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It was the best of blogs, it was the worst of blogs, it was the beginning, it was the end, it was fire, it was ice, it was life, it was death, but most of all, it was the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  And it is, indeed, almost the end, as we reach the last chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold’s CryoBurn, but not, quite, the very end.  Because the book has a coda, “Aftermaths” as they’re called.  But first, here’s the math:

Chapter Twenty

Jin’s Aunt Lorna joins the Satos, and Consul Vorlynkin, for an outdoor lunch in the back garden of the consulate; Jin was a little worried about her being there, but they end up allies, because she doesn’t want him back living with her either.  She and his mother do agree that it was wrong for him to run away like that, leaving them worrying what had happened to him; Jin points out that if he hadn’t run away, he’d never have met Miles-san, and she would still be frozen.

Consul Vorlynkin has been looking more relaxed since Miles left the day before, which Jin supposes makes sense, given how quiet it’s been since the Lord Auditor left.  There have been lots of people coming to talk to them, police and lawyers and journalists, but they haven’t taken his mother away, so that’s something.

Min comes running out of the house with the box Lady Murasaki lives in, announcing that her babies have hatched; the adults seem less than impressed, and Lieutenant Johannes decrees that the baby spiders have to stay out in the garden.  As Mina is trying to find them a pretty place to live, Jin tries to reassure Johannes that the chickens will likely eat a lot of the spiderlings.

Raven comes outside, and introduces himself to Aunt Lorna, who seems taken with him; after admiring the spiderlings, he tells Lisa that her friends Mr. Kang and Ms. Khosla have been successfully revived, and Lisa thanks him sincerely.  They will also need time for their immune systems to recover, but in a couple of days they should be able to give statements to the police; in the meantime, Kareen is dealing with their security, which her family apparently has a certain talent for.

“Yes, I believe Lord Vorkosigan did say something about that, before he left. He does seem to know the most extraordinary range of people. Only to be expected, given his background.”

“What is this Lord Unpronounceable you keep talking about, anyway?” asked Aunt Lorna.

“What, or who?” said Raven-sensei. “Although I gather that for him, the two are nearly inextricable.”

“Either. Both.”

“He investigates insurance fraud for somebody,” Jin supplied. “His boss is named Gregor. He talks about him a lot.”

Vorlynkin then fills in a few gaps in Jin’s conception of Miles, informing him that “Gregor” is the Barrayaran Emperor, and Miles’s job as Auditor has a much wider scope than mere insurance fraud, in addition to his illustrious parents, the Viceroy and Vicereine of Sergyar; Jin begins re-evaluating Miles from his earliest impressions, and wonders what it would be like to be an adult and still have a living father.  Mina asks what a Viceroy is, and Vorlynkin explains it to her, and then she says he has an important job and an important family.  Aunt Lorna says that he probably has the job because of the family, but Vorlynkin says he also has a talent for ferreting things out, which leads to Jin wishing for a ferret; Vorlynkin points out that he does have a sphinx, and that should be enough for now.  Jin decides that having a mother back is also pretty good, though a ferret would be nice…

Mina is a little alarmed when they find Nefertiti eating violets, and Jin worries that the Consul will be upset, but Vorlynkin says that candied violets are often put on salads, so as long as she doesn’t eat too many at a time, she should be okay.  Jin thinks that he really likes Vorlynkin, who knows all sorts of stuff, and his mom also seems to like him…so maybe he’ll stick around for a while.

Miles and Roic meet up with Mark at the Escobar transfer station; Miles has a few hours to kill before his ship leaves for home, so Mark agrees to join him, even though they’ve already spent days together on the ship from Kibou-daini, even if a lot of that was working separately.  Mark says Kareen had sent him a message from Kibou-daini, where she and Raven are getting the new Durona clinic started; he tells Miles about the two friends of Lisa Sato that have been revived, and are now testifying, and Oki has also agreed to testify in exchange for leniency.  Miles’s name has so far managed to stay out of the issue entirely, though Mark twits him about his supposed reluctance to stay in the shadows.

Mark says when he gets back to Escobar he’ll have a lot of unanticipated work for the Duronas, and he should have the first batch sent off within a week.  He plans to give Ted Fuwa a lot of work doing repairs on the clinic, in part to keep his mind off the sale price Mark talked him into.  Miles says he had planned to stop on Sergyar to visit their parents, but his case has run late, and he’ll probably need to spend a few days on Komarr laying the trap for WhiteChrys, so he might not get the chance to see them until Winterfair.  He asks Mark if he’ll be home then, perhaps to pitch the anti-age treatment to the Count in person, and Mark says he’ll have to see how the preliminary results look.

Miles contemplating his still-unanticipated clone, mentions the uncle they never met, Aral’s elder brother who was killed by Mad Yuri’s men; Mark says he never learned much about him, since he wasn’t important to the planned impersonation scheme, and Miles says their father never talked about it much either.  It would have been so different, him not being the Count, maybe not even deciding to go into the military…  He suggests they get the Count to talk about his brother, as one of the few people who’ll still remember him, and Mark agrees.

Miles asks if Mark and Kareen are thinking about marriage and children yet; the pressure is mostly off them, the other Koudelka sisters all having children by now.  Mark admits that he’s terrified of children, since his experiences of being parented were by a psychotic terrorist with displacement issues; Miles says that at least Kareen is sane enough to be a good parent.

“There is that,” Mark admitted. “So what’s your greatest terror, now you’re a Da yourself?”

“What if . . .” Miles pulled at his hair, looking up cross-eyed to see if he could spot any of the sneaky gray ones, but this cut was still too short. “What if my children find out I’m not really a grownup? How dreadfully disappointed would they be?”

This time, Mark laughed out loud. It was a very good sound, Miles thought, and he grinned back ruefully at his brother.

“I think your wife already knows,” said Mark.

Miles asks Mark if he thinks that Vorlynkin and Madame Sato will hit it off, since he’d gotten the impression that the Consul was interested, but wasn’t as sure about her; Mark says he has no idea.

Roic spots Colonel Vorventa further down, ImpSec liaison at the embassy on the transfer station; when Vorventa spots them, he gestures for them to stay where they are and heads for a lift tube.  Miles says he’s probably there for one of them, most likely him, and he hopes that this isn’t a new assignment, since he really wants to go home now.  Roic notes that Vorventa is decked in his full dress greens, unlike his usual civilian clothes.

Vorventa’s steps slowed as he approached, and his eyes searched his quarry, though his face remained stiff. He halted at the table’s side, cast Mark and Roic a grave nod, came to attention, and offered Miles a very formal salute, though Miles was in no kind of uniform at all except his gray trousers and jacket.

The messenger moistened his lips, and said, “Count Vorkosigan, sir?”

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This chapter is, of course, our true denouement.  First the cozy get-together on Kibou-daini, even Aunt Lorna there; I can’t help but compare her and her husband with the Dursleys, and at least they come off well in that comparison, but then they’re not caricatures.  We don’t get to see them much except through Jin’s eyes, which are not the most sympathetic, so I’m sure that they’re not monsters, but they could perhaps have been nicer to their niece and nephew.

Not much else in that scene; even Raven’s news about Lisa Sato’s reawakened friends is also relayed to Mark in the next scene.  In orbit over Escobar, destroying the unity of place which has heretofore kept everything on Kibou-daini, but it gives time for some things to have happened, and is a better place for the finale to take place.  The conversations about their plans for Winterfair with their father, getting him to talk about his brother, pitching the life-extension scheme to him…and not knowing that it’s already too late.

At this point I can’t remember if I was expecting anything like this when I read this the first time.  Had it already been spoiled for me?  Had I glimpsed it while paging ahead to find out how many pages there were in the book?  Probably.  Those three words, so innocuous, are one of Bujold’s spearpoints, a tiny pinprick whose setup over how many books makes it pierce your heart that much harder.  Count Aral was on the verge of death back in _Mirror Dance_, and he’s never been all that young, but it’s never a good time.


 

The full force of that spear comes, of course, in the aftermaths.  But that’s for next week…

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So I’m rereading this series, the Vorkosigan Saga?  By Lois McMaster Bujold?  And I’m also, like, writing down the stuff that happens, and then saying things that it makes me think about?  So I’m all the way up to, like, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which doesn’t even really have much for Vorkosigans in it, except in this chapter, which is, like, Chapter Ten, so here it is?

Chapter Ten

Ivan manages to overcome his wife’s distraction in bed that night, and discovers that his experience with bleary-eyed admirals also helps him deal with Tej in the morning.  His mother calls to inform him that she’s having the women out to shop for clothing; Rish expresses concern for safety, but Ivan assures her that his mother gets the best ImpSec guards, mostly as a tribute to Illyan.  Christos and Alys’s personal dresser escorts the women out, promising to teach them Barrayar’s “clothing dialect”.  Ivan is just as happy to be staying at home, where he can merely approve of everything they buy, rather than trying to figure out what they want him to say about outfits they’re trying on.  Left to himself, Ivan starts on his backlog of personal mail, but after half an hour he’s interrupted by a call from Miles.

“Sorry for the interruption”–Miles did not look in the least sorry–“but I must not be behindhand in conveying my thanks for the extremely thoughtful gift you forwarded from Komarr.  Ekaterin actually wondered if she should put flowers in it, next time you came over, but I suggested target practice.  Or passing it along to the twins, which might be an ever faster way to dispose of it.  At which point the light dawned, and she looked very relieved.”

“Hey, it took me half an hour to find that vase!” said Ivan in mock indignation.

“Hidden in the back of the store, was it, lest it frighten away customers?”

Miles also congratulates him on his marriage; he heard about it very quickly, after Alys called him about the rumours coming in.  Ivan says it was an accident, and invites him to read the ImpSec report if he wants all the details.  Miles invites them all over to Vorkosigan House for a Ma Kosti tea; Ivan protests this blatant bribery, and Miles says he’s off to Sergyar soon, and doesn’t want to miss meeting her.  When Ivan is still reluctant, Miles says they are “requested and required” to attend, and Ivan realizes that it’s really Gregor who wants to meet them.

Tej is not best pleased to be heading over to meet the Barrayaran Emperor (and not just because Ivan’s sports car requires Rish to sit on her lap).  Ivan keeps not proving to be as much of a “nobody” as he claimed, and as a result she feels like it’s becoming much harder to hide.  And then there’s the Imperial Auditor, who apparently has the power to execute her if he wants to…  They’re well-dressed for it, at least, having acquired a selection of “casual” Barrayaran clothing, and impressed Lady Alys’s dresser with her colour sense, besides; now Tej wonders if Alys had been forewarned about this little social engagement.

Ivan manages to drive with something approaching caution, and soon they arrive at the walled-in house, where they are admitted after a brief scan.  Ivan helps them out of the car and they are admitted into the huge four-storey house, once the modern force-screen is lowered.  Rish is transfixed by the intricate mosaic on the floor of the entry hall, an almost lifelike depiction of a garden, murmuring to herself at how she could dance on a floor like this.

