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Posts Tagged ‘Elli Quinn’

As Canada continues to shiver in the grips of winter, I can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, through the thaumaturgical principles of Sympathy, I can help to dispel the cold by means of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  After all, this week I am wrapping up the novella “Winterfair Gifts”, wherein Miles Vorkosigan gets married, in the middle of winter…and so, after that, it’s got to get warmer, right?  If only thaumaturgy wasn’t complete bunk.  (Well, I suppose if it wasn’t, then science would be out the window, and I like science, and besides, not everyone would use it for the pure purposes that I would.)  This week, as I mentioned, brings the last installment, as Roic and Taura alert Barrayaran Imperial Security about the peculiar contamination Taura found on one of the wedding presents…

Winterfair Gifts, Part 3

Roic debates waiting for Pym’s return, but decides that he is a Vorkosigan armsman, and senior on the scene, so he contacts ImpSec HQ as soon as possible.  Within half an hour, an ImpSec captain has arrived to take their statements and other evidence; Roic tries to be a clear and straightforward witness, though he does elide his initial suspicions of Taura.  He takes care to emphasize their doubts that Elli Quinn actually sent the gift, and the captain duly takes the cat blanket as evidence, as well as the pearls and any associated packaging; he’s done and gone before another half hour has passed.  Roic asks Taura if she wants to go get some sleep, but she says she wouldn’t be able to.  They settle down to wait.

“Quiet around here at night,” she said after a moment.

She was speaking to him again. Please, don’t stop. “Yeah. I sort of like it, though.”

“Oh, you too? The night watch is a philosophical kind of time. Its own world. Nothing moving out there but maybe people being born or people dying, necessity, and us.”

“Eh, and the bad night people we’re put on watch against.”

He asks her about Quinn, and she tells him how Quinn was “original equipment” with the Dendarii, and they’ve been through a lot over ten years together.  He expresses sympathy with her for her earlier dilemma, likening it to finding out his liege lord was conspiring against the Emperor, or trying to kill the Empress.  She says that as soon as she thought of it she couldn’t enjoy the party, as much as Miles wanted her to, and had to come back home.  She asks Roic what he would do, and he admits it’s a puzzle, but the Count has always said that there’s a “higher honour”, so they shouldn’t obey unthinkingly. Taura says that must be where Miles gets it from, and Roic quotes Mark as saying that integrity is a disease you can only catch from someone else who has it.  Roic says that he hopes he’d have the courage to turn on his lord if he had to.

He’s trying to bring himself to actually take Taura’s hand when he’s notified that the Vorkosigans and their party are returning from the Residence.  Pym, in attendance on the Countess, asks Roic absently if there’s anything to report, but his attention is caught when Roic tells him seriously that there is.  Once he has Pym alone, he gives him a summary of the night’s events; Pym isn’t certain there’s anything wrong, because he’d checked the necklace himself–though he didn’t touch it himself–but he allows that Roic was right to act on the suspicion, and ImpSec can handle the work.  Taura is a little disappointed by Pym’s reaction, but Roic says that’s probably the best they can hope for based on the little evidence they have.

Taura asks if she can stay with Roic until they hear back, and Roic agrees; he takes her down to the kitchen for refueling, guessing correctly that she’s running low on fuel again.  As they finish up, Pym comes to find them, looking almost sick as he tells them that ImpSec in fact found a designer Jacksonian neurotoxin on the pearls, designed to be activated by body heat and enough to kill anyone who wore it for as little as half an hour.  Roic says that Madame Vorsoisson had them on for about five minutes, and asks if she’s in danger; Pym says ImpSec is dispatching an expert to check her for symptoms, but says that she would be dead by now if the poison was going to kill her.  He thanks Roic again, several times, and says he’s going to brief Lord Vorkosigan on the situation.

Taura notes that the Jackson’s Whole origin doesn’t prove much, since they’ll sell to anyone, but Miles did make some enemies there as Admiral Naismith; by now that cover identity was pretty much blown.  She yawns, impressively, and Roic is struck not only by how tired she must be, but how lonely, in such a strange place.  He asks her if she could sleep, if he promises to wake her up if there’s any news; she says she could give it a try.

He escorted her to her door, past m’lord’s dark and empty suite. When he clasped her hand briefly, she clasped back. He swallowed, for courage.

“Dirty pearls, eh?” he said, still holding her hand. “Y’know . . . I don’t know about any other Barrayarans . . . but I think your genetic modifications are beautiful.”

Her lips curved up, he hoped not altogether bleakly. “You are getting better.”

When she let go and turned in, a claw trailing lightly over the skin of his palm made his body shudder in involuntary, sensual surprise. He stared at the closing door, and swallowed a perfectly foolish urge to call her back. Or follow her inside . . . he was still on duty, he reminded himself.

It’s close to dawn when M’lord returns to the house, looking more ghastly and strung-out than Roic has ever seen him, even after the disastrous dinner party.  He thanks Roic effusively, and tells him that Madame Vorsoisson was feeling better after the ImpSec doctor left; he castigates himself for having missed the signs of poisoning, from the necklace he’d put on her himself, which is like metaphor for this whole wedding.  Both of them had thought it was just her nerves, which he says can’t be a good sign.  He says there won’t be any long-term effects, luckily.  Roic is about to bring up the crying fit he’d witnessed before the pearls arrived, but thinks better of it.  Roic tells him that ImpSec has already come to check all of the other gifts, just in case, and hopes to have them back by afternoon.

He asks M’lord if he thinks Elli Quinn could have done it, and M’lord says it’s impossible–she’d beat Miles up personally if she was that mad at him; in any case, he’d broken up with Quinn months before even meeting Ekaterin, so jealousy doesn’t make sense.  Actually, he points out that it’s odd for the attempted poisoner to use Quinn’s name at all, because she’s linked to Admiral Naismith rather than Lord Vorkosigan, and hopes that that will give ImpSec a lead to use.

