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

Winterfair Gifts (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But they’re our Vor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A stunning vision in hunter green stepped through behind her.

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

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

Roic closed his mouth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

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

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

Chapter Two

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

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

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

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

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

She took a deep breath. “My lord — ”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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


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

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Look, another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread is poking its nose out of its burrow!  Is it true what they say, that if it sees its shadow, that means another six weeks of winter?  Of course not; that’d be ridiculous.  It’s a little thinner than usual, though, consisting of only a single chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Mirror Dance.  Why is that?  Well, I guess it’s either because I decided that the next (and last) two chapters of the book go together better, both being set back on Barrayar rather than on Jackson’s Whole, or because I decided to steal a little extra time this week at the expense of Future Me.  Sorry, Future Me.  I did already read those last two chapters, so there’s that.

Chapter Thirty-One

“Did you find them?” Lord Mark asked.

“Yes,” said Bothari-Jesek tightly.

“Did you destroy them?”

“Yes.”

Mark flushed, and leaned his head back against Lilly’s chair, feeling the weight of gravity. He sighed. “You looked at them. I told you not to.”

Elena said she had to check that she had the right tapes, and Mark says she could just have destroyed all of them.  She admitted she did, eventually–first she turned off the sound, then fast-forwarded, then spot-checked, before giving up.  She couldn’t believe that there were hundreds of hours; Mark said there was only about fifty hours, but shot from different angles, intended for Ryoval’s later enjoyment and/or analysis.

She says she understand why he wants them destroyed–they’d be horrific blackmail leverage.  She offers to swear to secrecy, but Mark says he doesn’t care about that–he’d rather people knew what happened, to keep from having that kind of secret shame.  But he couldn’t bear Simon Illyan getting them, and Lord or Lady Vorkosigan catching a glimpse of the contents.  She says that Lt. Iverson was livid at finding out she’d destroyed them, and is going to complain to his superiors; Mark says if they dare to raise a stink about it, he’ll ask where they were for the last five days.

Her face was greenish-white. “I’m . . . so sorry, Mark.” Her hand touched his, hesitantly.

He seized her wrist, held it hard. Her nostrils flared, but she did not wince. He sat up, or tried to. “Don’t you dare pity me. I won. Save your sympathy for Baron Ryoval, if you must. I took him. Suckered him. I beat him at his own game, on his own ground. I will not allow you to turn my victory into defeat for the sake of your damned . . . feelings.”

He says that if ImpSec knew what was on those vids, then they’d never be able to leave it alone, and he’d end up having to relive it over and over again.  And Miles especially would be devastated.  Mark looks outside to where the first shuttle of Duronas is leaving, and revels in the feeling that he’s rescuing another load of clones from Jackson’s Whole.  Elena points out that they’ll do a physical exam, at least, and Mark admits he can’t conceal all of the effects of those, but Lilly Durona’s the only one who saw how bad he was right after the escape, she treated him herself without leaving any records, so by the time the ImpSec doctors get to look at him it won’t seem as bad.

Elena says that he can’t avoid treatment entirely–the Countess would spot it soon enough.  Mark starts to talk about how badly his brain is miswired, and how he may be a worse monster than Ryoval, before catching himself and shutting up.  He knows he sounds crazy, but he thinks he’s really just taking the long road to sanity.  She says it looked like he was faking a split personality in some scenes, and Mark said he wasn’t faking anything, but his personality didn’t split as much as it “inverted”.

“You have to understand,” he told her. “Sometimes, insanity is not a tragedy. Sometimes, it’s a strategy for survival. Sometimes . . . it’s a triumph.” He hesitated. “Do you know what a black gang is?”

Mutely, she shook her head.

“Something I picked up in a museum in London, once. Way back in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, on Earth, they used to have ships that sailed across the tops of the oceans, that were powered by steam engines. The heat for the steam engines came from great coal fires in the bellies of the ships. And they had to have these suckers down there to stoke the coal into the furnaces. Down in the filth and the heat and the sweat and the stink. The coal made them black, so they were called the black gang. And the officers and fine ladies up above would have nothing to do with these poor grotty thugs, socially. But without them, nothing moved. Nothing burned. Nothing lived. No steam. The black gang. Unsung heroes. Ugly lower-class fellows.”

Realizing he’s definitely babbling, he says that, if nothing else, Galen is peanuts next to Ryoval, and he beat Ryoval, so now he feels very free.  Elena says he seems almost as manic as Miles right now, and warns him about the possible impending crash.  Mark calls it a “mood swing on a bungee cord”, and Elena says that it’s at the top of the arc that everybody else has to watch out.  Mark blames a lot of it on the medications he’s on, some of which is wearing off.  As Elena turns to go, Mark tells her he knows what he wants to be–he wants to be the kind of ImpSec analyst who gets his people to the right place, and on time, not five days late.  Elena doesn’t laugh, but says, as an ImpSec remote operative, she’d like that a lot.

She gave him a half-salute, and turned away. He puzzled over the look in her eyes, as she descended out of sight down the lift-tube. It wasn’t love. It wasn’t fear.

Oh. So that’s what respect looks like. Oh.

I could get used to that.

Mark sits for a while, just staring out the window, contemplating getting himself a float-chair, for his broken foot, of course, before the stimulants wear off.  Miles arrives with a young Durona girl; Mark contemplates his brother’s emaciation, and wishes he could transfer some of his bulk to him.  Miles asks Mark if he recognizes the girl; Mark begins to say he’s seen a lot of Duronas recently, when he suddenly recognizes her as the girl from the clone-creche.  Miles explains how he smuggled her out to join her sisters, and that she’s going to Escobar too.  Mark discerns that Miles is not only trying to make Mark feel better, but also trying to show that he can rescue clones too, in a bout of unconscious sibling rivalry.  He begins to think that, as a brother, he’s going to enjoy tormenting Miles in subtle ways.  He congratules Miles cheerfully, but his attempt to laugh shows him on the edge of control.

Lilly Durona Jr. tells Mark she still thinks he’s funny-looking, but…she gives him a peck on the cheek and flees the room.  Mark and Miles discuss the show of gratitude, agreeing that it’s better than Illyan complaining about lost equipment.  Mark tells Miles about the confrontation between Illyan and the Countess, and realizes how much they have to talk about now.

