s debacle.  Now he waits as Elli works her way up to the chain of authority for House Bharaputra, hoping to reach the Baron.  He’s wearing ill-fitting clothing from a five-foot-tall female engineer.  The Ariel has fled to Fell Station, which several Bharaputran ships are blockading, and more are escorting the Peregrine in orbit.  He hopes to convince the Baron that they don’t need to send more.

Bel, Mark, and the rest of Taura’s squad are trapped in the clone’s dormitory, with the clones as de facto hostages; the rest of the civilians have been evacuated from the complex, and heavier troops are moving in.  Miles doesn’t have enough information to risk a frontal assault to free them, so he’s going to try negotiation and bribery.  Quinn signals him that he’s about to be on with the Baron, and he tries to make himself look as presentable as he can manage in his borrowed uniform.

Miles introduces himself to Vasa Luigi, Baron Bharaputra, and they begin by sparring about whether the raid was unauthorized, or if Miles is just trying to distance himself from the failure of his subordinates.

He’s baiting you. Cool. “We need to have our facts straight. I have not yet established if Captain Thorne was actually suborned, or merely taken in by my fellow-clone. In any case, it is your own product, for whatever sentimental reasons, who has returned to attempt to extract some personal revenge upon you. I’m just an innocent bystander, trying to straighten things out.”

“You,” Baron Bharaputra blinked, like a lizard, “are a curiosity. We did not manufacture you. Where did you come from?”

“Does it matter?”

“It might.”

The Baron doesn’t pursue the matter, and asks Miles what he wants.  Miles offers his aid in cleaning up the mess his people have made, and of course paying reasonable damages.  Bharaputra says he doesn’t need Miles’s help, and Miles says it’ll help keep his costs low.  The Baron puts Miles on hold; Elli asks if they’ll be able to rescue the clones, and Miles says they’ll be lucky to get the commandos out.  He adds that more children than this batch of clones are killed on suspicion of mutation on Barrayar every year.  Elli says saving the clones will help him win Mark’s trust; Miles says at the moment he’s planning to strangle Mark and Bel, but his mind insists on offering him visions of total victory, Mark won over and gratefully coming back to Barrayar with him.

The Baron returns, and he tells Miles he will allow the Dendarii to surrender to him, though their “fines” are still to be determined.  Miles insists the prices be nailed down, and Bharaputra gives the prices–ten thousand Betan dollars per trooper, twenty-five per officer, and fifty for Bel Thorne.  No charge for the property damage, and Bharaputra also tells Miles he’ll save him the trouble of getting rid of his clone.  Cringing at the price, Miles asks what the clone’s price would be.

“What possible interest?” Vasa Luigi inquired, surprised.

Miles shrugged. “I’d think it was obvious. My profession is full of hazards. I am the only survivor of my clone-clutch. The one I call Mark was as much a surprise to me as I was to him, I think; neither of us knew there was a second cloning project. Where else would I find such a perfect, ah, organ-donor, and on such short notice?”

Vasa Luigi opened his hands. “We might arrange to keep him safe for you.”

“If I needed him at all, I’d need him urgently. In the circumstances, I’d fear a sudden rise in the market price. Besides, accidents happen. Look at the accident that happened to poor Baron Fell’s clone, in your keeping.”

Bharaputra’s demeanour chills noticeably, and Miles immediately regrets mentioning Fell.  Bharaputra says he can grow Miles a new clone if he desires, but Mark is not for sale.  Miles tries to persuade Bharaputra that he doesn’t want to wait ten years for the clone to be ready, but Bharaputra won’t budge, claiming to want to punish Mark, and use him as a warning.  Miles warns him that Barrayar is already aware of “both” clones, and Bharaputra asks him what relationship Admiral Naismith has with Barrayar.  Miles says he’s tolerated, and does them a favour now and again.  Bharaputra ruminates on the possibilities of three identical copies; Miles says they’re not identical–Lord Vorkosigan is a “dull stick”, and Mark’s already demonstrated his limitations, leaving Naismith himself as the “improved” copy.  Bharaputra tells Miles that the clone is not negotiable, but the rest of the fines will double every half hour until Miles accepts the deal.  Miles says he has to talk to the accountant, and ends the call.

Miles is sick and angry after the conversation.  Quinn points out that the accountant isn’t with them, and Miles says he doesn’t like the deal, and as an ImpSec representative it’s his job to rescue Mark.  Heartily missing the armour that Mark took with him, he tells Quinn to get him a squad leader’s helmet, at least, so he can cut himself a better deal.

He manages to borrow Elena’s helmet instead, as well as a variety of ill-fitting borrowed equipment, and within the half hour launches his attack–in one combat drop shuttle, with another one on a different trajectory as a decoy.  The shuttle’s fighter escort destroys one of the Peregrine‘s Bharaputran escorts, and the other retreats.  Their best possible drop zone–Thorne’s shuttle still blocking the only better choice–is still a bit of a hike away from the dormitory, but he hopes the commando squad in the other shuttle will give the Bharaputrans something else to think about.  They round the planet, but can’t contact Thorne’s group, since the Bharaputrans are blocking most of the channels, and they can’t contact Thorne on the others.

Once they’re on the ground, Quinn manages to contact Thorne on audio.  Thorne asks them to bring the portable cryo-chamber for Trooper Phillipi, who died fifteen minutes ago but was packed in ice.  They debark with two commando squads, two troopers in hovercars heading up to clear the roofs of snipers.  Once they clear it, Miles and Quinn head out with one squad, leaving half of the other one to guard the shuttle against the fate of Thorne’s, while the other half holds the perimeter.  They pass several buildings without incident, but Miles wonders if getting out will be as easy.  The Bharaputrans are already engaging them on the perimeter, and hearing a sonic grenade makes him wish he’d managed to find chest armour that fit.