M’lord thanks Roic profusely for saving this wedding, and thus saving the whole future of the Vorkosigan house.  Roic admits that it was Taura who found the initial evidence, and Miles blesses her, saying he should kiss her all over.

Roic was beginning to think that line about the barbed wire choke chain wasn’t such a joke after all. All this frenetic tension was, if not precisely infectious, starting to get on what was left of his nerves. He remarked dryly, in Pym-like periods, “I was given to understand you already had, m’lord.”

M’lord jerked to a halt again. “Who told you that?”

Under the circumstances, Roic decided not to mention Madame Vorsoisson. “Taura.”

“Eh, maybe it’s the women’s secret code. I don’t have the key, though. You’re on your own there, boy.” He snorted a trifle hysterically. “But if you ever do win an invitation from her, beware—it’s like being mugged in a dark alley by a goddess. You’re not the same man, after. Not to mention critical feminine body parts on a scale you can actually find, and as for the fangs, there’s no thrill quite like—”

They are interrupted then by the Countess, somewhat to Roic’s embarrassment, though he reminds himself that the Vicereine is Betan, after all.  Miles begins telling her all about the poisoning, and threatening the culprit with dismemberment, before the Countess cuts him off, saying she’s been kept fully apprised, and recommending that he get some sleep so he’s not a total loss at his own wedding.  Miles insists he has to check everything first.

“The garden is fine. Everything is fine. As you have just discovered in Armsman Roic, here, your staff is more than competent.” She started down the stairs, a distinctly steely look in her eye. “It’s either a sleeptimer or a sledgehammer for you, son. I am not handing you off to your blameless bride in the state you’re in, or the worse one it’ll be if you don’t get some real sleep before this afternoon. It’s not fair to her.”

“Nothing about this marriage is fair to her,” m’lord muttered, bleak. “She was afraid it would be the nightmare of her old marriage all over again. No! It’s going to be a completely different nightmare—much worse . How can I ask her to step into my line of fire if—”

“As I recall, she asked you. I was there, remember. Stop gibbering.” The Countess took his arm, and began more-or-less frog-marching him upstairs. Roic made a mental note of her technique, for future reference. She glanced over her shoulder and gave Roic a reassuring, if rather unexpected, wink.

Roic goes to get some sleep himself, since he will also need to be rested for the afternoon’s events.  He’s woken up early by Armsman Jankowski though, summoned to a briefing in M’lord’s suite, right away, so he doesn’t stop to shave or do more than put on last night’s clothes.  He arrives to find M’lord waiting with Taura and Ivan Vorpatril, his cousin and Second; he recalls how a stern warning from the Count had suppressed Ivan’s mischievous nature, and Roic was betting, literally, on it lasting quite a while.  They are joined by General Allegre of ImpSec and the Count, and then the Countess and Ekaterin.

Allegre gives M’lord back the pearls, which he says have been thoroughly cleaned and pronounced safe; M’lord asks who precisely he has to think for this thoughtful gift.  Allegre says that the packaging shows that it came from Barrayar itself–not Escobar as the forged stamps claimed–but the pearls were of Earth origin, which helped to narrow it down.  The purchase has been traced to Lord Vorbataille, but they followed it further back to Vorbataille’s Jacksonian consultant, a man named Luca Tarpan, who they have also apprehended.  M’lord doesn’t recognize the name, but Allegre says he’s linked to the Bharaputrans; M’lord says that explains how he knew about both Quinn and Lord Vorkosigan, but isn’t sure that explains the vicious attack.  Allegre says it was just an attempt to sow confusion, ideally to cover their escape, but Vorbataille was already in custody by that point.  He apologizes for not having turned up this scheme in Vorbataille’s fast-penta interrogation; M’lord says pointedly they’d have found out about it in about an hour, and Allegre agrees, and proffers an apology to Madame Vorsoisson and the Vorkosigans.

He looked up at Roic and Taura, sitting side by side on the sofa opposite. “Fortunately, ImpSec was not your last line of defense.”

“Indeed,” rumbled the Count, who had seated himself on a straight chair turned backwards, arms comfortably crossed over its back, listening intently but without comment till now. Countess Vorkosigan stood by his side; her hand touched his shoulder, and he caught it under his own thicker one.

Allegre said, “Illyan once told me that half the secret of House Vorkosigan’s preeminence in Barrayaran history was the quality of the people it drew to its service. I’m glad to see this continues to hold true. Armsman Roic, Sergeant Taura—ImpSec salutes you with more gratitude than I can rightly express.” He did so, in a sober gesture altogether free of his sporadic irony.

Roic isn’t sure if he’s supposed to say something in response to that, like when he had to give a speech after the incident in Hassadar.  Conversation moves on, though, M’lord asking Madame Vorsoisson that that was her last warning.  He says he’ll have the pearls destroyed, but Madame Vorsoisson insists that she will wear them after all, as a defiance to their enemies.  The Countess reminds them that they still have to get dressed for the wedding, and ushers them out; Roic tells her that M’lord seems to be looking better, and she confides to him that they’d slipped him a double dose of tranquilizers, which seems to have calmed him down sufficiently.

Taura tells Roic that she hadn’t been sure Ekaterin was a match for Miles, but now she sees that Ekaterin has this “Vor” thing, which Elli never could understand, deep in her bones; Roic agrees.  She asks what he’s doing later, and he says that he has night duty all week…and probably for the rest of her stay on the planet.  He then dashes off to get changed.