A House Fell courier arrives with a delivery for Mark, the promised credit-chit for his share of House Ryoval.  Mark predicts that Baron Fell will have short-changed him, but not enough to be worth arguing over, and confirms it by scanning the chit.  Miles asks how much, and Mark makes him admit he was sleeping with Rowan Durona before telling him–two million Betan dollars, close to four times that in Barrayaran marks.  Closer to 2% the value of Ryoval’s assets than 10%, though.  Miles is temporarily speechless at the amount, then asks what he’s going to do with it.  Mark says he wants to invest it in the Barrayaran economy, but he plans to give a million to ImpSec for their services, which flabbergasts Miles.

“Nobody gives money to ImpSec!”

“Why not? Look at your mercenary operations, for instance. Isn’t being a mercenary supposed to be profitable? The Dendarii Fleet could be a veritable cash cow for ImpSec, if it were run right.”

“They take out their profit in political consequences,” said Miles firmly. “Though—if you really do it, I want to be there. To see the look on Illyan’s face.”

Mark says he should be able to recoup the amount in a few years, anyway.  He intends to become rich, to give himself a value that nobody can doubt.  He can even move out and get his own place, so he’s not still living in his parents’ house by Miles’s age…  Miles tells him, bemused, that he may be the first Vorkosigan to turn a profit in business in five generations.  After a short silence, Mark says he knows that piecemeal clone-rescue isn’t the answer to the problem; Miles agrees that he need to invest in the technology to reduce the demand.

Their departure shuttle arrives, and Miles goes to check on it; Mark enlists the Duronas to shift him into a float-chair, giving him one final shot of stims, and prepares to go home, for the first time in his life.

Comments

I’m still not sure why Mark is giving money to ImpSec, especially after he complained about their tardiness.  Maybe it’s supposed to be a pointed hint that they need better-paid analysts.  He says he wants to go work for them, too, but then he talks about business investment…can he do both?  Maybe his investment won’t require as much active participation, but there might be conflict of interest with his ImpSec intelligence.  I don’t recall him being an analyst in later books, but maybe it just doesn’t go into his day-to-day work that much, and he does spend time off-planet, so I’m not sure.

So apparently Elena’s secret mission was to destroy the incriminating tapes that Ryoval made of Mark’s torture sessions.  It’s probably a good thing that somebody did, since Mark has a good point about how ImpSec wouldn’t have been able to just let it go.  The “respect” thing is nice, especially considering how far Elena had to go to get there.  Not as far as Elli, of course.

This must be the “how much Mark has grown” chapter.  He’s mature about Lilly Durona Jr.’s lack of expressed gratitude for her rescue, he’s settling into being Miles’s brother, different from him and willing to play with the role.  He knows what he wants to do with his life, or at least has some goals.  Of course, the remainder of his growth arc will be when he goes back home (for the first time) to Barrayar, Vorkosigan House, and Kareen Koudelka…

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Two more chapters next week, I promise.  Unless I get really busy with something.  But it’s just the sweet, sweet denouement back on Barrayar (yay!), and really a kind of farewell to Mark, or at least an au revoir, since he doesn’t get to be a viewpoint character again until A Civil Campaign–we get to focus on Miles again for a bit.  Until then…

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Against all odds, another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread has crawled up out of the depths of the Internet and found its way onto this blog.  It has digested two more chapters of Mirror Dance, the 29th and 30th ones, bringing us even closer to the end of the current book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  Let’s see what it’s made of, shall we?

Chapter Twenty-Nine

The Ryoval guards bring Miles to the Ryoval facility, but they are disturbed to find doors open, vehicles missing, and guard posts unattended.  They let themselves in, and strip Miles as per their orders, but they’re reluctant to do more without further instructions, Ryoval not being supportive of individual initiative.  They bring Miles into the facility in search of the Baron, hands still cuffed behind his back.  Miles deduces that this is Ryoval’s new research facility, relocated after his raid of a few years earlier.

They reach Ryoval’s office, and again wait several minutes before the guards get the nerve to go inside, though at least they also decide not to beat Miles up while they wait.  Finally one of the guards explores a little further, and cries out upon finding Ryoval’s dead body; the other guard brings Miles to join him.  Ryoval’s brain has been burned out, and his hand cut off.  Miles wonders exactly what type of control Ryoval had over his guards, to have them flawlessly obedient while not complete automata.  He concludes that Ryoval must have been a nearly godlike figure for them, and begins to be apprehensive of what they’ll do after his sudden removal.

The senior guard explores the rest of the office and returns to declare Ryoval’s flier gone and his defenses broken down.  While they waver in indecision, Miles suggests they look for other survivors and witnesses, maybe even the assassin, while silently wondering about Mark.  They argue about what to do with Miles, finally electing to bring him along.  In the rest of the facility, they find dead guards and techs, random bloodstains, signs of violence and vandalism.  In the lowest level, four of Ryoval’s most extreme experiments, barely even human any more, have been dispatched by some merciful tech.  He ascertains none of them was Mark, though he suspects them to have been former Ryoval employees.  Seized by inspiration, Miles claims to have seen one of the creatures move.

“Can’t have.” The senior guard stared through the transparent wall at a body which lay with its back to them.

“He couldn’t possibly have witnessed anything from in there, could he?” said Miles. “For God’s sake, don’t open the door.”

“Shut up.” The senior guard chewed his lip, stared at the control virtual, and after an irresolute moment, coded open the door and trod cautiously within.

“Gah!” said Miles.

“What?” snapped the junior guard.

“He moved again. He, he, sort of spasmed.”

Once both guards are in the room, Miles shuts the door and locks them in.  When one begins trying to cut his way out with a plasma arc, Miles turns down the oxygen until they pass out.  Then he finds some cutters and manages to cut his shackles.  He finds no weapons but a laser-scalpel, and heads back through the facility, wishing for some clothes.  He wonders if Mark is locked up somewhere, and breaks open every door he can find in a frantic and fruitless search.  In the small cell near Ryoval’s quarters, he finds traces of a former occupant, blood and other stains.  No Mark, though, so he resolves to find his way out.

He hacks his way past the locks on Ryoval’s comconsole and finally gets access to public channels.  He eventually decides to call the Barrayaran consulate, i.e. ImpSec, pretending to be Admiral Naismith, and wonders why they hadn’t come here looking for Mark already.  Half an hour later a Lieutenant Iverson comes down with a squad, expressing disbelief that the facility is already secured, and telling Miles they’ve been looking for this place for years.  Miles asks after Mark, but Iverson only know about a tip to raid House Bharaputra, obviously placed by Rowan after her escape, but Miles says he’s not there anymore.  He asks after the Dendarii, and Iverson says they’re sending a squad as well.