A call of “Ware escapee!” heralds the arrival of a naked toddler (much to Ivan’s dismay) with an arresting, diminutive figure limping in pursuit.  The toddler stops in wonderment at the sight of Rish, and Ivan reluctantly grabs the child, Sasha, and hands him back to the short man, who reports the capture via his wristcom; a more normal-sized woman appears and collects Sasha, and Ivan introduces them as Lord and Lady Vorkosigan.  Ekaterin welcomes them and tells them about their impending trip to Sergyar–taking the twins, and her son Nikki, to visit the Count and Countess.

Ekaterin heads back up the stairs with Sasha while Miles takes the others to the library, where another man is waiting for them; Ivan greets him as “Sire”, but Gregor says he’s in Count Vorbarra mode right now, to save on hassle.  He welcomes Tej and Rish to Barrayar, in a way that reminds Tej of Ekaterin welcoming them to her house, and they all sit down.  There is a fire on the hearth, which Tej has to remind herself isn’t dangerous here.

Gregor asks about how they met, and the full story comes out–including Rish stunning Ivan, which wasn’t in the ImpSec report.  Miles gets more and more amused, behind his hand, as Tej and Ivan tell the story.  Tej brings up the proposed plan to smuggle them to Escobar on a courier vessel, as she has realized that Gregor is likely one of the people who could make this happen.  He says he might be able to do something for them, and asks where they might be able to meet her brother.  Tej says that Amiri never wanted to get into the house business, and convinced his parents to let him go study on Escobar under an assumed name; she was supposed to meet him if the worst happened, and her sisters were to go to Earth to meet up their Cetagandan grandmother, which is the first Ivan knows that the widow ghem Estif is still alive.  Tej says she’s about 130 years old, but still limber, though her hair has all gone silver.

Ekaterin enters with the formal tea, which is ample and delectable, mostly due, she says, to the effect the Emperor’s presence has in inspiring Ma Kosti; Miles warns Gregor not to try to steal her away.  Miles says that Tej’s grandmother must have been close to his own grandfather’s age, and was actually there for the Cetagandan invasion; he suggests that Tej should talk to the Vorbrettens, and explains the Cetagandan-heritage connection.  Gregor notes that Miles is part Betan, and Ivan as well, because of their Betan great-grandmother.

Miles, returning to the subject of Escobar, asks if the medical clinic Amiri is at wouldn’t happen to be the Durona Group.  Tej and Rish are shocked that they know this already, but Miles says that he was already acquainted with them, and his clone-brother Mark helped get them off Jackson’s Whole.  Tej admits that the Cordonahs had an informal understanding with House Fell, the Duronas’ former home.  Miles says that the family connection to the Durona Group may mean that their identities will have to be protected more carefully if Ivan and Tej go there.  Rish notes suspiciously that Miles knows a lot about Jackson’s Whole, and he admits to having visited there several times in his pre-Auditor career…as a courier, of course.  ImpSec also keeps an eye on the Jacksonian Houses that man the jump points, particularly Fell and Prestene, the latter being the one closest to the Cetagandan Empire.

Tej asks Gregor again about the ride to Escobar, and he says he’ll mention it to Allegre and let him work out the details with Ivan, but he says it won’t override other ImpSec business.  He adds that Ivan’s security detail is aware of the increased risks, and Miles says that it’ll be easier to keep them from being blindsided if Tej and Rish don’t keep secrets from them.  Tej isn’t happy to be putting these strangers at risk by her presence, haunted by the death of her bodyguard on Fell Station, but she supposes that everyone has to suffer the protection of strangers, to some extent.

One of Gregor’s guards alerts him to another upcoming appointment, and Gregor bids farewell to Ivan, Tej and Rish, though he asks Miles to stay for a few words.  Ekaterin escorts them out, and in the entry hall Rish asks her about the mosaic; she says that Miles had encouraged her to make some changes to the house, and his mother had some bad associations to the old tile floor.  This type of mosaic is, she says, a South Continent specialty, and Miles helped her secure the services of a famous artist Ekaterin had always admired.  Ivan noted that pieces of the old floor ended up being sold for a good price as souvenirs.

[Ekaterin] turned to Tej.  “Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan is very close friends with Ivan’s mother, you know.  Cordelia has frequently mentioned to me how much she treasured having a woman friend, when she first came to Barrayar as a bride and a stranger, to show her how to go on here–all those things the men didn’t know.  At least there’s no war on, this time.  Perhaps when Miles and I get back from Sergyar, we can visit again…?”

A heartbreakingly kind offer, Tej thought.  She smiled, but shook her head.  “We don’t expect to be here that long.”

Tej realizes that her initial eagerness to leave Barrayar has been replaced by an inexplicable reluctance, which she admonishes herself to try to shrug off.

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Another retelling of the initial incidents with Tej and Ivan’s meeting, and not particularly summarized in the book, so that Miles and Ivan can have some amusing exchanges…which I didn’t include here.  Since Gregor and Miles surely already knew most of it…what was the point of that?  Are we supposed to focus on the fact that the story seems more amusing now than it did at the time?  Or just enjoy the witty banter?

This whole chapter almost feels like an effort to shoehorn Miles into the book.  It’s true that Miles and Ekaterin would want to meet Tej, and I suppose it’s understandable that Gregor would as well, but somehow this scene doesn’t seem to justify its existence, or at least its length.  The don’t-steal-Ma-Kosti joke is dragged out again.  It all seems a little…precious, somehow.

This book takes place about seven years after _Mirror Dance_, by the end of which the Durona Group has relocated to Escobar.  So I guess that Tej’s brother can’t have been there longer than that.  Is Amiri the only non-Durona-clone person there?  Surely not, or else he’d stick out like a sore thumb.  It seems like a little bit of convenient coincidence, anyway.  I suppose there might be some advantage to sending him offplanet to someplace that will at least be slightly familiar, to live among Jacksonians, and more-or-less known quantities, but by the same token it might make it a more obvious place to look for him.  I hadn’t remembered this little factoid from the first read, but I wasn’t surprised when it turned up, because it seemed almost too obvious.  After all, why invent another Escobaran medical clinic when there was one already there?


Another busy weekend coming up for me, which means definitely only one chapter next week; let’s hope it’s more exciting than this one.  Looks like it’s got Ivan’s birthday party in it, so that should be good.  And will contain more recap for our new characters.  But that’ll be next week, so till then…

 

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Welcome back, one mo’ time, to the good ol’, down-home, fresh-baked, fat-free, low-cholesterol Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  It’s always a pleasure to see so many bright and smiling faces comin’ by here to see what I’ve managed to whip up out of nothin’ more than a couple of chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, as we find out what the rascally Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends, have been up to this week.  And speakin’ of this week, that’s right now!  So why don’t you set yourself down and dig in to a helping of Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen of A Civil Campaign, where things actually get kinda physically excitin’ for our heroes…

Chapter Seventeen

Pym admits Ekaterin to Vorkosigan House; he pages Miles, who says he’s up in the attic of the north wing, and tells Pym to send Ekaterin up, he has something she’d like to see.  He escorts her to the lift tube and up to the fifth floor, into an enormous attic.  Some of the attic contents are the usual–shabby furniture, empty picture frames, and other detritus–but past then it gets into old weapons, horse gear, and uniforms.

Miles is digging through a few tunks of flimsies, apparently sorting them; Ekaterin says he wasn’t exaggerating when he told her the attics were worth seeing.  Miles says that when Duv Galeni came up here, he turned back into a history professor, gibbering over how little of this was catalogued.  Ekaterin lets him ramble on, unwilling to destroy his mood with her news.  He shows her a bag of what he says are Cetagandan scalps–given to his grandfather, he says, by his guerrillas, so of course he couldn’t just dispose of them.  Ekaterin asks what they could possible do with them; Miles muses that Gregor could send them back to the Cetagandans, with elaborate apologies, as a subtle diplomatic insult.

Then he gets out what he really wanted to show her–an old lady’s saddle, which he said originally belonged to General Piotr’s wife, Olivia Vorbarra Vorkosigan.  He said the riding tradition has kind of lapsed in their family–his parents weren’t that interested, and he hasn’t time himself in years; Ekaterin says she rode as a child, a pony that her great-aunt kept, but not much since.  Miles says he’s thinking of reconditioning the saddle and putting it back into use, but Ekaterin protests that it should be in a museum.

“Ah—I had this same argument with Duv. It wasn’t just hand-made, it was custom-made, especially for the Princess. Probably a gift from my grandfather. Imagine the fellow, not just a worker but an artist, selecting the leather, piecing and stitching and carving. I picture him hand-rubbing in the oil, thinking of his work used by his Countess, envied and admired by her friends, being part of this—this whole work of art that was her life.” His finger traced the leaves around the initials.

Her guess of its value kept ratcheting up in time to his words. “For heaven’s sake get it appraised first!”

“Why? To loan to a museum? Don’t need to set a price on my grandmother for that. To sell to some collector to hoard like money? Let him hoard money, that’s all that sort wants anyway. The only collector who’d be worthy of it would be someone who was personally obsessed with the Princess-and-Countess, one of those men who fall hopelessly in love across time. No. I owe it to its maker to put it to its proper use, the use he intended.”

The weary straitened housewife in her—Tien’s pinchmark spouse—was horrified. The secret soul of her rang like a bell in resonance to Miles’s words. Yes. That was how it should be. This saddle belonged under a fine lady, not under a glass cover. Gardens were meant to be seen, smelled, walked through, grubbed in. A hundred objective measurements didn’t sum the worth of a garden; only the delight of its users did that. Only the use made it mean something. How had Miles learned that? For this alone I could love you . . .

He says he should get back into riding, for exercise if nothing else, and invites her to join him.  Ekaterin says she can’t, and ruthlessly, before he can try to persuade her, before she loses her will entirely, tells him the story of her family visit.  She expresses her exasperation at how they wouldn’t listen to her, taking Alexi Vormoncrief’s word over her own, along with their own perceptions of the “decadence” of the capital.  She said she had to go along, or lose custody of Nikki.  It occurred to her later to wonder if ImpSec would step in rather than let Vassily take Nikki away, but Miles said that they’d probably think Nikki safer on a military base in any case.  If they did do anything to stop it, they’d probably do it in a way that just enhanced the murder “cover story”.

Ekaterin wonders if somebody convinced Alexi to send the letter, hoping to have just that result.  Miles suggests that it would be better if her uncle could deal with the issue inside the family, but he’s not due back until the wedding, assuming that his technical matters on Komarr don’t take too long.  Miles says that if it does come to court, it’ll be in Vorbretten’s District, and he can try to get René to help, assuming he’s still Count at that point; Ekaterin says she’d rather avoid it entirely.  Miles reassures her that, after the Council of Counts vote in two days, the slander should die down with its political motivation…or so he hopes.

“I shouldn’t have suggested putting you in quarantine till my mourning year was over. I should have tried Vassily on Winterfair first. I thought of that too late. But I can’t risk Nikki, I just can’t. Not when we’ve come so far, survived so much.”

“Sh, now. I think your instincts are right. My grandfather had an old cavalry saying: `You should get over heavy ground as lightly as you can.’ We’ll just lie low for a little while here so as not to rile poor Vassily. And when your uncle gets back, he’ll straighten the fellow out.” He glanced up at her, sideways. “Or, of course, you could simply not see me for a year, eh?”

“I should dislike that exceedingly,” she admitted.