By the time Roic makes his way downstairs to take his place next to Pym, guests are starting to arrive.  Already present had been Lady Alys and Simon Illyan, the Bothari-Jeseks, Mayhew and Nikki, and some Vorvaynes who hadn’t been able to fit in the Vorthyses’ house.  Duv and Delia Galeni arrive with the Vorbrettens and Vorrutyers, then the Koudelkas; Martya is standing in for her sister Kareen as Ekaterin’s Second.  Mark and Kareen were unable to attend because of their classes and the travel time, but Mark had sent a gift certificate for a Betan vacation as his wedding present, to encourage them to visit.  Martya heads upstairs while Dr. Borgos is searched for any contraband bugs, but she comes back downstairs sooner than Roic would have expected.  The rest of the Vorvaynes arrive, and Nikki proudly shows off his new jump-pilot friend Arde to his cousins, convincing him to hold forth with exciting war stories.

Finally, Gregor and Laisa show up, in attendance as Count and Countess Vorbarra so as not to outrank the Vorkosigans, and to grant them more social freedom.  Shortly thereafter, all hundred and twenty guests head back outside for the ceremony proper.

The air was cold but not bitter, and thankfully windless, the sky a deepening clear blue, the slanting afternoon sun liquid gold. It turned the snowy garden into as gilded, glittering, spectacular and utterly unique a showplace as m’lord’s heart could ever have desired. The flowers and ribbons were concentrated around the central place where the vows were to be, complementing the wild brilliance of the ice and snow and light.

Although Roic was fairly sure that the two realistically-detailed ice rabbits humping under a discreet bush were not part of the decorations m’lord had ordered . . . they did not pass unnoticed, as the first person to observe them immediately pointed them out to everyone within earshot. Ivan Vorpatril averted his gaze from the cheerfully obscene artwork—the rabbits were grinning—a look of innocence on his face. The Count’s menacing glower at him was alas undercut by an escaping snicker, which became a guffaw when the Countess whispered something in his ear.

In the center of the garden, on a circle of brick decorated with the Vorkosigan crest, are the circles of groats, and the groom’s party take their places.  Roic, with the armsmen, is concerned not to see Taura among the guests anywhere.  The bride’s party make their way out on foot, Miles having been dissuaded from fetching his bride out on horseback in Old Vor style; Lady Alys is in the lead, followed by Ekaterin on her father’s arm, still defiantly wearing her pearls.  Roic’s gaze is immediately caught by Taura, walking in the procession as the bride’s Second, and he spots Martya Koudelka with the rest of the guests, watching Taura almost smugly.

Taura’s dress was everything that Lady Alys had promised. Champagne-colored velvet exactly matched her eyes, which seemed to spring to a brilliant prominence in her face. The jacket sleeves and long swinging skirt were decorated on their margins with black cord shaped into winding patterns. Champagne-colored orchids coiled in her bound-back hair. Roic thought he’d never seen anything so stunningly sophisticated in his life.

Everyone took their places. M’lord and m’lady-to-be stepped into the inner circle, hands gripping hands like two lovers drowning. The bride looked not so much radiant as incandescent; the groom looked gobsmacked. Lord Ivan and Taura were handed the two little bags of groats with which to close the circle, then stood back to their star points between Count and Countess Vorkosigan and Vorvayne and his wife. Lady Alys read out the vows, and m’lord and m’lady-to . . . m’lady repeated their responses, her voice clear, his only cracking once. The kiss was managed with remarkable grace, m’lady somehow bending her knee in a curtsey-like motion so m’lord didn’t have to stretch unduly. It suggested thought and practice. Lots of practice.

Ivan opens up the groat circle and collects his kiss from the bride as Lord and Lady Vorkosigan make their way out, past the row of armsmen, saluting with their sword, Pym leading the Armsmen’s Shout; Taura follows on Ivan’s arm, followed by the rest of the guests.  Pym looks like he wants to faint in sheer relief at how perfectly the ceremony came off.

The main dining room of the house seats ninety-six, with the overflow in an adjacent room joined by an archway.  Roic is on duty, not serving at table, but to deal with any emergencies or miscellaneous guest needs; Taura is sitting at the head table between Ivan and Gregor, glowing from the attention, and Roic wishes he was in their place.

Martya Koudelka comes up and greets him, noting how wonderful Taura looks; she explains how she heard the story of what happened last night, and Ekaterin asked her to let Taura take her place.  She was happy enough to do it, since it meant she wouldn’t have to sit with Ivan; Ekaterin said it was one honour she could bestow of herself.  She gives Roic a kiss on the cheek for his own part in the night’s events, for saving them from having to live with a really crazy Miles Vorkosigan.

At the dance afterwards, Taura sits out, commenting to Roic as he passes by that she doesn’t know any of the dances anyway.  Roic says he can’t dance, being on duty and all, but also admits he doesn’t know them either.

On the sixth number, m’lady danced past Roic with her eldest brother Hugo.

“Splendid necklace, Kat. From your spouse, is it?”

“No, actually. From one of his . . . business associates.”

“Expensive!”

“Yes.” M’lady’s faint smile made the hairs stir on Roic’s arms. “I expect it to cost him everything he has.”

Before the evening is too advanced, the bridal couple make their escape via aircar to their Vorkosigan Surleau honeymoon retreat.  The rest of the guests will mostly stay in the capital for a few more days, though the galactic guests will make their way down to Vorkosigan Surleau as well–Elena in particular, to burn a death-offering for her father.  Armsman Jankowski is flying the aircar; Pym, who would normally be doing it, informs Roic that he’s shuffled the duty schedule.  Pym himself, who apparently feels he hasn’t been getting the blame he deserves for letting the pearls slip past, is punishing himself with the night shift, and giving Roic, at m’lady’s request, the week off with double pay, as soon as the Vorbarras leave.  The sendoff is capped with fireworks, both official and unofficial; the latter batch, discreetly supplied by the Count, are administered by Arde Mayhew and, mostly, Taura.

The party winds down slowly, sleepy children being carried off, the Vorbarras and their discreet ImpSec servants leaving, and the younger generation taking over the dance floor with more energetic music while their remaining elders head off to quieter rooms for wine and conversation.  Roic happens upon Taura going through a platter of treats in a side room, and asks if she’d had a good time; she says it was wonderful, and enthuses about her visit to Barrayar.  Roic reminds himself he’s off-duty and sits down with her.