The Dendarii representatives shows up armoured, and Quinn is ecstatic to see Miles himself again, but he addresses her on a professional footing and asks what’s been going on.

She looked slightly overwhelmed. “Since when? When you were killed—”

“Start from five days ago. When you came to the Durona Group.”

“We came looking for you. Found you, after nearly four bleeding months!”

“You were stunned, Mark was taken, and Lilly Durona hustled me and my surgeon off to what she thought was going to be safety,” Miles cued her to the focus he wanted.

She says that at first Lilly Durona wasn’t concerned about his disappearance, but eventually realized that Miles and Rowan hadn’t just gone to ground.  ImpSec took some time to work through their pet theory of Cetagandan agents and start focusing on finding Miles and Mark.

“Right. But you suspected Ryoval had Mark.”

“But Ryoval wanted Admiral Naismith. We thought Ryoval would figure out he had the wrong man.”

He ran his hands over his face. His head was aching. And so was his stomach. “Did you ever figure that Ryoval wouldn’t care? In a few minutes, I want you to go down the corridor and look at the cell they kept him in. And smell it. I want you to look closely. In fact, go now. Sergeant Taura, stay.”

Taura tells him that Quinn had no respect for Mark at all, but she herself came to realize that he’d come very close to success with the creche raid, and he was trying very hard when nobody else was trying at all.  He asks how they could leave Mark in Ryoval’s clutches for days, and she insists they really did think he’d figure out he had the wrong one.  Miles hopes things weren’t as bad as they looked.  Once the other Dendarii return, he tells them it’s time to focus on Mark.

Elena asks Miles who he thinks killed Ryoval, noting that it was an unarmed fighter who was also handy with a tool kit, and says she thinks it was Mark.  Miles expresses disbelief, but Elena tells him about the fight in Vorbarr Sultana, and notes that he was intended to kill Aral Vorkosigan.  Miles realizes that, out of touch as he is, not to mention the seizures and his still-growing organs, he may not be the best choice to be in charge.  Elena starts to tell him something else about his father when they’re interrupted by Iverson telling him that Baron Fell has just arrived to collect Ryoval’s body.  Miles tells him to let Fell in with one bodyguard, and they’ll talk.

Fell and Miles bandy words for a few minutes; Miles tells Fell how he was brought to the facility and found it pretty much that way.  Fell notes that he’s heard from a first-hand source, probably a Ryoval employee who fled to inform him.  They go to examine the body; Fell notes the missing hand and laser marks in the head, and says he’d love to find whoever did this and offer them a job.

Just then a call arrives at Ryoval’s private console, which Fell says could only be accessed from outside with the code-key.  Miles is flabbergasted to see Mark on the screen, looking fleshly scrubbed but with bruises all over his face; Mark is glad to see Miles come back to himself.

“I’m at Lilly Durona’s. God, Miles. What a place. What a woman. She let me have a bath. She put my skin back on. She fixed my foot. She gave me a hypo of muscle-relaxant for my back. With her own hands, she performed medical services too intimate and disgusting to describe, but very badly needed, I assure you, and held my head while I screamed. Did I mention the bath? I love her, and I want to marry her.”

All this was delivered with such dead-pan enthusiasm, Miles could not tell if Mark was joking. “What are you on?” he asked suspiciously.

“Pain killers. Lots and lots of pain killers. Oh, it’s wonderful!” He favored Miles with a weird broad grin. “But don’t worry, my head is perfectly clear. It’s just the bath. I was holding it together till she gave me the bath. It unmanned me. Do you know what a wonderful thing a bath is, when you’re washing off—never mind.”

Fell leans forward to ask Mark about the code-key, and Mark invites them all to “tea” at Lilly’s, including the ImpSec troops, because his own are too tired.  Fell asks if he really knows what he’s doing, and Mark assures them that he does, and wonders why nobody believes him.  Fell asks to speak to Lilly, but Mark says he can come along and talk to her directly; Fell agrees.  Mark asks if Elena is there, and says he wants a private word with “his armswoman”.  Miles is confused by the reference, but allows himself to be ejected.  Iverson arranges transport to the Duronas; Elena emerges to say Mark has given her some orders and she’ll have to catch up.

“That was Mark?” Miles muttered, heading reluctantly in the opposite direction. He couldn’t have acquired some other clone-brother while he was dead, could he? “It didn’t sound like Mark. For one thing, he sounded like he was glad to see me. That’s Mark?”

“Oh, yes,” said Quinn. “That was Mark all right.”

He quickened his pace. Even Taura had to lengthen her stride to keep up.

Comments

I guess some time passed between Mark’s departure and Miles’s arrival–how long?  Hours?  A day?  Somebody must have finally decided to check on the Baron before all hell broke loose.  Looks like it was only Ryoval, his threats and his conditioning that were holding his House together, because it disintegrated pretty quickly after that.  And Miles uses his fast-talk ability yet again to disable his enemies–that’s his own variety of unarmed combat.

I’m not sure that Miles, posing as Admiral Naismith, should have been getting quite as much cooperation from ImpSec as he did here, but maybe there were standing orders of some sort.  What would Illyan have to say about Naismith, after all?  If he knew that Mark was unlikely to be able to pose as him successfully, any Naismith that showed up would have to be Miles, and if Miles were alive…

Miles spends a lot of time worried about Mark and his fate, so it’s hilarious to see how well Mark has things in hand when he does call in.  And Miles is having a hard time catching up on developments with his twin during, and mostly due to, his period of death and recovery.  Elena, Taura, and even Quinn seem to have been won over to great or lesser degrees.  (Bel is technically in this chapter, but keeping pretty quiet.)

I would’ve thought that Taura might have had a few flashbacks about entering House Ryoval again.  Admittedly, it is a completely different facility from the one she was held in before, but the name would still probably give her foreboding, not to mention it’d probably have something of the same aura, possibly even the smell…

Chapter Thirty

The Dendarii, Baron Fell, and ImpSec (in a shuttle borrowed from House Dyne) arrive at the Durona clinic close to the same time.

As they were circling for a landing, Miles asked Quinn, who was piloting, “Elli—if we were flying along, in a lightflyer or an aircar or something, and I suddenly ordered you to crash it, would you?”

