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Posts Tagged ‘Cordelia’

Wednesday night already?  I was just in the middle of a dream…  I was chatting with Vorkosigans by a crystal-blue Dendarii stream.  Anyway, it must be time for another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Once again I have managed to cover two chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, the science fiction political romance set on Miles Vorkosigan’s home planet of character, and featuring a stellar cast of heroes, villains, and the occasional oblivious dunderhead.  This week I cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen, in which the vicious rumour about Miles and his beloved Ekaterin’s husband’s death begins to gather steam…

Chapter Thirteen

Ekaterin sits in her aunt’s garden, trying to concentrate on looking at a list of short-term job openings–though most of them have nothing to do with botany–but her minds keeps wandering to butter bugs, to replanning her aunt’s garden, to the Barrayaran garden.  When her aunt announces a visitor, Ekaterin is surprised, and daunted, to see that it is Simon Illyan.  He asks if he can have a private word with her.  Aunt Vorthys notes that she’s about to leave for class, and Nikki is playing on her comconsole, and Ekaterin says she thinks she’ll be fine.

Illyan begins by apologizing for his thoughtless comment at the dinner party.  Ekaterin asks if Miles sent him, and Illyan says that he is “an ambassador entirely without portfolio”.  Ekaterin says, bitterly, that she and him were apparently the only two there who didn’t know that Miles was courting her, and it was more Miles’s fault than his.

He traced a finger over the tabletop in a crosshatch pattern. “You know—speaking of ambassadors—I began by thinking I ought to come to you and put in a good word for Miles in the romance department. I figured I owed it to him, for having put my foot down in the middle of things that way. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I have truly no idea what kind of a husband he would make. I hardly dare recommend him to you. He was a terrible subordinate.”

Her brows flew up in surprise. “I’d thought his ImpSec career was successful.”

Illyan shrugged. “His ImpSec missions were consistently successful, frequently beyond my wildest dreams. Or nightmares . . . . He seemed to regard any order worth obeying as worth exceeding. If I could have installed one control device on him, it would have been a rheostat. Power him down a turn or two . . . maybe I could have made him last longer.” Illyan gazed thoughtfully out over the garden, but Ekaterin didn’t think the garden was what he was seeing, in his mind’s eye. “Do you know all those old folk tales where the count tries to get rid of his only daughter’s unsuitable suitor by giving him three impossible tasks?”

“Yes . . .”

“Don’t ever try that with Miles. Just . . . don’t.”

Ekaterin is forced to smile at that, and Illyan, encouraged, adds that Miles has always been a quick learner, and she would doubtless be surprised–pleasantly or otherwise–if she gave him a second chance.  Ekaterin asks if he thinks Miles is a great man, like his father and grandfather; Illyan says he is, but in an entirely different way.

Illyan’s words reminded her strangely of her Uncle Vorthys’s evaluation of Miles, back when they’d first met on Komarr. So if a genius thought Miles was a genius, and a great man thought he was a great man . . . maybe she ought to get him vetted by a really good husband.

Ekaterin can hear Nikki inside, talking to a man, whose voice she can’t make out; perhaps her uncle home early.  Illyan goes on to say that he always thought Miles had a remarkable talent for personnel, either recruiting them or nurturing their talents.  So if he picks Ekaterin as a Lady Vorkosigan, she would doubtless do well as one, though she might suffer a startling lack of control over her life as a result.  Ekaterin notes that she had picked out a life for herself once, but it wasn’t this one.  Illyan agrees, noting that his carefully planned career was derailed by being assigned to ImpSec, and then by ending up in charge of it in the middle of a war.  And now, here he is, retired, and with Lady Alys.  Ekaterin ponders Miles’s assortment of friends, wonderful, distinguished, and devoted, and contrasts this with Tien’s apparently inability to collect them at all, which she had perforce come to share.

Nikki suddenly cries out in protest, and Ekaterin excuses herself to go in and investigate.  She is surprised to find Alexi Vormoncrief in the parlour, having backed Nikki into a corner, bending over him and interrogating him about the bandages on Miles’s wrists after his father’s death.  Nikki says he doesn’t know much, though Vormoncrief quizzes him ruthlessly about what kind of wounds they might be–burns, blisters, slashes…whether he had any other marks on him, like from a fight of some kind…  Ekaterin interrupts him sharply, asking what he’s doing there.  Vormoncrief says he had come to talk to Ekaterin, but he took the opportunity to ask Nikki a few questions first.

Nikki says that Vormoncrief claims that Miles killed his father.  Vormoncrief says that the secret is out, being whispered all over town, though nobody is doing anything about it.  It’s clear enough to him, though, two men going out into the Komarran wilderness and one coming back, with suspicious injuries.  Obviously Ekaterin herself had not realized, of course, until Miles blew his cover with his marriage proposal…  Ekaterin, of course, knows that Vormoncrief’s accusations are impossible, she herself knew much better, but security considerations keep her from mustering more than a feeble contradiction.  Vormoncrief says that obviously Miles was never questioned under fast-penta, as ex-ImpSec; Ekaterin says that she was, so Vormoncrief is glad to accept that she is innocent of complicity.

Vormoncrief says he understands her predicament–unable to take action against the powerful Lord Vorkosigan, for fear of reprisal–but he offers her the assistance of his own powerful friends, to bring the “mutie lord” to justice.  Ekaterin tries to dodge around him, to rescue a sobbing Nikki, but Vormoncrief tries to take her in his arms; she hits him in the nose and he grabs her to keep her from doing it again.

Her sputtering found words at last, shrieked at the top of her voice: “Let go of me, you blithering twit!

He stared at her in astonishment. Just as she gathered her balance to find out if that knee-to-the-groin thing worked any better than that blow-to-the-nose one, Illyan’s voice interrupted from the archway behind her, deadly dry.

“The lady asked you to unhand her, Lieutenant. She shouldn’t have to ask twice. Or . . . once.”

Vormoncrief takes a moment to recognize Illyan, but when he does, he releases Ekaterin, and sputters briefly before greeting Illyan, half-saluting him before trying to deal with his bloody nose.  Ekaterin grabs up Nikki, then berates Vormoncrief roundly for coming in uninvited and haranguing her son.  Illyan asks, icily, what he was doing there…which seems to him to be offering violence to a member of the family of an Imperial Auditor, in the Auditor’s own home, but in their absence.  Illyan asks after Vormoncrief’s commanding officer, and after a few sputtered protests, Vormoncrief gives him the name; Illyan makes some audio notes, then says that his superior will be hearing from Guy Allegre.  Vormoncrief makes one last plea for Ekaterin to let him help; she tells him that he “lies vilely”, and tells him never to come back.  He leaves, with an infuriating air of confusion, as though he can’t understand what he did wrong.

Illyan says he came in around the mention of fast-penta, and apologies for eavesdropping; Ekaterin thanks him for getting rid of Vormoncrief.  Illyan says it was mostly habit, since he’s no longer in the chain of command.  Ekaterin asks Nikki what happened before she arrived, and he says that Vormoncrief came in right after Aunt Vorthys left, and began asking questions about what had happened when Miles was on Komarr, if he was ever alone with Ekaterin, if he’d ever done something with breath masks…  He asks if Miles really did something to his father’s breath mask, and Ekaterin says he couldn’t have, but doesn’t know if she can tell him more.

She tells Nikki that they made it up, mostly because of the way she had turned down a proposal from Miles at the dinner party.  Nikki, who hadn’t known this part, is initially baffled that she would refuse, and then recalls what she told him about Miles lying to her.  Ekaterin tries to reassure him that the accusations against Miles are lies, but she’s stymied by the lack of facts she can share.  She and Miles had previously agreed that if Nikki started to have too many questions about his father’s death, she should bring him to Miles to talk to…but this is no longer as simple as that seemed then.

Illyan says he hadn’t heard this bit of slander before, which seems highly political to him, but this seems to have arisen since the dinner party.  Ekaterin wonders if Miles has heard yet, and Illyan says nobody may have wanted to tell him yet.  Ekaterin blames herself for storming out of the party like that, before realizing that Illyan blames himself for that.  She says she needs to talk to Miles, and Illyan offers her a ride to Vorkosigan House.  She ends up bringing Nikki along, hoping that there will be someone, out of the crowd at Vorkosigan House, who will be able to look after him for a little while.

As they pass the bare Barrayaran garden, she spots a small figure sitting there, and tells Illyan to stop.  Ekaterin climbs out, telling Illyan to “hang Vormoncrief”, and brings Nikki down into the garden.  She notes that the soil isn’t going to last long if nobody gets the plants put on top of it.  Miles is sitting next to the skellytum with an empty pitcher, staring forlornly down at it; he is elated, briefly, to see Ekaterin, before restraining himself to courtesy.  He greets them warily; Ekaterin begins by criticizing his method for watering the skellytum, asking if he’d bothered to read the instructions she’d sent him.  She sees that his sleeves are rolled up, exposing the scars on his wrists that Vormoncrief had accused him of hiding.

Miles and Ekaterin try to collect their various wits, and he asks what she really came for.  She asks if he’d heard about this accusation, and he says he had, but ImpSec had wanted him to not tell her yet.  Now that she’s come to him about it, though, he considers this ban suspended, and invites her inside to discuss this.

He leads them inside, to his parlour, and asks how they found out about it.  She and Nikki give an account of Vormoncrief’s visit, which Miles attends to gravely, though he has to restrain an appreciative smile at the description of her giving Vormoncrief a bloody nose.  When they’re done, Miles says that he’s not as free to talk to Nikki as he’d like, because of the horrible perception of “conflict of interest”.  At least he’s bearing the brunt of the accusations, rather than Ekaterin; he suggests they avoid each other to avoid the risk of her getting tainted.

“But that would make you look worse,” said Ekaterin. “It would make it look as if I believed Alexi’s lies.”

“The alternative would make it look as if we had somehow colluded in Tien’s death. I don’t see how to win this one. I do see how to cut the damage in half.”

Ekaterin frowned deeply. And leave you standing there to be pelted with this garbage all alone? After a moment she said, “Your proposed solution is unacceptable. Find another.”

His eyes rose searchingly to her face. “As you wish . . .”

Nikki asks what they’re talking about, and Miles tries to explain to him, delicately, how the fact that he was trying to court Nikki’s mother complicates the issue.  If she keeps seeing him, then people will say they were working together, and if she stops, then people will say it’s because she found out Miles did kill her husband.  Ekaterin says that she doesn’t care what “ignorant idiots” think, but she does care what Nikki thinks.

Miles asks Nikki what he does think.  Nikki eventually says that he’s not afraid of Miles, but he knows that ImpSec people can “do anything and make it look like anything”.  Miles admits that there is some truth in that–he can come up with several scenarios where he had caused Tien’s death that still accounted for what Ekaterin found, such as if he had had a hidden accomplice.  He admits that ten years in ImpSec have left his brain working in certain ways.  He tells Nikki that he did not kill Nikki’s father, that he died because he didn’t check his breath mask, and Miles made mistakes which kept him from being able to save him.  He now feels responsible for making sure that Tien’s family is taken care of.  Ekaterin thinks that Tien wasn’t nearly as concerned for his own family, but that mostly Nikki had been unaware of a lot of his father’s flaws.

Nikki’s lips were tight, and his eyes a little blurry, as he digested Miles’s blunt words. “But,” he began, and stalled.

“You must be starting to think of a lot of questions,” Miles said in a tone of mild encouragement. “What are some of them? Or even just one or two of them?”

Nikki looked down, then up. “But—but—why didn’t he check his breath mask?” He hesitated, then went on in a rush, “Why couldn’t you share yours? What were your two mistakes? What did you lie to Mama about that got her so mad? Why couldn’t you save him? How did your wrists get all chewed up?” Nikki took a deep breath, gave Miles an utterly daunted look, and almost wailed, “Am I supposed to kill you like Captain Vortalon?”

Miles had been following this spate with close attention, but at this last he looked taken aback. “Excuse me. Who?”

Ekaterin, flummoxed, supplied in an undervoice, “Captain Vortalon is Nikki’s favorite holovid hero. He’s a jump pilot who has galactic adventures with Prince Xav, smuggling arms to the Resistance during the Cetagandan invasion. There was a whole long sequence about him chasing down some collaborators who’d ambushed his da—Lord Vortalon—and avenging his death on them one by one.”

Ekaterin says, defensively, the program was supposed to educational, because of the historical background.  Miles reminisces about his own obsession with Lord Vorthalia the Bold, though once he looked up the real historical figure he found out he was less heroic and legendary than the stories made out.  He says that at least she didn’t let him watch Hamlet.  In an aside, he tells Nikki that he shouldn’t try revenging his father on Miles until he’s at least old enough to shave.

“So in the play, Prince Hamlet comes home for his father’s funeral, to find that his mother has married his uncle.”

Nikki’s eyes widened. “She married her brother?”

“No, no! It’s not that racy a play. His other uncle, his da’s brother.”

“Oh. That’s all right, then.”

“You’d think so, but Hamlet gets a tip-off that his old man was murdered by the uncle. Unfortunately, he can’t tell if his informant is telling truth or lies. So he spends the next five acts blundering around getting nearly the whole cast killed while he dithers.”

“That was stupid,” said Nikki scornfully, uncoiling altogether. “Why didn’t he just use fast-penta?”

“Hadn’t been invented yet, alas. Or it would have been a much shorter play.”

Nikki asks about Vormoncrief’s assertion that Miles couldn’t use fast-penta; Miles tells Nikki about his weird reaction to the drug which makes it less than useful on him, and also adds that the security issues mean that he couldn’t be questioned like that publicly anyway.  Nikki also mentions that Vormoncrief had called Miles “mutie lord”, and notes that he’s a “mutie” himself, from his Vorzohn’s Dystrophy.  He asks Miles if that bothers him, and Miles says it used to, but it doesn’t any more.  He encourages Nikki to tell Vormoncrief that he’s a “mutie” if he comes back, to make him not want to marry Ekaterin.  Ekaterin marvels at the use of humour and irony to thus defuse frightening subjects like that.

Miles says that he can’t tell Nikki everything–not because of his age, but because of the security considerations.  But he says he wants to set up an appointment with a friend of his, who also lost his father like Nikki when he was young, and who can decide better what they can tell Nikki.  Nikki agrees, reluctantly; Ekaterin wonders who this person is, probably some ImpSec bigwig.  Until then, he gives Nikki some tips on what to do if someone else tries to talk to him about it.  Not punching them in the nose, as Nikki suggests, but just tell them it isn’t true and refuse to say any more, and refer them to his mother or aunt or uncle if they persist.

They then repair to the kitchen for a snack, and Nikki goes to inspect the new batch of kittens, leaving Miles and Ekaterin to have a more private discussion.  Miles remains mum on who his mysterious friend is, though he says he trusts his judgement; Ekaterin asks Miles to tell him about Nikki’s natural reserve around strangers.  Nikki returns, much calmed by the food and the kittens, and Ekaterin reflects that Illyan was right that she should go see Miles.

Ekaterin says that they should go home, since the hasty note she’d left for her aunt had explained little of what had happened; Miles immediately volunteers Pym to drive them–not trying to encourage her to linger, Ekaterin notes.  On the way home, Nikki asks why she had refused Miles’s proposal; she tells him how he’d lied to her about the garden, trying to explain it to him in terms of his own dream of being a jump pilot so he can begin to understand how painful it was.

“So . . . d’you like him? Or not?”

Like was surely not an adequate word for this hash of delight and anger and longing, this profound respect laced with profound irritation, all floating on a dark pool of old pain. The past and the future, at war in her head. “I don’t know. Some of the time I do, yes, very much.”

Another long pause. “Are you in love with him?”

What Nikki knew of adult love, he’d mostly garnered off the holovid. Part of her mind readily translated this question as code for, Which way are you going to jump, and what will happen to me? And yet . . . he could not share or even imagine the complexity of her romantic hopes and fears, but he certainly knew how such stories were supposed to Come Out Right.

“I don’t know. Some of the time. I think.”

He favored her with his Big People Are Crazy look. In all, she could only agree.

Comments

We’ve seen a lot of Simon Illyan in these books–well, often we only see him at the beginning and/or at the end, but he did get a fair role in Memory at least, even if most of it was as victim–but this chapter contains what may be his Crowning Moment of Awesome, as he cows and routs Vormoncrief with little more than his presence and reputation.  It’s true that he has no official rank anymore, but I don’t doubt that Guy Allegre will take him quite seriously when he reports on Vormoncrief, who will likely have severe trouble working in the Imperial Service again.  Maybe there’s an opening for a meteorologist on Kyril Island…

Miles, having gotten over himself, is singularly helpful with Nikki, trying to bring matters into his ken, to a level he can comprehend, without being too condescending.  But this, of course, is mostly the setup for the wonderful scene which, alas, does not occur in the next chapter, but in the one after that.  (Which is, in itself, in addition to its own virtues, the setup for a couple of truly wonderful scenes later in the book.)

And now that Ekaterin is starting to get over Miles’s betrayal of her, his abject apology having damped out a lot of her initial outrage, we can tell that she is far from over him.  She defends him sturdily against Vormoncrief’s accusations, she goes to see him without too much persuasion being required, she appreciates his skills in deftly handling Nikki’s fear and confusion, and, in the end, she has to admit she may be in love with him, “some of the time”.  So there’s some hope yet, I guess…

Chapter Fourteen

Miles is in the library reading over the last two centuries’ worth of contested successions when Duv Galeni shows up.  He says he’s bringing ImpSec’s report on the rumours about Tien’s death; Allegre has assigned him to look into it, given that he already knows about what happened on Komarr, not to mention being at the fateful dinner party.  Miles grumbles that the report would have been more useful a day ago, before Vormoncrief’s visit to the Vorthys house; Galeni agrees, but says that Allegre is on top of it.  He does complain that this has been added on top of all of his other work, which was already taking up his spare time since becoming head of Komarran Affairs.

The good news is that there is no evidence that any classified aspects of the Komarr case have actually leaked out.  Galeni says there are several versions of the story out there already; in most of them Miles was working alone, but in others he was aided by corrupt ImpSec personnel.  Miles posits, and Galeni confirms, that there were no leaks from the Vorthys household.  Miles asks what ImpSec is doing about it, and Galeni says not much–they don’t want to seem too interested in the story, to make others curious, and he also admits that it does provide a plausible cover story to explain Tien’s death…

Miles is upset that ImpSec is going to leave him looking like the bad guy, but he reluctantly agrees to go along with it for the sake of the coverup–though he draws the line at actually admitting any guilt in Tien’s death.  He asks if ImpSec will get involved if someone formally accuses him in the Council of Counts; Galeni asks if anyone is planning to, and Miles says that Richars Vorrutyer has promised to, though he will have to actually become Count first, and Miles plans to try blocking him.