She’s there for ten more days, he realizes, which doesn’t seem like it would be enough time to spend with her.  He asks her if she thought of staying there, finding a place for herself; she says she already has a place, and Roic asks if she’s sure being a mercenary is much of a future.  After a moment, she tells him how her genetic modifications include a shortened lifespan; she says that the doctors tell her that she only has a year left, but she adds that they’ve been saying that for several years already, and the lifespan of a soldier is uncertain anyway.

“Part of me wishes the medics would get it settled. Part of me says, the hell with it. Every day is a gift. Me, I rip open the package and wolf it down on the spot.”

He looked up at her in wonder. His grip tightened, as though she might be pulled from him as they sat, right now, if he didn’t hold hard enough. He leaned over, reached across and picked off the fragile petal, touched it to his lips. He took a deep, scared breath. “Can you teach me how to do that?”

Her fantastic gold eyes widened. “Why, Roic! I think that’s the most delicately-worded proposition I’ve ever received. S’ beautiful.” An uncertain pause. “Um, that was a proposition, wasn’t it? I’m not always sure I parlay Barrayaran.”

Desperately terrified now, he blurted in what he imagined to be merc-speak, “Ma’am, yes, ma’am!”

This won an immense fanged smile— not in a version he’d ever seen before. It made him, too, want to fall over backwards, though preferably not into a snow bank. He glanced around. The softly-lit room was littered with abandoned plates and wineglasses, detritus of pleasure and good company. Low voices chatted idly in the next chamber. Somewhere in another room, softened by the distance, a clock was chiming the hour. Roic declined to count the beats.

They floated in a bubble of fleeting time, live heat in the heart of a bitter winter. He leaned forward, raised his face, slid his hand around her warm neck, drew her face down to his. It wasn’t hard. Their lips brushed, locked.

Several minutes later, in a shaken, hushed voice, he breathed, ” . . . wow . . .”

Several minutes after that , they went upstairs, hand in hand.

Comments

Once they’ve settled on notifying ImpSec, most the “action” the occurs after that is offscreen.  ImpSec gathers information and then manages to identify and chase down the culprits.  Who are, perhaps unsurprisingly, related to the Auditor case that Miles has just been working on, which can now be seen to be a sort of Chekov’s Gun–if they weren’t important to the plot, why had they been brought up earlier?  Sort of like the offhand mention near the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice of the conspirators who show up at the end.  There is some tension–first, about whether Taura’s guess is correct, and then, about what’s going to happen to Ekaterin–and then, I suppose, on whether this is going to quash the wedding entirely.  But Ekaterin reaffirms her dedication to life with Miles, however risky it will be, and all is well again.

Duv and Delia are already married by this point, apparently, having managed to sneak their wedding in between Gregor’s and Miles’s, and Martya and Enrique still seem to be together, too.  And the reference to “the Vorrutyers” makes me wonder if Dono and Olivia are already wed, too.  Or maybe that was supposed to be Dono and Byerly…probably not, since I’m not convinced that By was invited.  Maybe he was; on some level, perhaps, Miles and Ekaterin may owe their getting together to him.  After all, without By’s efforts, would Richars have ended up provoking Ekaterin into proposing?  Well, that’s a little questionable, though.  I’m inclined to think that Roic would have made some comment about By’s presence, so perhaps he wasn’t there after all.  Or maybe the author just didn’t want to reintroduce him…

The romance plotline winds up after the wedding; Roic and Taura were already mostly reconciled after his earlier gaffe about mutations, after joining forces over the pearls, so all it takes is for him to actually have an opportunity to seize.  Pym’s guilt provides him the opportunity, and then he actually takes it.  I’m always surprised that Roic doesn’t find out about Taura’s reduced life expectancy until right at the end there, but I guess it’s not something that she necessarily advertises.  I confess that I’m not convinced that the resolution of the plot is going to be true love or anything, but a certain amount of seizing of the moment, at least, perhaps a ten-day fling.  (Is that a week, on Barrayar, to coincide with Roic’s vacation?  I can’t remember.)  Roic and Taura’s long-term relationship prospects are about as good as Miles and Elli’s were, for about the same reasons…but they can have something, if not a life together.

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And now, having wrapped up “Winterfair Gifts”, and Miles In Love, I will once again be taking a week off before heading into Diplomatic Immunity.  I may have mentioned that we’re out of the Vorkosigan stories that I love, and into the ones that I like somewhat, or are okay.  Of course, Diplomatic Immunity is the only one I’ve read more than once, so maybe I’ll like the others better on reread, but who knows.  In any case, I might as well keep going…after my week off, of course.

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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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Diane, it’s 9:00 PM, and I’m holding in my hand a small package of chocolate bunnies.  Also, it is now time, once again, for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, as we draw to a close our examination of the novel Memory, with Miles Vorkosigan completing his transition from his former career into his new one, and tying off some personal loose ends.  Have a slice of pie, by all means, while you consider these last two chapters…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Miles prepares carefully for his visit to Gregor to return the Auditor’s paraphenalia, putting on his house uniform and medals again, because he’s planning to ask Gregor for a favour when he does.  He’s not quite certain about his asking, since it seems such a little thing, but it matters to him, at least.  Martin takes him to the Residence, with less damage to the gate this time; Miles finds Gregor also dressed up, probably for some later ceremony.

He and Gregor greet each other cordially, and then he gives Gregor the data card with his report on it as well as the chain.  Before Miles can make his request, Gregor is sitting down at his comconsole; he makes a copy of the report, then gives the data card to his majordomo to take to the next room.  Miles waits, perforce, while Gregor reads the report, making a few mild exclamations, then goes back over selected portions of it.