“Ah.” One corner of his mouth curled up. After a little pause, he said, “Well, we can’t have that, then.”

“But Miles, I gave my word. I didn’t want to, but I did.”

“Stampeded into it. A tactical retreat is not a bad response to a surprise assault, you know. First you survive. Then you choose your own ground. Then you counterattack.”

Ekaterin fights an urge to give in to his physical closeness.  Miles admits he’d forgotten about Vassily on his list of people whose opinions mattered.  He explains to her what his father said about reputation and honour.  Ekaterin talks about how she became an oathbreaker, inside, after she made the decision to leave Tien, but she still has to go on somehow; most people, even her aunt, tell her that it was okay because Tien was an ass.  Miles says he knows exactly how she feels, though.

“In my experience,” he said, “the trouble with oaths of the form, death before dishonor, is that eventually, given enough time and abrasion, they separate the world into just two sorts of people: the dead, and the forsworn. It’s a survivor’s problem, this one.”

“Yes,” she agreed quietly. He knows. He knows it all, right down to that bitter muck of regret at the bottom of the soul’s well. How does he know?

He tells her the truth about his discharge from ImpSec, for falsifying reports, rather than for medical reasons.  He’d been so desperate to hold onto Admiral Naismith, and he’d gotten into a habit of “lie now, fix it later”.  Which didn’t work with his seizures, and it didn’t work with her either.  Ekaterin gives him a single squeeze, and agrees with him about the difficulty of overcoming old habits.  Miles tells her then how he killed his grandfather, failing out of his entrance exams.

“Of course,” she said dryly, “you were the cause. It couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with his being nearly a hundred years old.”

“Yeah, sure, I know.” Miles shrugged, and gave her a sharp look up from under his dark brows. “The same way you know Tien’s death was an accident.”

“Miles,” she said, after a long, thoughtful pause, “are you trying to one-up my dead?”

Taken aback, his lips began to form an indignant denial, which weakened to an, “Oh.” He gently thumped his forehead on her shoulder as if beating his head against a wall. When he spoke again, his ragging tone did not quite muffle real anguish. “How can you stand me? I can’t even stand me!”

I think that was the true confession. We are surely come to the end of one another.

Ekaterin notes that she has, as Kareen would say, a “Thing” about oaths.  She asks how, forsworn as he was, he could bring himself to take oath again, as an Imperial Auditor.  Miles says that his honour came with a reset button, and she is startled into laughter, which feels like it’s bringing light into her soul.  He tells her that a wise woman told him once “You just go on”, which in his opinion is what all the rest of the advice boils down to.

He’s taken her hand in his, and she is almost overwhelmed by his physical proximity, but she is determined not to start any physical intimacy with him, when she’s supposed to be giving him up.  Deliberately pulling a little apart, she asks him if he thinks Alexi’s ploy is a trap.  Miles tells her about what happened with Richars, how he’d attempted to blackmail Miles into going along, and instead Miles threw all his weight behind Dono.  As a result, if Richars does become Count, he’ll be obliged to follow through on his threat to press charges, although he may wait until after the Imperial wedding.  If it does go to court, Richars will probably be unable to prove anything, but Miles won’t be able to produce proof on his side either–but before the charge is eventually dismissed, things could get ugly, for Ekaterin as well as himself.

Miles notes that another way to avert the problem would be to not vote against Richars–maybe even abstaining wouldn’t be enough, he might have to actively vote for Richars.  He admits that Gregor and ImpSec have not asked him to do that, but he thought he’d offer it to her; after some thought, she says they’d both have to reset their honour after that one.  Miles says it doesn’t look like Dono has enough votes, just so she knows; she says she’s satisfied that he has Miles’s.

Ekaterin asks him the last time he used his seizure stimulator, and Miles admits it’s been a while.  Ekaterin sternly admonishes him to use it that night, so he doesn’t get struck down in the middle of the vote, and he humbly accedes.  He offers her a ride home, and ends up accompanying her; they keep scrupulously to small talk.

Ivan is serving at a reception for Komarran guests at Vorhartung Castle, squiring around Laisa’s aunt.  It’s meant as a celebration of the soletta array repairs as much as for the arrival of Laisa’s guests.  Once he manages to get rid of Aunt Anna, he manages to withdraw.  He bumps into Cassia Vorgorov, recently engaged to Count Vortashpula’s heir; Count Falco Vorpatril, nearby, twits Ivan about having missed his chance yet again, since Cassia apparently used to have a crush on him.  Ivan asserts that he chooses to play the field, and bows politely to Count Vorhalas, who is wooing the notoriously fence-sitting Count Vorpatril’s vote.

Miles arrives, looking a little tired, and, to Ivan’s relief, doesn’t seem to be seeking volunteers for some hare-brained scheme.  He greets the two Counts; Falco asks if he’s going to the reception at Vorsmyth House, and Miles says he’ll be with Gregor’s party…unless they want to discuss Lord Dono’s suit again.  Falco says the Progressives will just have to give up on that one, and be satisfied with the soletta repairs bill.  Miles says he can’t wait for this vote to be over, before departing.

Vorhalas notes that Miles’s looks unwell; Falco says it’s probably due to his old troubles, but Ivan says it’s probably due to his more recent injuries on duty–one of his seizures, he expects.  Vorhalas asks about the rumour about Miles and Ekaterin, and Ivan stoutly denies it, and Falco says that Lady Alys did as well.  Vorhalas will only say that he supposes they’ll never know the truth.  Ivan is getting a bit annoyed at all the people asking him, and wonders if Miles is getting as bad, or if more people are asking Ivan because they don’t want to bother him about it.  Falco invites Vorhalas back to Vorpatril House to talk about a potential project, and Vorhalas agrees.

Ivan spots Olivia Koudelka, and consider that while Delia, Kareen and Martya have rejected him, there’s still one who hasn’t.  He starts to chat her up, trying to figure out if she’s with someone; she does seem happy to see someone, but all Ivan sees are Lord Dono and Countess Vormuir, who seem to be sharing a private joke.  Olivia says they’re heading for Vorsmythe House, and Ivan proposes to come along; Olivia offers him a ride, which he accepts.  Lord Dono joins them, proving to be the one offering the ride, which Ivan doesn’t particularly like, but he’s forced to live with it.  Byerly Vorrutyer stops by, refusing the offer of a ride to Vorsmythe’s, but asking for one home from there.
Dono says he’s talked to several of the Counts, but few of them were helpful.  Vorhalas and Vorpatril hadn’t listened to his pitch, and Vorfolse hadn’t even answered his door.  The vote tally is running close, but Dono says it’s still short.  Olivia and By reassure him, and By says that something might still happen.

Ivan ends up sitting between two Armsmen in Dono’s car, with Olivia next to Dono and Szabo.  On the way to Vorsmythe House, Donno suddenly decides to give Vorfolse one more try first.  Vorfolse’s family has had horrible luck in the last century, making bad choices like collaborating with the Cetagandans, and siding with Vordarian during the Pretendership; as a result, they’re quite impoverished, and Vorfolse lives in a small apartment, renting Vorfolse House to an ambitious, rich merchant.  The current Count Vorfolse, as a result, refuses to commit to much of anything, which, Ivan supposes, at least means he’s not a certain vote for Richars…

There’s no parking available for the groundcar, so Dono’s driver drops them off, Ivan perforce getting out too when Olivia does.  Szabo sets up a couple of Armsmen as a guard, and the rest of them enter the building lobby.  Dono buzz Vorfolse’s apartment, and at least gets a response this time.  Dono introduces himself and his companions, and asks to talk about the vote.  Vorfolse refuses, saying that Vorrutyers are all crazy, and he doesn’t care which of them is Count.  Dono points out that if the vote falls short, it’ll have to be redone, and that will doubtless be inconvenient for Vorfolse, and that Richars would also be much less “restful” as a count.  Olivia puts in her own word, and Vorfolse notes that the Vorkosigans must be supporting it, and Miles seems to be very unrestful just now.  He refuses to commit to a vote, but Dono thanks him, noting as they leave that that’s better than some of the responses he’s gotten.  He also gives Vorfolse credit for, at least, not milking his District for funds to support a more lavish lifestyle.

Outside, the car is nowhere to be found; Olivia wonders if somebody else wanted to come in, forcing the driver to leave and come back.  Just then, Ivan hears a familiar sound, as Szabo drops to a stunner beam.  Ivan ducks behind a pillar, Olivia and Dono ducking another way, as the two other Armsmen with him also drop to stunners.  Ivan peers into the darkness, trying to spot their enemies, and wishing he had a stunner of his own.  He overhears two men talking about a third, and tries to make his way out of his refuge before they come after him.  It must be a kidnapping, he thinks, or they wouldn’t be using stunners.

He catches a glimpse of Olivia, and hears a thunk as she takes out an enemy; he is reminded that her mother used to be a bodyguard.  Dono makes a break for it, and the enemies go after him, grabbing him and dragging him towards a liftvan; Ivan manages to snatch one of the felled Armsmen’s stunners.  They want to “do the job” on Dono and dump him as soon as they can, if they can take out the girl and “the big officer”.  Ivan, watching, can’t tell what they’re going to do, but it’s not a kidnapping…  One man bends over Dono with a vibra knife, and Ivan, taking a chance, stuns one of the others and sends the others fleeing behind the van, leaving Dono on the pavement.

Olivia stuns the other two and emerges from cover; they to go to check on Dono.  Olivia exclaims to find him soaked in blood, but Dono says they only cut his leg.  She improvises a bandage torn from her party dress to try to stop the bleeding, while Ivan drags their stunned foes into a heap.

Olivia now had Dono half sitting up, his head cradled between her breasts as she anxiously stroked his dark hair. Dono was pale and shaking, his breathing disrupted.

“Take a punch in the solar plexus, did you?” Ivan inquired.

“No. Further down,” Dono wheezed. “Ivan . . . do you remember, whenever one of you fellows got kicked in the nuts and went over, doing sports or whatever, how I laughed? I’m sorry. I never knew. I’m sorry . . .”

The bleeding seems to be slowing.  Ivan finds a bottle of liquid bandage nearby, and says that they must have been trying to undo Dono’s sex change operation, hoping to disqualify him before the vote.  Without anesthetic, but with the intention of leaving him alive.  Dono says it’s probably Richars.  Ivan says that however he feels about what Dono did, this is just wrong.  Dono says he hasn’t even used his new genitalia yet, wanting to be a “virgin” on his wedding night.  Ivan goes to check on the others–the one Olivia downed doesn’t look to be in good shape, but Szabo and the others seem like they’ll be okay.  He goes down the street and finds Dono’s groundcar, the driver stunned; he backs it carefully up to where Dono and Olivia are.

He asks Dono if he recognizes any of the goons, which he doesn’t.  Ivan and Olivia load them into their own van, and Dono’s Armsmen into the groundcar.  Olivia and Dono take the groundcar, and Ivan the lift van; Ivan tells them to head for Vorpatril House.

Comments

Not much to say about the Miles and Ekaterin scene, except that the increased honesty between them does seem to be drawing them together.  As well as shared adversity, placing them back to back against a common enemy, as it were.