“Now?” asked Quinn, startled. The shuttle lurched.

“No! Not now. I mean theoretically. Obey, instantly, no questions asked.”

“Well, sure, I suppose so. I’d ask questions afterward though. Probably with my hands wrapped around your neck.”

“That’s what I thought.” Miles sat back, satisfied.

Baron Fell isn’t sure about letting the three armoured Dendarii accompany Miles into a House Fell facility, but Miles says that after the earlier force-screen failure, he feels like he needs a bodyguard.  He offers to leave the ImpSec contingent outside, and the Baron agrees.

Mark has staged a tableau in Lilly Durona’s penthouse, sitting himself in Lilly’s chair, broken foot propped up, surrounded by Duronas, including Lilly herself, but not Rowan.  A severed hand sits in a box on Lilly’s tea table, wearing a silver ring set with a large black gemstone.  Miles is disturbed at how bloated Mark looks, even though most of his body is covered up, leaving only his bruised face on display.  Mark’s right hand sits on top of a small control box, his finger on a button.

Baron Fell sees the box and makes a beeline for it, but Mark stops him, telling him that he’s got his finger on a deadman switch that will set off a small thermal grenade to incinerate the contents of the box, with another controller outside the room as a backup.  He warns them not to stun, jump, or annoy him or he’ll set it off.  Fell says he must know how valuable that is, and thus he’s bluffing, and Mark says he’s not feeling too kindly toward House Ryoval right now, but he’s willing to Deal with the Baron.

Fell and Miles sit down, their respective bodyguards wary, and Lilly offers tea.  Miles realizes that this is Mark’s show, but he wonders how sane Mark is at the moment.  Tea is served for Mark and Fell, though Mark’s hand is shaking badly and the young Durona serving girl lifts it to his mouth.  Mark then begins, stating that the ring on the hand in the box is Ryoval’s personal code-key, and that soon after Baron Ryoval’s death the vultures will begin descending on the House’s carcass.  He notes that someone in possession of the code-key would have a distinct advantage in the race to acquire Ryoval’s assets, and with Baron Fell being an actual blood relative, it would make his claim almost ironclad.  Fell says it’s not Mark’s to trade, and Mark says that it is–he paid for it, he earned it, and he can destroy it.

He then asks Baron Fell what the value of the Durona Group is, relative to House Ryoval.  Fell says it’s hard to calculate, but not more than a twentieth, though the intellectual property’s value is harder to calculate.  Mark offers him House Ryoval in exchange for the Durona Group, with an “agent’s fee” of 10% of Ryoval’s value.  Fell asks what he plans to do with the Duronas, and Mark says he will give them their freedom and let them go “where they wist”, most likely Escobar.  Fell sits back to think it over, and Miles begins to plan for contingencies in case the Baron decides to resort to violence.  Instead they begin to negotiate.

Fell asks to subtract the Durona Group’s value from the 10%, and have them leave all their property and notes behind.  Mark asks for them to be able to copy technical files and bring personal possessions; Fell agrees to the possessions, what each one can carry, but denies the files and says their credit account will remain his.  Mark and Lilly have a whispered conference, and then Mark tells him it’s a Deal, disarming the control box and relaxing his hand.  The Duronas instantly scatter to begin gathering their possessions.  Fell congratulates Mark on his dealing, and offers him a position as a galactic agent, and Admiral Naismith too if he’s willing; Mark says he’ll consider it if his other options fall through, and Miles says the Dendarii prefer offense, not defense.  Baron Fell says that if his lifespan were to increase, he’d have ample opportunity to pursue long-term goals now that the acquisition of House Ryoval has given him an “interestingly unbalanced” position, but Miles still rejects the offer.

At Fell’s gesture, one of his bodyguards carefully picked up the transparent box. Fell turned to Lilly.

“Well, old sister. You’ve had an interesting life.”

“I still have it,” smiled Lilly.

“For a while.”

“Long enough for me, greedy little boy. So this is the end of the road. The last of our blood-pact. Who would have imagined it, all those years ago, when we were climbing out of Ryoval’s sewers together?”

Fell offers Mark a final handshake before departing.  Mark asks if he’ll hold to the Deal, and Lilly says that he will, if only because he’ll be too busy with absorbing House Ryoval to spare them much attention, and after that he may regret their loss, but not to extremes.  Then she heads off to organize their departure, and Mark slumps in fatigue.  Elli tells Miles that ImpSec is contacting her to announce they have reinforcements ready, and Mark says they can send them home, and maybe he’ll hitch a ride with them.  Miles says he needs to rendezvous with the Dendarii, but Elli says the fleet is fine, making ready to rendezvous at Escobar with their new ships, and Miles needs some attention from ImpMil.  Illyan will want him to go home, and then there’s his father…  Mark tells him about the heart attack and says they should have the transplant ready by this time.

“You were there?” What did you do to him? Miles felt as if he’d just had his magnetic poles reversed. “I have to get home!”

“That’s what I just said,” said Mark wearily. “Why d’you think we trooped all the way back here, but to drag you home? It wasn’t for the free holiday at Ry Ryoval’s health spa, let me tell you. Mother thinks I’m the next Vorkosigan heir. I can deal with Barrayar, I think, but I sure as hell can’t deal with that.”

Miles forces himself to settle down, afraid to trigger another seizure, and hoping that they’re not a permanent effect.  Mark says he’ll let the Duronas use his ship–the present from his mother–to get to Escobar, where they can sell the ship and he can pay her back, and the Dendarii can hitch a ride with them too.  Miles hopes that Elli, Rowan and Taura don’t get together and compare notes, or worse, become friends and decide to partition him.

It wasn’t, he swore, that he picked up so many women. Compared to Ivan, he was practically celibate. It was just that he never put any down. The accumulation could become downright embarrassing, over a long enough time-span. He needed . . . Lady Vorkosigan, to put an end to this nonsense. But even Elli the bold refused to volunteer for that duty.