Gregor picks up the chains, saying thoughtfully that this was one of his better snap decisions.  Miles says that it was just luck that he could do some good; Gregor points out how few people would have been suited for the job, knowing ImpSec well without being part of it.  Miles decides just to thank him.  Gregor says he’s thinking about an appropriate reward for a job well done, which is, traditionally, another job.  He offers Miles the post of Chief of ImpSec, even if he’s not technically in the military anymore.  Miles refuses, saying it’s too much of a tedious desk job, in between periods of complete insanity, and would tie him down too much to Barrayar and Vorbarr Sultana.  He acknowledges that he could do it, but he asks if Gregor is ordering him to take the job; Gregor said he was genuinely curious.  Miles says that Guy Allegre will do a better job, is the right age, has more of the appropriate experience, and is familiar to the Komarrans.  Gregor says he thought Miles would say that, but wanted to give him first refusal.

He asks Miles if he wants anything to eat ot drink, but Miles says that with his surgery scheduled for that afternoon, he’s been told to keep an empty stomach.  Gregor says he must be happy to have the chance to do his own driving now, though Miles admits Martin had grown on him a little.  Miles is just gathering his courage to ask for his favour when the room door slides open and the majordomo returns, then ushers four men into the room–Imperial Auditors all.  Miles reflexively begins wondering what he’s done to warrant their attention, then calms down and greets them politely as they take their seats.

The four Auditors are Lord Vorhovis, back from Komarr, a mere sexagenarian, a former ambassador and Minister of Finance; Dr. Vorthys, an academic appointee of Gregor’s, specializing in engineering failure analysis; Lord Vorgustafson, a retired industrialist so rich as to be virtually unbribable; and Admiral Vorkalloner, a retired officer with no strong political ties.  Vorkalloner greets Miles as “Aral Vorkosigan’s boy” and says that now he knows why he hasn’t seen Miles much in the last ten years.  Miles is struck again by the oddness of the Auditors, taken as a group–all accomplished and/or wealthy, and all more or less eccentric.

Gregor asks them what they thought of Miles’s report.  Vorhovis says it was extraordinary, and Vorthys praises it for being “concise, coherent, and complete”.  Miles tells how Illyan used to send back his reports for correction until he learned how to do it right the first time.

Vorkalloner smiled. “Old Vorsmythe,” he noted, “used to turn in handwritten plastic flimsys. Never more than two pages. He insisted anything important could always be said in two pages.”

“Illegibly handwritten,” muttered Gregor.

“We used to have to go and squeeze the footnotes out of him in person. It became somewhat irritating,” added Vorkalloner.

Vorhovis says he hasn’t left much for the prosecutor to do; Gregor says that Haroche is officially going to plead guilty anyway, which is good, considering how he confessed to the Emperor and all.  Vorhovis says he doubts he would have been able to unravel the case, particularly since Dr. Weddell’s expertise proved critical, and he had never heard of the man.  Vorhovis says the Auditors rarely work together, but they do consult with each other and share resources.  There are really only five effective Auditors at the moment, General Vorparadijs and Admiral Valentine being sort of Emeriti, and General Vorsmythe’s position hadn’t yet been filled since his death two years earlier; the other active Auditor, Vorlaisner, was tied up on the South Continent, but the four of them constitute a quorum.

“That being so, my lords,” said Gregor, “how do you advise Us?”

Vorhovis glanced around at his colleagues, who gave him nods, and pursed his lips judiciously. “He’ll do, Gregor.”

“Thank you.” Gregor turned to Miles. “We were discussing job openings, a bit ago. It happens I also have a place this week for the position of eighth Auditor. Do you want it?”

Miles, shocked, asks if Gregor realizes what he’s saying, offering Miles an appointment for life, and at his age.  Vorhovis agrees that Miles will be the youngest Auditor since the Time of Isolation.  Miles says that Vorparadijs will doubtless disapprove of him based on his youth and physical appearance; Vorhovis says Vorparadijs thought he was too young too, at fifty-eight.  He says that Miles’s galactic experience and unique ImpSec training makes him a valuable resource in his own right.  Miles asks if they’ve read his personnel files, and then reiterates the near-fatal accident and falsified report that led to the end of his ImpSec career.

Vorhovis says that the four of them had discussed it with Gregor and Illyan the day before.  He asks how, in light of Miles’s earlier actions, he was able to refuse Haroche’s bribe of the Dendarii, which would almost certainly never have been recognized as such.

“Haroche would have known. Galeni would have known. And I would have known. Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead. Not three.”

“You would certainly have outlived Captain Galeni, and you might have outlived Haroche. What then?”

Miles blew out his breath, and answered slowly. “Someone might have survived, with my name, in my body. It wouldn’t have been me, anymore. It would have been a man I didn’t much . . . like.”

Gregor points out that, as the junior Auditor, he’ll get the worst jobs, the jobs will probably be totally unrelated to each other, and he’ll be left to succeed or fail on his own; Vorthys says he will get some help now and then.

Miles says this wasn’t the reward he’d been planning to ask for; he’s been hankering after a retroactive promotion to Captain.  He doesn’t need the extra pay grade or anything, just the title; he’d wanted it freely given, but he’ll take it as he gets it.  He doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life as a Lieutenant.  It occurs to him that Gregor and the Auditors have put a lot of effort into considering him for this position–it’s more than just a courtesy to offer it to him, this time.  So he may have a little bit of bargaining power this time.  He mentions that most of the other Auditors are retired senior officers; Gregor points out that he’s the former Admiral Naismith, but Miles says that hardly counts.  For the dignity of the office, he should be at least a captain.

“Persistent,” murmured Vorhovis, “isn’t he?”

“Relentlessly,” Gregor agreed. “Just as advertised. Very well, Miles. Allow me to cure you of this distraction.”

His magic Imperial finger — index, not middle, thank you Gregor — flipped down to point at Miles. “Congratulations. You’re a captain. My secretary will see that your records are updated. Does that satisfy you?”