Ivan the oblivious once again fails to clue in that the girl he’s latched onto is not into him at all.  We don’t get nearly as much screen time with Olivia as we do with her sisters, but it’s apparent that she’s become attached to Dono already.  Still, it’s lucky for Dono that Ivan came along–without him, it would have ended up just Olivia against Dono’s assailants.  It took me a second to recognize Ivan when the thugs were referring to “that big officer”–I guess Ivan is supposed to kind of big, at that.

The book, being mostly about relationships and such, is a little short on actual action scenes, but near the end, they start to show up a bit.  The attempted assault on Dono is probably the biggest one, but the next chapter has a couple more, as I recall…

Chapter Eighteen

Miles arrives early at the Counts’ Chamber, but finds René Vorbretten is there even before him.  René is not optimistic, saying that they’re close, but don’t have quite enough votes.  Miles tries to reassure him, telling him that anyone could change their mind at the last minute, but René points out that that works both ways.  Miles wishes for a little more redundancy in future, and almost wishes for a good honest shootout.  Miles says he thinks he secured Vorgarin’s vote for René, if not necessarily for Dono.  René said that Dono never showed up at Vorsmythe’s; Byerly had been looking for him, and eventually left to try to find him.  Miles wonders if Dono had been assassinated, but reassures himself that he would have heard by now, if so.

As more people start to arrive, René asks what they’ll do if Dono doesn’t show up.  Miles assures him that the Conservatives will also want to wait for all their Counts to show up, and since some of them will be delayed indefinitely, they’ll be forced to filibuster as long as they can, though Miles will willingly stretch it out too, if he needs to.  Miles hopes that Dono is not just reverting to Lady Donna’s habit of arriving fashionable late.  Eventually he calls Pym and asks him to try to find Dono, and do anything he can to help get him to the vote on time.  Richars shows up, dressed as Count Vorrutyer already, and pays Miles a visit.

“They say,” Richars growled to him in an undervoice, not concealing rage quite so well, Miles fancied, “that an honest politician is one who stays bought. It seems you don’t qualify, Vorkosigan.”

“You should choose your enemies more wisely,” Miles breathed back.

Richars grunted. “So should you. I don’t bluff. As you’ll find out before this day is over.” He stalked away to confer with the group of men now clustered around Vormoncrief’s desk.

More Counts arrive, and Miles makes a few last-minute visits to canvass for Dono and René again.  Gregor arrives with a minute to spare, and the session officially begins.  As Miles had predicted, Conservative Counts start exercising their two-minute speaking rights, drawing it out as long as they can get away with; everyone starts settling in for a long wait.

Ekaterin is dismayed to answer her door and find Vassily and Hugo there again.  She stops herself from protesting that she’s been following their rules, and merely asks what they want.  They ask to come in, on an urgent matter, and, grudgingly, Ekaterin lets them in.  Vassily tells her that he wants to get Nikki out of the capital as soon as possible.  He says it’s nothing to do with what Ekaterin has or hasn’t done, but he has new information, this time confirmed by Lord Richars Vorrutyer himself.  Once Richars is voted in as Count, he’ll lay a murder charge against Miles, and then, he predicts, the capital will doubtless erupt into open fighting.  Aunt Vorthys and Nikki come in to see what’s going on, greeting the visitors uncertainly.

Hugo gave her a respectful nod of greeting, and continued heavily, “I have to agree with Ekaterin, but it only supports Vassily’s worries. I can’t imagine what has possessed Vorrutyer to make such a move while Aral Vorkosigan himself is in town. You’d think he’d at least have the sense wait till the Viceroy returned to Sergyar before attacking his heir.”

“Aral Vorkosigan!” cried Ekaterin. “Do you really think Gregor will blithely accept this assault on one of his chosen Voices? Not to mention look forgivingly on someone trying to start a huge public scandal two weeks before his wedding . . . ! Richars isn’t a fool, he’s mad.” Or acting in some kind of blind panic, but what did Richars have to be panicked about?

Vassily reminds her what happened during Vordarian’s Pretendership, and says he wants to get Nikki safe before it’s impossible to leave Vorbarr Sultana.  Ekaterin tries to convince him that even during the Pretendership it wasn’t that violent everywhere, but Vassily insists they have to go, and urges Ekaterin and Madame Vorthys to evacuate as well, especially since Ekaterin has already drawn Miles’s attention.  Ekaterin says that he’s making a big deal over nothing–Richars might not even win the Countship–but they can’t conceive that Dono’s suit could possibly succeed, and in any case Vassily is unwilling to risk it.

Nikki tries to reassure his relatives that Miles didn’t kill Tien, but Vassily says that there’s no way to know for sure, and Nikki is obviously unsure how much of what the Emperor told him he’s allowed to share.  Ekaterin says that ImpSec is surely on top of any activity in the capital, this close to the wedding, and will stop any unrest before it starts.

Vassily tells Nikki to get his things and get ready to go.  Nikki looks to his mother, and she decides that she has no obligation to make things any easier for Vassily, so she says nothing.

Vassily reached for Nikki’s hand. Nikki dodged around Ekaterin, and cried, “Mama, I don’t have to go, do I? I was supposed to go to Arthur’s tonight! I don’t want to go with Vassily!” His voice was edged with sharp distress.

Vassily inhaled, and attempted to recover his balance and his dignity. “Madame, control your child!”

She stared at him for a long moment. “Why, Vassily,” she said at last, her voice silky, “I thought you were revoking my authority over Nikki. You certainly don’t seem to trust my judgment for his safety and well-being. How shall I control him, then?”

Aunt Vorthys, catching the nuance, winced; Hugo, father of three, also got it. She had just given Nikki tacit permission to go to his limit. Bachelor Vassily missed the curve.

Vassily tells Nikki they have to catch the train, and threatens to carry him; Nikki says that he’ll scream, and tell everyone this man isn’t his father, and is kidnapping him.  Vassily tries to grab Nikki, but he dodges out of the way.  Hugo tries to convince Nikki to come with him and visit his cousins instead; Nikki hesitates, but Vassily makes another try then, grabbing Nikki’s arm.  Nikki yells out in pretended pain and Vassily relaxes his grip, allowing Nikki to make his way up the stairs.  He shouts back at them that he doesn’t want to go, and they’ll be sorry they made his mama unhappy.

Vassily chases him up the stairs, Hugo following more slowly.  Nikki locks himself in his uncle’s study and Vassily tells at him to open the door.  He asks Ekaterin for help, and Ekaterin says that the only man she ever knew who could talk Nikki out of a locked room doesn’t happen to be there.  Hugo suggests waiting for him to get hungry, but Madame Vorthys says Nikki knows where his uncle keeps his store of cookies.  Ekaterin refuses to let Vassily break down the door, or help him take apart the hinges, and neither she nor her aunt point out that there is a back door through a bathroom off the next room.

“I hear two voices. Who in the world could he be calling on the comconsole?” asked Vassily, in a dismissive tone that didn’t invite an answer.

Suddenly, Ekaterin thought she knew. Her breath caught. “Oh,” she said faintly, “dear.” Aunt Vorthys stared at her.

For a hysterical moment, Ekaterin considered dashing around and diving through the alternate doors, to shut down the comconsole before it was too late. But the echo of a laughing voice drifted through her mind . . . Let’s see what happens.

Yes. Let’s.

Back at the Council of Counts, Miles waits while more Conservatives drone on.  Gregor’s Armsman comes out and speaks to the Emperor; Gregor them summons the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle to have a quick word, and then disappears behind the dais.  Miles wonders what’s going on, but supposes that Gregor just needs a bathroom break.  He calls Pym again, who tells him that Lord Dono had only arrived at Vorrutyer House about an hour ago, but Captain Vorpatril is escorting him to the vote as they speak.

Gregor returns after a couple of minutes, and gives Miles an odd, exasperated look, before returning to impassively watching the speakers.  Miles checks for missing Counts–Vortugalov, as Lady Alys had promised, but also Counts Vormuir, Vorpatril, Vorfolse, and Vorhalas.  Most or all of those were expected to be Conservative votes, so Miles wouldn’t miss them much.

In Vorkosigan House, Enrique is inventorying the returned Vorkosigan butter bugs, and announces that only nine are missing, which is acceptable, especially since the queen had been returned by Jankowski’s daughter the night before.  He takes the queen out and offers to let Martya pet her; the queen hisses in what Enrique insists is a sound of happiness.

Privately, Kareen thought any man whose idea of a good time was to feed, pet, and care for a creature that mainly responded to his worship with hostile noises was going to get along great with Martya.

Kareen is trying to figure out what to call their various proposed butter bug food products.  The house is very quiet, most of its inhabitants either with Miles, or with his parents at a political breakfast.  Even Ma Kosti has gone with Mark to look at a prospective packaging plant.  Kareen had spent his first night at Vorkosigan House with Mark, and everyone was perfectly civilized about it, and she’s quite happy about that.

A maidservant knocks on the door, telling them that they have visitors.  Two rumpled-looking men in Escobaran suits–one of them quite large–enter and greet Enrique, delighted to have finally found him.  The thin man, Parole Officer Oscar Gustioz, tells Enrique he’s under arrest for fraud, grand theft, and bond jumping.  Enrique protests that they can’t arrest him on Barrayar, and Gustioz brandishes a file folder, showing him all of the manifold permissions he has managed to get signed, including for all eighteen intervening jump points, which has taken him a month to get.  He tells Enrique to pack one bag, because he means to be offplanet within the hour.

Kareen says, in confusion, that they paid Enrique’s bond, but Gustioz explains that that didn’t mean that they could take him offplanet with them.  Martya asks why they’re not arrest Mark, and Gustioz said he’d love to, but he has diplomatic immunity, and merely mentioning the name ‘Vorkosigan’ results in stonewalling from every bureaucrat he encountered.  Kareen protests that they can’t just take Enrique away, they need him for their new company–it’ll all collapse without his genius.  Gustioz, unconcerned, says he can and will, and he hopes that he goes to jail on Escobar for a very long time. He though it would only take a couple of weeks, and it’s been two months instead…  It even took him forty minutes to get past the ImpSec guard at the gate, showing him every page.

Martya asks if any of the Armsmen are around, but Pym and Jankowski are out, and Roic was on night shift, and is still asleep.  She sends the maid to wake him up anyway and get him down here.  Gustioz tells the big man, Muno, to grab Enrique; Martya grabs him too, in a tug of war.  Kareen trips Muno with a meter stick, and as he falls he knocks the Barrayaran butter bugs loose again.

The stainless steel box flipped into the air. One-hundred-ninety-two astonished brown-and-silver butter bugs were launched in a vast chittering madly fluttering trajectory out over the lab. Since butter bugs had the aerodynamic capacity of tiny bricks, they rained down upon the struggling humans, and crunch-squished underfoot. The hutch clanged to the floor, along with Muno. Gustioz, attempting to shield himself from this unexpected air assault, lost his grip on his folder; colorfully-stamped documents joined butter bugs in fluttering flight. Enrique howled like a man possessed. Muno just screamed, frantically batted bugs off himself, and tried to climb up on the lab stool.

“Now see what you’ve done!” Kareen yelled at the Escobaran officers. “Vandalism! Assault! Destruction of property! Destruction of a Vor lord’s property, on Barrayar itself! Are you in trouble now!”