Miles agrees to Mark’s plan and tells Quinn and Durona to arrange it, but asks Bel to stay behind for a talk with him and Mark.  He recalls how, in his amnesic state, he’d seen Bel as female, rather than male.  He tells Bel he can’t let it go back to the _Ariel_; after it admitted it’d known what Mark was up to and followed along on the rogue mission, Miles can’t let it go back to command, and asks for its resignation, which it offers.  Mark muses that it’s unfair to punish Bel and not him, but Miles thinks that Mark’s certainly gotten his share of punishment in any case.  Miles asks after Bel’s plans, and it says it isn’t sure; Miles says that Simon Illyan may be willing to keep it on as an ImpSec agent, and Bel says it’ll think about it on the way to Escobar.  Bel tells Mark that at least they managed to save a few clones, and that’s something.

Bel eyed Miles. “Do you remember the first time we ever saw each other?” it asked.

“Yes. I stunned you.”

“You surely did.” It walked over to his chair, and bent, and took his chin in its hand. “Hold still. I’ve been wanting to do this for years.” It kissed him, long and quite thoroughly. Miles thought about appearances, thought about the ambiguity of it, thought about sudden death, thought the hell with it all, and kissed Bel back. Straightening again, Bel smiled.

Elena appears and tells Mark she has to talk to him, in private; Mark says he’s too tired to get up, and Elena tells Bel and Miles to get lost.  Miles goes in search of Rowan, and finds her in her quarters, packing, in company with Lilly Junior.  Rowan is happy to see that he’s got his memories back (and is “really” Miles Naismith), but Miles admits that he got his memories back while they were together as Bharaputra captives, and she’s put out.  She’s happy that he managed to get Lilly Jr. out, though, and the Dendarii shuttle is already bringing Duronas up to Mark’s ship, so they should be offplanet before Baron Bharaputra figures it out.  She says they’ll be staying together on Escobar, at least at first, but they’ll be dissolving the group upon Lilly’s death, and she expects that House Ryoval staffers will be in the building by tomorrow.  Miles sees a control-box on the bed and realizes that Rowan was Mark’s remote grenade controller.  She tells him Mark’s arrival earlier that morning was quite impressive.

She asks Miles about his plans, and he says he’ll be going back to the Dendarii after he recovers.  He asks if the seizures will stop, and she says they should, but it’s hard to tell.  She asks if he’ll find the time to stop by Escobar, and he allows that he might.

He hesitated. I need my Lady Vorkosigan, to put an end to this wandering. . . . Could Rowan be it? The thirty-five sisters-in-law would be a distant drawback, safely far away on Escobar. “What would you think of the planet Barrayar, as a place to live and work?” he inquired cautiously.

Her nose wrinkled. “That backward pit? Why?”

“I . . . have some interests there. In fact, it’s where I’m planning to retire. It’s a very beautiful place, really. And underpopulated. They encourage, um . . . children.” He was skirting dangerously close to breaking his cover, the strained identity he’d risked so much lately to retain. “And there’d be lots of work for a galactic-trained physician.”

“I’ll bet. But I’ve been a slave all my life. Why would I choose to be a subject, when I could choose to be a citizen?” She smiled wryly, and came to him, and twined her arms around his shoulders. “Those five days we were locked up together at Vasa Luigi’s—that wasn’t an effect of the imprisonment, was it. That’s the way you really are, when you’re well.”

She says she knows now what a hyperactive adult looks like, and says that she loves him, but living with his domineering personality would drive her crazy.  Miles says that she’s supposed to push back, not let him push her around.  He wonders if he should use a Barrayaran go-between next time, to seal the deal before the woman gets to know him too well.

Miles asks Lilly Jr. if she’s talked to Mark yet; he’d be happy to know she managed to escape after all.  She says Mark had tried to convince her, but Miles talked better than he did; Miles says that Mark just bought her way offplanet with the rest of them.  He takes her arm and escorts her out of the room.

Comments

I’d forgotten that Lilly Durona was also a relative of the two Barons.  Actual blood relatives, or not?  Fell and Ryoval are labelled as half-brothers, but to what extent is Lilly related?  And Lilly’s clone Lotus is married to Baron Bharaputra–do they have any offspring?  I imagine they wouldn’t have any compunctions about using uterine replicators if they did…

So the Duronas do get rescued from Jackson’s Whole after all, though not by the Admiral Naismith they were hoping for.  I did vaguely recall that they did, but the details had eluded me–I guess it wasn’t done in some secret Dendarii escape plan, but through legitimate Jacksonian dealing, though I suppose there was a bit of murder involved in acquiring the main bargaining chip.

Bel was very quiet in the last chapter, and I guess it knew what was coming.  It’d earned it, though, paradoxically, mostly through taking over the initial clone-rescue operation after Mark had fouled it up and admitting it knew this wasn’t the real Admiral Naismith.  (It still feels wrong to use “it” as Bel’s personal pronoun, even if that’s what the author uses for it; I’ve had to go back and correct almost every single pronoun I’ve used for it, even in this paragraph.)  If Bel had pretended to be fooled, then Miles might have been able to let it off.  It’s a few books before we see it again…but we do see it again.

This may be the last we see of Jackson’s Whole, too.  I haven’t peeked ahead yet, but after this I suspect we go back to Barrayar for the rest of the denouement, though I’m not sure what there’ll be to occupy the last three chapters.  Then the next few books stick close to home in the Barrayaran Empire, before we get to go further afield.  There are Jacksonians in Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, of course, but not on Jackson’s Whole itself.  Well, after this I think we’ve seen enough of it…  (And now I’ve peeked, and we still have another scene or two–Elena’s task for Mark being resolved, for instance.)

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Three more chapters!  Two more weeks, with any luck!  Mirror Dance almost through, and then Memory, yay!  And coming up on the blog’s two-year anniversary, too.  Will it take another year to get through the rest of the series, I wonder?  I can always tack Falling Free on the end, or maybe I can just heave a sigh of relief and reclaim two evenings out of my week.  But I’m getting way ahead of myself here.  Three more chapters of Mirror Dance, and then a few more books after that…

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

Chapter Twenty-Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

” . . . I think I love you.”

“This is a problem?”

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

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

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

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

It ticked on the windows. . . .

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

The window burst inward.

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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


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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where the hell did you get a ship?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“—he’s fatter.”

Comments

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where we now?”

“I’d rather not say, just yet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


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

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Is it that time again already?  What do you mean, that was yesterday?  Anyway, it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein the Vorkosigan Saga novels of Lois McMaster Bujold are read, summarized, and discussed.  This week I manage to get through two more chapters of Mirror Dance, where we finally get to see something of the long-absent (due to a slight case of death) Miles Vorkosigan once again, while his clone-brother Mark prepares to dash off to the rescue if they will but let him.