They reach the clone-creche and join its defenders.  The medic heads off for Phillipi with the cryo-chamber, and Miles is greeted by a defeated-looking Bel Thorne with Mark at his side.  Mark defiantly tells Miles they have to take the clones with them, and Miles agrees, angrily telling Mark that having the clones as hostages is their only chance of getting off the ground alive.

Mark’s face lit, torn between hope and hatred. “And then what?” he demanded suspiciously.

“Oh,” Miles caroled sarcastically, “we’re just going to waltz right over to Bharaputra Station and drop them off, and thank Vasa Luigi kindly for the loan. Idiot! What d’you think? We load up and run like hell. The only place to put them would be out the airlock, and I guarantee you’d go first!”

Mark flinched, but took a deep breath and nodded. “All right, then.”

“It is not. All. Right,” Miles bit out. “It is merely . . . merely . . .” he could not come up with a word to describe what it merely was, aside from the most screwed-up mess he’d ever encountered. “If you were going to try and pull a stupid stunt like this, you might at least have consulted the expert in the family!”

One of the boys exclaims in surprise that Mark and Miles are really clones, and Miles confirms it; Mark complains that they didn’t believe _him_ when he told them.  Quinn interrupts that Medic Norwood has Phillipi and the wounded ready to go, and Miles tells them it’s time to head out.  The commandos are not happy to be herding the clones in front of them as human shields, but go along with it as defense against Bharaputran snipers.  As the first batch heads out, Miles greets Taura, both happy to see each other, thinking he might not have been able to forgive Mark for getting her killed.

Miles, Mark, Taura, Thorne and the last of the commandos and clones head out; the first group has already reached the shuttle.  The squad leader from the other shuttle tells him that the Bharaputrans aren’t taking them seriously, and Miles tells her to try.  Just then, a sonic grenade hits nearby, and Bharaputran fire picks up, intentionally passing on either side of them to try to panic the clones into running, and it’s very close to working.  Miles calls for air cover, and Taura blows open the nearest building and tells them to go inside.  Miles approves, if it keeps them from scattering in different directions, but adds that they need to continue out the other side, thinking to himself that it looks more like a trap than safety.

Thorne volunteers for rear guard, obviously hoping for a heroic sacrifice, but Miles tells it to take charge of its own mission and get the rest of the clones to the shuttle.  They emerge into a big concrete-floored room that occupies most of the building, dimly lit with catwalks near the ceiling.  Quinn and Mark are waiting for him, though Miles yells at them to keep going.

“Look out!” someone yelled. Quinn spun, raising her plasma arc, seeking aim. Mark’s mouth opened, the “o” foolishly echoing the circle of his gray hood around his face.

Miles saw the Bharaputran because they were looking square at each other, in that frozen moment. A team of brown-clad Bharaputran snipers, probably come up through the tunnels. They were scrambling along the girders, barely more prepared than the Dendarii they pursued. The Bharaputran had a hand-sized projectile weapon launcher of some kind pointed straight at him, its muzzle bright with flare.

Miles could not, of course, see the projectile, not even as it entered his chest. Only his chest, bursting outward like a flower, and a sound not heard but only felt, a hammer-blow launching him backward. Dark flowers bloomed too in his eyes, covering everyone.

He was astonished, not by how much he thought, for there was no time for thought, but by how much he felt, in the time it took for his last heartburst of blood to finish flowing through his brain. The chamber careening around him . . . pain beyond measure . . .  rage, and outrage . . . and a vast regret, infinitesimal in duration, infinite in depth. Wait, I haven’t—

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“Wait, I haven’t–” seem like they should be the last thoughts of everyone who dies suddenly.  But especially Miles.  I can’t imagine the shock of reading this when the book first came out, and nobody knew if there were going to be any more…

So here we are, six chapters into the book, and Miles Vorkosigan is dead.  What, are you surprised?  Did you think he was going to survive to carry on the series?  Well, I call it the Vorkosigan Saga, not the Miles Vorkosigan Saga…  After all, it’s not like you can take someone who’s been killed in combat and just, like, freeze their body or something to resurrect them later, can you?  Okay, sure, it’s theoretically possible, but it’s not like they’re going to be able to manage it under these kind of conditions.  It’s not anybody cares about the little weasel that much anyway, do they?  What, really?  I mean, yes, in other words, it’s possible that some of that foreshadowing with the cryo-chambers, like the previous mention in this chapter, and the people we met back in Chapter Two, and even the bizarre brief mention back in Brothers In Arms, is going to pay off here.  “Chekhov’s Cryo-Chamber”?

On a lighter note, I’m always amused that the Baron of a House with such an Indian-sounding name as Bharaputra has such an Italian-sounding name as “Luigi”.  But, of course, a fair amount of mongrelization of names and cultures has doubtless taken place on any planet which is not a xenophobic monoculture, and I’d lay you odds that Jackson’s Whole is not one of those.  Hell, lots of names that, a hundred years ago, would have had distinct ethnic connections, like, say, “Sean”, are now considered fairly innocuous in English-speaking culture, and I’m sure more of them will get integrated over time.  And, of course, one must assume that the title of Baron of a Jacksonian House is not always passed down in a strictly hereditary fashion…there might be the occasional coup, here and there.  How would Baron Fell and Baron Ryoval be brothers, otherwise?


Quite a punch at the end of the chapter there, and now Mark and the others have to try to bounce back from this.  Everybody’s really happy with Mark, you can bet.  Next week, on time, with any luck, we’ll see what we shall see.  Until then…

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