Martya tells the Escobarans that the bugs are poisonous, though Enrique spoils her ploy by hotly denying it.  Muno grabs Enrique again, more successfully this time, and he and Gustioz drag him out of the lab, not even giving him time to pack his one bag.  Kareen and Martya, desperate to keep them from getting away, notice the teetering stacks of bug butter tubs, grab one each, and prepare to fling them.

Comments

More action scenes!  Vassily Vorsoisson chasing Nikki around the house!  Escobaran bail bondsmen managing, against insurmountable odds, to track down Enrique, with all of the necessary paperwork in hand, and then fending off his outraged Barrayaran defenders!  It’s all very exciting, and after all these pages of, well, much less action, it’s a delightful change.  In fact, Miles, who aches to doing something more active than sitting and waiting in the Council of Counts, is the one who’s left sitting on his hands.  Probably because, after what happened to Vorwhatsisname at the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice, bringing a weapon into the council chamber, nobody wants to try that again.

The intercutting between Miles and Ekaterin is quite well done, because, by this point, you should have enough information to guess just who Nikki might be calling for help on that comconsole, and seeing Gregor duck into his private chamber is just confirmation for it.  Actually, Miles is not only sitting on his hands, he’s also out of the loop.  He doesn’t know what’s going on with Ekaterin and Nikki, he doesn’t know what’s going on with Enrique and the Escobarans, and he doesn’t even really know what’s going on with Ivan and Lord Dono.  I guess he’s adjusted to his new sedentary life as an Imperial Auditor, not having to rush about and do things all the time; he can just let other people do things for him now.  Well, no, it’s more just an artifact of this book’s ensemble cast, giving them all something to do–but it is true that Miles has been less active than usual this book.  Next book should more than make up for it, I’d think.


Looks like I miscounted last time, or rather was misled by looking at the table of contents for Miles In Love rather than A Civil Campaign itself, which of course has “Winterfair Gifts” wedged in at the end.  So, rather than there being three more chapters after this, there is, in fact, only one more chapter and an epilogue.  So, one more week to finish this book off!  I haven’t decided if I’ll take a week before and after “Winterfair Gifts”, but I wouldn’t rule it out at this point.

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

Chapter Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Four

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

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

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

“As your clone, he—” began Baz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


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

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While surfing the web, you hear a knock on the door.

>OPEN DOOR

You see a Vorkosigan Saga Reread here.

>EXAMINE REREAD

The Vorkosigan Saga Reread is an ongoing series dedicated to exploring the Vorkosigan Saga, a science fiction series written by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Its main character, Barrayaran Lord Miles Vorkosigan, has a double life as mercenary Admiral Miles Naismith, a recently-discovered clone-brother, lots of friends and enemies, and a few relatives.  It looks like the Vorkosigan Saga Reread is about to start a new book.

>EXAMINE BOOK

Mirror Dance is a Hugo-winning novel which, in the opinion of the Reread’s author, begins the strongest sequence of books in the entire series, as Miles meets up with his clone-brother once again.

>ENTER REREAD

Chapter One

The row of comconsole booths lining the passenger concourse of Escobar’s largest commercial orbital transfer station had mirrored doors, divided into diagonal sections by rainbow-colored lines of lights. Doubtless someone’s idea of decor. The mirror-sections were deliberately set slightly out of alignment, fragmenting their reflections. The short man in the gray and white military uniform scowled at his divided self framed therein.

He examines his reflection, dwarfish and subtle deformed, in a generic mercenary uniform.  The booth opens and the woman inside emerges, taken aback by his glower and quickly excusing herself; he manages to mutter something polite in return, before entering the booth and closing the door.  He pauses to gather his courage, noting that there’s a damned mirror inside the booth as well.  He inventories his remaining personal possessions–300 Betan dollars on a credit chit, three false identities, none of them matching whoever he was now, a comb, and a data cube.  Finally he punches in a long-memorized number and puts at least a neutral expression on his face.

The woman who answers identifies herself as Dendarii Comm Officer Hereld, and immediately, and enthusiastically, recognizes “Admiral Naismith”.  He asks for a pickup at the station, and when asked says it’s just him, no Elli Quinn, no other personnel or equipment.  He pauses to wonder nervously whether he should include something personal for Hereld, then confines himself to adding that he wishes to be taken directly to the Ariel, and to notify Captain Thorne that they will be leaving orbit soon.

“Naismith out.” He cut the comm. She vanished in a haze of sparkles, and he let out a long breath. Admiral Naismith. Miles Naismith. He had to get used to responding to that name again, even in his sleep. Leave the Lord Vorkosigan part completely out of it, for now; it was difficult enough just being the Naismith half of the man. Drill. What is your name? Miles. Miles. Miles.

Lord Vorkosigan pretended to be Admiral Naismith. And so did he. What, after all, was the difference?

He is, of course, really Miles’s clone Mark, but right now he wills his name to be Miles Naismith; leaving the booth, he heads off at a trot to where the shuttle will be picking him up.

The pilot of the shuttle seems as eager to see Naismith as Hereld was, as if he were “about to pull treats from his pockets”.  Mark fends off the pilot’s enquiries mildly and feigns tiredness.  As he pretends to doze, he thinks about how everyone seems to be so damned energized by Miles’s mere presence–even his enemies, and wonders how the hyperactive idiot did it.  Nobody ever reacted to the unalloyed Mark that way…  Bel Thorne will be a bit of a test for him, an old friends of Miles’s, as well as one who knows about Mark’s existence, so any mistakes might lead him to the truth about Mark’s identity.  It annoys him that Miles is now claiming that Admiral Naismith is a clone of Lord Vorkosigan, just another swipe at Mark’s identity.  But he reassures himself that he’ll be fine with Thorne, as long as he avoids Elli Quinn, who’s off with the real Miles anyway.  After twenty years of imprisonment by the Komarrans, and two years of one disaster after another, this is his last chance, so he has to make it work.

The shuttle docks at the Ariel, which Mark thinks is a good, fast ship for running away in.  They dock, and Mark dismisses the pilot and debarks, to meet Captain Thorne at last.  Mark isn’t bothered by Thorne being a hermaphrodite–as a clone, he has sympathy for the genetically different–but he is a little disturbed by Thorne’s “I-love-Naismith” face.  He’s completely caught off guard when Bel steps forward and hugs him, and only barely endures it, relieved that Thorne doesn’t try to kiss him, too.  Thorne asks what the matter is, and Mark says he’s just tired.  He says he’d rather just go straight to the mission briefing–just to Thorne, so he doesn’t have to risk contact with more of the crew than necessary.

He lets Thorne lead him to its private quarters, making careful note of the route, because Naismith is intimately familiar with the Ariel‘s layout.  In its cabin, Thorne gets out some tea and offers some to Mark, who asks for “the usual”.  Mark sips the tea, finding it pleasant if not quite sweet enough for him, but decides not to risk asking for sugar.  Thorne says the mission is obviously going to be a “lovely” one, from “Miles”‘s mood, and Mark confirms it.  He tells Thorne that they’re going to be hitting the Bharaputra clone creche on Jackson’s Whole.  Thorne, dismayed, asks if they’re going to be killing the clones; Mark says they’ll be rescuing them, to Thorne’s relief and wholehearted endorsement.  Thorne says that he’s long hated the House Bharaputra brain-transplant business, to Mark’s surprise and pleasure.

The arrangement was simple, though the surgical procedure upon which it was based was fiendishly complex. A clone was grown from a customer’s somatic cell, gestated in a uterine replicator and then raised to physical maturity in Bharaputra’s crèche, a sort of astonishingly-appointed orphanage. The clones were valuable, after all, their physical conditioning and health of supreme importance. Then, when the time was right, they were cannibalized. In an operation that claimed a total success rate of rather less than one hundred percent, the clone’s progenitor’s brain was transplanted from its aged or damaged body into a duplicate still in the first bloom of youth. The clone’s brain was classified as medical waste.

The procedure illegal everywhere except Jackson’s Whole, which allows them to a keep a monopoly on it.  Mark finds himself genuinely touched by Thorne’s anger over the practice, and he finds himself on the verge of tears.  Thorne asks if taking the Ariel is a good idea, since Baron Ryoval may recognize it; Mark has no clue what he’s talking about, and says they’ll just avoid House Ryoval.  Thorne asks what the real motivation for the mission is, since it knows that their employers must have a hidden purpose.  Mark tells Thorne his prepared story, that one of the clones is of particular interest, but he’d prefer that they treat all of the clones alike, so that the Bharaputrans won’t have a clue which one is the real target.

Thorne asks if they have any backup, and Mark tells Thorne not to count on it.  Thorne asks if there are any known threats, apart from Bharaputra, Ryoval and Fell, and Mark doesn’t have any more information, but tells it to take over the planning and logistics and Mark himself will look after the final assault on the creche.  There will be about fifty or sixty kids, which should fit aboard the Ariel, though it will be a little tight.  Speed is of the essence, since every week means another young clone murdered, and Thorne takes this to mean that their target’s surgery is coming due.

Thorne asks about funds, and Mark says the mission is strictly cash on delivery.  To authorize withdrawing what money they need from the Fleet funds, Thorne scans Mark’s palm.  The scanner rejects it the first time, but while Mark is on the verge of panic, Thorne is apparently used to it malfunctioning, and it works the second time.  Thorne says it knows which commando squad “Naismith” will want, and Mark faintly agrees.  Thorne tells him his “usual” cabin will be ready for him, and asks when Quinn will be joining them.  Mark says she won’t be coming along, and Thorne is extremely interested by this.  Mark tells them to send “his” kit over from Triumph and send him up a meal.  Thorne is happy to note that “Miles” seems to be eating better, though not sleeping as well; Mark has in fact been having trouble keeping his weight down to fit Miles’s uniforms.

After leaving Thorne’s quarters, Mark has to try a number of room locks before finding the correct one.  He has a shower and emerges just in time for his meal, which he notes is calculated for Miles’s tastes, and appetite, to the smallest detail.  As he’s finishing that, a Dendarii non-com brings in his gear from the Triumph.  The non-com offers to be his batman for the trip, and Mark eventually has to show a little exasperation to get rid of him.  Left alone, he opens the crate with anticipation, like what he imagines birthday presents would be like.  There are, indeed, many suits of clothes in all styles, including real space battle armour and half-armour for ground combat, and a command headset which he resolves to learn how to use.

He packs it all up again and is just about asleep when Thorne buzzes him to tell him the commando squad is assembled and ready for him to inspect.  With a sigh he gets back up and dressed, manages to pick the right shuttle bay, and pauses to observe the commandos before stepping among them.  As he’s inspecting them, one more emerges from the shuttle.

He stood paralyzed with panic. Whatinhell was it? He stared at a flashing belt buckle, then tilted his head back, straining his neck. The freaking thing was eight feet tall. The enormous body radiated power that he could feel almost like a wave of heat, and the face—the face was a nightmare. Tawny yellow eyes, like a wolf’s, a distorted, outslung mouth with fangs, dammit, long white canines locked over the edges of the carmine lips. The huge hands had claws, thick, powerful, razor-edged—enamelled with carmine polish. . . . What? His gaze traveled back up to the monster’s face. The eyes were outlined with shadow and gold tint, echoed by a little gold spangle glued decoratively to one high cheekbone. The mahogany-colored hair was drawn back in an elaborate braid. The belt was cinched in tightly, emphasizing a figure of sorts despite the loose-fitting multi-gray flight suit. The thing was female—?