Chapter Nineteen

A man awakens in a hospital bed, and opens his eyes to find them covered with some kind of translucent medical goo.  He’s having trouble breathing, and realizes that there’s a tube down his throat, and more in his nose, and sticking into his arms; it hurts to move.  Looking down at himself, he sees his chest sunken and covered with scars and surgical patches, as well as the goo, and more tubes everywhere.  That can’t be good, he thinks as he sinks back into unconsciousness.

Later, half-drowsing, a woman comes, tells him that they’re taking out his “pacer”, since his new heart and lungs should be working.  She opens up his chest and takes something out, closing it up again when she’s done and giving the thing to her male assistant.  She’s pretty and vaguely Asian, and dressed in a white coat, and he guesses she’s a doctor, but she can’t hear him around the tube in his throat, which she then removes, to his immense relief.  She asks him his name, and he realizes he doesn’t know.  The assistant says he’s placed bets that this one’s brain-damaged, but the woman says he needs some time to recover.  She does some simple reflex tests, saying she’ll save more complex ones for a few more days.  Convinced somehow that he has to recover soon or die, he tries doing some simple exercises in bed after they leave, but the man returns and sedates him, sinking him into nightmares.

Later, the woman returns to give him his first meal with his new stomach, nothing more than glucose water.  He proves able to suck it through a straw, but can’t drink much; the woman explains that his new organs are still a little small, but “Lilly” was in a hurry to awaken him.  He’s not sure if she expects him to understand what she says, though.  She gives him a sponge bath, and he spies the tag “DR. R. DURONA” on the pocket of her scrubs.

“You were quite a little mystery, you know. Delivered to me in a crate. Raven said you were too small to be a soldier, but I picked out enough camouflage cloth and nerve disruptor shield-netting, along with the forty-six grenade fragments, to be quite sure you weren’t just a bystander. Whatever you were, that needle-grenade had your name on it. Unfortunately, not in writing.” She sighed half to herself. “Who are you?”

She did not pause for an answer, which was just as well. The effort of swallowing the sugar water had exhausted him again. An equally pertinent question was, Where was he, and he was peeved that she, who must surely know, didn’t think to tell him. The room was an anonymous high-tech medical locale, without windows. On a planet, not a ship.

How do I know that? A vague picture of a ship, in his head, seemed to shatter at his touch. What ship? For that matter, what planet?

There ought to be a window. A big window, framing a high hazy city-scape with a rapid river cutting through it. And people. There were people missing, who ought by rights to be here, though he could not picture them. The mix of generic medical familiarity and particular strangeness tied his guts in knots.

He’s relieved, if a little raw, to have all the dead skin removed; she depilates his face as well and combs his hair, pulling out clumps of it, and then holds up a mirror.  He doesn’t recognize his face, but supposes he can get used to it, despite bloodshot eyes and patchy hair.  He tries to speak but can’t get anything coherent out.

“Lilly called your cryo-chamber Pandora’s box,” she murmured reflectively. “But I thought of it as the enchanted knight’s crystal coffin. I wish it were as easy as waking you with a kiss.”

She bent over, eyelids fluttering half-closed, and touched her lips to his. He lay very still, half-pleased, half-panicked. She straightened, watched him another moment, and sighed. “Didn’t think it would work. Maybe I’m just not the right princess.”

She leaves him in the dark, where he falls asleep on his own, feeling somewhat hopeful.  When he awakens he begins to regain some muscle control, enough to twitch his arms and legs, but when Dr. Durona returns, she’s horribly wrong–older, and colder towards him, more businesslike, with different, shorter hair.  He can’t understand, wondering if he fell asleep for longer than he’d thought.  She puts him in a hospital gown and makes him stand up, which nearly makes him pass out, then puts him back to bed.  Next time she shows up looking ten years older yet, with hair in a ponytail, and walks him across the room and back.

The short-haired version returns and gets him walking again, out into the hallway where he sees the older Dr. Durona, and this time notices they have different initials on their nametags–Dr. P. with the ponytail, Dr. C. (addressed as “Chrys”) with the shorter hair, neither of them his Dr. R.  discuss his progress, Chrys being of the opinion that he’s progressing well physically, but mentally not as well.  Lilly is pressuring them to get his memories working again, or he’ll be of no use.  They put him back to bed, and his Dr. R. Durona, appears then, to his relief, expressing mock disapproval about their treatment of her patient.  Chrys is apparently the physical therapist, which explains things, and Dr. R. sets limits on the therapy, though fairly high ones.

The other two leave him with her, and she tells him his hair is starting to grow again in his bare patches, and hopes this means his brain is working too.  She asks him again for his name, and he responds by asking, muzzily, for hers.  At first she simply thinks he’s repeating what she said, but he convinces her that he is actually asking for her own name, and tells him that it’s Rowan.  He tries to urge her to kiss him again, but she leaves.

This time he doesn’t fall asleep, but lies there with bits of thought washing around his brain, some of them possibly memories.  When he examines them too closely he gets panicky, though, and so he just lets them froth.  He decides that if he can’t remember who he is, he can try to figure out where.  He’s no longer hooked up to machines or tagged, so he slips out of bed and to his door, which opens.  The hallway outside leads past a monitor-station which seems to be temporarily unmanned, so he slips past and out through the door at the end, which also opens.  He passes surgeries, storage rooms, and labs, and concludes somehow that this place is more of a research centre than a hospital or clinic.

He finds the bottom of a deactivated lift-tube, and after briefly considering trying to climb it (which proves to be beyond his physical capabilities) he risks turning the power on and rises from level “S-3” to “S-1”.  The lift-tube exits into a tiny foyer, then a storage room, but when he turns around he discovers the door has vanished and he can’t reopen it again.  His bare feet are cold and he’s dizzy and tired, but he can’t return to his bed, so he persuades himself to go on.  He finds the bottom of another lift-tube, this one labelled as “B-2”, with nothing below it; he heads up to level “G”, which proves to be ground level.  He finds a darkened lobby, with glass doors and windows showing that it’s night outside.  There is a desk with a comconsole, where he sits gratefully, but can’t access its data, even though he’s sure he can overcome a palm-lock.