Galeni eyed him dubiously. “Well . . . if you really intend to project innocence, you need to do a more convincing job. You . . . twitch.”

Miles . . . twitched. “There’s guilt and there’s guilt. I am not guilty of willful murder. I am guilty of screwing up. Now, I’m not alone—this one took a full committee. Headed by that fool Vorsoisson himself. If only he’d—dammit, every time you step off the downside shuttle into a Komarran dome they sit you down and make you watch that vid on breath mask procedures. He’d been living there nearly a year. He’d been told.” He fell silent a moment. “Not that I didn’t know better than to go out-dome without informing my contacts.”

Galeni changes the subject to ask if Miles knows what Mark’s intentions are with respect to Kareen.  He says he was okay with Mark escaping on Earth, and even with coming to Barrayar and being accepted by Miles’s family.  But he’s having trouble dealing with Mark as a prospective brother-in-law.  Miles points out that, since Galeni’s father was responsible for having Mark made, there’s a case to be made that Mark is already Galeni’s foster brother; surely it’ll be easier to just call him a brother-in-law, because having an in-law you can’t stand is a more common experience.  He adds that Galeni’s children could have an Uncle Mark, which leads him to thinking of acquiring a host of Vorvayne in-laws if he marries Ekaterin.

Do you think they’ll marry?” asked Galeni seriously.

“I . . . am not certain what cultural format their bonding will ultimately take. I am certain you could not pry Mark away from Kareen with a crowbar. And while Kareen has good reasons to take it slowly, I don’t think any of the Koudelkas know how to betray a trust.”

That won a little eyebrow-flick from Galeni, and the slight mellowing that any reminder of Delia invariably produced in him.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to resign yourself to Mark as a permanent fixture,” Miles concluded.

“Eh,” said Galeni. It was hard to tell if this sound represented resignation, or stomach cramp.

Mark bumps into his mother in the entry foyer, who asks if he’s going out; Mark says he’s going out on a business meeting, and was look for Pym to get him a driver for the family groundcar.  A couple of the Armsmen’s children pass by, butter-bug hunting; Mark says that Martya had the idea of setting the children to looking for the bugs, with a bounty for each one retrieved.  They should have them all caught soon, as long as none of them think of freeing the already-caught ones.

Cordelia asks if he’s heard about this rumour about Miles and Ekaterin, and Mark says he’s been busy in the lab.  She says Illyan and Alys told her about it last night at a dinner party, and several others asked about it later.  Mark says he never heard anything good about Tien Vorsoisson, and wouldn’t think any the less of Miles if he’d done it, but all he’s gathered is that Miles blames himself for carelessness.

Miles emerges then with Duv Galeni; Galeni greets Cordelia, and, warily Mark, on his way out.  Cordelia then complains that she discovered recently that she missed meeting Ekaterin during her visit the day before; Miles points out, reasonably, that they were gone until midnight, and it wasn’t a social call in any case.  Cordelia agrees, but asks when they might be permitted the actually meet the woman; Miles says things are delicate right now.

“Delicate,” echoed the Countess. “Isn’t that a distinct improvement over a life in ruins with vomiting?”

A brief hopeful look glimmered in his eye, but he shook his head. “Just now, it’s pretty hard to say.”

She says she has heard about the rumour, but wonders why she had to hear it from Illyan instead of him.  Miles said he’d been waiting on ImpSec confirmation, which is what brought Galeni.  He tells her that it seems to just be a vicious rumour concocted by the Conservatives, so far, and he’s about to hold a planning session with Dono Vorrutyer and René Vorbretten to deal with it; Cordelia approves of his bringing in allies.

She suggests inviting Ekaterin and Kareen over, jut to tea, and Miles insists not yet.  Mark asks if Kareen’s parents would even let her come, if they’d even accept an invitation.  Cordelia says that Kou and Drou should be avoiding her, after their performance at the dinner party.

“I miss her,” said Mark, his hand clenching helplessly along his trouser seam. “I need her. We’re supposed to start presenting bug butter products to potential major accounts in a few days. I was counting on having Kareen along. I . . . I can’t do sales very well. I’ve tried. The people I pitch to all seem to end up huddled on the far end of the room with lots of furniture between us. And Martya is too . . . forthright. But Kareen is brilliant. She could sell anything to anyone. Especially Barrayaran men. They sort of lie down and roll over, waving their paws in the air and wagging their tails—it’s just amazing. And, and . . . I can stay calm, when she’s with me, no matter how much other people irritate me. Oh, I want her back . . .” These last words escaped him in a muffled wail.

Miles looked at his mother, and at Mark, and shook his head in bemused exasperation. “You’re not making proper use of your Barrayaran resources, Mark. Here you have, in-house, the most high-powered potential Baba on the planet, and you haven’t even brought her into play!”

“But . . . what could she do? Under the circumstances?”

“To Kou and Drou? I hate to think.” Miles rubbed his chin. “Butter, meet laser-beam. Laser-beam, butter. Oops.”

His mother smiled, but then crossed her arms and stared thoughtfully around the great library.

“But, ma’am . . .” Mark stammered, “could you? Would you? I didn’t presume to ask, after all the things . . . people said to one another that night, but I’m getting desperate.” Desperately desperate.

“I didn’t presume to intrude, without a direct invitation,” the Countess told him. She waited, favoring him with a bright, expectant smile.

Mark thought it over. His mouth shaped the unfamiliar word twice, for practice, before he licked his lips, took a breath, and launched it into unsupported air. “Help . . . ?

Cordelia agrees readily, now that’s he’s actually asked her, and says what they need is to all sit down–her, Mark, Kareen, Kou and Drou–and talk it all over.  Mark is dubious about what they’ll say, and if they would even come, but Cordelia tells him to leave all that to her.

Pym announces Count Vorbretten’s arrival, and Miles tells Pym to send him up to his suite.  Mark asks Pym to provide him a driver, and Cordelia tells him to come talk to her when he gets back.  Mark asks her hopefully if she may even want to invest in his company, and she says they’ll talk.

Ivan arrives as Mark is leaving, and finds Miles closeted with René Vorbretten.  He says his mother sent him with a note for Miles, and he took the chance to escape.  René says he thought that Ivan’s job sounded cushy, but Ivan tells him that the Vor women he’s been working with are mostly the “old battle-axe” type.  He complains about having 23 commanders, an inversion of the proper chain of command.  Dono Vorrutyer arrives then, to Ivan’s dismay, with By and Szabo.

Miles opens the note from Lady Alys, and begins to read it out; it’s full of intelligence about prospective votes in the Council of Counts.  She assures them that Count Vorsmythe will vote for René, and maybe for Dono with a little persuasion; Count Vorville apparently remembers René’s father fondly; and Countess Vorpinski (whose husband, Dono says, was an old flame of hers) quite approves of Dono’s transformation, and a visit assuring her of its permanence might be looked on favourably.

According to Lady Vortugalov, the Count, her father-in-law, is unlikely to have his vote swayed, but she’s rescheduled the birth of the Count’s first grandson to conflict with the day of the vote; in addition, in exchange for a wedding invitation, the Count’s voting deputy’s wife may arrange for her husband to be delayed to the vote as well.  Alys tells them that Vorhalas and Vortaine aren’t worth trying for, but Vortaine’s neighbour Vorvolynkin, normally a stout Conservative, seems likely to be persuaded to vote contrarily just to annoy Count Vortaine.  Miles skips over an allusion to the scurrilous rumour about Tien, and concludes that Count Vorinnis will also vote for René and Dono.  She adds, in a postscript, that her office is eager to see this matter settled to that invitations can be sent out properly, and as such encourages them to make use of Ivan for any little errands.  Ivan protests that Miles is making that up, but Miles shows him the postscript.

“Richars Vorrutyer sat right there,” said Miles, pointing to René’s chair, “and informed me that Lady Alys held no vote in Council. The fact that she has spent more years in the Vorbarr Sultana political scene than all of us here put together seemed to escape him. Too bad.” His smile broadened.

Pym arrives with coffee and snacks, which Ivan and By position themselves to take advantage of, though Ivan wishes he had wine or beer instead; Miles says that he’d always noticed that that’s what his grandfather would bring in when working with his allies, and when entertaining adversaries he brought in the alcohol.

Miles moves on to his hand-written agenda for the meeting.  René and Dono’s votes are scheduled back-to-back, René’s first; Miles tells him to yield to Dono, because if he wins his vote, he’ll just keep his seat, but Dono’s win will mean an extra vote for his own suit, rather than leaving the Vorrutyer seat empty for that vote.  By says that as far as he knows, their opponents don’t know that René and Dono are working together, so they won’t be expecting the switch.  Ivan isn’t sure about By’s allegiance, but Dono insists that he’s trustworthy.

Miles gets out a set of transparent overlays for the Council chamber, giving one each to Dono and René, asking them to fill in the votes they’re confident of, either way.  When they’re done, they can overlay them and see what Counts they’ll need to work on–the ones whose votes aren’t settled yet, or who are voting differently on the two issues, and who thus might be swayed.  René said he’d always tried to do this in his head, and Miles said that once you get into more votes in the same session, it’s much easier to use this method.  They fill them out–with a few contributions from By–and then start working out who they will need to tag-team.  Ivan glances at the overlays and says that neither of them seem to have a majority of thirty-one yet; Miles, who seems to be in “forward-momentum” mode, says that they’re working on it.

Miles notes that Count Falco Vorpatril himself is marked as undecided, and assigns him to Ivan.  Ivan protests that Falco has never liked him much, calling him “the despair of right-thinking Vorpatrils”; Miles says that Falco seems amused by him.  He tells Ivan to take Dono in to see him, and talk up René while they’re there.

I knew it would come to this, sooner or later. “I’d have had to swallow chaff enough if I’d presented Lady Donna to him as a fiancée. He’s never had the time of day for Vorrutyers generally. Presenting Lord Dono to him as a future colleague . . .” Ivan shuddered, and stared at the bearded man, who stared back with a peculiar lift to his lip.

“Fiancée, Ivan?” inquired Dono. “I didn’t know you cared.”

“Well, and I’ve missed my chance now, haven’t I?” Ivan said grumpily.

“Yes, now and any time these past five years while I was cooling my heels down in the District. I was there. Where were you?” Dono dismissed Ivan’s plaint with a jerk of his chin; the tiny flash of bitterness in his brown eyes made Ivan squirm inside. Dono saw his discomfort, and smiled slowly, and rather evilly. “Indeed, Ivan, clearly this entire episode is all your fault, for being so slow off the mark.”

Dono points out that there will be a Count Vorrutyer either way, and he is well-qualified to point out the flaws of Richars.  Ivan protests that he shouldn’t even be involved in this, as a serving officer, and reminds Miles that he should remember to burn Alys’s letter as soon as he can, since it would be incendiary if it were to get out.  He says that he’s more than done his duty, bringing Dono to the dinner party in the first place, and he refuses to do any more.  He waits for whatever tactic Miles will drag out to get him to cooperate, but instead Miles just moves on to the next point.

“I said no!” Ivan cried desperately.

Miles glanced up at him in faint surprise. “I heard you. Very well: you’re off the hook. I shall ask nothing further of you. You can relax.”

Ivan sat back in profound relief.

Not, he assured himself, profound disappointment. And most certainly not profound alarm. But . . . but . . . but . . . the obnoxious little git_ needs _me, to pull his nuts out of the fire . . .

Miles then warns them all to be on the lookout for dirty tricks on the part of their opponents, since of course they won’t stoop to that level themselves.  (Ivan asks about the shenanigans with Lady Vortugalov and the replicator, and Miles says primly that it’s not them doing it…)  Their armsmen should be prepared, their vehicles inspected regularly, and they should make sure they have alternate routes to Vorhartung Castle for the day of the vote, just in case.

Miles asks By how their opponents are feeling about the race.  By says they don’t seem to even realize that it’s a race yet, that Dono and René might be starting to catch up.  René asks how they’ll react when they realize what’s going on; By says that Count Vormoncrief will be philosophical about it–it’s Richars who’s the loose cannon here, if he gets desperate.

“Well, keep us informed if anything changes in that quarter,” said Miles.

Byerly made a little salute of spreading his hand over his heart. “I live to serve.”

Miles raised his eyes and gave By a penetrating look; Ivan wondered if this sardonic cooption of the old ImpSec tag-line perhaps did not sit too well with one who’d laid down so much blood and bone in Imperial service. He cringed in anticipation of the exchange if Miles sought to censure By for this minor witticism, but to Ivan’s relief Miles let it pass. After a few more minutes spent apportioning target Counts, the meeting broke up.

Comments

This isn’t a chapter I particularly remembered–the scene with Miles and Galeni serves a couple of purposes, both of them fairly minor, but it is nice to see him for something more in-depth than his dinner-party appearance.  I can’t remember if it was established before now that he had actually made it to Head of Komarran Affairs, as was suggested back in Memory.

Cordelia does, as always, brighten up any scene she’s in.  She does, apparently, make an effort not to meddle in her family’s affairs where she’s not wanted, so she’s willing to leave Ekaterin to Miles, even though I do think that Ekaterin would love meeting the Countess.  Well, actually, she’d probably be highly daunted to meet the Vicereine of Sergyar, especially considering how they (just barely) first met on her flight from the dinner party.  But I’m sure she would enjoy it nonetheless.  I love the scene where Mark begins to realize that he can ask her for help…and then manages to bring himself to do so.  Coming from Jackson’s Whole as he did (and without any help from Ser Galen), he has trouble figuring out just what family obligations entail, but when he’s desperate, he’ll try anything…  It’s alluded to here, too, that Cordelia may be one of the few people who genuinely likes Mark.  Well, Kareen too, I suppose, but Cordelia, as a Betan, embraces him as a son quite eagerly.

The strategy session is kind of fun, too, especially Lady Alys’s contributions.  Richars Vorrutyer seems to underestimate and dismiss her, the way that Lucas Haroche did in Memory–it’s like a kind of sympatheticness test for our characters, how much they realize about Lady Alys’s true influence in Vorbarr Sultana.  I don’t recall if Falco Vorpatril had come up before, the actual Count; it seems a little weird to me that Ivan’s branch of the Vorpatrils, as close as they are to the Imperium, aren’t that close to the actual Count Vorpatril.  Also–once again, Ivan is let off the hook after he protests, and once again it bothers him; and By Vorrutyer is almost suspiciously helpful and well-informed.  Is Miles beginning to suspect him at this point?


Having already read a bit ahead, I can confidently say that two of my favourite scenes in the book are coming up in the next couple of chapters.  And other scenes as well, I’m sure, but there’s definitely something to look forward to next week, when the Vorkosigan Saga Reread returns…

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Happy New Year (for those of you following the Gregorian calendar, anyway), and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  This is the start of the fourth calendar year of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s exquisite Vorkosigan Saga, following Miles Vorkosigan and his friends, family and confederates through their adventures.  As the Christmas holidays draw to a close (for me, at least), I manage to persevere and to pull off two whole chapters this time–one of them a fairly unpleasant one, at that, as Miles’s dinner party turns into an unmitigated disaster.  Please join me for Chapters Nine and Ten of A Civil Campaign, if you dare…

Chapter Nine

Miles considers a number of potential outfits for the dinner party, rejecting his House and Imperial uniforms–briefly considering his Dendarii uniform, but afraid what Ivan and Illyan will say about it–before going back to his first choice, one of his normal gray Imperial Auditor suits.  Pym approves his choice, and Miles gets dressed, inspecting himself in the mirror and resisting the urge to pluck out gray hairs.

He goes the recheck the arrangements in the dining room, where he has carefully planned the seating so that Ekaterin is next to Miles, Kareen next to Mark, and Ivan in the middle far from either of them.  Lady Donna should be able to occupy all of Ivan’s attention anyway.  Miles recalls Ivan’s affair with Lady Donna, which he’d watched enviously, and Lady Alys had been quite disapproving of.  Of course, these days Lady Donna would still be able to have a child, no matter her age; he wonders if Lady Alys and Illyan are planning to have one, and makes a note to suggest it to Ivan at some appropriate moment–like when his mouth is full.  And on some other night.

Mark wanders in, dressed in black, and considers the place cards; Miles sternly warns him to leave them alone, and Mark asks if he can at least move Duv and Delia  farther away from him.  Miles says he needs to keep René Vorbretten next to Lady Alys, as a favour, and tells Mark he needs to be prepared to deal with Duv as part of the family, if he’s serious about Kareen.  Mark says that Duv must have mixed feelings about him.  Miles wonders how serious Mark really is about Kareen, and decides he should ask the Countess.

Pym announces the arrival of Alys and Illyan; Alys inspects the place settings, pronouncing a qualified approval but noting that the sexes aren’t matched–nine men and ten women–before going to talk with Ma Kosti.  Miles greets Illyan and asks if Alys has explained about Ekaterin to him.

“Yes, and Ivan had a few comments as well. Something on the theme of fellows who fall into the muck-hole and return with the gold ring.”

“I haven’t got to the gold ring part yet,” said Miles ruefully. “But that’s certainly my plan. I’m looking forward to you all meeting her.”

“She’s the one, is she?”

“I hope so.”

Illyan’s smile sharpened at Miles’s fervent tone. “Good luck, son.”

“Thanks. Oh, one word of warning. She’s still in her mourning year, you see. Did Alys or Ivan explain—”

He is interrupted by the announcement of the Koudelkas’ arrival, and goes to greet them in the library, Mark following him closely.  Armsman Roic brings out hors d’oeuvres and drinks, Mark talks to Kareen’s parents, and Illyan and Alys join them shortly thereafter.  Miles listens for the door, disappointed by the arrival of the Vorbrettens.  The next arrivals prove to be the Vorthyses and Ekaterin at last, and Miles eagerly goes to welcome them himself.

Ekaterin is wearing the Barrayar pendant he’d given her, and taking off garden gloves; she announces she’s just planted the first Barrayaran plan in his garden.  Miles says he’ll have to go see it later, and offers her his arm.  He escorts her to the library, where she is somewhat anxious, but he introduces her to the Vorbrettens, then to Alys and Illyan; she seems somewhat nervous at meeting the legendary former ImpSec head, but Illyan puts her at her ease, and seems to approve of her.

Enrique arrives, done up quite respectably, and shyly asks Ekaterin if she read his dissertation.  Ekaterin says most of it went over her head, and comments on the abstract being done in verse; Enrique says he’s sure she got most of it.  Miles notices that they’re using first names with each other, and that Ekaterin reacted to a compliment on her intelligence the way she never would on her appearance; he suddenly realizes that Enrique may be another rival for her affections.