“Sergeant Taura and the Green Squad, reporting as ordered, sir!” The baritone voice reverberated in the bay.

Mark is barely able to speak from shock, but he dismisses them and tells them to get their orders from Thorne.  Taura stays behind to thank him for the mission, surprising Mark with her familiar attitude.  She is also extremely interested by Elli’s absence, and tells him that she’ll be his bodyguard any time, “lover”…  She places her mouth on his in what he belatedly realizes is a kiss, and he has to feign recent illness to explain it.  She offers to carry him to sickbay, but he insists he just needs rest.  On his way back to the cabin, he wonders what the hell his crazy clone-brother had been up to with that eight-foot monstrosity, and wonders how his briefings could have missed so many little details about Admiral Naismith’s life.

As he lies back down, he feels the ship unclamp from the Escobar orbital station and head off towards Jackson’s Whole.  Exhilarated, he realizes he’s done it, stealing an entire Dendarii ship and crew from his brother, and now he’s on the way to claim his own destiny.

But if you claim your destiny, his demon voice whispered at the last, before the night’s oblivion, why can’t you claim your name?

Comments

I took as few classes in English literature as I could, so I’m not normally good at catching symbolism and stuff, but by this point I can pick up on the obvious mirror imagery here.  The mirror dance itself dates back to Barrayar, and makes a reappearance later in this book, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that’s there’s a lot more to it than that.  The whole book is an examination of Miles vs. his clone, comparing and contrasting–not just the author, but each of them comparing himself with the other…Mark more vigorously than Miles, because Miles is getting pretty content with himself these days.  (He should know better–Bujold is not the kind of author to just leave you do that, except maybe between books…)

Of course, there are also ample elements from “Labyrinth” in here–Taura, Bel Thorne, House Bharaputra, Jackson’s Whole–showing good reuse as an author should.  Mark had said in Brothers In Arms that taking out the illegal cloning and brain-transplant industry was what he’d really like to do with his freedom, and while he seems to have squandered the money that Miles left him with in that book, he does have other resources, though this does seem to be a bit of a last-ditch move.

Actually, in some ways this is just like The Warrior’s Apprentice.  Miles bluffed his way to an Admiralcy in that one, pretending to be something he wasn’t, and now his clone-brother has managed to get himself a ship and crew pretty much the same way.  I wonder if that would make him feel any better?  Probably not, or this wouldn’t have been his last resort.  One does presume, by the way, that he knew enough to wait for a time when Miles wasn’t actually with the fleet, or else his gambit would have failed right off the bat.  Presumably he had to track down the Dendarii Fleet, and then watch to make sure Miles was elsewhere…I don’t recall any specific references made to that in the book, but it stands to reason.  Though Mark doesn’t always think things all the way through…

Chapter Two

Quinn and Miles disembark onto the same Escobar orbital station arm in arm, and Miles revels secretly in how he receives so many envious looks for being with her.

Liquid brown eyes informed her face with wit. But it was the perfect, sculptured curves and planes of the face itself that stopped men’s voices in midsentence. An obviously expensive face, the work of a surgeon-artist of extraordinary genius. The casual observer might guess her face had been paid for by the little ugly man whose arm she linked with her own, and judge the woman, too, to be a purchase. The casual observer never guessed the price she’d really paid: her old face, burned away in combat off Tau Verde. Very nearly the first battle loss in Admiral Naismith’s service—ten years ago, now? God. The casual observer was a twit, Miles decided.

As an example, Miles considers the man who’d been hitting on Quinn on the flight from Sergyar, like a blond version of Ivan, who sighs regretfully as he gathers his own luggage.  Elli admits to Miles that she mostly strung him along because she thought he might be an agent of some kind.

Miles says it was nice traveling under the pretense of being a married couple, and asks why they can’t actually get married.  Elli asks why they’re having this conversation again; she says she’d be perfectly happy married to Miles Naismith, but she doesn’t want to be Lady Vorkosigan, trapped on a planet for the rest of her life, especially not Barrayar.  Miles says that his mother likes her, and Elli agrees, but says that Cordelia Naismith would have been in charge of the Betan Astronomical Survey by now if she’d stayed on her homeworld.

She says that Barrayar is sucking the life out of Cordelia, and will do the same for Miles.  She’s seen how he damps himself down on Barrayar, and Miles says that he can’t push things too far, since his deformities are already provocative enough to Barrayarans.  Elli says that must be why they send him offplanet so much, not to mention having him gather all this experience which they’ll then make him use in their service.  Miles says he’s always in their service; Elli says that when they do call him back, she wants to be Admiral, and Miles agrees.

He prepares himself mentally to return to his Naismith persona, and feels Naismith filling him up, displacing dull old due-for-promotion Lieutenant Vorkosigan.  They pass through customs, and then Miles sees the mirrored comconsole booths and suggests they check up on their injured soldiers from Red Squad.  Elli goes into the booth to make the call, leaving Miles to wait outside.  He considers how comfortable he feels in civilian clothes, when he used to hide inside uniforms to feel more secure.  He’s even come to terms with his body, and hasn’t been seriously injured since the bone replacements after the hostage rescue mission.  He tells himself he’s twenty-eight, he’s probably reached some sort of physical peak, and it will be all downhill from there…  Quinn is talking to Hereld, as Miles can barely see from his angle.  Quinn tells Hereld she wants to pick up Red Squad, and asks for a status update.

In the crowded concourse a man in Dendarii grays walked past. He saw Miles, and gave him a hesitant, cautious nod, perhaps uncertain if the Admiral’s civilian gear indicated some sort of cover. Miles returned a reassuring wave, and the man smiled and strode on. Miles’s brain kicked up unwanted data. The man’s name was Travis Gray, he was a field tech currently assigned to the Peregrine, a six-year-man so far, expert in communications equipment, he collected classic pre-jump music of Earth origin . . . how many such personnel files did Miles carry in his head, now? Hundreds? Thousands?

And here came more. Hereld turned back, and rattled off, “Ives was released to downside leave, and Boyd has been returned to the Triumph for further therapy. The Beauchene Life Center reports that Durham, Vifian, and Aziz are available for release, but they want to talk to someone in charge, first.”

“Right-oh.”

“Kee and Zelaski . . . they also want to talk about.”

Quinn says they’ll be on their way, and arranges a small personnel shuttle for transport to the surface.  Miles remembers the mission where the Red Squad members had been injured, continuing their aid to the rebels on Marilac.  One of the combat drop shuttles had been hit, with Red Squad and some Marilacan VIPs on board, and Durham, the pilot, had brought it in for a passable dock with Triumph so that the passengers could be retrieved, and they made it out before the Cetagandans caught them.  Seven of the squad had been injured badly enough to require cryofreezing, and the Beauchene Life Centre on Escobar has been trying to resuscitate them; now Miles and Quinn will find out how successful they’ve been.  Miles had almost ended up on that shuttle himself.

The hospital smell in the Life Centre, so often associated with pain in Miles’s experience, makes his adrenaline start to flow, and he tries to calm himself down.  They meet with Dr. Aragones, who obviously wishes he had better news, but he complains that the patients are often so poorly prepped.  Miles said they got a lot of casualties all at once and had to do the best they could; they make arrangements for recertification of Dendarii personnel in the latest techniques.  Aragones tells them that Kee and Zelaski couldn’t be revived, and they arrange for disposal of the bodies according to their wishes.  Durham and Vifian have cryo-amnesia, the pilot’s more severe because of the removal of his neural implants, which Aragones isn’t sure yet will be replaceable; for those, they make plans to send them back to their families to help with the recovery.  Aziz, on the other hand, suffered severe brain damage because of a bad prep, and he is now essentially a ­tabula rasa.  Since he had no next-of-kin listed, Miles tells them to transfer him to a long-term care facility, and he’ll set up a trust fund to pay for it.

Before they leave, Miles insists of seeing Aziz, and telling him about his old self, in hopes that he might remember it later.  Afterwards, Elli asks Miles why he does that to himself, and Miles says that Aziz made the ultimate sacrifice, and he has to show some respect for that.  He says that Aziz represents what he fears the most, loss of mind and self, because he relies on his mind so much.  They escort Durham and Vifian back, and by the time they reach the Triumph both of the amnesic crewmen have shown some flashes of memory.  Miles frets about how much they spend on rehabilitation, and how he needs to make sure it doesn’t short-change the rest of the medical budget, though it’s still funded by the Barrayarans.  Elli asks if Simon Illyan is still concerned about Dendarii expenditures, but Miles says it’s mostly because Illyan keeps getting accused of sloppy budgeting by having to seemingly squander so much money all the time.  Sergeant LaJoe, the pilot, joins them, and they stop talking about Barrayaran matters.  LaJoie shares some good news with them–on Escobar, he’d caught a small news story about how the Cetagandans are withdrawing from Marilac.

“The Cetagandans have just announced their withdrawal from Marilac. They’re calling it—what was that, now—’Due to great progress in the cultural alliance, we are turning police matters over to local control.’ ”

Miles’s fists clenched, joyously. “In other words, they’re abandoning their puppet government! Ha!” He hopped from foot to foot, and pounded Quinn on the back. “You hear that, Elli! We’ve won! I mean, they’ve won, the Marilacans.” Our sacrifices are redeemed. . . .

He regained control of his tightening throat before he burst into tears or some like foolishness. “Do me a favor, LaJoie. Pass the word through the Fleet. Tell them I said, ‘You folks do good work.’ Eh?”

LaJoie leaves with pleasure, and Miles exults in what he and the Dendarii had accomplished, stymieing a Cetagandan invasion without breaking Barrayar’s budget.  Elli comments that she’d thought that ImpSec wanted Cetaganda bogged down on Marilac for a while yet.  Miles says he’d followed the letter of Illyan’s orders, and he says that four years was long enough.  Elli wonders how long it’ll be before Miles gets in trouble for interpreting orders his own way.

Elated, he gives Elli a kiss and they go to their separate quarters.  Miles wonders at how much this cabin has become home, and how much the fake persona of Admiral Miles Naismith had become real.  Since Ky Tung’s retirement, he has really come into his own, with encyclopedic knowledge of the fleet and its personnel, knowing how to use them to best advantage.  He takes a shower and emerges to find, in puzzlement, that he can’t find any of his clothes.  His uniforms are gone, and most of his civilian clothes, except for a few of the more outlandish.  He wonders if it’s a practical joke, but his space armour is missing too.  Perforce, he puts back on the civilian clothes he’d worn on the shuttle.

On the way to the briefing he bumps into Sandy Hereld, who is surprised that he’s back already.  Miles assumes she’s speaking of the trip downside, since the Barrayar trip took several weeks, but doesn’t have time to pursue the matter.  In the briefing room is most of his senior staff–Auson, the Bothari-Jeseks, and the rest of the senior captains, except for Bel Thorne, for some reason.  While waiting for Thorne, Miles asks Elena about visiting her mother on Escobar, which apparently went well.  Quinn arrives with the briefing materials, but still no Thorne.