He shivered. God, I hate cold. He wobbled over to the glass door. It was snowing outside, tiny scintillant dots whipping by slantwise through the white arc of a floodlight. They would be hard, and hiss and sting on bare skin. A weird vision of a dozen naked men standing shivering in a midnight blizzard flitted across his mind’s eye, but he could attach no names to the scene, only a sensation of deep disaster. Was that how he had died, freezing in the wind and snow? Recently, nearby?

I was dead. The realization came to him for the first time, a burst of shock radiating outward from his belly. He traced the aching scars on his torso through the thin fabric of his gown. And I’m not feeling too good now, either. He giggled, an off-balance noise disturbing even to his own ears. He stifled his mouth with his fist. He must not have had time to be afraid, before, because the retroactive wash of terror knocked him to his knees. Then to his hands and knees. The shivering cold was making his hands shake uncontrollably. He began to crawl.

He gets close to the door, which opens automatically; not wanting to get trapped outside again, he tries to turn to avoid it, but gets disoriented and finds himself outside after all.  Suddenly he feels a shock and smells singed hair as he is pushed back into the doorway, where he curls up miserably.

Voices and shouts arise, and he is pulled back inside to a babble of voices wondering how he got there, and asking for Rowan to be called.  One of the men proves to be Rowan’s male assistant, whose initial is also R., who wonders how he broke out of their security.

“Na’ sec’rty.” Words! His mouth was making words! “Fire saf’ty.” He added reflectively, “Dolt.”

The young man’s face jerked back in bewildered offense. “Are you talking to me, Short Circuit?”

“He’s talking!” His Dr. Durona’s face circled overhead, her voice thrilled. He recognized her even with her fine hair loose, falling all around her face in a dark cloud. Rowan, my love. “Raven, what did he say?”

The youth’s dark brows wrinkled. “I’d swear he just said ‘fire safety.’ ” Gibberish, I guess.”

Rowan explains how he must have known that the locked doors would all open outward, for fire safety, but Raven isn’t impressed.  An older Dr. Durona with white hair shuffles out and dismisses everyone without a reason to be there; she asks how he got out, and the one who was supposed to be manning the monitor station admits to leaving their post for a minute.  Raven says he’d have frozen to death out there even if he had gotten through the force screen.  After some discussion of improved security, they decide he needs to be guarded; Raven is assigned as his night guard because he can be spared, with Rowan to watch him during the day.

Raven picks him up to carry him back down, where Rowan checks him for damage.  He’s shivering with cold, so they raise the temperature in his room.  Rowan says he’s in some minor distress, but he should fall asleep once he warms up.  Rowan invites him to speak again, but he’s thinking about the tension he sensed among the various Dr. Duronas in the lobby, tension to do with him, and wonders what they know about him.  Rowan leaves and Raven stays with him, studying some medical subject or other, still in training to be a doctor like the others.

He lay back, drained beyond measure. His excursion tonight had nearly killed him, and what had he learned for all his pains? Not much, except this: I am come to a very strange place.

And I am a prisoner here.

Comments

So first Kyril Island, and now cryo-freezing…and a cold planetary environment (Jackson’s Whole?) outside his prison.  Poor Miles, with the cold.  I sympathize.  For it is Miles, of course, even if he doesn’t know himself yet.  With new heart and lungs, and apparently stomach too–he was really blown out, wasn’t he?  The dead skin flaking off was a little disgusting, but I guess if he was frozen, a lot of his skin might have died.  Not sure how that would work, I guess.  This bringing someone back from death must be a complicated business.

Somehow, even unconscious and amnesic, he’s still winning over hearts and minds, as he and Rowan seem to be drawn together, even if none of the others are quite as impressed.  The Duronas are all clones, of course, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have differences in personality, even if it’s just because of being raised in changing family environments.

Chapter Twenty

The day before Mark, Elena and Cordelia are due to leave, they’re looking at ship specs.  Mark asks if he thinks they’ll be able to stop in on Komarr and visit his clones, who ImpSec has set up in a private boarding school there, where they can be together and yet still meet other children.  Cordelia has urged that they be put into foster families to give them examples for forming their own families later in life.  Now she says that they could stop in, certainly–Illyan will complain, but they can overrule him–but she wonders if it might not be better for Mark not to know precisely where they are, in case he falls into Bharaputran hands on Jackson’s Whole.  Mark decides that it’s probably better if he doesn’t see them, having come to terms with the fact that they won’t see him as a hero.

Illyan calls and asks to talk to Cordelia; Elena and Mark worry that he’s going to block them, but Cordelia tells them to be quiet and let her deal with Simon.  Illyan pronounces her scheme unacceptable.

“To whom, Simon? Not to me. Who else gets a vote?”

“Security,” Illyan growled.

“You are Security. I’ll thank you to take responsibility for your own emotional responses, and not try to shift them onto some vague abstraction. Or get off the line and let me talk to Captain Security, then.”

Cordelia says that he’ll need to arrest her and Mark to keep them from going; Illyan threatens to go to the Count, but Cordelia says she’s already cleared it with him, and he’s too ill to be bothered further.  Illyan protests that he doesn’t see the point of their expedition, and Cordelia says that they don’t know yet what Mark will be able to do, but ImpSec is welcome to beat him to it.  Illyan points out that they are risking the last chances of House Vorkosigan, and Cordelia says she accepts that risk.  Illyan says that people from all parties are scrambling to find someone to take over Aral’s position, and Cordelia wishes them well, and hopes that she can get her husband out of the government alive.

“Who is capable of succeeding him?” asked Illyan plaintively.

“A number of men. Racozy, Vorhalas, or Sendorf, to name three. If not, there was something terribly wrong with Aral’s leadership. One mark of a great man is the legacy of men he leaves behind him, to whom he’s passed on his skills. If you think Aral so small as to have stifled all possible others around him, spreading smallness like a plague, then perhaps Barrayar is better off without him.”

Illyan then asks if she’s considered the risk of bringing Mark too close to Miles.  Cordelia says that if he’s so worried about that, he’ll have to find Miles first.  Illyan protests that they’ll expect help from ImpSec if they get into trouble, and Cordelia says that they should have the right to expect it anyway.  Illyan signs off, and Cordelia says he’s going to try to go over her head, so she waits at the console until Gregor calls.

“Good morning, Lady Cordelia. You really ought not to stir up poor Simon that way, you know.”

“He deserved it,” she said equably. “I admit, he has far too much on his mind at the moment. Suppressed panic turns him into a prick every time; it’s what he does instead of running in circles screaming. A way of coping, I suppose.”