Miles almost misses the announcement of Ivan and his guest, before realizing the Pym had said “Lord Dono” Vorrutyer…  He wonders why Ivan has pulled this last-minute substitution on him, and who this fellow is; mid-handshake the penny drops, and he smoothly asks if Lord Dono has been to Beta Colony.  As he introduces Dono to Ekaterin his mind begins to work through the implications of Dono’s change–obviously he hadn’t cloned Pierre after all.  Dono asks to discuss it with Miles at more length; Miles says that as an Imperial Auditor he has to remain neutral, but he recommends Dono talk to René Vorbretten, who also has a pending suit, as well as Professora Vorthys, who specializes in Barryaran political history, and Lady Alys and Simon Illyan.  Dono thanks him appreciatively and moves on.

Miles snags Ivan and asks if Gregor knows about Dono yet.  Ivan says he made sure of that right away, and Miles correctly guesses Gregor’s intent to “see what happens”.  Ekaterin asks what that was all about, and why Miles seems amused; Miles takes her aside and brings her up to speed on the Lady Donna/Lord Dono situation.  Miles admits he was caught off-guard, but in retrospect it makes an absurd sort of sense; Ekaterin objects mildly to the term ‘absurd’, and drifts towards where Dono is now surrounded with the Koudelka women.

Ivan returns to Miles, who twits him about his taste in dates; Ivan tells him how By Vorrutyer set him up.  Duv, Koudelka and Professor Vorthys join them; the women begin laughing, glancing at the men in amusement.  Miles decides that now is the time to serve dinner, to break this up before it gets too out of hand.  As they are leaving the library, though, Miles sees Mark and Ivan emerging from the dining room, where it emerges they have been reshuffling the carefully-ordered place settings.

All his carefully rehearsed conversational gambits were for people now on the other end of the table. Seating was utterly randomized—no, not randomized, he realized. Reprioritized. Ivan’s goal had clearly been to get Lord Dono as far away from himself as possible; Ivan now was taking his chair at the far end of the table by Mark, while Lord Dono seated himself in the place Miles had intended for René Vorbretten. Duv, Drou, and Kou had somehow all migrated Miles-ward, farther from Mark. Mark still kept Kareen at his right hand, but Ekaterin had been bumped down the other side of the table, beyond Illyan, who was still on Miles’s immediate left. It seemed no one had quite dared touch Illyan’s card. Miles would now have to speak across Illyan to converse with her, no sotto voce remarks possible.

Aunt Alys, looking a little confused, seated herself at Miles’s honored right, directly across from Illyan. She’d clearly noticed the switches, but failed Miles’s last hope of help by saying nothing, merely letting her eyebrows flick up. Duv Galeni found his future mother-in-law Drou between himself and Delia. Illyan glanced at the cards and seated Ekaterin between himself and Duv, and the accompli was fait.

Miles kept smiling; Mark, ten places distant, was too far away to catch the I-will-get-you-for-this-later edge to it.

After that, the dinner itself proceeds well enough; Ekaterin seems unconcerned with her ImpSec neighbours.  The menu seems a bit odd, though–a creamy soup, a creamy salad dressing, an aromatic herb spread for the bread…  Miles realizes that the meal is full of bug butter, and so does Ekaterin, though she determinedly pretends nothing is wrong.  Miles decides not to warn off his guests, though he avoids it himself.

Enrique gets up and taps on his glass to make an announcement.  He thanks Vorkosigan House for its hospitality, and says that he has a gift to give them in return, which fills Miles with dread.  Enrique takes out a box and sets it down next to Miles; the ImpSec men tense up, prepared for the worst.  He opens it, and it proves to contain three butter bugs, but changed; their carapaces are now adorned with a perfect replica of the Vorkosigan crest in brown and silver.  At Lord Dono’s puzzlement, Enrique explains the butter bugs, and how the bug butter they produce has been the basis for the food they’ve been eating.  He also says that the design was added genetically, and should breed true.  Pym seems quite distressed that the insignia he wears so proudly is now decorating repulsive insects; Miles tells him quietly that it wasn’t intended as an insult.

Miles tries his hardest to control his response; Ekaterin’s opinion is paramount, and from what he recalls of Tien, the man was probably given to displays of vicious temper.  He takes a deep breath and compliments Enrique’s talent, asking him to put the “girls” away for now; Ekaterin breaths a sigh of relief.  Enrique returns to his seat and happily tells his neighbours, the Vorbrettens, all about the bugs, but the rest of the conversation has ground to a halt.  Miles sends Pym to the kitchen for the next course, but asking him to check it for bug butter first.  What emerges is poached salmon garnished with lemon slices, instead of the buttery sauce that was doubtless meant to accompany it.

Ekaterin, trying to break the ice, asks Duv, as a Komarran in ImpSec, about his family’s opinion of his career; Duv, initially taken aback, merely replies that his new family approves of it.  Ekaterin picks up that she’s committed a faux pas, but doesn’t know what it is.  Koudelka changes the subject to the Komarran soletta repairs, which seems like a safer subject.  Before the conversation can get going again, though, everyone hears Enrique talking loudly to Kareen about how, with butter bug profits, she’ll surely be able to go back to the Orb of Unearthly Delights back on Beta Colony–again–with Mark.  Commodore Koudelka, obviously aware of the Orb’s reputation as a pleasure dome where almost everything was available for the asking, spews his mouthful of wine across the table and begins to choke.

Kou got just enough breath back to gasp at Mark, “You took my daughter to the Orb?”

Kareen, utterly panicked, blurted, “It was part of his therapy!”

Mark, panicked worse, added in desperate exculpation, “We got a Clinic discount . . .”

Galeni freezes at the news that Mark may be a prospective brother-in-law, and Koudelka begins to hyperventilate; Drou, who had gotten up to help her husband, deliberately sits back down, with a glare that conveys that they will discuss this later.  Lady Alys tries gamely to resume the soletta conversation, only to be interrupted by the arrival of a pair of kittens in the dining room, one of them carrying a Vorkosigan-liveried bug in its mouth.  Enrique tries to rescue it–too late–and Miles begins to wonder how the kitten managed to get hold of a butter bug, if they were all secured…  He asks Enrique and Mark, and Enrique, caught by a sudden thought, suddenly excuses himself and dashes away; Mark follows, and so does Miles, hastily instructing Lady Alys to take over as host.

In the laboratory, he finds Enrique kneeling by a butter bug house, its lid knocked askew, and only one brown-and-silver bug therein.  Enrique says the cats must have knocked it over–most of the bugs have escaped, close to two hundred.  Miles contemplates all the places a butter bug can hide, and says that at least they should all be neuter workers, since the queens can’t move.

“Um,” said Enrique.

Miles chose his words carefully. “You assured me the queens couldn’t move.”

Mature queens can’t move, that’s true,” Enrique explained, climbing to his feet again, and shaking his head. “Immature queens, however, can scuttle like lightning.”

Miles thought it through; it took only a split-second. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs all over Vorbarr Sultana.

There was an ImpSec trick, which involved grabbing a man by the collar and giving it a little half-twist, and doing a thing with the knuckles; applied correctly, it cut off both blood circulation and breath. Miles was absently pleased to see that he hadn’t lost his touch, despite his new civilian vocation. He drew Enrique’s darkening face down toward his own.

He gives Enrique an ultimatum–to get all the bugs back, including their queen, by six hours before his parents are due to return home, because after that he’s going to call in professional exterminators.  At Ekaterin’s shocked exclamation, he involuntarily releases Enrique’s collar, but Kareen steps forward to berate the Escobaran for mentioning the Orb.  Ekaterin assures Enrique that Miles can be reasonable, and offers to stay and help him hunt.  Miles, arrested by this unwelcome image, grudgingly agrees that, after dinner, they should all help look for the bugs, including the armsmen.

Mark offers to stay and help Enrique, but Kareen says that she refuses to deal with her parents and sisters all by herself.  Miles asks what Mark was doing, taking a young Barrayaran lady to the Orb in the first place.  Kareen calls Miles a hypocrite, since his grandmother said he’d been there several times; Miles insists that it was all for intelligence-gathering purposes.  He cuts off further argument by saying they should return to dinner, before Ma Kosti gets annoyed with them, and this shuts them up.

They return to the table, Pym serves more wine, and conversation is more-or-less successfully directed to the topic of the Emperor’s wedding, though Mark and Koudelka mostly just eye each other warily.  Ekaterin seems subdued, except for laughing at a few of Dono’s jokes.  After the main course, also bug-butter-free, the dessert proves to be a frozen creamy concoction; Pym tells Miles that Ma Kosti was already upset about her sauces, and refused to budge on the dessert.  Miles resolutely takes a spoonful, and is somewhat annoyed to find that it’s incredibly delicious; Ekaterin and Kareen seem especially delighted about this.

Miles has just finished a rousing anecdote about acquiring his District’s wedding gift–a life-size maple-sugar sculpture of a guerrilla–and is preparing to ask her a leading question about her garden, when Illyan innocently asks Ekaterin about how long Miles has been courting her.  Half the people at the table wince; Olivia says, confused, that she’d thought they weren’t supposed to talk about that yet.  Miles sees that Ekaterin’s face is freezing into stone; in a last-ditch effort, he asks her to marry him.

Ekaterin made no response at all, at first. For a moment, it seemed as though she had not even heard his words, and Miles almost yielded to a suicidal impulse to repeat himself more loudly. Aunt Alys buried her face in her hands. Miles could feel his breathless grin grow sickly, and slide down his face. No, no. What I should have said—what I meant to say was . . . please pass the bug butter? Too late . . .

She visibly unlocked her throat, and spoke. Her words fell from her lips like ice chips, singly and shattering. “How strange. And here I thought you were interested in gardens. Or so you told me.”

You lied to me hung in the air between them, unspoken, thunderously loud.

So yell. Scream. Throw something. Stomp on me all up and down, it’ll be all right, it’ll hurt good—I can deal with that—

Instead, she gets up from the table, bids farewell to her aunt, and walks quickly out of the room.  Miles follows her, catching her up in the entry hall, saying they need to talk.  Ekaterin agrees, then tells him she resigns as his landscape designer, though she will pass on her designs for whoever he picks to finish her garden–if a garden was what he wanted in the first place.  Miles says that he wanted the garden and to spend time with her, but he couldn’t tell her all of that, because she wasn’t close to being healed from Tien’s treatment of her.  Ekaterin flinches at the truth of that, but excoriates him for playing on her vanity.

“Not vanity,” he protested. “Skill, pride, drive—anyone could see you just needed scope, opportunity—”

“You are used to getting your own way, aren’t you, Lord Vorkosigan. Any way you can.” Now her voice was horribly dispassionate. “Trapping me in front of everyone like that.”

“That was an accident. Illyan didn’t get the word, see, and—”

“Unlike everyone else? You’re worse than Vormoncrief! I might just as well have accepted his offer!”

“Huh? What did Alexi—I mean, no, but, but—whatever you want, I want to give it to you, Ekaterin. Whatever you need. Whatever it is.”

“You can’t give me my own soul.” She stared, not at him, but inward, on what vista he could not imagine. “The garden could have been my gift. You took that away too.”

Miles wants to follow up this last statement, but a large groundcar is pulling up outside, and Ekaterin takes advantage of this distraction to insist that Pym let her out.  As Ekaterin turns to flee, she bumps directly into the early-returned Count Aral Vorkosigan.  He and Cordelia express concern at the young lady’s distress, assure her that they will call a cab for her directly, and ask Miles what is going on.  Miles says his dinner party is just breaking up; he tries to introduce Ekaterin to her, but is interrupted by Ekaterin’s abrupt retreat from the house.  The Koudelkas soon follow suit, insisting that Kareen come home with them, and stay out of Vorkosigan House, despite Kareen’s insistence that she works there; Mark tries to insist it’s his fault.

Commodore Koudelka’s eye fell on the returnees as the rolling altercation piled up in the hallway. “Ha—Aral!” he snarled. “Do you realize what your son has been up to?”

The Count blinked. “Which one?” he asked mildly.

The chance of the light caught Mark’s face, as he heard this off-hand affirmation of his identity. Even in the chaos of his hopes pinwheeling to destruction, Miles was glad to have seen the brief awed look that passed over those fat-distorted features. Oh, Brother. Yeah. This is why men follow this man—

Olivia is allowed to leave with the Vorbrettens instead, who try to sneak out quietly; Lord Dono makes a point of complimenting Miles on his interesting dinner party.  Enrique wanders into the entry hall, with some kind of unpleasantly-scented lure on a stick, searching for his bugs.

“Pym!” The Countess spotted a new victim, and her voice went a little dangerous. “I seconded you to look after Miles. Would you care to explain this scene?”

There was a thoughtful pause. In a voice of simple honesty, Pym replied, “No, Milady.”

“Ask Mark,” Miles said callously. “He’ll explain everything.” Head down, he started for the stairs.

Comments

Hoo boy, that was an ordeal.  It’s painful to read.  As I said before, when I first read the book, I was looking forward to this scene, getting all these characters together in one room–it would be a lot of fun.  Like one of those Emperor’s Birthday or Winterfair scenes from other books–which often had their share of unpleasantness, but nothing like the meltdown that happens here.  I guess that didn’t fit in with the plot, though.  Enrique and Illyan between them manage to say just the wrong things, bringing Miles and Kareen’s secrets to light–Kareen about the exact nature of her relationship with Mark, and Miles’s singularly unsecret campaign for Ekaterin’s heart.  In hindsight, of course, it’s inevitable, because in both cases the secrets have been shared so widely that almost everyone but the person/people that they were supposed to be secret from knew about them.

It’s almost a little off, that even Miles is judgemental about Mark and Kareen having a sexual relationship, or maybe it’s just that the Orb is taking it too far.  He should know that Mark hasn’t internalized a true Barrayaran value system–his upbringing by Ser Galen probably included a fair chunk of it, but I’m sure it didn’t thoroughly take.  The Koudelkas, of course, aren’t true Vor, but they probably wish they were, on some level, and prefer to emulate the true Vor value system as much as possible–like Bothari, everything has to be right for their girls.  It’s more than a little hypocritical for both of them, but as I recall we get to that a little later.

At some point in this chapter Miles thinks to himself that he was no good at poetry (apart from limericks), being much better at planning combat drop missions.  This obviously shows, because his campaign for Ekaterin is like one of those combat drop missions, where he tries to plan every detail, getting potential rivals out of the way (and sharing too much vital intelligence on the way), and then suddenly everything goes pear-shaped, just like Mark’s clone-rescue on Jackson’s Whole back in Mirror Dance.  Or, if I may venture into an entirely different mythos, like Phil Connors’s calculated attempts to woo Rita, over and over, in “Groundhog Day”.

At least this is the low point.  Miles and Mark’s love lives are as screwed up as they can get–but now Countess Cordelia is there, and she can help them untangle themselves.  Yes, I know, sometimes it seems a little pat, having her as the fix-it person, but right now it’s a positive relief…

Chapter Ten

Countess Cordelia wakes Mark up the next afternoon, bringing him tea, but not food.  Mark had sought refuge in Gorge and Howl last night after fleeing the party, eating his way through several tubs of bug butter.  Cordelia says that Miles sought his refuge, more traditionally, in wine, and they shouldn’t expect to see him again before evening.  Mark’s last memory of the party were Koudelka calling Mark’s grandmother a “Betan pimp” and Kareen refusing to ride home with “uncultured Barrayaran savages”.

Cordelia says she had a most enlightening conversation with the Vorthyses, particularly the Professora, who she wished she’d known earlier.  Simon Illyan was quite distraught at spilling the beans; he’d apparently thought that he’d forgotten something important that Miles had told him.  The Countess is annoyed at Miles for setting Illyan up like that, and also for not passing on more information about Ekaterin in his brief missives.  She had also had a talk with Enrique; she says his work seems sound, and she promised to keep Miles from killing his bugs.  They found a couple in their bedroom that morning, one of which got squished by accident, but neither of them was the queen.

She tells Mark she feels some responsibility for Kareen, being perfectly aware of what choices she would have available to her on Beta Colony.  She adds that she would be perfectly happy to have Kareen as a daughter-in-law, and that she trusts Mark’s intentions to be honorable.  Mark says he doesn’t think that the Koudelkas would be that keen to see him in the family.

“You are a Vorkosigan.”

“A clone. An imitation. A cheap Jacksonian knock-off.” And crazy to boot.

“A bloody expensive Jacksonian knock-off.”

Cordelia says she’s more than happy to help him and Kareen, if they can only tell her what it is they want.  Mark, cautious about what problems he aims his mother at, says that he wants what Kareen wants, but that seems to have gotten confused since their return to Barrayar.  He tells her that Kareen wants time to be herself, and Barrayar seems to be trying to push her into a box–even “wife” would be a box, here.  She asks what his own goals are, and if they’ve changed with his time on Beta.  Mark says his therapy has made progress, and it’s encouraged him; economics school was helpful, and he’s gotten some good ideas about what to do to make the Jackson’s Whole clone-body replacements less desirable, including some potential life-extension treatments the Duronas have come up with.

He’s pumping money into the Durona Group, but he wants enough to maintain financial independence as well, and so he’s looking into his “agribusiness” venture on Barrayar.  Cordelia notes that they could come in handy on Sergyar too, though she admits that they should remove the Vorkosigan crest before pitching them seriously to Aral.  Mark says that it’ll all come to nothing if he and Kareen can’t get back to Beta Colony.  He’d probably be able to pay her way back, but he doesn’t think that would be a good idea, putting her in his debt like that.  Cordelia finds that interesting, but points out that if they both give each other everything, then it evens out.

The Countess finished her tea and put down her cup, “Well. I don’t wish to invade your privacy. But do remember, you’re allowed to ask for help. It’s part of what families are all about.”

“I owe you too much already, milady.”

Her smile tilted. “Mark, you don’t pay back your parents. You can’t. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It’s a sort of entailment. Or if you don’t have children of the body, it’s left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.”

“I’m not sure that seems fair.”

“The family economy evades calculation in the gross planetary product. It’s the only deal I know where, when you give more than you get, you aren’t bankrupted—but rather, vastly enriched.”

Mark asks if she can help Miles; she says that’s more difficult, because she doesn’t know about the Ekaterin side of the equation.  She’s of the opinion that he dug his own hole, he’ll have to dig his way out.

After she leaves, Mark tries calling the Koudelka household on the comconsole, preparing various conversational gambits for whoever may answer, but it turns out they’ve blocked him entirely.

Ekaterin has somewhat of a hangover the day after the dinner party as well–with Pym topping up her wineglass, she was sure she’d drunk several times her usual two-glass limit.  At least it had given her the courage to run out.
She’s prepared all the notes on the Barrayaran garden, but she hesitates on the final act of sending it to Miles and closing off that chapter of her life entirely.  She ponders the model of Barrayar that Miles had given her, remembering the shopping trip on Komarr with its watery climax, and the way he’d awarded it to her in the transfer station.  She convinces herself that it was really an award, not a gift, because if it was a gift she should never have accepted it, and therefore she earned it, and doesn’t have to get rid of it.