“Entirely, Sire.” Miles suppressed a grin. So, it was a touch anticlimactic, compared to the thousand ways he’d dreamed this promotion over the years. He was not moved to complain.

Gregor and the Auditors emphasize that the Auditors are never assigned routine tasks–they’re only sent in when other means have failed.  They get complex, disturbing, and occasionally bizarre cases–and often, extremely important ones, like tracking down the traitor at the heart of ImpSec.  Gregor offers Miles the position again, and Miles says yes.

When Miles goes for his surgery that afternoon, he’s allowed to stay under local anesthesia and watch it on a monitor, and go home the next day.  Two days later, he goes in so they can do the first test.  Miles agrees to do it himself, since he may need to do so in the future; Dr. Chenko cautions him that he should usually do it with someone to spot for him.  Miles puts in a mouth-guard and presses the activator; the seizure duly comes, and after Miles regains consciousness they keep him there to do some tests.  Miles asks for reassurances that no other signal is likely to activate his implant, and that it’s not going to get switched permanently by any head trauma; Chenko says that the signal is encoded, and any trauma that could affect the implant will have damaged enough of his brain to give him bigger worries.

Chenko tells him that the seizure was shorter and less intense than his uncontrolled ones, and the hangover effects should also be reduced.  He encourages Miles to check his neurotransmitter levels once a day, so he can schedule his seizures before the levels get too high.  Miles asks if he can fly yet, and Chenko says they’ll do some more tests tomorrow and then let him know.

Gregor has managed to convince Lady Alys to schedule the betrothal ceremony for the beginning of the Winterfair season.  The day before the ceremony, an enormous blizzard hits Vorbarr Sultana and the surrounding Districts, closing the shuttleports and stranding Viceroy Aral Vorkosigan in orbit.  He decides to stay in orbit and come directly to the Imperial Residence the next day.  Miles decides not to fly, but to accompany the Countess in her groundcar.  Their departure is delayed by Zap the Cat having kittens on his House uniform, forcing Miles to painfully extricate them and have them hastily cleaned before they can leave.

The Countess, delighted as ever to find her biological empire increasing, came in thoughtfully bearing a cat-gourmet tray prepared by Ma Kosti that Miles would have had no hesitation in eating for his own breakfast. In the general chaos of the morning, however, he had to go down to the kitchen and scrounge his meal. The Countess sat on the floor and cooed into his closet for a good half-hour, and not only escaped laceration, but managed to pick up, sex, and name the whole batch of little squirming furballs before tearing herself away to hurry and dress.

They eventually manage to leave and make their way through and around the snowdrifts to the Residence, where they are far from the last arrivals, though the snow and wind do seem to be letting up somewhat.  Luckily, most of the Komarran guests have already been staying in the Residence guest quarters.  Lady Alys seems calm, but may be merely in a stage beyond panic, though she is visibly relieved when Miles and Cordelia arrive, and even more so when Aral finally shows up.  Aral opines that Gregor’s weatherman is probably due for a posting on Kyril Island; Miles points out that he may have been pressured to produce an optimistic forecast.  Aral tells Miles that they should have a talk soon, but Lady Alys has first claim on him.

A mere hour late, the ceremony starts, with Aral and Cordelia standing as Gregor’s foster parents, and Miles as Gregor’s Second.  His role mostly consists of conveying ceremonial gifts between the two sides–these days, hardly anyone expects the Second to marry the bride if the groom dies untimely.  Some of the gifts, like a bridle without a horse, a somewhat baffling, but at least they’ve left out the blunted scalpel which was supposed to represent the bride’s genetic cleanliness.  Then he gives the Admonishments to the Bride (there are no Admishments to the Groom, he notes), also somewhat modified to exclude such things as obligation to produce heirs in one’s own womb as opposed to a uterine replicator.  Laisa still isn’t quite sure about all of them, but Cordelia signals her silently to not take them too seriously, while Miles pictures Elli Quinn’s highly unprintable reaction to the Admonishments.

After the ceremony is over, the snowed-in crew settle in to celebrate.  Aral goes off with Gregor, and Miles spots Ivan.  Ivan says people have been asking him about Miles’s Auditorial appointment, and Miles tells them to talk to Vorkalloner or Vorhovis.  He asks about Ivan’s date, and Ivan says he asked Delia Koudelka to marry him.  Miles begins heartily (and fakely) congratulating him, and Ivan says she turned him down for Duv Galeni.  Miles says he’d already figured that much out; he suggests Ivan tries Martya, but Martya has already turned him down, in favour of nearly anyone else.  Miles congratulates Ivan on the carefree bachelor life he can doubtless look forward to, and offers him a kitten to liven up his digs; Ivan tells him to get stuffed.

Miles wanders off and finds the Koudelkas, where Duv Galeni is talking seriously with Commodore Koudelka.  Galeni has elected not to resign from ImpSec, and according to Gregor is being seriously considered for head of Komarran Affairs.  Miles thinks that with three other sisters to marry off, Galeni has good odds of gaining some influential in-laws; Miles wonders if Galeni knows yet that his clone-brother Mark stands a good chance of becoming one of them.

Aral finally returns and congratulates Miles on his promotion–Captain as well as Auditor, though he thinks that the former was a little bit roundabout.  He’s glad that Miles has finally managed to “grow into himself”.  Miles points out that not only was Imperial Auditor not a post that Aral himself ever had, but no Vorkosigan ever has, making him entirely unprecedented.

The Count smiled. “This is not news, Miles.”