“While others of us cope by becoming over-analytical,” Gregor murmured. The Countess’s lip twitched, and Mark suddenly thought he knew who might shave the barber.

Gregor asks if she really thinks this expedition is wise, and Cordelia says that they can only find out by trying it.  She notes that this is really the best to put any rumours about Mark’s motives to rest, by putting him in a situation of supposed temptation and giving him enough rope to hang himself.  Gregor finds this a compelling argument, and wishes Mark good luck.

Cordelia and Mark make a final visit to Aral at ImpMil hospital; Mark finds the hospital atmosphere oppressive, and still finds Aral daunting, but Cordelia predicts that he’ll regret not having talked to the Count more than he’d ever regret doing it.  Aral is sitting in bed looking out the window, his colour far from good, and is cheered by their presence.  Cordelia tells him she’s seen his new heart, still tiny but beating away in its vat, which she thinks is cute but Aral grotesque; she comments on the possibilities for tasteless jokes with his old heart when he’s done with it.

Aral talks to Mark about the Jackson’s Whole expedition, wishing momentarily that Bothari was going with them, causing them some concern until they’re sure that he’s not forgetting that Bothari is years dead.  He laments the role of the mentor, left behind while the protégé goes and risks himself, and advises Mark that he can’t be defeated if he’s not defeated in his own mind.  He and Aral exchange a firm hand-clasp, and Aral wishes confusion to his enemies.

That night Mark makes one final call, to the Koudelka household, where Mrs. Koudelka answers.  He asks haltingly for Kareen.

A blonde brow twitched. “I believe I know which one you are, but—who may I say is calling?”

“Lord Mark Vorkosigan,” he got out.

“Just a moment, my lord.” She left the range of the vid pick-up; he could hear her voice fading in the distance, calling “Kareen!”

There was a muffled bumping in the background, garbled voices, a shriek, and Kareen’s laughing voice crying, “No, Delia, it’s for me! Mother, make her go away! Mine, all mine! Out!” The sound of a door thumping closed on, presumably, flesh, a yelp, then a firmer and more final slam.

Kareen is quite happy to see him, and Mark is breathless for a moment.  He tells her he’s called to say goodbye, and clarifies that he’s going off-planet for a while.  She asks when he’ll be back, and he says he’s not sure, but he would like to see her on his return.  He asks what was going on with her sister, and she explains that Delia would have stood off-camera and made faces at her while she talked to Mark, because that’s what Kareen’s done to her.  Mark is amazed by how normal this situation is, and leads her into a description of her life, of a well-off family with a strong work ethic–peaceful, calm and real.  Kareen slows down when she realizes how little Mark is saying.

“Good heavens, I’m babbling. I’m sorry.”

“No! I like listening to you talk.”

“That’s a first. In this family, I’m lucky to get a word in edgewise. I didn’t talk till I was three. They had me tested. It turned out it was just because my sisters were answering everything for me!”

She asks about his life, which she says sounded like sort of an adventure.  Mark tells her that it was more like a disaster, and explains that he’s kind of a mess, but he doesn’t know what he should tell her about it.  Kareen says they should ask the Countess, who’s an old friend of her mother, who used to be her bodyguard.  He thinks of the Barrayaran tradition of go-betweens, and wonders if using Cordelia as a mediator would work out well or not.  He tells Kareen that sometime, before he comes back, she should talk to the Countess about him and say that Mark told her to ask about him.  Kareen agrees, and insists that if he’s back by Winterfair, they will dance at the ball, and not in the corner this time; Mark allows that if he’s back by then, he won’t need to hide any longer.

“Good. I’ll hold you to your word.”

“My word as Vorkosigan,” he said lightly.

Her blue eyes widened. “Oh. My.” Her soft lips parted in a blinding smile.

He felt like a man who’d gone to spit, and had a diamond pop accidently from his lips instead. And he couldn’t call it back and re-swallow it. There must be a Vorish streak in the girl, to take a man’s word so seriously.

She tells him to be careful, saying that he reminds her of her father, a soldier, when he’s pretending that he isn’t heading into a difficult situation.  Mark is touched by her concern and bids her farewell.

Comments

It’s not clear how much time has passed between their resolution to depart for Jackson’s Whole “as soon as possible” and the current chapter, one day before departure, but it can’t have been that long if Simon Illyan is only calling them now.  I suppose that Aral’s condition and the search for Miles is distracting him from keeping an eye on Cordelia’s activities, but surely he had someone watching Mark, if nothing else.  Maybe he wasn’t sure how serious she was, or when precisely she was leaving…  He is essentially powerless against Cordelia, except for when he can sway her through persuasion and/or logic, which he’s not nearly as good at.  Gregor is probably more capable of it, as one of her best pupils, but he thinks more like her in the first place, so he doesn’t need as much persuading.

The other scene, the call to Kareen, is more cheerful, as Mark catches glimpses of the normalcy that he never had in his life, and probably over-romanticizes, but I’m sure would embrace happily nonetheless.  Despite anything that he may have done at the Emperor’s Birthday, she’s still willing to consider him a “fellow” and dance with him again.  I can’t remember if we get back to Kareen in this book or not, but they do have a great plotline in A Civil Campaign, at least.  Oh, and a glimpse of her mother Ludmilla “Drou” Koudelka, one of the few we get in the series after Barrayar, though she also turns up in A Civil Campaign, at least.  I keep thinking we’ll see more of Clement Koudelka himself sometime, but I can’t remember other scenes offhand.  He’s probably still working for Aral, which means he’s probably trying frantically to keep things going until the Count recovers, but I can’t help but wonder what “difficult situations” Kareen was talking about, since her father shouldn’t be going into anything front-line these days.  I guess there’s still tense situations which don’t involve outright battle…

A shortish chapter, but a talky one, so hard to summarize and sounds at all good, so lots of nice quotage.  They’ll be off Barrayar soon, alas, into more action and less interesting dialogue with interesting characters (which somehow seems to be my favourite bit of Bujold books).


There you have it, two chapters one day late rather than one chapter on time and then slacking off for most of another week.  Maybe I should even change my schedule to Wednesdays instead–I picked Tuesdays more or less at random, after all, or perhaps for reasons that no longer apply, and I’m not attached to them.  But I’m afraid that my having an excuse for potential underproductivity makes it more likely I’ll just slack off.  At least this book has some fairly short chapters.

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