She’d almost gone back to the garden and taken her skellytum rootling back out, but she’d been afraid of running afoul of Vorkosigan House security, who would likely have been quite embarrassed.  Miles didn’t care about it, in any case–after all, he hadn’t gone out to look at it, had he?  She’d carried it around long enough, it had survived enough mishaps and moves, and now she was done with it–she would leave it to its fate in the garden.  Though she does add an appendix about its requirements to the garden instructions.

Nikki thumps into the room, making her wince; she’s glad she hadn’t brought him along to the dinner party, where she might have been trapped, unable to retreat with him complaining about not having finished his dessert.  He asks if she’d settled on when she could go out to Vorkosigan Surleau and ride Miles’s horse, a topic which had come up during one of his visits to Vorkosigan House.  Miles had generously allowed Nikki to visit the house sometimes when Ekaterin had to bring him to work, playing with Armsman Pym’s son, and sometimes Armsman Roic, eating Ma Kosti’s food, even helping Kareen in the lab, and had made this offhand invitation at the end of one such day.  Now she wonders how calculated this invitation had been.

She tries to put Nikki off by telling him they can’t impose on him, and suggests they try somewhere closer if he wants to ride horses.  Nikki says that Miles offered to let him try flying his lightflyer on the way down, too; Ekaterin says he’s too young, but Nikki says that Miles first flew when he was younger than that.  He presses her to ask Lord Vorkosigan next time she goes to work, and finally she has to tell him that she quit her position.  When Nikki asks her why, she says it was an ethical issue.

“What? What issue?” His voice was laced with confusion and disbelief. He twisted himself around the other way.

“I found he’d . . . lied to me about something.” He promised he’d never lie to me. He’d feigned that he was very interested in gardens. He’d arranged her life by subterfuge—and then told everyone else in Vorbarr Sultana. He’d pretended he didn’t love her. He’d as much as promised he’d never ask her to marry him. He’d lied. Try explaining that to a nine-year-old boy. Or to any other rational human being of any age or gender, her honesty added bitterly. Am I insane yet? Anyway, Miles hadn’t actually said he wasn’t in love with her, he’d just . . . implied it. Avoided saying much on the subject at all, in fact. Prevarication by misdirection.

“Oh,” said Nikki, eyes wide, daunted at last.

Aunt Vorthys ushers Nikki out of the room, telling him his mother has a hangover, which is a concept he has some trouble getting his mind around.  She returns a while later with water and painkillers, which Ekaterin takes dutifully.  She says, mournfully, that it must have been the Count and Countess Vorkosigan last night, that she had bumped into and fled past.  Her aunt agrees, and says she had quite a nice conversation with them.  Ekaterin says they must think she’s a lunatic, the way she ran out like that.  But she can’t believe what Miles did to her, either.

Her aunt says that she didn’t have much choice but to run out–otherwise, she’d have had to answer Miles’s question.  Ekaterin is confused–wasn’t her departure answer enough?

“He knew it was a mistake the moment the words were out of his mouth, I daresay, at least judging from that ghastly expression on his face. You could see everything just drain right out of it. Extraordinary. But I can’t help wondering, dear—if you’d wanted to say no, why didn’t you? It was the perfect opportunity to do so.”

“I . . . I . . .” Ekaterin tried to collect her wits, which seemed to be scattering like sheep. “It wouldn’t have been . . . polite.”

After a thoughtful pause, her aunt murmured, “You might have said, `No, thank you.’ ”

Ekaterin rubbed her numb face. “Aunt Vorthys,” she sighed, “I love you dearly. But please go away now.”

She does realize, after her aunt leaves, that she was right–she hadn’t actually answered the question, and she hadn’t realized it.  She recognizes her feeling, heartsickness, all too familiar from her rows with Tien, the cold feeling after the argument broke down.  She doesn’t want to return to that state again.  She’s not sure who she is anymore, where her home could be.  She has felt moments of deep calm in Miles’s presence, and also extreme exasperation.  But she doesn’t trust her own judgement anymore.

She considers adding a note to the garden plans, but decides that just sending them will be message enough, and sends them without further ado, then goes to lie down.

After a day of sulking in his bed, Miles emerges in the evening, and enters the library to find his parents there.  He mumbles a greeting to them, and after a moment asks them about their trip home; his mother says it was quite uneventful, at least until their arrival.  She says they missed him at mealtimes that day; Miles says he spent a lot of time throwing up, which wouldn’t have been much fun.

The Countess added astringently, “Are you done with that now?”

“Yeh. It didn’t help.” Miles slumped a little further, and stretched his legs out before him. “A life in ruins with vomiting is still a life in ruins.”

“Mm,” said the Count in a judicious tone, “though it does make it easy to be a recluse. If you’re repulsive enough, people spontaneously avoid you.”

The Count asks Miles if he has any Auditing to do; Miles says no, fortunately for them.  Aral says that Alys gave them a heavily editorialized account of the dinner party, and says she hopes he wouldn’t have retreated from a losing battle the way he did last night.  Cordelia says that a woman running screaming from Miles’s marriage proposal isn’t a good sign, but from what she heard Miles didn’t leave her much choice.  She asks Miles how bad Ekaterin’s prior marriage was; Miles says that from what he could tell, Tien Vorsoisson played so many head games with his wife that she must have been half-convinced she was crazy, a type that Cordelia says she recognizes well.

He admits he panicked when Illyan spilled the beans, never wanting to ambush her like that.  He starts to explain his brilliant plan, to use her interest in gardens to keep her in proximity to him by hiring her to put one in the lot next door.

“Is that what that crater is,” said his father. “In the dark, from the groundcar, it looked as though someone tried to shell Vorkosigan House and missed, and I’d wondered why no one had reported it to us.”

“It is not a crater. It’s a sunken garden. There’s just . . . just no plants in it yet.”

“It has a very nice shape, Miles,” his mother said soothingly. “I went out and walked through it this afternoon. The little stream is very pretty indeed. It reminds me of the mountains.”

“That was the idea,” said Miles, primly ignoring his father’s mutter of . . . after a Cetagandan bombing raid on a guerilla position . . .

Miles suddenly remembers the skellytum Ekaterin said she’d planted, and panic briefly over what might have happened to it, before deciding it was just another reason she was mad at him.  Cordelia paraphrases his plan as trying to keep a destitute widow from other romantic opportunities by manipulating her purse strings, which Miles considers an uncharitable description.  He can’t believe she’d just quit working on the garden after all the time she’d devoted to it.

Cordelia reminds him of an incident from his youth, where he’d won a game of cross-ball against Armsman Esterhazy, his first win ever, only to find out later that Esterhazy had lost on purpose.  He’d been furious, and never forgiven the insult; Cordelia says that Esterhazy had done it to cheer him up, but Miles said it stole his victory from him, and poisoned any later victory he happened to achieve.  His mother lets this sink in for a few seconds.

The light dawned. Even with his eyes squeezed shut, the intensity of the glare hurt his head.

“Oh. Noooo,” groaned Miles, muffled into the cushion he jammed over his face. “I did that to her?”

His remorseless parent let him stew in it, a silence sharper-edged than words.

I did that to her . . .” he moaned, pitifully.

He realizes what she’d meant about the garden being her gift…he’d just been hoping they were finally getting into the real matter, so they could have a real argument…so that, as his father supplies, he could win.  Aral says you can’t win that war except by surrendering.  Miles said he tried to surrender; his mother points out that she wasn’t lowering herself to Miles’s level, and hopes that sometime they can actually properly meet this woman.  Miles says she sent the garden plans to him, no message or anything, and asks what he should do now.  Cordelia asks if she’s going to actually listen to his advice, because otherwise she won’t give it; Miles swallows his anger and humbly says that he’s listening.

Cordelia says he owes Ekaterin an apology.  He says Ekaterin won’t even talk to him, and she admits that he can’t go over to the Vorthys house in person, or even make a live comconsole call, without being too invasive.  She suggests he write a short note of apology, as abject as he can manage.  Handwritten, if he can make it legible, without having a secretary do it.

Miles says he doesn’t even have a secretary, since his workload hasn’t required it yet; Aral says that he can’t wish Miles had more problems to solve, and after all, solving the Komarr soletta problem should have earned him some time off.  Cordelia wonders what Ekaterin earned for her own contribution, and Miles grumbles that she should have earned the gratitude of the Empire, except that the whole thing has been classified.  She was heroic, she didn’t fold under the pressure, she did what she had to–and she doesn’t get the recognition for it.  Cordelia points out that everyone has some pressure they’ll fold under, it’s just not the same kind of pressure for everyone.

Miles heads out to water the skellytum, which takes him some time to find, and wonders if it’s hardy enough to survive out here.  He ponders what his life will be like when the skellytum is full-grown again–reclusive bachelor, or proud paterfamilias?  He heads back inside, determined to nail this damned “abject” if it kills him.

Comments

Professora Vorthys seems to be a wise woman too, someone who Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan gets along with instantly, with perhaps not quite the same uncanny insight, but good enough for a second-stringer, anyway.  (Do we ever find out her first name?  I can’t recall.)  I do think that Ekaterin has a point–fleeing indecorously from a marriage proposal should, probably, be considered a “no”, but I suppose that her aunt also has a point, in that Ekaterin has avoided actually saying anything one way or the other.

Cordelia’s shrewd comparison of Miles’s hiring of Ekaterin being like an adult intentionally losing a game to a child hits right to the heart of the problem with Miles’s plan.  The garden was never, really, Miles’s primary goal–that was, always, the conquest of Ekaterin’s heart.  He wasn’t planning to _lie_ to her, exactly, about anything, except perhaps his reasons for spending time with her.  Though he was also trying to present his best features to her, but that might be considered normal to someone one is dating, or courting.  Is it acceptable for an employer-employee relationship?  Perhaps–everyone wants to come off well, don’t they?  Admittedly, back on Komarr they had already gotten past that stage, to some extent–Ekaterin saw him in the throes of a seizure, she saw him chained up outside the Waste Heat Station, she saw him soaking wet in the pond.  So Miles was getting off track, trying to backpedal in his treatment of her, because he was beginning to see her a precious treasure to be won, rather than just a person that he was beginning to rely on.  Not someone it was important to tell only the truth, but someone whose inconvenient emotional baggage was an obstacle that needed to be worked around.  So, between Cordelia explicitly pointing out his mistake, and Ekaterin implicitly letting him know that he was way off base, Miles has been thrown off of that track.  Maybe he can start thinking of her as a person again…

As for Mark…he did, indeed, have some reservations about just offering to spring for Kareen’s schooling.  In some ways it would be the right thing to do, but it would only convey the proper message if they were both on the same page, relationship-wise.  And it can’t really be used to put them on the same page.  I’ve seen some real-world relationships where two people date, then live together, well enough, but then one of them has to move to another city for work…  If they both make the move together, then it seems that either they get engaged shortly thereafter, or they break up.  It’s a bit of a crucible for a relationship, it seems, and, with Kareen’s uncertainty about things since their return to Barrayar, Mark doesn’t know if it’ll work out for them any more.  Maybe Kareen is overreacting to the idea of being put in the “wife” box, which is doubtless one that means different things on Barrayar than it does on Beta Colony, and probably a little, or large, bit different for every culture everywhere; after all, she hasn’t even had Ekaterin’s bad experience to make her gun-shy, and I don’t see any evidence that she’s even heard Ekaterin’s horror stories about Tien.  But being back on Barrayar seems to be making her think of things in Barrayaran ways, even if on some level she may know that Mark doesn’t have that same level of indoctrination.  I confess, Kareen is the POV character I have the most trouble sympathizing with here, but maybe that’s because I can see inside Mark’s head and know how he feels about her.  Maybe Kareen knows that too, or maybe she doesn’t, and maybe I’m just being an ignorant straight white male here, but I keep feeling like she’s blowing everything out of proportion.  Except that she seems to have been bang-on about her parents’ reactions, of course…


Two chapters, hurrah!  Maybe things will pick up after this, and I can speed things up a little.  You can hope, anyway.  I’m not going to go so far as to make it a Resolution or anything, to do two chapters a week, but it could happen.  As long as they’re not too long…

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Sometimes good things come to those who wait…and sometimes they even appear early, without you have to wait quite as long after all, like this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I cover what may be one of the best chapters in this book, or maybe even the entire series…and the one before it, too.

Why early?  Well, it’s like this…one of the great things about having moved the weekly Reread posts to Wednesdays is that, after inevitably done absolutely nothing on it for the entire weekend, I can do one chapter on Monday, take a night off, then do the other chapter on Wednesday.  Whereas before I’d have to do Monday and Tuesday, two nights straight, which felt like more work somehow.  But what do I do when I have plans on Wednesday night?  Like this week?  That’s right, Monday and Tuesday.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.  Although I am wishing I hadn’t already squandered my single chapter…

Chapter Twenty-Four

Miles gives Gregor an update before the party, which makes them both late.  As they arrive, Gregor admonishes Miles to not appear too grim, or people will wonder what’s wrong; Miles echoes the sentiment, and manages to improve Gregor’s mood by reminding him of Laisa.  They find Laisa with Cordelia and Alys; once Gregor and Laisa are reunited, Cordelia urges Alys to go off and enjoy herself with Simon Illyan.  Gregor notes Illyan’s improvement with approval, which Cordelia credits to Alys as much as Miles.  Miles notices something different about Illyan’s clothing–apparently Alys has finally gotten him to go a tailor.
Miles spots Ivan, who’s squiring Martya Koudelka, but Ivan keeps being distracted by Delia, who’s sitting cozily on a couch hobnobbing with Duv Galeni.  Martya mutters that she’ll be glad when Delia finally picks someone, and she can stop living off her sister’s castoffs.  Miles asks Martya how long Duv & Delia has been going on, and she says Delia told her Duv was going to be the one a month ago.

“Um . . . and when did old Duv find out?”

“Delia’s working on it. Some fellows you have to hit with a brick to get their attention. Some you have to hit with a big brick.”

The dancing starts, and the couples head off to the ballroom; Miles manages a few dances with ladies who don’t mind his height, none of them available, then retreats to be a wallflower.  Ivan joins him briefly, and they see Illyan dance past with Lady Alys, astounding both of them with his skill.

A wisp of hair escaped Lady Alys’s elaborate beflowered coiffure, and she brushed it back from her forehead. The image of her en deshabille at breakfast burst in Miles’s memory, and he had the sudden sensation of being hit with a big brick. He choked on his own wine.

Good God. Illyan’s sleeping with my aunt.

Ivan asks him if he’s all right, and Miles says he’s fine, deciding he’ll let Ivan figure this one out by himself.  He heads for the buffet, where he encounters Galeni.  He mentions that he had been going to ask Delia; Galeni says that he had first checked whether Delia thought Miles was serious about her.  Miles asks Galeni if he’s serious, and Galeni says, “Deathly.”  She has the background, the connections, the brains, and the beauty.  Miles offers to put in a good word with Delia’s father, Commodore Koudelka, and Galeni asks Miles politely to not try to do him any more favours.  He’s learned from his earlier mistakes, and plans to propose to Delia on the ride home.

Miles heads back into the ballroom, leaning against the wall and going over the case in his head, until he realizes he’s starting to glower, and snags a dance with Laisa.  While mirror-dancing with her, he sees Galeni being accosted by an ImpSec colonel and two guards.  He moves to keep them out of Laisa’s view; Galeni seems quite angry, and Delia looks worried.  Then the colonel grabs Galeni’s arm, and when Galeni pulls free, one of the guards pulls out a stunner.  Miles excuses himself hastily from Laisa, telling her to go see Gregor, and goes to investigate.

Miles asks the colonel what’s going on, and the colonel tells him that Haroche has ordered Galeni’s arrest, and removing him immediately from the Imperial Residence.  Miles assures Galeni he has nothing to do with this, and wonders if it can be related to his case.  Martya and Ivan come over, and the guards begin to get more nervous; the colonel says that Haroche is on his way over, and Miles advises Galeni to go quietly.  Galeni asks Ivan to get Delia home, before she does anything foolish, and accompanies the guards down the corridor.

Around the corner, they throw Galeni against the wall and start frisking him; Miles forestalls Galeni’s response by admonishing them and telling them to treat him like a fellow officer.  Miles asks what the real charge is, and the colonel tells him it’s treason, which flabbergasts Miles and Galeni.  Miles tells Galeni to go along, and he’ll clear it all up with Haroche; Galeni accedes.
Miles returns to find Gregor, Laisa, Delia and Cordelia gathered to try to find out what’s going on.  Miles says he should have been informed, but all he knows is that ImpSec has arrest Galeni, though he doesn’t mention the charge in Laisa and Delia’s presence.  Haroche himself arrives then, and Gregor asks him to explain himself.  Haroche says he’s only just found out about a possible security risk in one of the guests in the Imperial Residence, and it was his first priority to assure the Emperor’s safety.

“Oh.” Gregor turned to Countess Vorkosigan, and made a vague frustrated gesture at Delia and Laisa. “Cordelia, would you . . . ?”

Countess Vorkosigan smiled very dryly. “Come, ladies. The gentlemen need to go talk.”

“But I want to know what’s going on!” protested Laisa.

“We can get it later. I’ll explain the system to you. It’s really stupid, but it can be made to work. Which, come to think of it, could also sum up a great many other Vor customs. In the meantime, we need to keep the show going out there” — she nodded toward the reception rooms — “and repair what damages we can from this, ah” — a sharp glance at Haroche, which should have made him wince — “unfortunate exercise in caution.”

Haroche, Miles and Gregor move to Gregor’s office; Haroche says he has copies of the report for both of them.  Haroche leads them to the main point of the security report, where they found that the retina scan on Miles’s faked visit was an older copy, from before his cryo-revival, which made some perceptible changes.  It could only have been done physically on the actual machine itself.  The changes to the admittance log, though, were done over the network, through Guy Allegre’s comconsole, and it originated from Galeni’s machine.

Miles points out that Galeni’s machine doesn’t mean the man himself; Haroche says that they can’t fast-penta Galeni, so they may have to settle for circumstantial evidence.  He reminds Miles that Galeni’s father was involved with the original Komarran plot, and Miles’s own clone-brother killed Galeni’s father.  He also mentions the resentment from Miles’s recent interference in Galeni’s courting of Laisa, quoting Galeni’s exact description of Miles on his first call.  Miles says it was to his face, not to his back, and asks how Haroche got that message; Haroche admits that the public Vorkosigan House comconsoles have been routinely monitored for decades.