Comments

This chapter could almost stand to be the last, wrapping up almost everything, but there is still one more loose thread for the next chapter.  Though that one could almost have been an epilogue…  The betrothal is accomplished, Miles’s parents are both there with him, Miles has his seizure control device, and Miles has a new job.  The only thing he really needs now is a love life, or maybe a wife and children…

I don’t recall if I was surprised the first time I read this to find Miles offered an actual Auditorship, but I suspect I was.  But it is a great conclusion to the book, even if one points out that Imperial Auditor was practically invented for this book, and it may have been as much to give Miles a future career as it was to give him the leverage to run an investigation inside ImpSec.  From an authorial perspective, it gives tremendous leeway for future plots, though admittedly not (always) off-planet ones.  Diplomatic Immunity and Cryoburn notwithstanding.

Miles was thinking earlier that personal probity seemed to be an absolute requirement to be an Imperial Auditor, which is one reason they tend to be older men, whose personality has already been amply demonstrated over the course of decades.  It makes me think that it was Miles’s resistance to Haroche’s proffered bribe that was the final selling point for them, showing them, at least, that his willpower was up to the challenge.  Not sure whether his perceived probity is quite as stellar, but I guess he’ll get ample chance to demonstrate it.

Poor Ivan, though, striking out with both Delia and Martya.  It’s almost like neither of them thought he was serious about them as much as he was panicked and desperate.  Well, of course, Delia was already spoken for, but as I recall it takes a couple more books for Martya to find someone to interest her…though not a Vor, as I recall.  Or even a Barrayaran.  Kareen is, of course, already somewhat interested in Lord Mark, and Olivia…has she even been named yet?  Well, I guess not every sister gets to have her own plot…

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Miles waits outside Customs on a space station orbiting Komarr, contemplating how this interstellar transport hub is also part of the Barrayaran Empire, and wonders if Elli Quinn could be happy here.  It does have domed cities, almost like the space stations she grew up on , though his own life would likely keep him close to Vorbarr Sultana most of the time.

He’d hitched a ride out to Komarr with his parents, on their own way back to Sergyar, and finally felt like he had time enough to really talk to them.  He’d managd to secure Armsman Pym’s services for himself, without even having to trade her for Ma Kosti, and they promised to send him a couple more, those who have been least happy on Sergyar.

Miles has to wait for most of the crowd of arrivals to get through Customs before he spots Elli, and soon enough she spots him, too.  They embrace forcefully and she kisses him thoroughly.  Then she asks why he sent for all of his possessions–currently tied up in Customs, what with all the weapons among them.  Miles sends Pym to straighten things out and have them sent back to Vorkosigan House.  Then Miles takes Elli back to the suite he’d booked for them at the hostel.

Miles says he’d wanted to talk to her, in private, before she met with Allegre and the new ImpSec Galactic Affairs head.  Elli says she’s not sure what’s up with him–the first message, he looked like a zombie, then went incommunicado entirely before finally sending back a more cheerful message, and now an order to report to Komarr to meet with ImpSec, right away.  She asks if he’s back with ImpSec, and he says he’s not, but he’s there to help her transition to her new bosses.  He hadn’t wanted to say too much on his messages, knowing that ImpSec censors will be looking at them.

“But this time, it was frigging incomprehensible. What is going on with you?” Her voice was edged with the same suppressed fear Miles was feeling, Am I losing you? No, not fear. Knowledge.

“I tried to compose a message a couple of times, but it was . . . too complicated, and all the most important parts were things I didn’t want to send tight-beam. The edited version came out sounding like gibberish. I had to see you face-to-face anyway, for, for a lot of reasons. It’s a long story, and most of it is classified, a fact that I am going to completely ignore. I can, you know. Do you want to go down to the restaurant to eat, or order room service?”

Miles,” she said in exasperation. “Room service. And explanations.”

After they order their room-service meals, Miles explains about Illyan’s breakdown, Laisa and Galeni, the investigation which led him to Haroche, his seizure treatment, and his new job.  Elli doesn’t seem to quite understand all that he’s been through, and doesn’t respond much until after their food has arrived.  She says that “Auditor” sounds like an accountant, not like a job he’d enjoy; he tries to explain the actual job, but isn’t sure he can get it across.  She said he’d never mentioned it as one he was interested in; he says he didn’t consider it possible, as well as noting that ambition for the job is not a recommendation to get it.  Elli asks if that means he’s never coming back to the Dendarii, if she’s ever going to see him again.

“That’s . . . one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you tonight, personally, before tomorrow’s business overwhelms everything else.” Now it was his turn to pause for courage, to keep his voice in an even register. “You see, if you were . . . if you stayed here . . . if you were Lady Vorkosigan, you could be with me all the time.”

“No . . .” Her soup would have cooled, forgotten, if not for the stay-warm circuit in the bottom of die bowl. “I’d be with Lord Vorkosigan all the time. Not with you, Miles, not with Admiral Naismith.”

“Admiral Naismith was something I made up, Elli,” he said gently. “He was my own invention. I’m an egotistical enough artist, I suppose, I’m glad you liked my creation. I made him up out of me, after all. But not all of me.”

She says he’s asked her to be Lady Vorkosigan three times already, and each time claimed it was the last.  He says this time it really is the last; if she doesn’t accept the job of Lady Vorkosigan, he has another job offer for her–Admiral of the Dendarii, working for General Allegre.  Quinn says that she’s not ready for the job; Miles says she’s more than ready, and she’s been doing it already.  He says that it’s one or the other, and she has to choose.  She says she can’t bear to stuck on one planet, or even three, for the rest of her life, though Miles points out that there’s more to planets than she thinks.

She makes a counteroffer–he leaves Barrayar behind, comes back to the Dendarii with her, and while they may have to give up their lucrative ImpSec contracts, they’ll be free, and she’d happily marry Admiral Naismith.  Miles says he tried, but it’s just not him.  He’s not a mercenary at heart–not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course–he’s Miles Vorkosigan, not Miles Naismith.  Elli laments the part of him that she could never touch; he says he tried for years, but he can’t snuff Lord Vorkosigan out completely, and she has to accept him as he is, all of him.  He offers her one last time, to be “desperately unhappy” on Barrayar with him.  She says she couldn’t bear it, it would be sacrificing everything she is to be reborn as Lady Vorkosigan, and she’s not as good at resurrection as he is.