Talk died away. His officers were giving him attentive, let’s-get-on-with-it looks. He’d better not stand around much longer with his thumb in his ear. Before bringing the console display to life, he inquired, “Is there some reason Captain Thorne is late?”

They looked at him, and then at each other. There can’t be something wrong with Bel, it would have been reported to me first thing. Still, a small leaden knot materialized in the pit of his stomach. “Where is Bel Thorne?”

By eye, they elected Elena Bothari-Jesek as spokesperson. That was an extremely bad sign. “Miles,” she said hesitantly, “was Bel supposed to be back before you?”

Elena tells him that Bel left with him three days ago.  Elli and Miles protest that that’s impossible, but Miles begins to get an inkling.  He asks what the Ariel‘s destination had been, and the answer of Jackson’s Whole confirms it, and Elena and Elli begin to catch on as well.

“You see,” Miles explained in a hollow voice to the What-the-hell-are-they-talking-about? portion of the room, “some people have an evil twin. I am not so lucky. What I have is an idiot twin.”

Comments

Compare and contrast…Miles, so at ease with his life and his body, barely even noticing the mirrored comconsole doors.  Plus, he has those little personnel files for all of the Dendarii, while Mark struggles to figure out whether each one is somebody he has to treat like he knows them or not.  They’re potential obstacles, not people.  Miles does seem more alive as Naismith than as himself, but he still feels duties to Barrayar as Lord Vorkosigan, whereas Mark resents having to play either of Miles’s roles.  Still, the parallelism between these first two chapters, Mark’s arrival and Miles’s, is a great start to the back.

Irony here, or perhaps foreshadowing, as Miles thinks about being at his physical peak…yeah, this is probably as good as it’s going to get, because your physical condition is due for a sharp downturn in the not-too-distant future…  I totally understand Miles’s fear of losing his mind…one of the scariest horror stories I ever read was Flowers For Algernon.

It seems a little odd, in some ways, for Quinn to be the one talking to Hereld, in such a way that Hereld never sees Miles with her.  If she did, of course, the moment of realization would come a lot sooner, so maybe it’s more like one of those bedroom-farce moments where things are comically timed to lead to the maximum level of misunderstanding.  Quinn also uses “I” instead of “we” most of the time, so there’s no need to explain who else might be with her…  Similarly, the Dendarii in the concourse might have heard about Mark’s departure with Ariel and wondered what the heck he was doing back already…  It is a nice scene when the other shoe drops in the briefing room, so it would have been a shame to waste that.

It is nice to see some rapprochement between Elena and her mother (Elena Visconti), considering her origins, as a child of rape.  Miles did manage to convince Visconti to reach out to her daughter back in The Warrior’s Apprentice, and the passage of years seems to have mellowed things out a lot more.  One presumes they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about Bothari, Elena’s father and Visconti’s rapist, but Elena has enough of a life post-Bothari by this time.

Finally, we do get more of a look at the victims of cryo-trauma, just like that brief glimpse we saw in Brothers In Arms.  A little bit of foreshadowing…


There’s thirty-two chapters in Mirror Dance, but some of them are quite short, as I recall, so I’m not quite sure how long this is going to take, but most of winter, I imagine (adjusting for hemisphere as necessary).  Tune in next week for another exciting installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where I’ll have to think of something besides a fake interactive fiction game for doing the introduction.

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein we conclude the first novel, Shards of Honour.  You might say, “Already?  George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan would be just getting started by now!  We might not even have met all the major characters in the first book!”  Do recall that this book was published back in 1986, when science fiction books over 200 pages were still something they were trying out to see if they were financially viable.  Not to mention that it was a first novel by a virtual unknown.  Not that I’m saying her later books are necessarily sprawling epics, either, but some of them are maybe slightly longer…

Anyway, on to the final chapters of the novel.  Well, actually, one more chapter, and then, oddly enough, a short story.

Chapter Fifteen

Cordelia and Aral are finally preparing for a vacation at Bonsanklar when Prime Minister Vortala arrives.  They come downstairs to find Vortala talking with Aral’s father, and he congratulates them on their wedding.  Vortala says he is bearing a message from the Emperor, and when Aral begins to leave, Vortala says the message is for Aral, not the Count, that he is “requested and required” to attend on the Emperor, and Cordelia as well.  He says the Emperor is dying.

Vorkosigan blew out his breath. “He’s been dying for the last eleven months. Can’t he die a little longer?”

Vortala chuckled. “Five months,” he corrected absently, then frowned speculation at Vorkosigan. “Hm. Well, it has been very convenient for him. He’s flushed more rats out of the wainscotting in the last five months than the past twenty years. You could practically mark the shakedowns in the Ministries by his medical bulletins. One week: condition very grave. Next week: another deputy minister caught out on charges of peculation, or whatever.” He became serious again. “But it’s the real thing, this time. You must see him today. Tomorrow could be too late. Two weeks from now will definitely be too late.”

Vortala says that he plans to offer Aral a position in the upcoming Regency government; Aral can’t think of any that would tempt him, and Vortala says he’ll have to refuse in person.  Cordelia admits to being curious to meet the Emperor, and Aral acquiesces.  As they are changing clothes for the audience, though, Aral says that he’s never come out ahead on any dealings with Emperor Ezar.

At the Imperial Palace they are ushered into Ezar’s chambers, “half hospital, half antique display”, where the paper-white old man is hooked up to machines that keep him alive.  The Emperor greets Aral, and is refreshed by his honesty at telling him how awful he looks.  He tells Cordelia that he’s seen all her Betan records, and Mehta’s bizarre theories, which almost made Captain Negri hire her to generate ideas.

The Emperor talks to Aral about how long Aral has served him, which they date back to the day Aral’s mother was killed.  He asks Aral what he said to Emperor Yuri when they executed him–Aral was given the first cut, but in the end he almost cut Yuri’s throat right away and spared him the suffering that was to come.

“I think he knew by my face I was funking out. He leered at me. ‘Strike, little boy. If you dare while you wear my uniform. My uniform on a child.’ That was all he said. I said, ‘You killed all the children in that room,’ which was fatuous, but it was the best I could come up with at the time, then took my cut out of his stomach. I often wished I’d said—said something else, later. But mostly I wished I’d had the guts to follow my first impulse.”

Ezar turns to the main purpose of the visit.  He asks who should be Regent; Aral immediately offers Vortala, but the Emperor dismisses him as too old.  Princess Kareen, the Emperor says could never deal with the General Staff.  He ridicules Aral’s suggestion of Vordarian, having far too many shortcomings despite his military background.  Aral suggests Quintillan, Minister of the Interior, but Vortala points out that the Council of Counts won’t support anyone who isn’t a Vor.  Aral suggests making him a Vor, which horrifies Vortala and amuses Ezar.

“You can quit wriggling, Aral. You shall not wriggle out of this.

“Allow me to put it in a capsule. What the Regency requires is a man of impeccable rank, no more than middle-aged, with a strong military background. He should be popular with his officers and men, well-known to the public, and above all respected by the General Staff. Ruthless enough to hold near-absolute power in this madhouse for sixteen years, and honest enough to hand over that power at the end of those sixteen years to a boy who will no doubt be an idiot—I was, at that age, and as I recall, so were you—and, oh yes, happily married. Reduces the temptation of becoming bedroom Emperor via the Princess. In short, yourself.”

Aral is horrified at the prospect of stepping into the shoes of Prince Gregor’s father, which puzzles Vortala, not in the know.  Aral says that all of the other candidates that he suggested are better suited than himself.  Ezar reminds him that Aral has a better right to the throne than he does, though Aral protests that’s through his mother, and hence Salic descent.  Ezar says that anyone who claims the right to the throne would have to get rid of Aral anyway, which he knows is harder than it looks; furthermore, he knows for certain that Aral doesn’t want to be Emperor himself.  The best way for him to do that is to keep Gregor alive.

Count Vortala turned to Cordelia. “Lady Vorkosigan. Won’t you lend us your vote? You seem to have come to know him very well. Tell him he’s the man for the job.”

“When we came up here,” said Cordelia slowly, “with this vague talk of a post, I thought I might urge him to take it up. He needs work. He’s made for it. I confess I wasn’t anticipating that offer.” She stared at the Emperor’s embroidered bedspread, caught by its intricate patterns and colors. “But I’ve always thought—tests are a gift. And great tests are a great gift. To fail the test is a misfortune. But to refuse the test is to refuse the gift, and something worse, more irrevocable, than misfortune. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“No,” said Vortala.

“Yes,” said Vorkosigan.

Aral takes Cordelia aside and tells her that Regency would mean they’d be targets, and require constant guarding.  He says that he was more fearless before, when he had no future and nothing to lose.  Cordelia asks if he wants the position, and Aral says he does, but he doesn’t trust himself not to be corrupted.  Finally, Aral acquiesces, and Ezar tells him that he should start assembling his staff right away, starting with Illyan.  Aral suddenly has a great idea of who should be his personal secretary, and Ezar dismisses them, saying that Vortala will handle the details.

After a conference with Vortala, Negri and Illyan, they leave the Imperial Residence with new guards.  Cordelia notes that Aral seems more energized and focused than she’s seen him in a long while.  First, they head to Vorkosigan House, the local residence, where Aral goes up to his often-vacant room.  Cordelia finds a stack of pen-and-ink drawings from when Aral was much younger, including some of his first wife, and of a younger Ges Vorrutyer.  His medals and ribbons are oddly disarranged, with the earlier ones carefully preserved, and the later, more prestigious ones more haphazard.  Finally Aral finds some of his old Lieutenant rank tabs.

Next they go to ImpMil hospital, where they are soon talking to Koudelka’s doctor.  Aral tells the doctor that Koudelka’s being reassigned, to a desk job, and discharged.  They go to see Koudelka himself, and find him preparing for bed.  Aral asks him his plans, and Koudelka admits he’s not sure what he’ll do with himself after the discharge.  Aral gives him his new orders, and his promotion, and Koudelka is surprised and delighted, more so when he realizes that the “Regent-elect” he’ll be working for is Aral.

Cordelia asks to put Koudelka’s collar tabs on, and then Aral says Koudelka can stay at Vorkosigan House that night so they can get an early start in the morning.

Later, lying warm in the darkness in Vorkosigan’s room in the Count’s town house, Cordelia remembered a curiosity. “What did you say to the Emperor, about me?”

He stirred beside her, and pulled the sheet tenderly up over her bare shoulder, tenting them together. “Hm? Oh, that.” He hesitated. “Ezar had been questioning me about you, in our argument about Escobar. Implied that you had affected my nerve, for the worse. I didn’t know then if I’d ever see you again. He wanted to know what I saw in you. I told him . . .” he paused again, and then continued almost shyly, “that you poured out honor like a fountain, all around you.”

“That’s weird. I don’t feel full of honor, or anything else, except maybe confusion.”

“Naturally not. Fountains keep nothing for themselves.”