Miles insists that he can’t believe in Galeni’s guilt, that he’d through away all his hard work like that.  Haroche encourages him to look over the reports, saying he’s not happy to find disloyalty among ImpSec personnel.  Haroche leaves, and Miles heads home as well, not wanting to have to answer questions right now.  In the groundcar, he is struck with another seizure, and comes to to find a panicked Martin leaning over him, and blood in his mouth from bitten tongue and lip.  He tells Martin to take him home, since he’s going to need some time to recover and then to look over the report before he can be of any help to Galeni.  The doctors are right–the seizures being triggered by stress will make him unfit for any sort of active duty.

Comments

So now the Duv and Delia relationship is established, as well as the Alys and Simon Illyan one–at least Miles has figured them out, even if Ivan is still a little slow on the uptake.  Not sure why Simon and Alys are being so coy about theirs, but I guess they’re worried about people’s reactions…particularly Ivan’s, I’d imagine.  I don’t think Duv and Delia are a Great Romance or anything, but they seem to have compatible goals, at least, so they’ll make a good partnership.

So Duv Galeni was the traitor all the time, eh?  Who’d have thought it?  I guess he just snapped or something.  …Yeah, I didn’t buy it either.  Don’t worry, next chapter will lead us to the real culprit.

Also…liked Martya’s “big brick” reference…followed by the big brick hitting Miles when he finally figures out what’s going on with Alys and Simon.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Miles wakes up the next morning with a postseizure hangover, and wonders if the symptoms are getting worse as time goes on, or if it’s just that the rest of his life is improving.  He spends the morning going over Haroche’s report, whose data is scanty but almost more convincing because of it.  He finds little to help Galeni, who’s being held at ImpSec “on suspicion”, a disturbingly indefinite state.  He does go to ImpSec to meet with Dr. Weddell, who is anxious to go home; he confirms that the sample the exact same prokaryote used against Illyan.  Now he also knows that it was never intended to be swallowed; it was packaged into sporelike capsules designed to be dispersed into the air and dissolve on moist mucous membranes.  They would only briefly be visible into the air, and would be odourless, but would hang around in the air for several minutes.

Haroche calls and asks Miles to stop in, and Miles releases Weddell to go home.  He tells Haroche he hasn’t changed his mind, and gives him a copy of Weddell’s report.  Haroche says that of the other Komarran Affairs analysts, two had no knowledge of the sample, and the other two had no perceptible motivation.  Miles points out it’s still circumstantial, and Haroche agrees; he asks if it’s possible Miles could somehow elicit a confession from Galeni, and Miles says he still doubts Galeni is guilty.  Haroche says it will then inevitably have to proceed to a court-martial.  Miles says he doesn’t want some military court guessing about the verdict; he wants to keep looking for other possible culprits.  Haroche protests that that amounts to a witch-hunt, tearing ImpSec apart.

“If you have nothing more concrete to offer, I’m ready to lay the charges and let the court-martial sort it out.”

You can lay the charges, but I’ll not light the fuse. . . “I could decline to close my Auditor’s case.”

“If the court-martial convicts, you’ll have to close it, my lord.”

No, I won’t. The realization made him blink. He could keep his Auditor’s inquiry open forever if he so chose, and there wasn’t a damned thing Haroche could do about it. No wonder Haroche was being so exquisitely polite today. Miles could even veto the court-martial. . . .

But he realizes that the greatest qualification for being an Auditor must be probity, so he should refrain from mucking around too much with his powers.  Haroche recognizes Miles’s reluctance, and offers to downgrade the charge from treason to assaulting a superior officer–a short prison term and a dishonourable discharge rather than the death sentence.  Miles still isn’t sure, since this will wreck Galeni’s future career, not to mention not doing Komarran relations any good.

Haroche then changes the subject, saying that he had another reason for calling Miles up.  He’s been looking at Miles’s medical records, and thinks the controller-seizure device treatment sounds promising.  He tells Miles how he’s been impressed at how he worked with Illyan over the years, and the records he’s been reading about Miles’s career, and he thinks Miles’s discharge was a mistake.  He’d like to work with the Dendarii Mercenaries again, and rather than work with an offworlder like Elli Quinn, he’d prefer to reinstate Miles.

He had to swallow, in order to breathe. “Everything . . . to be as it was before? Take up where I left off?” The Dendarii . . . Admiral Naismith . . .

“Not exactly where you left off, no. By my calculations you were about two years overdue for your promotion to captain, for one thing. But I think you and I could be a team just as you and Illyan were.” A small twinkle lit Haroche’s eye. “You will perhaps forgive me my touch of ambition if I say, maybe even better? I’d be proud to have you on board, Vorkosigan.”

Miles sat stunned. For a moment, all he could think, idiotically, was I’m sure glad I had that seizure last night, or I’d be rolling on this carpet again right now. “I . . . I . . .” His hands were shaking, his head exploding with joy. Yes! Yes! Yes! “I’d . . . have to close this case first. Give Gregor back his choke-chain. But then . . . sure!” His injured lip split again as it stretched, painfully, into an unstoppable grin. He sucked salt blood from it.

“Yes,” said Haroche patiently, “that’s exactly what I’ve been saying.”

Miles, despite the joyous visions in his mind, is suddenly uncertain, and he asks Haroche for some time to think about it.  Haroche agrees, but asks him not to take too long, since he already has a potential mission in mind.  He heads back to Vorkosigan House, somehow feeling like he’s retreating, and ends up fleeing to the small room on the fourth floor.  He realizes that he was kidding himself about how much he’d gotten over the loss of Admiral Naismith.  The Naismith part of him wants to accept the offer, to be reunited with Elli and Taura and the others, but the other part of him whispers that the price seems to be sacrificing Galeni, and letting Haroche get back to running ImpSec without Auditorial interference.

What if Galeni’s really guilty?  Can he really doubt his own character judgement that much?  He remembers the jump-pilot that he’d ordered Bothari to interrogate, back at the beginning of Naismith’s career, and who’d ended up dying; does he need to sacrifice another life now to go back to the Dendarii?  He suddenly remembers Haroche’s expression after he made the offer, and realizes that Haroche knew exactly what he was doing–he was, essentially, offering Miles a bribe.  He begins to realize how much he’s been underestimating Haroche, despite the knowledge that Illyan had appointed him to such a high ImpSec post.  Haroche must have felt sure that Miles would bite, especially with the captaincy thrown in.

Haroche certainly had no trouble figuring out where my on-switch was located. But Haroche was a loyal weasel, Miles would swear, loyal to Gregor and the Imperium, a true brother in arms. If money meant anything to the man, Miles had seen no hint of it. His passion was his ImpSec service, like Illyan himself, like Miles too. The work he had taken over from Illyan.

Miles’s breath stopped; for a moment, he felt as frozen as any cryo-corpse.

No. The work Haroche had taken away from Illyan.

Oh.

He suddenly realizes the motive, to get Illyan out of the picture, was just to allow Haroche to move into his job.  Haroche could easily have planted all of the evidence in the computer systems–who better?  Despite his conviction, though, he has no proof.  He could just accuse him out of the blue, but if he tipped his hand too soon, Haroche doubtless had other resources to marshall to get him out of the picture.  Even if he refused Haroche’s bribe, that might be enough to make him suspicious.  So he could take the bribe, and bide his time…but, he realizes, Haroche is probably not as enamoured of Admiral Naismith as he pretends, and he would be just waiting for the opportunity to bump Miles off untraceably.

His mother knocks on the door, and she and Illyan ask if he’s all right, because they’d heard him thumping around, and wondered if he was having a seizure.

He fought to keep his words even. “Just . . . wrestling with temptation.”

Illyan’s voice came back, amused. “Who’s winning?”

Miles’s eye followed the cracks in the plaster, overhead. His voice came out high and light, on a sigh: “I think . . . I’m going for the best two falls out of three.”

Even if he could trust Haroche, he thinks after they’ve left him alone, Haroche has only tempered his offer for Miles Naismith–he doesn’t know Lord Vorkosigan, which isn’t surprising since Miles hardly does, either.  Miles realizes he’s sick of trying to figure out what Haroche expects him to do.  What else can he do, though?

Who are you, boy?

. . . Who are you who asks?

On the thought a blessed silence came, an empty clarity. He took it at first for utter desolation, but desolation was a kind of free fall, perpetual and without ground below. This was stillness: balanced, solid, weirdly serene. No momentum to it at all, forward or backwards or sideways.

I am who I choose to be. I always have been what I chose . . . though not always what I pleased.

He lingers in his newfound serenity, choosing to be himself, and Haroche’s spectre dwindles.  He realizes that Haroche is likely to balk at actually having him killed, just yet, because that would draw the wrong kind of attention.  Galeni, on the other hand, is at high risk of a staged Vorish suicide, a supposed confession of guilt.

As soon as Haroche knew Miles knew, it would be a race against time. And all Miles had was a trail of mirrors and smoke.

Smoke.

Air filters.

Miles’s eyes widened.

Comments

This is the chapter.  This.

The detective realizes who the criminal is…but has no proof.  Nonetheless, he can now construct the entire chain of events, and everything fits together.  In case there was any doubt that at least one plotline in the book is a mystery–not quite a murder, but close to–that should be gone by now.

And yet, integrated with this scene is Miles wrestling with his own identity.  He realizes that he’s no longer the person that Haroche is trying to bribe, the one at the beginning of the book, who would have leapt at the chance to be reinstated.  Admiral Naismith is not completely gone, but he’s losing ground to Lord Vorkosigan, who can’t sacrifice a probably-innocent man, Duv Galeni, even to regain his heart’s desire.  So that’s Miles’s advantage, that Haroche doesn’t have his measure anymore, because he doesn’t realize how Miles has changed.  Of course, if Miles had been more willing to throw Galeni to the wolves, I’d be willing to bet that Haroche wouldn’t even have broached the subject of reinstatement…he only needed it as the bribe.

Miles’s epiphany, or revelation, or satori, or whatever he does, seems to hinge on a realization that he doesn’t have to choose to be a particular thing, and then try to shoehorn himself into it.  Which is good, because he’s rarely done that.  Was it just since the cryo-revival, when he had to try harder to be Admiral Naismith because it was slipping away from him?  Well, I’m sure he’ll fall back into that trap from time to time, because unless you live on a mountaintop somewhere you keep having to deal with a world that wants to put you in a box.

Sounds like a perfect qualification to being an Imperial Auditor, doesn’t it?


Tune in next week for…the Final Confrontation!  Good vs. Evil!  And something about air filters!

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You’re standing at a fork in the road; a man stands before each fork, one of which always tells the truth, the other of which always lies.  Also, you’re not wearing any pants.  Suddenly you wake up and discover that it’s time, once again, for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  It’s like a dream come true!  Yes, before your eyes is a skillful summation and insightful commentary of two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, as Lord Miles Vorkosigan works on solving the mystery of what happened to Simon Illyan’s memory chip.  And just think, all you need to do is read it…

Chapter Twenty-Two

Miles hangs around in Haroche’s office all day, mostly kibitzing, which Haroche endures patiently.  They won’t hear anything back from their galactic enquiries for weeks, but Miles doesn’t want any possible lead overlooked.  When they exhaust all their leads, Miles and Haroche wonder if Miles should go to Jackson’s Whole himself, with all of his experience dealing with Jacksonian Houses.  Miles briefly entertains the possibility of commandeering a fleet with his Auditor’s credentials, but decides against it.  He thinks there’s still something to be found somewhere in ImpSec.  He leaves the office and wanders around ImpSec, poking his head into all sorts of crannies he’s never needed to know about, and this turns into a systematic top-to-bottom survey of the entire building.

He left behind a trail of disruption and dismay, as every department head frantically searched his conscience for a reason why the Imperial Auditor might be visiting him. Ha. Guilty, every one of ’em, Miles thought dryly. Several made a point of explaining their budgetary expenditures in what Miles felt was excessive detail, though one blurted out a wholly unasked-for defense of his recent galactic vacation. Watching these normally closemouthed men babble in panic was highly entertaining, Miles had to admit. He led them on with lots of well-timed neutral noises, like “Um,” and “Hm?”, but it seemed to bring him no closer to formulating his right question.

He could have kept it up around the clock, but he decides to err on the side of thoroughness, and goes home to sleep instead.  The presence of so much household staff at Vorkosigan Staff inspires him to return to work early, starting by meeting with Gregor.  Gregor has already been brought up to speed about Avakli’s report and Haroche’s inquiries; he expresses concern over Illyan’s condition.  Miles says it seems to him like Illyan is mostly just out of practice at paying attention.  He tells Gregor that he is happier with Haroche now; he seems to be on the ball, and learns from his mistakes.  Miles just wishes he had some handle to grasp at this problem with; he asks Gregor if he’s sure he doesn’t want a real Auditor on the case.  Gregor asks if Miles wishes to be relieved; Miles thinks about it, and says he just wants to offer Gregor the option, but Gregor doesn’t take it.

Alys and Laisa arrive, brightening up Gregor’s morning, and Miles says he doesn’t have anything else to report.  Laisa expresses ambiguous sympathies for Illyan–as a Komarran, he had a legendary reputation, but turns out to be just a man after all.  Laisa says she really came to invite Miles to a reception for her and Gregor’s friends next week, and asks Miles if he has a “young lady” to bring.  When he says he doesn’t, he senses that she’s hoping to share her happiness by trying to match him up, but she seems content to leave that until later, to consult with Lady Alys.  Gregor asks Alys to bring Illyan with her to a lunch they’re having with her and Cordelia, and Alys agrees, saying that she finds Simon’s conversations rather interesting now that they’re not principally reports.

Miles returns to his inspection of ImpSec, somewhat baffled by Cryptography, overwhelmed by Finance, and fascinated by Housekeeping and Physical Plant, where they are all too eager to show him the intricacies of the building once they learn he’s genuinely interested.  He’s impressed at the security and attention to detail, each room having a private filtration system, sufficient to keep microbes or poison gases from spreading throughout the building; the janitorial staff are all soldiers, well-paid and proud of their work.  Miles crawls through a few ducts, noting that they’re even video-monitored, basking in the camaraderie until it begins to remind him of the loss of the Dendarii.

He knocks off early, has dinner with his mother and Illyan, and chats about Sergyar; the next day, he pesters Haroche until Haroche suggests sending him to Jackson’s Whole again, and then resumes his tour.  He spends time in Analysis, talking with Galeni and the other analysts, including those working on other problems, and discussing the impending wedding with Guy Allegre.  Finally, as Miles had planned, he arrives at the Evidence Rooms last thing in the afternoon–a converted dungeon from Mad Emperor Yuri’s days, now filled with documentation, weapons, drugs, biological samples, and more bizarre items.  He plans to browse the weapons room, perhaps spend some time with the crossbow and soltoxin gas canisters responsible for his physical deformities.

The sergeant at the front desk is a little nervous at Miles’s presence, and Miles assures him he just wants to sign in and take a tour.  The sergeant is puzzled to find that Miles is listed as not cleared to enter, which turns out to be Haroche’s revocation of his access from earlier.  Miles encourages him to call Haroche and clear the matter up, which he does.  Miles is idly browsing the history of the times he’s visited the Evidence Rooms before, reminiscing, when he notices the last date is listed as twelve weeks ago–the day he’d returned to the planet, finding Illyan out of town, and the time being while he was walking home.

His eyes widened, and his teeth snapped shut. “How . . . interesting,” he hissed.

“Yes, my lord?” said the sergeant.

“Were you on duty that day?”

“I don’t remember, my lord. I’d have to check the roster. Um . . . why do you ask, sir?”

“Because I didn’t come down here that day. Or any other day since year before last.”

This is the loose end he’s been looking for, Miles suspects.  He tells the sergeant to summon Ivan Vorpatril, who arrives with alacrity from the other side of Vorbarr Sultana.  Ivan tells Miles he’s looking gleeful and manic, and Miles says that somebody has hacked ImpSec internal security records to lie about him.  Not only was the entry to the Evidence Rooms recorded, but Miles’s departure time from the building has been altered to match, and the video records of the day have gone missing.  He supposes that this could be unconnected with the memory chip sabotage, but he wouldn’t bet on it.  He tells Ivan to cancel their dinner plans, and puts him in charge of the Evidence Rooms, which he’s declaring sealed to anyone that he doesn’t personally authorize.

He asks the lieutenant in charge of the rooms about their inventory procedures, and is told that they do physical inventory once a month, and nothing has come up missing in the last year.  Miles tells Ivan to requisition some security-cleared men from Ops, unconnected with ImpSec in any way, to come in and help him inventory the Evidence Rooms.  Miles himself will stay out of it, in case there’s any suspicion that he tampered with anything, and he has witnesses that he hasn’t entered it that day.  He then takes the Evidence Room staffers with him and heads to Haroche’s office.

Haroche is unhappy to find out about the tampering, but asks Miles if he has witnesses to his walk home; Miles says he’s tolerably noticeable, and he’s sure that the police could find a witness if they tried, but also points out that, as an Imperial Auditor, he doesn’t need to alibi himself.  Miles sends the Evidence staffers outside, with strict instructions to stay put, then asks Haroche how he wants to deal with the evident mole in ImpSec.  They could shut down the whole facility until it’s been audited by outsiders, but he admits that would be a major inconvenience, but having it checked by staffers risks having the mole able to cover his own trail.  Haroche suggests assembling teams of three or more, chosen at random, to minimize chances that they’d all be moles, to check things a section at a time.  Miles supports the idea.

Haroche says he hates internal investigations, because they always turn out ugly.  Miles is still puzzled at the evidence room tampering, though–it seems like an attempt to frame him, but backwards.  It may have even been planted before Miles became an Auditor, when, as a recently-fired junior officer, he might have seemed the ideal target.

Haroche shook his head in wonder. “You confound me, Lord Vorkosigan. I believe I’m finally beginning to understand why Illyan always . . .”

“Why Illyan what?” Miles prodded after a long moment.

A lopsided smile lightened Haroche’s heavy face. “Came out of your debriefings swearing under his breath. And then promptly turned around and sent you out again on the stickiest assignments he had.”

Comments

I’m always amused when Miles’s plumbing experience is alluded to, even indirectly, as it is here.  I suspect the whole thing about the video recordings of the ducts is significant, but I can’t remember how just now; I know that the air-filtering system is, and I remember how.

Finding the extra log entry is a stroke of luck for Miles, or perhaps just a reward for being thorough.  Would he have noticed it if it hadn’t been for the delay caused by Haroche’s having locked him out earlier?  Possibly not, and who knows when it would have surfaced then?