Elli wrestles with the decision, but when challenged, she admits that she wants to be Admiral Quinn.  She asks why he forced her to make this painful decision now, and he says he has to be able to move on, one way or the other, with her or without her.

They made love one last time, for old times’ sake, for good-bye, and, Miles realized halfway through, each in a desperate last-ditch effort to please and pleasure the other so much, they would change their mind. We’d have to change more than our minds. We’d have to change our whole selves.

With a sigh, he sat up in the suite’s vast bed, disentangling their limbs. “This isn’t working, Elli.”

“‘L make it work,” she mumbled. He captured her hand, and kissed the inside of her wrist. She took a deep breath, and sat up beside him. They were both silent for a long time.

Quinn says he should be a soldier, not a bureaucrat; Miles says that to be a great soldier, he needs a great war, and there’s a shortage of them around these days. Cetaganda is quiescent, Jackson’s Whole is too disorganized, and the Barrayarans themselves are mostly busy with the colonization of Sergyar.  Though if Barrayar does need him to be a soldier, they can always ask.  They embrace, and he feels the tension leaving them, the melancholy resignation that this is over.

He warns her that, as Admiral, she should stay safely in the command chair, not risk her neck on rescue missions; she calls him a hypocrite.  He then asks her for a favour, regarding Taura–he could see that she was starting to show signs of age, and it might not be long from there until her time finally runs out.  He asks her to send for him in time for him to be there at her side, at the end, as he promised himself years ago.

She settled back. “All right,” she said seriously. After a moment she added, “So . . . did you sleep with her?”

“Um . . .” He swallowed. “She was before your time, Elli.” After another minute he was compelled to add, “And after, from time to time. Very rarely.”

“Hah. I thought so.”

He asks if there was anyone else for her, and she points out that she, at least, was faithful.  He tells her that she’s free to pursue other attachments now, and she says she can free herself, thank you very much.  She wishes him luck finding his Lady Vorkosigan, whoever she is.  She kisses him, and asks if they can have flings, perhaps, from time to time, if their paths happen to cross, and Miles says they might.  Their lovemaking arises more naturally after that, and goes much better.

Afterwards, Elli asks him more about his new job, if he’s going to like it, if there’s much opportunity to advance…  Miles says that he’ll probably outlive most of the current crop, but that’s about it; they seem to be “post-ambitious”, not interested in jockeying for advantage, and he’s looking forward to getting to know them better.  He shares a few choice stories about them, and Elli admits that he just might fit in after all.

Miles returns quietly to Barrayar, spending his first evening back home eating in the kitchen with Pym, Ma Kosti, and her son the Corporal, who shares news of Martin from basic training.  Afterwards he goes to the wine cellar to get a bottle of his grandfather’s oldest wine; when it proves to have gone more than a little off, he pours it out and gets some from a newer, proven batch.  He sits with his wineglass and contemplates his reflection, and Admiral Naismith’s three deaths–once on Jackson’s Whole, once in Illyan’s office, and once at the hands of Haroche.  He prepares to wallow in self-pity.

Instead, he found himself leaning back in the warm chair, laughing softly. He swallowed the laugh, wondering if he’d lost his grip at last.

Just the opposite.

Haroche was no miracle-worker. He wasn’t even a stage magician. He’d had no power then or ever to give or withhold Naismith, though Miles felt a cryonic chill, thinking how close he’d come to delivering himself into Haroche’s hands.

No wonder he was laughing. He wasn’t mourning a death. He was celebrating an escape.

“I’m not dead. I’m here.” He touched his scarred chest in wonder.

Harra Csurik had been almost right. It wasn’t your life again you found, going on. It was your life anew. And it wasn’t at all what he’d been expecting. His slow smile deepened. He was beginning to be very curious about his future.

Comments

The last chapter is more of an epilogue, or a coda…tying off one last loose plot thread–Elli Quinn.  I agree that it would have been a mistake for Elli to come to Barrayar, or even, really, to Komarr; Elena might have been willing to settle for it, had things been different, but Elli is not even necessarily ready to settle down yet.  Plus she has those irrational anti-planet prejudices.  I don’t know that I remember her complaining that much when she was on Earth, but then I guess nobody was proposing that she stay there forever…

I think I may have spotted a symbolism thing, with the wine there…  When Miles finds the wine from his grandfather’s time not to his taste, he briefly considers drinking it anyway, but then decides to get rid of it and take something more modern instead, which he knows is better.  Though…what is that really about?  That he doesn’t have to stick to old Barrayaran ways of thinking just because they’re traditional, but he can indulge in more modern thinking instead?  Though it’s not like he’s drinking some weird offplanet liquor either, right?  It seems clear enough, but I’m not sure it’s entirely apposite for the ending of the book.  After all, Miles has never particularly been one to attach to old Barrayaran ways of thinking, exemplified by people like Count Piotr, Vordarian, Count Vorhalas, General Metzov, so why is it important for him to be able to reject it so easily now?  Okay, maybe I’m just reading too much into this.  Maybe I really don’t get symbolism after all, and maybe, sometimes, a wine bottle is just a wine bottle.


I have reached the end of Memory, and I’m a little sad, because it is perhaps my favourite Vorkosigan book, though Civil Campaign gives it a run for its money.  Next up we get Komarr, which is a little less cheerful and fun, but it does introduce the very important character of Ekaterin Vorsoisson, so there’s that.  My customary week off in between, of course.  So, until then, don’t take any unmapped wormhole jumps…

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

Chapter Eleven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that a promise?”

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

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

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

“Unh?” said Martin dutifully.

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then what?

I face fire. Climb that wall.

And then what?

I do it again.

And then what?

Again.

And then what?

It’s logically impossible to prove a negative.

I’m tired of playing wall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


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

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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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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.

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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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