The little scene with Gregor and Laisa seems to interrupt the flow of the chapter somehow, and doesn’t seem to come to much–I don’t remember the dance being that significant, or Laisa’s matchmaking impulses, or anything much except a little more of the growing Alys & Illyan relationship.  But I guess it is a reminder that Laisa and Gregor and Alys are still out there, while the action shifts to the heart of ImpSec HQ.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Ivan and his team check the Weapons rooms first, scheduling the Biologicals rooms for last in hopes they won’t have to do them at all.  In the wee hours of the morning, Ivan finds something in Weapons IV.

“I’m in a Weapons Room, right?” Ivan demanded, waving his inventory sheaf of plastic flimsies.

Miles tore his attention away from the chemical description of the nine-hundred-and-ninth item in alphabetical order in the Poisons Room: Ophidian Scrapings, Polian, Three Grams. “If you say so.”

“Right. So what’s a little box labeled ‘Komarran virus’ doing on Aisle Five, Shelf Nine, Bin Twenty-Seven? What the hell is it, and shouldn’t it be in Biologicals? Did somebody misclassify it? I’m not unsealing the damned thing till you find out what it is. It might make me break out in green fungus, or bloat up like those poor suckers with the Sergyaran worm plague. Or worse.”

It is on the Weapons Room list, but Miles agrees that it’s suspicious.  He pulls up its record, using his Auditor’s seal to satisfy its requirement for top-level security clearance, and begins to read it.  He quickly realizes that this isn’t actually a “weapon”, per se, nor a virus; it’s a “bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote”–the same microbes used against Illyan’s memory chip.  He and Ivan read the record together, which tells that it has been sitting on the shelf for five years, taken from Komarran terrorists in Vorbarr Sultana–terrorists associated with Ser Galen, Mark’s creator and Duv Galeni’s father.  Ivan asks if Mark could be involved with this, but Miles says Mark has been on Beta Colony for months, and the odds that he would have tried to pretend to be Miles are very slim, considering how much weight he’d have to lose, and how little Mark wants to be mistaken for his brother any more.  But he’ll have ImpSec double-check to reassure themselves, since they’re watching Mark on Beta anyway.

The microbes were created on Jackson’s Whole all right, and were intended to target Illyan as part of the overall plot which also included Count Aral Vorkosigan’s assassination at Mark’s hands.  ImpSec has already traced the prokaryotes to their creators, and Miles wonders how long it’ll take for them to realize that they’re trying to track down the same substance again.  He says that the fame was supposed to work the other way around–the prokaryotes were supposed to lead the investigators to the Evidence Rooms, which would lead to finding Miles’s fabricated visit, and making him a suspect.

Miles tries calling Dr. Weddell, but he’s not answering his comconsole, so Miles send the Imperial Guards to drag him down to ImpSec HQ instead.  By dawn Miles has assembled his team to enter the rooms.  A forensics expert examines the prokaryote container for fingerprints, but reports that it’s been moved a few times, and none of the prints are fresh; its sensors indicate it hasn’t been removed from the room, and there’s no hairs or fibers.  Ivan unlocks the box and opens it.  According the records there were six small capsules in the container originally, with one taken out and destroyed in testing five years ago.  But there are only three capsules in the box now.

“You mean,” moaned Weddell, “I racked my brains for a week reassembling that damned crap, and a whole undamaged sample was sitting downstairs all that time?”

“Yep.” Miles grinned. “I hope you like irony.”

“Not at this hour of the morning.”

The forensics man notes that the box’s lock was not forced open; Miles tells him to give it a full examination, and sends Ivan along with instructions to never let it out of his sight.  He tells Weddell to take one more capsule and confirm that it’s the same stuff that did for Illyan’s chip; no one but he is to touch the sample, and he will report to nobody but Miles himself; the other two go back on the shelf, locked under Auditor’s seal.

Haroche has actually gone home for the night, so Miles has to wait for his return to bring him up to speed on the events of the night.  Haroche says there’s no more chance it’s anything but an inside job.  They make a list of people who might have known about the sample–those who retrieved it, the Evidence Rooms staff, and their friends, plus the Komarrans and their friends…still a long list, but shorter than the entire population of the Empire.  Haroche also asks about Mark, and Miles gives him the same answer.  Miles says they can limit the list to those who knew about the weapon and also had recent access to ImpSec’s systems, but Haroche points out that there could be more than one working together.

Miles wonders about the motivations, why they tried to frame him–was he the only disgruntled employee in the right time-frame?  Haroche says speculating on motivations is too slippery, and best left for the post-mortem.  Miles says that whoever did this had to provide a scapegoat, a guilty party, because otherwise the search would continue until it found him.

“Three days.” Haroche smiled crookedly. “You went through all of ImpSec in just three days.”

“Not all of ImpSec, just the headquarters building. And it was more like four days. Still . . . somebody must be squirming. I hope. If they meant to hook ex-Lieutenant Vorkosigan, and instead got Lord Auditor Vorkosigan . . . it must have felt like putting in your line for a trout, and pulling up a shark. I may have arrived just in time downstairs after all. Given the several more weeks of lead time he was expecting, our assassin might well have thought to yank his plant in the evidence room and try something else. God, I’d love to know.”

Miles wonders who at ImpSec might have cause to hate him; the only one he can think of is Vorberg, and imaging him taking down Simon Illyan to get at Miles seems too twisted.  Haroche praises Miles for what he’s accomplished, calling it a good, solid lead.  Haroche wishes they could just fast-penta ImpSec people, but too many of them have the induced allergy; Miles says it’s too early to contemplate old-fashioned torture.  He says he’s going to get some sleep while they investigate the faked data and the forensic evidence.

Back at Vorkosigan House, he finds his mother, reading the Imperial Wedding history book, and asks where he can find Illyan.  Cordelia says he’s just sent for breakfast, and Lady Alys is with him; Miles surmises that she came by to drop off the book.  He goes up to Illyan’s quarters and knocks.

Pym had not lingered to serve the breakfast, it appeared, because instead of the retainer opening it, Illyan’s voice finally floated through the wood: “Who is it?”

“Miles. I have to talk to you.”

“Just a minute.”

The minute became two or three or four, as he leaned against the door frame and scuffed his boot on the patterned carpet. He knocked again. “C’mon, Simon, let me in.”

“Don’t be so impatient, Miles,” his aunt’s voice admonished him firmly. “It’s a bit rude.”

Eventually Lady Alys opens the door and greets him cheerfully; she’s wearing a dinner gown and her hair is loose, and Illyan is still getting dressed.  He tries to send Lady Alys away before giving Illyan the news, but she refuses to leave, and Illyan insists she stay.  So Miles briefs both of them on the night’s activities, Lady Alys approving her son’s achivements.  He asks Illyan if he remembers anything about the Komarran plot; Illyan mostly remembers the events on Earth, but has no memory of the prokaryote’s existence being reported to him, presumably lost with the rest of the memory chip.

He asks if Duv Galeni has been asked about it, since his father was involved in the plot.  Miles says he hasn’t brought Galeni up with Haroche yet, because he’s sure he’ll show up on the list eventually, but he doesn’t want to point Haroche in Galeni’s direction.  Illyan wonders if he’s leaping to conclusions, but Miles says he knows Galeni better than that.  Miles asks Illyan if he remembers taking a small brown capsule, and Illyan is positive that he doesn’t remember it, not even from his own doctor.  Miles heads off to bed before he incapacitates himself any further.  He awakens in midafternoon, checks on Weddell, who reports no progress.  Ivan calls, saying the forensics examination is finished and asking to be relieved to go home now; Miles guiltily authorized him to take it back to Evidence and then get some sleep.

Later that day, Dr. Chenko calls him to say they’ve prepared the seizure-triggering device, and want to know when he can have it implanted.  Miles says it’s not a good time right now, since there’s so much going on; Dr. Chenko warns him to avoid stress, as another seizure may be building up.  After signing off from the call, Miles remembers that this is the night of Laisa’s party, and he should, luckily, be able to attend.  He calls Delia Koudelka to ask if she’s free that night, but she says she’s busy…as, alas, are her sisters, leaving Miles obliged to attend on his own.

Comments

Oh, now I remember what’s happening with Laisa’s party.  But the party itself will have to wait for the next chapter.  Any guesses who Delia’s date is?  Miles is clueless, of course, as he is to most of the romantic undercurrents in this book.  For instance, Lady Alys is having breakfast with Illyan, wearing last night’s clothes, and they take a few minutes to answer the door, and it goes right over his head.  I guess Lord Vorkosigan really is on the verge of sexlessness.

I’m not sure if the prokaryote sample was deliberately misfiled in Weapons, or if it was a mistake, or if it was somehow considered the right place to put it at the time.  Either way, it’s an oddity, which is of course why Ivan eventually managed to notice it there.  It can’t really have been planted there for the Illyan attack, though, if it hasn’t been taken out in five years…unless someone was canny enough to tamper with the records to backdate its movement to the Weapons room.  And did Illyan really forget being briefed about it…or did it somehow get omitted from the briefing entirely?  Did someone manage to hide its very existence from Illyan, and hence from anyone who could told him?  It’s all highly suspicious…so things are going to have to come to a head soon.  Possibly more than one.


Six chapters left, three weeks…with luck, that’ll leave my week off just in time for the weekend I’m gone for a convention.  The plot’s gotta wrap up soon, as all good things must come to an end, and sometimes they even have a denouement.

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The night was hot.  Hot and humid.  The night was…sultry.  From the cool depths of the basement, a torrent of bashing keys finally subsided, signaling that another week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread was about to burst forth onto the Internet.  Two more chapters of Memory, from Lois McMaster Bujold’s saga of Miles Vorkosigan, were going to be laid bare, dissected and displayed for all to see, like a dead butterfly, or maybe a prokaryote under a microscope.  On the other hand, maybe it won’t be that bad.

Chapter Twenty

Days pass, and still no sign of any deliberate sabotage on the chip.  Haroche seems to be relaxing, and Miles can’t blame him, when nobody seems to have been trying to take advantage of Illyan’s absence, and the transition of power has gone smoothly.
Not ready to face his mother’s return quite yet, Miles proposes an outing to Vorkosigan Surleau with Illyan, so he can work up his courage, and Illyan can be far from potential urban threats.  Bringing Martin with him allows him to lure Ma Kosti to cook for them as well.  Illyan allows himself to be talked into it, to see how it holds up to his memories.

That afternoon they sit on the porch, well fed by Ma Kosti.

If this went on, Miles thought, he was going to have to take up an exercise program, or end up looking like his clone-brother Mark, which would rather defeat Mark’s purposes. He made a mental note to keep Mark and Ma Kosti separated for as long as possible.

Illyan conjures up a few memories of Vordarian’s coup–he wasn’t at Vorkosigan Surleau when Negri arrived with young Gregor, but he can reconstruct a few images from events in the capital, including the gut-wrenching turmoil he was feeling.  His recorded memories didn’t include emotions, but he was usually able to reconstruct them.  Investigating his predecessor’s death was his first job as ImpSec chief, sort of like Negri’s first job before him, so it’s kind of a tradition now.  Illyan somehow managed to get out alive, more or less, as did Miles’s father on his recent retirement.  Miles asks if that was when Illyan started thinking of him as a successor, and Illyan admits he’d been thinking that for much longer.  Miles asks if he thinks the chip failed naturally, rather than being sabotaged, and Illyan points out that nothing lasts forever.

Illyan asks what two retired officers can do out in the country.  Miles suggests sleeping in, horseback riding, hiking, and swimming, but Illyan says they’ve already done the first, he never cared for the second, and it’s too cold for the last.  Miles suggests fishing, which Illyan thinks sounds better.

“Tradition is, you take the local beer from the village — there’s a woman there who home-brews it, extraordinary stuff — and hang the bottles over the side of the boat to stay cold. When the beer gets too warm to drink, it’s too hot to fish.”

“What season is that?”

“Never, as far as I could tell.”

“Let us by all means observe tradition,” said Illyan gravely.

The next afternoon the two of them are out on the lake in a boat, fishing with protein cubes for bait, and the beer hanging over the side, with an ImpSec guard watching from the shore.  Illyan compares this to a stakeout, except that fish don’t shoot back, and they speculate on what bait fish would use to catch men.  Illyan recounts the story of a Polian ambassador, on the verge of signing a wormhole treaty, who asked for an elephant…which Illyan himself passed down to a poor ImpSec agent.  Who dutifully delivered a small elephant to the Polian embassy, without letting on to ten-year-old Gregor, who would have likely wanted to keep it.

Miles ruminates on his own motivations.  He’s never really wanted for money, except on behalf of the Dendarii; he never really wanted power, except to be free from others having power over him, which was more like fear.  Like the fear of being killed as a useless mutant if he didn’t constantly prove his worth.  What he’s really after, he decides, is his identity, to want to be.

After a while, Illyan asks if Miles is sure there are fish in the lake.  Miles assures him there are, that it was terraformed by dumping organic waste into it generations ago, and it’s been well stocked with fish.  Illyan checks, and his bait-cube is gone.  Illyan notes that this is inefficient, and Miles says he believes it’s a way for men to look productive while really not doing any work.  Illyan says that he’s tired of doing nothing; Miles points out that his card playing has been improving slightly.

Illyan says that he doesn’t think he’ll regain his edge, though, well enough to go back to ImpSec.  He’s done over forty years in the Emperor’s service, and he’d never planned on doing sixty, so maybe it’s time to stop.  He’s done his part to bring Gregor safely to adulthood, though he would have liked to see the wedding through; Miles says there’d always be one more crisis, another reason to stick around…

He added after a time, “Do you suppose all the fish in your lake have been stolen?”

“They’d have to catch ’em first.”

“Ah. Good point.”

Illyan says he’s glad that Miles has survived the loss of the Dendarii, though Miles notices that he doesn’t actually apologize.  Miles says that he seems to have gone past the urge to suicide–death will come for him whether he wants it or not, and in the meantime he should do something with the life he has.  Illyan asks if he’ll be able to patch things up with Quinn, and Miles says that she never cared much for Lord Vorkosigan before, but he will give it one more try.  He says he’s noticed himself slowing down, craving the frontline action less; he still liked winning, and always seemed to get away with it, until the seizures came along.  He feels odd, now, to have lost without being killed.

Sensing that Illyan is getting bored with fishing, Miles offers to show him the trick of stunner-fishing.  He says that hungry Dendarii hill-folk didn’t have to time to dangle strings into the water, so they turned their stunner-packs into bombs.  Illyan has a stunner with him, which he donates to the cause.  Miles hotwires it and tosses it over the side, both of them hoping that it goes deep enough before going off.  There is a miniature explosion under the water half a minute later, causing a small swell in the water, momentarily alarming the ImpSec observer until Miles reassures him with a wave.  A couple of minutes later, stunned fish begin bobbing up to the surface, four sizable ones which they haul aboard.  They somewhat tipsily make their way back to the dock, then lug the fish ashore, Miles turning his burden in relief over to Martin to give to his mother.

The smallest fish, prepared delectably that evening, is enough to feed all of them.  Illyan asks if Miles often fished for his family that way, and Miles says he used to, until he noticed his mother, uncomfortable with actual formerly-live meat, was having to force it down.

After the dinner, feeling completely relaxed, Miles is, of course, interrupted by Martin, who says there’s a call for him–Admiral Avakli.  Avakli urges him to return as soon as possible so he can present his findings to Miles and Haroche, and adds that it’s not something to be discussed over a comconsole.  Miles realizes this means they found something, and says he’ll be back and ready for a midnight meeting.

Comments

Another great, but talky, chapter, with Illyan and Miles probing the remains of their old lives under the influence of mild alcohol.  Great conversation, horribly slashed to pieces by the requirement of summary, so, once again, go read it all yourself.

I always remember the stunner-fishing scene, though somehow I keep thinking that it’s Mark in the boat with Miles.  I never really saw the point of fishing, myself, partly because I don’t like eating fish, or drinking beer, or, particularly, sitting in boats.  I’m almost amazed that their ImpSec guards would let them do it, but I guess neither of them is indispensable at the moment–Miles is only a Count’s heir, not a Count, and he has a brother now, and Illyan is now retired.

Chapter Twenty-One

Miles throws Avakli’s conference off balance, and short of seating, by bring Simon Illyan with him, though he does point out that Illyan has a perfect right to know, and this will save Miles from having to repeat it all from memory later.  Miles is in his House uniform, minus the medals, but still with the Auditor’s chain.  Haroche is startled to see Illyan there, but greets him warmly enough, though he asks Miles if he’s sure Illyan is up to this.

Avakli starts his briefing by announcing that, as they might have guessed, they have found that the damage to the memory chip was “artificially created”, though he stops short of calling it deliberate sabotage.  He lets Dr. Weddell explain what they found.

“If you would like to look at the culprit — the immediate culprit, that is — here is its portrait.” Weddell fiddled with the holovid control; the plate projected a bright green, topologically complex blob, which turned slowly in air. “The color is a computer enhancement, of course — I took a little artistic license there — and the magnification several million times. That, gentlemen, is a bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote. Or so I have reconstructed it.”

“A what?” said Miles. “Simplify, please.”

Weddell flashed a pained smile, doubtless searching his mind for words of one syllable. Miles regretted his last four beers. “A little bug that eats things,” Weddell essayed, by way of further translation.

“Not that simplified,” said Miles dryly. The Barrayarans around the table, knowing the power of an Imperial Auditor, cringed at his tone; immigrant Weddell did not. Never argue with a pedant over nomenclature. It wastes your time and annoys the pedant. Miles let it go.

The prokaryote, tinier than most bacteria, is a simple creature whose aim is simply to eat proteins like those found in Illyan’s chip, and then self-destruct after a certain number of cell divisions, which made it hard but not impossible to track it down and reconstruct it, though after another week it would have become impossible in fact.  Weddell says he was able to find a lot of information in its structure–it was based off of an organism designed to destroy neural plaque, with its galactic patent still visible, but this modified version was unsigned.  The original patent was ten years old, so it can’t have been created earlier than that.  The modification was probably a one-time creation, a commission for a single customer.  Weddell says that it’s likely Jacksonian, but not something he’s familiar with, i.e. not Bharaputran.  Miles asks about cost, and Weddell says at least 50,000 Betan dollars, more if it were to be kept secret.

Haroche asks if it could be Cetagandan, and Weddell says it’s not their style at all–too inelegant.  Miles asks if they can pinpoint when it was administered; Weddell asks when the first gross symptoms appeared, and Miles says about a week before the fateful briefing, and Illyan doesn’t contradict him.  Weddell says it could have been stored in a dry state for years, and would be activated by reaching moist mucous membranes; it could have been inhaled or injected, probably not ingested without expecting to lose most of it via digestion.  His best guess is a range of one to ten weeks before symptoms appeared, and, when asked, Illyan doesn’t remember anything suspicious in that time.  Miles asks them to check and see if anyone else on Barrayar suffered similar effects, though he’s not sure if there even is any similar tech on the planet; Avakli reassures him that jump-pilot neural implants are different enough to be unaffected, and Weddell adds that it’s not communicable.

Miles concludes that it is, in fact, sabotage, deliberate and subtle; they know the how, now, and have narrowed down the when, but still need the why, and the who.  It could be any of ImpSec’s enemies; Miles asks Simon if he was carrying on any affairs that might have caused personal offense, but Simon says he wasn’t.  Going on Weddell’s estimate of how long it would have taken to produce the bug, Miles concludes it must have taken at least six months to carry out the plot.  Haroche, saying that it likely originated offplanet, offers to put Galactic Affairs to work on tracking it down, on Jackson’s Whole, or Escobar, or anywhere else that it could have been created.  Miles agrees, thinking that a real Imperial Auditor would have a staff, so he wouldn’t have to rely on ImpSec manpower.  Haroche also wants to prepare a list of any galactic visitors Illyan might have encountered during the window of opportunity.

Miles comments that it’s puzzling, aimed at Illyan’s chip, and not his life, though Ruibal points out that the stress may have worn Illyan down, or made him vulnerable to some sort of accident.  Haroche commends his staff and dismisses them–Weddell is particularly anxious to return to his private lab–and then turns to Miles to formally adjourn the meeting.  Illyan shares with Haroche the ImpSec tradition of each chief solving the murder of the previous one.

“You weren’t murdered, at least,” said Haroche.

“Ah.” Illyan’s smile thinned. “I . . . forgot.” He glanced at Haroche, and his voice fell to a murmur that Haroche had to bend his head to hear. “Get the bastards for me, will you, Lucas?”

“I’ll do my best, sir. We all will.” Gravely, and despite Illyan’s civilian garb, Haroche saluted him as they turned to leave.

That night, a sleepless Miles contemplates how his initial plan, to temporarily borrow an Auditor’s chain to get Illyan out of ImpSec, has turned into a real, and quite challenging investigation.  He wishes he’d managed to organize a real staff, perhaps of imminent ImpSec retirees, and makes a note to find out from the other Auditors what kind of staff they do have.  He considers what he can do next for the investigation–he would like to leave Jackson’s Whole to ImpSec, though he has to allow for the possibility that ImpSec itself is compromised, so he’ll have to double-check them.  There are no real Jacksonian suspects, Houses Fell and Bharaputra being insufficiently motivated, and Ryoval have been destroyed by Mark.  The crime itself had been committed on Barrayar, so he decides he’ll be most productive investigating here.  As an Imperial Auditor, he’s one of the few people who can actually rummage around in ImpSec, so he makes that his goal.

Late the next morning, as Miles is waiting for Martin to bring the car around, there is a commotion outside, which he quickly determines is his mother and her staff arriving at the house.  He forestalls a maternal embrace, telling her he has to go to work soon, and she promises to get the full story of that from him later.  She asks how he is, and he says he’s fine, really.  She says he looks better than in his recent messages, and he admits he had a few bad days, but is better.

“I might still have had my head up my ass,” he admitted ruefully, “but events intervened. You’ve heard about Simon.”

“Yes, but not all about Simon. Though Alys has been more helpful than either you or Gregor. How is he?”

“He’s fine. He’s here. Sleeping in. We had a late night last night. I think . . . I’d better let him tell you about it. As much as he can.” He added cautiously, “He’s physically recovered, but he’s a little . . . well, he’s a lot vaguer than the Simon you’re used to, I’m afraid. You’ll figure it out pretty quickly when you talk to him.”

Cordelia says she’s to meet Laisa soon; the Toscane parents have mixed feelings, though they are hopeful for possible advantages to come from being linked to the Imperial family.  Miles says that Gregor will doubtless be careful to avoid showing any actual favouritism.

“So I gently let them know. They’re not without wit, I am happy to say. Their excitement was dampened by a genuine concern for their daughter’s safety and personal happiness, though they are certainly as puzzled how this is to be achieved as any other set of parents.” She smiled dryly at him.

Was that to his address? Unquestionably. “So . . . how is Father? How did he take . . . all this?” A shrug of Miles’s shoulder in no particular direction indicated his new civilian life.

She cleared her throat. “Mixed feelings, mixed reactions. He gave me all sorts of logically conflicting assurances for you, which I think I shall simply boil down to: you have his support. Always.”

Miles asks if he’s disappointed, and his mother evades the question, though she does say that Aral is more worried about what Miles will do with his life now; she says the Auditor idea was very clever, but Miles gripes about the case he’s now expected to solve.  He says he gets to prod ImpSec into motion, though he can’t blame them for being cautious about leaping to conclusions; Cordelia says that that hasn’t always stopped them in the past.

She called after him, “I’m glad to find you here, anyway.”

“Where else?”

She hesitated, then admitted wryly, “I bet Aral that you would choose the little Admiral.”

Comments

The sabotage is exposed!  Or at least discovered…and Dr. Hugh Canaba shows how he earned his way off of Jackson’s Whole and into a new identity on Barrayar.  Personally, I thought a prokaryote was a bacterium, but I guess that’s probably an oversimplification (especially given that I learned it via SimEarth and The Cartoon History of The Universe).  Haroche certainly seemed to be disquieted by some of the revelations at the meeting, and perhaps a little eager to direct the investigation offplanet…  If it’s not the Cetagandans, it seems like most of the suspects would be on Barrayar, so it’s probably a good thing that Miles is going to be focusing on that end of it.

It’s always nice to see Cordelia, of course, though Miles is understandably a little skittish about being put under her microscope right now.  Actually, this may be the first book where Cordelia is being depicted as being, well, fallible.  After all, she was mostly mistaken about what would happen when Miles was forcibly de-Admiraled.  For a while she’s seemed a bit like the author’s mouthpiece, the one who really knows why everyone behaves the way they do and can cut through all the Barrayaran masculinist claptrap.  Or maybe it’s just that everyone has to grow up and realize that their parents don’t know everything, because adulthood and parenthood don’t magically bestow omniscience.


Only eight chapters left now, apparently…so with any luck the plot will be moving along quickly, because I recall at least a little denouement in there somewhere.  Four more weeks of the Memory reread, assuming I don’t fall behind over summer vacation or anything…

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Are you still shell-shocked from watching this season’s Game of Thrones?  Full of schadenfreude from having known what was going to happen for years?  Trying to avoid spoilers (good luck with that!), or just not caring about the whole thing?  Why not come visit a story where weddings are, in general, less fraught–Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga?  Admittedly, there are no actual weddings in Memory, though some people are certainly thinking matrimonial thoughts.  So let’s cover another couple of chapters, picking up Miles during his visit to the Dendarii Mountains and following him to where the real plot of the book…doesn’t quite start yet.  But Miles is almost recovered enough to be able to deal with it when it does.

Chapter Eleven

Miles points out a clearing in front of a nearby cabin–Speaker Karal’s, last time he visited, and Martin lands the lightflyer there.  A man comes out of the cabin–not Speaker Karal, though, but a younger man with a proprietary air.  Miles gets out of the lightflyer uncertainly, briefly wishing for an actual bodyguard, but the stranger recognizes him and comes to greet him.  Miles says it’s merely a social visit; the man asks if Miles recognizes him, then introduces him as Zed Karal, who was just a boy for Miles’s last visit.  Miles asks after his parents, uncertain, and Zed says they stay with his brother and sister-in-law for the winter.

“Is . . . Karal not the Speaker of Silvy Vale anymore, then?”

“No, we have a new Speaker, as of about two years ago. A young hotshot full of Progressive ideas he picked up living in Hassadar, just your type. I think you’ll remember him all right. Name’s Lem Csurik.” Zed’s smile broadened.

Miles smiles for the first time that day and says he’d like to see Lem.  Zed offers to guide them to the new clinic, where Lem will be working, and hops into the lightflyer to guide Martin and a bemused Miles.  Over the next ridge they set down in front of the frame of a six-room building under construction.  Lem recognizes Miles instantly (of course), and greets him happily.  He tells Miles about the new clinic, which they hope to have finished before winter, after which they’ll have an actual doctor, one of the Countess’s scholarship students from Hassadar.

Miles asks about the dam, and Lem says they built it themselves, after giving up waiting for the District giving them a receiver for satellite power.  They looked over a dam from another village, figured out how they could make one themselves, subcontracting the tricky parts to an engineer from Hassadar in exchange for a summer cabin.  Lem says that this was the best site for the dam, and has made it possible for the village to improve, so they can have power for the clinic.

“You didn’t let anything stop you, did you?”

“Well, m’lord, you know who I learned that from.”

Harra, his wife, of course. Raina’s mother.

Miles asks after Harra, who he’s now starting to want to talk to as much as he had Raina; Lem says she’s teaching at the school, along with another girl Harra’s training.  Lem says Harra will doubtless want to see Miles as well, and get in the lightflyer for his own turn as guide.  They arrive at the log cabin labelled as the Raina Csurik School.  Harra is teaching a class of teenagers, their wooden desks nonetheless holding comconsole links, but she interrupts the class to greet Miles, hugging him warmly.  He did attend her graduation from teacher’s college in Hassadar, but hasn’t seen her since then.  Harra introduces her to his class, who view him with interest more than revulsion; in fact, at the front of the class are three pictures–the Emperor and their Count, by regulation, but Miles as well.  Miles feels a little self-conscious about his shabby clothes, but he gives an impromptu rah-rah speech before Harra shows him to the younger class as well.

Miles tells Harra that he’d really come to burn an offering on Raina’s grave, but he wouldn’t be able to do that now without setting his boat on fire, unless they moved her grave somewhere else.  Harra says they did move most of the graves to a ridge above the lake–not her mother, of course, dishonoured by Raina’s murder, and not Raina, because they couldn’t find her tiny body and makeshift coffin.  Instead, she considers the school Raina’s memorial, and teaching like burning an offering.  She asks after his health, and he says he’s recovering from illness.  Harra invites him for lunch to meet their own children, after dismissing the classes early.

They descended by lightflyer unannounced upon Lem’s sister, who rose to the challenge smoothly. The lunch she provided was, thank God, light. Miles dutifully met and admired Csurik children, nieces, and nephews. He was hijacked by them and taken on a stroll through the woods, and viewed a favorite swimming hole. He waded gravely along with them on the smooth stones with his boots off, till his feet were numb with the chill, and in a voice of Vorish authority pronounced it a most excellent swimming hole, perhaps the finest in his District. He was obviously an anomaly of some fascination, an adult almost their own size.

They return to the school in later afternoon, where a gathering is already well underway, a celebration of his presence, and he realizes he’s getting a party that day after all.  They’re not getting out that night, and, given the maple mead being pased around, probably not until the next afternoon.  By the time the bonfire’s blazing and he’s had a few sips of mead himself, Miles finds himself actually beginning to relax.  Martin is teaching city dances to eager teenagers, and perhaps not taking it easy enough on the mead, but Miles decides to let him learn about that himself.  Miles dances with Harra and a number of other women, feeling glad to be an excuse for their celebration.

As the party begins to die down, though, he feels a lack of closure, that he hasn’t accomplished what he came up here to do.  He still needed that talk with Raina, somehow, possibly with a jug of mead, but he’s afraid to get too close to the reservoir and break his oath to Ivan by throwing himself in.  Instead he goes with Lem and Harra.

It was not the dead Miles needed to talk to, in the dark, he realized. It was the living. Useless to confess to the dead; absolution was not in their power. But I’ll trust your Speaking, Harra, as you once trusted mine.

He says he wants to talk to them about something; Harra asks if he’s sick or dying, and Miles says he kind of did it backward.  He explains about his death and revival, and the seizures, and how he screwed things up for himself by trying to hide them.  Now he feels like he’s thrown a big chunk of his life away.  Harra says it’ll do some good if it means he spends more time in the district; she knows all about shame, and waste.

Harra was silent for long enough for Lem to pass around the stone jug one last time, in the dim moonlight and shadows. Then she said, “You go on. You just go on. There’s nothing more to it, and there’s no trick to make it easier. You just go on.”

“What do you find on the other side? When you go on?”

She shrugged. “Your life again. What else?”

“Is that a promise?”

She picked up a pebble, fingered it, and tossed it into the water. The moon-lines bloomed and danced. “It’s an inevitability. No trick. No choice. You just go on.”

Noon the next day a very hung-over Martin pilots the lightflyer, very delicately back to Vorkosigan Surleau.  He asks Miles if he found what he was looking for; Miles says it wasn’t there anymore.  Lem and Harra are the kind of heroes the Dendarii Mountains need, not Admiral Naismith.  He asks Martin how old “middle age” is, and Martin answers thirty; Miles thinks that his mother always considered it “ten years older than you are”.

“I had a professor at the Imperial Service Academy once,” Miles went on, as the hills grew more gentle beneath them, “who taught the introduction to tactical engineering course. He said he never bothered changing his tests from term to
term to prevent cheating, because while the questions were always the same, the answers changed. I’d thought he was joking.”

“Unh?” said Martin dutifully.

“Never mind, Martin,” Miles sighed. “Just go on.”

Comments

In case I thought I was past the parts of the book that made me cry…Harra Csurik’s “You just go on” speech there does it for me.  I’m not sure why, but I guess it’s just that the two of them, each having known loss, connect on a deep level, and Harra’s lesson (which I’ve heard from survivors in my own life) is just: “You just go on”.  Well, in reality there’s two choices–to stop, or to go on–but if you have the strength to avoid the first choice, then the second is all you’re left with.

And the Csuriks, and Silvy Vale, have gone on.  They refused to stay the thing he remembered from his past, the isolated village and the baby’s grave.  Miles apparently attended Harra’s graduation in Hassadar, at what point I’m not sure, but apparently he happened to be onplanet for that one.  And Lem went from suspected murderer to respected community leader; they took action and built a dam, moving their graves out of the way, choosing the future over the past.  He doesn’t need to just mourn the loss of the future he expected; he can take action and find a different future for himself.

How would the Csuriks’ lives have been different if Harra’s mother hadn’t killed Raina, if Raina hadn’t had a harelip and grown up as a normal girl?  Would they have become the same community leaders that they are in this timeline, or is it only because of their adversity, and perhaps Miles’s example, that they managed to achieve so much?  (Hint: Lem wasn’t talking about Harra when he was talking about how he learned not to let anything stop him.)  It’s hard to prove counterfactuals, especially fictional counterfactuals, so let’s pretend that Miles played a crucial part, that this is like his “It’s A Wonderful Life” moment, showing him how much he improved things, just when his life has been at its darkest ebb.  (Barrayarans, not being particularly religious, don’t believe in angels, though, I’d imagine, except perhaps Father Frost.)

Chapter Twelve

Back at the lake house, Miles makes himself face the video birthday greetings forwarded from Vorbarr Sultana.  Gregor’s is serious, Ivan’s is cautiously mocking; Mark’s, sent from Beta Colony, is somewhat stilted, and possibly oft-revised, but Miles allows that this may be Mark’s first chance to send a birthday greeting ever.  Miles realizes that now he’ll have to send Mark a reply, and somehow tell him what’s happened without seeming to blame him for it.

Last is the message from his parents, which was sent through the government comm relays from Sergyar and would be little more than a day old; they’d be reacting to the most recent news to reach them.  Even before they speak, Miles can tell from their expressions that they don’t know about his change of circumstance, though they seem to know that he is back on Barrayar.  They congratulate him on reaching thirty alive, and try blaming their gray hairs on him, and ask him to route his next mission via Sergyar so he can come visit.  They also ask why they haven’t heard from him yet–Lady Alys hasn’t passed on anything about him yet either.  The subject turns to Gregor and Laisa, asking him for his opinions, and stating their support.

“Alys said she’ll do,” said the Countess, “and I trust Alys’s judgment. Though I don’t
know if the young lady quite realizes what she’s getting into. Please assure Dr. Toscane of my full support, Miles, whatever she decides to do.”

“Surely she’ll accept, if Gregor asks her,” said the Count.

“Only if she’s so head-over-heels in love as to have lost all sense of self-preservation,” said the Countess. “Believe me, you have to have lost your mind to marry a Barrayaran Vor. Let’s hope she has.” Miles’s parents exchanged peculiar smiles.

They reminisce about what they were doing at age thirty–Cordelia in the Betan Astronomical Survey, just missing promotion to captain, while Aral was already a captain, on ship duty.  They demand that he send them a reply, and sign off.  Miles promises himself he won’t put it off much longer.

They fly back to Vorbarr Sultana the next day, and Miles is just trying to compose the message when Ivan calls, happy to see him back in town.  He badgers Miles about making a medical appointment to get his head looked at, having been ordered by Gregor by Lady Alys.  Miles says it hasn’t seemed that urgent, since it wasn’t likely to get him back into ImpSec or the Dendarii if he gets them fixed.  Ivan says that if he doesn’t want to go to ImpMil, there’s plenty of other clinics around, and he offers Miles their names and locations, though Miles has already done his own search.  Ivan says he’s surprised that Miles isn’t up and running at this newest obstacle, determined to overcome it like usual.  He says he’d half expected Miles to go running back to the Dendarii, and to hell with the treason charge and breaking his oath to Gregor, if he never planned to come back to Barrayar.

Miles promises to make an appointment by the end of the week, and Ivan says he’ll hold him to that.  After the call, Miles wonders at his behaviour as well.  He thinks that he was delaying his appointment to buy time, but he’s not sure for what.  Facing reality perhaps, facing the possibility that his seizures can’t be cured, or facing the possibility that they can be, and the temptation to flee to the Dendarii will resurface.  Has being killed scared him so much that he’s arranged this whole situation to keep from having to take dangerous missions again?  He never had before, he’s proved his bravery over and over.  Does he really need to keep on proving it?

Suppose he got his head fixed, here or on Komarr or on Escobar, it didn’t matter where. And suppose he took off, and ImpSec declined to assassinate their renegade Vor, and they achieved some unspoken agreement to ignore each other forevermore. And he was all and only Naismith.

And then what?

I face fire. Climb that wall.

And then what?

I do it again.

And then what?

Again.

And then what?

It’s logically impossible to prove a negative.

I’m tired of playing wall.

He decides it’s not cowardice, but he’s still not sure why he’s delaying.  He turns to the message to his parents, and it comes out more stilted than Mark’s birthday message, but, refusing to put it off any longer, he sends it off…though by regular mail, so it’ll take a couple of weeks to get to Sergyar.  He makes a slightly modified version to send to Quinn, whose birthday message had been demure, guarded, and anxious.

Ivan comes around for the dinner the next night, where he seems less concerned with nagging Miles about his medical appointment and more with winning over Ma Kosti.  During dessert, Martin announces an “ImpSec stiff-rod” calling for Miles.  Miles wonders by Simon Illyan would be calling him, but it turns out to be Duv Galeni instead.

“You smarmy goddamn little pimp,” said Galeni, in a dead-level voice.

Miles’s own bright, innocent, panicked, “Hi, Duv, what’s up?” tripped over this and fell very flat, and just lay there, withering under Galeni’s glare. Galeni’s face was neither red nor pale, but livid, gray with rage. I should have stayed at Vorkosigan Surleau one more week, I think.

Galeni outright accuses Miles of setting up the whole Laisa and Gregor thing, though Miles insists he couldn’t have known that Gregor would taken an interest.  Galeni rails against Vor thievery, his dialect slipping back into gutter Komarran, though Ivan interjects to ask if Galeni is sure he wants to have this conversation over the com.  Miles shushes Ivan, not sure he wants Galeni there in person when he’s this mad.  He asks how Galeni found out, and Galeni says that Gregor and Laisa just called him, her “best friend” on the planet, to announce their engagement.  He’d kept his cool then, congratulating them, saving his ire for Miles.  Ivan asks Galeni how he’d managed to court Laisa for five months without her seeming to realize it, and Galeni said he had to prove himself worthy of her, and he had a timetable in mind, proposal at six months.

Galeni’s mad is winding down; he asks Miles if there’s any chance he could intercede to change Gregor’s mind, though he realizes himself that it’s hopeless.  Miles says that he owes Gregor, and he really does want Gregor to get some heirs for his own peace of mind.  He reminds Galeni that it’s Laisa’s decision, not anybody else’s, no matter what Galeni’s timetable was, and Galeni signs off.  Ivan is relieved to get that over with, since he’s been avoiding Galeni for weeks, and accuses Miles of having done essentially the same in Vorkosigan District.  Ivan suggests returning to dessert, but Miles says that he’s probably high on Gregor and Laisa’s call list as well, so they might as well wait.

Sure enough, they call a few minutes later, glowing with happiness, and inform Miles–and Ivan, when they find him there–of their engagement.  Miles asks who else knows; Gregor says Lady Alys was the first, and informed Simon Illyan, and of course they called Duv Galeni.

“He agreed it might be good for planetary accord,” said Gregor, “which, considering his background, I find most heartening.”

In other words, you asked him point-blank, and he said, Yes, Sire. Poor, excellent Duv. No wonder he called me. It was that or explode. “Galeni . . . is a complex man.”

“Yes, I know you like him,” said Gregor.

They’d also sent a message to Aral and Cordelia, letting them know; Miles tells them that they already had an inkling from Alys, and passes on their expressions of support.  Laisa is terribly interested to meet Lady Vorkosigan.  Gregor asks Miles to be his Second, which he accepts.  He asks about the date, and Gregor says, sadly, that Lady Alys, is insisting in making this as elaborate as possible, possibly involving an actual wedding on each planet.  Alys is already en route to Komarr to contact Laisa’s parents, and she’s insisting on no formal betrothal for a month, and almost a year until the wedding.  Miles recommends that they listen to her, because she’ll win over the Old Vor before he knows it.  Gregor says he’d like to have Lady Cordelia there for the betrothal as well, and Miles assures him she’s not likely to miss it.

Gregor grinned. “Congratulations to you too, Miles. Your father before you needed a whole army to do it, but you’ve changed Barrayaran history just with a dinner invitation.”

Miles shrugged helplessly. God, is everybody going to blame me for this? And for everything that follows? “Let’s try to avoid making history on this one, eh? I think we should push for unalleviated domestic dullness.”

After they sign off, Ivan agrees that it’s Miles’s fault, because it was his idea to invite Duv Galeni along.  They compromise on blaming it all on Lady Alys for asking Ivan for more guests in the first place.  While searching for some booze to truly celebrate the affair, Ivan asks Miles if he thinks Galeni will do something stupid.  Miles thinks about it for a long time before saying he won’t.

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Duv Galeni calling Miles a smarmy little pimp is one of the scenes I always remember from this book.  Because it’s so unlike the usually reserved Galeni, and given what he proved himself capable of in Brothers In Arms, Miles is right to be cautious of him.  Poor guy–it can’t be easy for your girlfriend to fall for someone else, to not even realize that she was your girlfriend, and not just a friend…  Oh, well, he’ll get over it.

At least Miles finally managed to send messages to his parents, and to Quinn.  He’s learned that keeping secrets=bad, I guess.  Sending video messages seems to be the thing on Barrayar, which seems more plausible now than it did back then, really.  Now everybody’s got a netbook or smartphone with a camera, and sending video messages may not be routine yet, but it can’t be too far away.  Sending them offplanet means that you can precompose them, like an email, though of course if your performance or recitation falters, you’ll either have to edit them heavily or do several takes.

This chapter also includes some soul-searching on Miles’s part.  It’s interesting to consider that he might have been subconsciously sabotaging himself, out of fear or insecurity, trying to give himself a good excuse to bow out of the Dendarii.  But if that wasn’t the case, then we have to see him come up with a reason not to take the easy out back to the Dendarii, at least assuming he gets his head fixed and stops being a liability.  He begins to realize that it wouldn’t accomplish anything–if he disconnects the Dendarii from Barrayar, from service to something larger, then all it is is “playing wall”, showing that he can overcome challenges.  (That may, in fact, be part of the reason that I find some of the pure adventure stories to be a little dissastisfying.  We need what my wife calls “public stakes” and “personal stakes”, so that the central issues in the plot matter to the main character, as well as being important to others.)

So he’s at least ruled out one possible future, but we still don’t know what he is going to do with himself.  Become a Vor drone?  Go into politics?  Study accounting?  I guess we’ll find out…


It may not be fair to characterize what happens next as the beginning of the “real plot”.  Character stories are real stories too, and I thoroughly enjoy Miles’s personal journey in this book, as I may have indicated.  But there are public stakes showing up in this book as well, and we’ll see them shortly.  Plus, the title will soon begin to make a little more sense…

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The train crested the hill some time ago, and has been coasting downhill for a while; now it’s finally pulling into the station and coasting to a stop.  That’s how it feels to do these last two chapters of Mirror Dance, my current novel in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, at any rate.  Chapters Thirty-Two and Thirty-Three are our denouement, our heroes, Miles and Mark Vorkosigan, back on Barrayar and ready for the healing to begin.

Chapter Thirty-Two

In the library of Vorkosigan House, Miles surreptitiously studies his reflection, dressed in parade red-and-blues.  The scars on his necks from his cryo-chamber prep are not quite concealed, but he hopes they’ll look innocuously medical.  The uniform is still a little loose on him, though his mother and Mark have had some success in getting him more fleshed out.  Mark joins him, dressed in new civilian clothes from Gregor’s tailor.

The colors honored Winterfair, sort of; a green so dark as to be almost black was trimmed with a red so dark as to be almost black. The effect was somewhere between festive and sinister, like a small, cheerful bomb.

Mark says he looks better, and Miles says the same of him; Mark says he’s settled on his final weight, which is why he’s invested in the wardrobe.  He takes comfort in the idea that not even the most myopic of assassins could mistake him for Miles.

Cordelia joins them, visibly exulting in her two sons; she tells them the Count is still getting ready.  She’s sworn to get him out of the party by midnight, though he will have to prove he hasn’t lost his strength, and will drive Prime Ministery Racozy crazy watching over his shoulder.  She hopes to get them down to Hassadar soon.  Miles predicts that he’ll dance twice, to prove he can, and after that he’ll want to sit down.  Cordelia notes that Barrayar doesn’t know yet what to do with its men when they retire rather than dying in harness.

She mentions that Gregor has had the horrible idea of offering them the viceroyalty of Sergyar, since the current viceroy is pleading to come home.  She calls it a thankless job, but Miles points out that she did discover the planet herself, and Cordelia begins to talk about the ecological problems, like the worm plague, and how they need a little Betan know-how…

Miles and Mark looked at each other. It wasn’t telepathy. But the thought that perhaps Aral Vorkosigan wasn’t the only over-energetic aging expert Gregor might be glad to export from his capital was surely being shared between them, right this second.

Mark’s brows drew down. “How soon might this be, ma’am?”

“Oh, not for at least a year.”

The Count appears, looking trim with his medical weight loss, good colour apart from his completely white hair, but Miles knows his stamina won’t last.  In retrospect, his father’s near-death experience has scared Miles, demonstrating that he might not even be there when his father dies.  Throwing dignity to the wind, he gives his father a hug, which embarrasses him slightly, but Count is also clearly revelling in his biological wealth.

The Countess attached herself to her husband’s arm. “Lead on, love. Vorkosigans Victorious.”

Vorkosigans Convalescent, was more like it, Miles reflected, following. But you should see what the other guys look like.

Simon Illyan is there to greet them at the Residence, which reassures Aral, who notes that there must be no major crises in progress.  Illyan comes over to brief Aral, out of habit, and is embarrassed when Aral points out he should be talking to Racozy instead.  Cordelia pulls Aral away, and Illyan turns his attention to Miles and Mark; Miles takes pains to appear healthy, so his return to duty in two months won’t be delayed further.  After all, those convulsions have probably stopped by now.

Mark asks Illyan if his Winterfair gifts to the clones have arrived–just money, since he doesn’t know them well enough for more, but he decides it also gives them the gift of choice.  The million marks he gave ImpSec were earmarked for the clones’ education and other needs, but the gifts are separate.  He confides to Miles that it is better to give than to receive, to be “Father Frost”.  He asks what they give Gregor, who has everything, and Miles says that traditionally they give him a large shipment of maple syrup; Aral is even worse, and Miles says sometimes you can’t pay back, you have to pay forward.

Miles feels the eyes on them as they enter the reception hall, and he thinks that Barrayar doesn’t know what’s going to hit it.  He hopes he can teach Mark to care for Barrayar as he does, dangerous as that sometimes is, and looks forward to having Mark as a friend and ally.  He reminds himself that now, on some level, he’s expendable, but he feels that Mark has done well, learning from his example.

Mark asks Miles about Lord Vorsmythe, an industrialist that Mark has been wanting to talk to, and asks Miles to introduce him.  Mark intends to invest two-thirds of his money domestically on Barrayar, and rest galactic–Lilly Durona’s medical firm on Escobar, to be precise, to work on a medical solution for the longevity problem, though he’s willing to bet she’ll turn a profit as well.  Miles performs the introduction, and Vorsmythe is surprised and delighted to have an actual interested audience in Mark.  Miles leaves them to it and heads in the direction of Delia Koudelka.

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So here is where we get the first mention of the viceroyalty of Sergyar, and the worm plague, for that matter.  This may have been where I clued in, first time through, that Sergyar was the same planet from the beginning of Shards of Honour.  It did have some interesting fauna, as I recall, though luckily we didn’t get to see the worm plague back then.  It is an ideal position for Aral and Cordelia, as Gregor shrewdly noticed–Aral as viceroy of Komarr would probably be just a teensy tiny bit more fraught.

Miles is, indeed, falling into the thought patterns that Cordelia had predicted, in having some perhaps unrealistic expectations about his future relationship with Mark, “potential ally” and all that.  Mark, of course, is looking forward more to keeping his brother down to earth and teasing him mercilessly.  Also, he’s thinking very wishfully about the prognosis of his little seizure problem…and setting up a large chunk of the next book’s plot in the process.  I’m sure that Bujold was, even now, thinking to herself “What’s the worst thing I can do to Miles next?”

Mark is also exercising his new identity–distinguishing himself physically from Miles in an unambiguous fashion.  I’m not sure if the ability to pick a weight and maintain it effortlessly, presumably with pharmaceutical aid, is widespread on Barrayar or more of a galactic thing; I suspect more of the latter, or perhaps it’s one of those things that is only gradually making inroads.  I suspect that Barrayar would make more out of keeping oneself naturally fit.  Being fat then becomes a lifestyle choice, and presumably not a particularly popular one, but Mark has his reasons, of course.

Chapter Thirty-Three

Lady Vorsmythe eventually retrieves her husband from his fascinating discussion with Mark.  Mark looks around to see if Miles is also overexerting himself.  Miles has been surreptitiously using Mark to check for gaps in his memory, and Mark realizes how desperately frightened Miles is of having permanently lost some piece of his past.  It bothers him to see Miles so unsure, and Mark hopes he’ll recover his obnoxious self-confidence soon.  Mark has enough things he’d gladly forget.  He’ll have to get Miles to show him around, get him to play the expert for a while; he’d rather let Miles’s ego recover a bit before doing his brotherly duty of cutting it down to size.

He finally spots Miles in the company of Delia Koudelka, and realizes that Kareen’s probably there too.  He finds the Countess, and asks her if she talked to Kareen, and, if so, what she said.  Cordelia says it was a long conversation, but it boiled down to Mark being an intelligent man who’d had some bad experiences, but she thought he’d be suitable for Kareen if he turned his mind to solving his problems.  Mark wonders if she’s talking about Betan-style therapy, but he’s afraid any therapist’s notes would end up in ImpSec hands.  Cordelia says she could make sure that didn’t happen, even if she couldn’t see the reports herself, and gives him her word on it.

She says she didn’t tell Kareen any sordid details, since she’s still a little young for that–still in school, and thus not ready for a long-term commitment.  Mark says that he’s managed to acquire a whole new set of problems since then anyway, worse ones.  Cordelia says that he seems much more relaxed to her since getting back from Jackson’s Whole.

“I don’t regret knowing myself, ma’am. I don’t even regret . . .  being myself.” Me and the black gang. “But I do regret . . . being so far from Kareen. I believe I am a monster, of some sort. And in the play, Caliban does not marry Prospero’s daughter. In fact, he gets stomped for trying, as I recall.” Yes, how could he possibly explain Gorge and Grunt and Howl and Killer to someone like Kareen, without frightening or disgusting her? How could he ask her to feed his abnormal appetites, even in some dream or fantasy play? It was hopeless. Better not to try.

The Countess smiled wryly. “There are several things wrong with your analogy, Mark. In the first place, I can guarantee you are not subhuman, whatever you think you are. And Kareen is not superhuman, either. Though if you insist on treating her as a prize and not as a person, I can also guarantee you will run yourself into another kind of trouble.” Her raised brows punctuated the point. “I added, as condition to my blessing on your suit, the suggestion that she take the opportunity during her schooling on Beta Colony next year for some extra tutoring. A little Betan education in certain personal matters could go a long way, I think, to widening her perceptions enough to admit, um, complexities without choking. A certain liberality of view an eighteen-year-old simply cannot acquire on Barrayar.”

Mark says he’d thought of going to school on Beta Colony himself, for the benefit of future qualifications, and Cordelia approves of his plan.  He still has to deal with the evening ahead, though.  Cordelia says he should go ahead and dance with Kareen; this is not the play, and Prospero has more than one daughter.  Kareen seems to find him interesting, at least, and young people are gifted with romance rather than prudence.

Walking across the hall to meet Kareen requires all his fortitude, but he is rewarded with enthusiasm on her part.  She has saved a number of dances for him, and Mark has purposely learned the steps to a minuet for the purpose.  They move onto the dance floor, Mark marvelling at the color coordination of her dress with his outfit until he realizes their mothers must have compared notes.  Mark suppresses Grunt’s more lustful assessments of Kareen, and channels it into his dancing.

All true wealth is biological, the Count had said. Mark finally saw exactly what he meant. For all his million Betan dollars, he could not buy this, the light in Kareen’s eyes. Though it couldn’t hurt . . . what was that damned Earth bird or other, that built wildly elaborate nests to attract a mate?

Mark asks her, feigning nonchalance, what she thinks is most important in a man; she answers “Wit”.  She turns the question back on him, and he answers “Trust”.  He has a wonderful evening after that, making her laugh several times, eating enough to sate Gorge, dancing even with some of Kareen’s friends, but eventually his feet get tired and he retrieves a wilted Miles and Armsman Pym drives them home, the Count and Countess having already left.

Mark and his brother were alone in the compartment. Mark counted the number of people present. One, two. Three, four, five, six, seven. Lord Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith. Lord Mark Vorkosigan and Gorge, Grunt, Howl, and Killer.

Admiral Naismith was a much classier creation, Mark thought with a silent sigh of envy. Miles could take the Admiral out to parties, introduce him to women, parade him in public almost anywhere but Barrayar itself. I suppose what my black gang lacks in savoir faire, we make up in numbers. . . .

Mark apologizes for getting Miles killed, and Miles said the drop mission was a mistake in the first place.  Vasa Luigi hadn’t wanted to ransom Mark, though, probably already planning to sell him to Ryoval.  Miles said it didn’t make much difference in the end, but Mark disagrees.  They discuss future plans; Miles says that their parents will be going down to Hassadar, where it’s somewhat warmer, and Miles plans to divide his time between there and Vorbarr Sultana until ImpSec lets him back to work, and he invites Mark along.  Mark accepts, and says that he’s thinking of taking a few courses in the college in Hassadar, as much to learn about how to deal with less than enlightened fellow students as for the actual education, though he yearns to know as much as he can.

The groundcar turned in at the gates of Vorkosigan House, and slowed. “Maybe I’ll get up early,” said Mark. “There’s a lot to do.”

Miles grinned sleepily, puddled down in his uniform. “Welcome to the beginning.”

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And here we are at the end.  Shorter chapters, mostly, but more of them, not to mention that gap in the middle, so it took longer than some of the other books.  But it was worth it.  Mark has had a great journey, from a bad counterfeit Admiral Naismith afraid of Barrayar to facing the planet on his own terms.  Miles is really a secondary character in the book, his own challenges mostly against his own infirmity, attempting to overcome adversity to get back to where he was, rather than to conquer new ground.  Don’t worry, he’ll have time for that soon enough.

You can’t help but cheer for Mark and Kareen–you want Mark to get the girl, though of course there’s more of it for Kareen than just being the prize.  Which is probably a lot of the reason for their plotline in A Civil Campaign, which we’ll get to…well, not soon enough, but eventually, at least.  At least Mark is not indoctrinated with the usual Vor dose of Barrayaran sexism, so he has less to get over in that respect than some of the people Kareen could have ended up with.

You know, I almost wish we could’ve seen Miles and Ivan’s reunion.  I suppose it would have been underwhelming, since Ivan wouldn’t let on how relieved and happy he was for Miles to be back among the living without the influence of a lot of alcohol.  But some mention, at least…

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After this, my usual week off before I start on Memory.  And, as I’ve said, it will be a little different doing this one, because I don’t have an electronic copy of this one like I have for all the others I’ve done so far, courtesy of that lovely CD that came with Cryoburn.  In fact, Memory is one I still have in mass-market paperback, so it’ll be much harder to hold it open and type, so: fewer quotes, I expect.  On balance Memory may be my favourite book in the series, though Mirror Dance and A Civil Campaign are close runners.  Let’s see if it holds up in the reread this time…

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