Comments

Pretty nice ending–the “fountain of honour” thing is a great metaphor, and would have almost made a great title, except “Shards of Honour” is still better.  Maybe David Weber can use it sometime.  Of course, there were a number of places where the book could have ended, but this does well enough, I suppose.  When I consider that Barrayar didn’t come out for five years after that, with four Miles Vorkosigan books in between (counting Borders of Infinity), plus Falling Free and Ethan of Athos…  It avoids the usual prequel difficulties quite handily, trust me.  But that’s for next time.

Short Story: “Aftermaths”

Pilot Officer Falco Ferrell looks from his ship at a broken ship in front of him, destroyed in the Barrayaran invasion of Escobar, which they call the “120 Day War”.  He is a new officer, with less than a year of service, and is accompanied on the ship by Medtech Boni, who is in her mid-forties.  Ferrell himself graduated three days too late to actually participate in the war.

Ferrell tells Boni that he is going to start his sweep, scanning for bodies floating in space.  He asks if she wants to stand by, but Boni says the area has been picked over fairly thoroughly.  He asks what minimum mass they should scan for–he suggests 40 kilograms, but she says one kilogram should suffice, for a body part big enough to identify, without being small enough to generate a lot of false positives.  She retires to her cabin to nap.  Their ship is a former courier, refurbished, also too late for the war, and Ferrell is not looking forward to his “garbage” duty.  He nonetheless enjoys piloting, and sets a spiraling search course.

Hours later, Ferrell pages Boni to tell her he’s found something.  She soon arrives on the bridge and activates the tractor beam.  Ferrell comments on the low setting she is using, and Boni says that she likes a delicate touch to keep from damaging the bodies, since they are frozen and very brittle.  She slows down the body’s spin, commenting that spinning too fast can’t be very restful.

His attention was pulled from the thing in the screen, and he stared at her. “They’re dead, lady!”

She smiled slowly as the corpse, bloated from decompression, limbs twisted as though frozen in a strobe-flash of convulsion, was drawn gently toward the cargo bay. “Well, that’s not their fault, is it?—one of our fellows, I see by the uniform.”

“Bleh!” he repeated himself, then gave vent to an embarrassed laugh. “You act like you enjoy it.”

Boni says that she’s been working in Personnel Retrieval and Identification for nine years, and finds it unobjectionable.  She says vacuum work is better than planetary–there is decompression damage, but no decay.  Ferrell asks Boni if they call them “corpse-sicles”; Boni says that some do, but she doesn’t–she just calls them “people”.  She maneuvers the body into the cargo bay and sets the temperature for a slow thaw.

On his next break he pays a visit to the mortuary; Boni is there, but the body is not yet.  They share their first names–Boni’s is “Tersa”, which Ferrell comments is quite common.  She brings the dead man into the mortuary on a float pallet, and slides the body onto the table.  Ferrell tells himself he should leave, but he lingers.  She scans the body’s retinas and then its fingerprints, and identifies the man as Lieutenant Marco Deleo.

Ferrell is unnerved to hear Boni talking to the body, which Boni says she considers a “courtesy”; he says that it’s obscene, recovering these hunks of frozen meat rather than just leaving them in space.  Boni goes through Deleo’s uniform pockets, which she likes, saying that it reminds her of going through a friend’s house.  She notes that Deleo’s pockets contain only one non-regulation item, a vid disc from home.  She packages them up and begins to wash the corpse, which Ferrell doesn’t stay for.

They don’t find another body for a full day; this time it’s a Barrayaran, and Ferrell suggests they throw him back, but Boni says they have an agreement with the Barrayarans.  Boni spends extra effort trying to smooth his contorted facial muscles.  In his pocket is a locket containing a clear liquid, which Boni says is probably a good luck charm, which many Barrayarans carry.  She identifies it as “mother’s tears”, and notes it was given to the man as an ensign.  He also has a pendant with a lock of hair, which Boni says is the mother’s “death lock”, so she is already dead.  She says the oddest charm she found was a tiny skeleton of a fetus.  She puts the Barrayaran back in his uniform, since they seem to like them so much, and identifies him as Commander Aristede Vorkalloner.

After three more days, they are reaching the end of their search pattern, but Boni asks Ferrell to go a little farther out; most of the bodies wouldn’t have gotten this far, but there might be some that had a little extra momentum.  Ferrell doesn’t really want to look for more bodies, but he does want to spend more time piloting, so he accedes.  They do find another body a few hours later, a female officer this time.  Ferrell doesn’t really want to join her for this one, but Boni asks for his company, so he comes along.

After Boni prepares the body, she kisses it, which repulses Ferrell, who calls her a “lesbian necrophiliac”.  Boni then proceeds to dress the body in a wedding dress, which she had brought with her, and decides to put her next to the Barrayaran, since Lieutenant Deleo was married.  Ferrell is beginning to think that Boni has gone crazy.  Suddenly he realizes that Boni hasn’t IDed the woman.  He checks the ID and discovers that the woman is Ensign Sylva Boni, age twenty, the same age as Ferrell himself.  Boni confirms that it’s her daughter, and that she’d asked for this sector on purpose.  Ferrell apologies for his earlier remarks.

They run one more sweep and find another body, this one more grisly than the others.  This time, Ferrell shyly offers to help with the cleaning.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “The dead cannot hurt you. They give you no pain, except that of seeing your own death in their faces. And one can face that, I find.”

Yes, he thought, the good face pain. But the great—they embrace it.

Comments

I often forget about this story tacked onto the end of Shards of Honour.  It’s connected to it a little tenuously–by the battle, by the body of Aral Vorkosigan’s second officer, Vorkalloner, and thematically, by its references to motherhood.  It’s self-contained, and as far as I can tell it was actually published three months before Shards itself, which of course is easily close enough for her to have written it afterwards.  Apart from that, it doesn’t feel like there’s much to it.


So next week, definitely starting on Barrayar.  I was initially deceived into thinking that it had an even number of chapters (22), but I forgot about the Author’s Afterword, so there’s actually only 21.  Still more than Shards, though, but by 1991 people had gotten used to bigger books.  I’ll probably try to squeeze another chapter in there…or perhaps I’ll slack off and do a one-week chapter.  Maybe for the week when I’d otherwise be on vacation, for instance.  But that’s not for a little while yet.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my reread of Shards of Honour, and I also hope that you were reading along.  Of course, I was only doing two chapters a week, so if you wanted, you might have been managed to read the entire Vorkosigan Saga by this time.

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  If you don’t know what’s going on here, then go and click on that “About” link or something.  It’s not that hard to figure out, but if you haven’t read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Shards of Honour, or Cordelia’s Honour, which it’s the first half of, then maybe you should go and do that first.  I’ll wait.

Today’s installment covers Chapters Nine and Ten of Shards of Honour, in which a plan comes together, some people die and some other people go back to a planet.

Chapter Nine

Cordelia wakes up to Illyan saying that Vorhalas and the Prince are coming.  Aral and Illyan quickly stuff Bothari into the shower, and tell Cordelia to give him another dose of the sedative early in case he starts to wake up and make noise.  They shut Cordelia into the room with Bothari, but leave the door partway open, with Illyan leaning against the frame, as a psychological barrier.  Cordelia doses Bothari, then sits on the toilet, where she can see just a sliver of the room reflected in the mirror.

Vorhalas and Prince Serg arrive.  Vorhalas has the latest updates on the battle on data discs, and he says the Escobarans are on the run.  Aral says that they shouldn’t both leave the ship, that the Prince needs to stay behind to take Vorrutyer’s place.  Serg insists that he will lead his troops on the planet, and nobody will be able to say he’s not a soldier.

“You will,” said Vorkosigan wearily, “sit in that fortified palace that half the engineers are going to be tied up constructing, and party in it, and let your men do your dying for you, until you’ve bought your ground by the sheer weight of the corpses piled on it, because that’s the kind of soldiering your mentor has taught you. And then send bulletins home about your great victory. Maybe you can have the casualty lists declared top secret.”

“Aral, careful,” warned Vorhalas, shocked.

“You go too far,” the Prince snarled. “Especially for a man who will get no closer to the fighting than clinging to the wormhole exit for home. If you want to talk of—undue caution.” His tone clearly made the phrase a euphemism for an uglier term.

Aral tells him that he can hardly be confined to quarters and still accused of cowardice for not being part of the fight.  The Prince tells Aral that there’s no chance that he’ll grab any of the glory for himself.  Aral makes a formal protest, and the Prince says that after his victory Aral and the progressives will be “up against the wall”.  Just then, Bothari starts to snore, which Illyan covers with a coughing fit and a quick duck into the bathroom, where he helps Cordelia roll Bothari onto his side.

When Illyan emerges, the Prince has left, but Vorhalas is still talking to Aral.  Aral urges them to take separate ships, but Vorhalas refuses.  As he’s leaving, he asks Aral if he thinks the Escobarans will counterattack.  Aral says of course they will, and at the worst possible time, just when the Barrayarans are in the middle of debarking their troops.  Vorhalas leaves, not optimistic about the chances that the Prince will listen to reason.

Aral and Illyan are moving Bothari out of the bathroom when Aral notices that he’s not breathing.  He and Cordelia apply CPR while Illyan dashes out for an antidote to the sedative.  After Illyan returns, they manage to get him breathing again.  Aral then goes to enter his protest, which he says will be no good unless it’s filed before Vorhalas leaves.  Illyan asks if they should move the two fugitives elsewhere, but Aral reminds him that it’s quite safe, since Illyan himself removed all the bugs, and it’s got armed guards outside the cabin.  He says he only needs 26 more hours, and Illyan concludes that Aral has something planned.

Aral contacts Commander Venne in the Tactics Room and asks for regular updates to be piped up once the Prince and Vorhalas leave.  He says it’ll be twelve hours until they get to orbit and start landing, and it’ll be a one-hour communication lag each way by then.  Illyan goes to fetch some food.  Aral and Cordelia chat for a while.

“If the Emperor disliked Vorrutyer so, why did he put him in charge?”

“Because he was Grishnov’s man, and widely famous as such, and the Prince’s favorite. Putting all the bad eggs in one basket, so to speak.” He cut himself off with a fist-closing gesture.

“He made me feel like I’d met the ultimate in evil. I don’t think anything will really scare me, after him.”

“Ges Vorrutyer? He was just a little villain. An old-fashioned craftsman, making crimes one-off. The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, or anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in that future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present—they are real.” His voice fell, as he spoke, so that by the end he was almost whispering.

Cordelia observes how keyed up Aral is, and he says it’s just the waiting, and admires how calm she is.  Illyan returns with the food, and Aral sleeps fitfully, checking the tactical situation every hour or so.  Bothari returns to semi-consciousness, and they are afraid to sedate him more.  Illyan leaves to sleep in his own cabin, and Cordelia takes a nap herself; by the time Illyan returns with more food, they are about to receive the first reports from the landing troops.  As they do, Commander Venne contacts them and says they’re getting odd reports, and offers to pipe them directly to him.  Aral agrees, and they begin to hear increasingly harrowing reports of the Escobarans returning their plasma fire, despite their tiny shuttles.  They hear Gottyan’s voice, in charge of his own ship, as he prepares to drop his shields for a shot at maximum power.  Aral wonders out loud how long it will take them to figure it out, as Gottyan’s transmission abruptly cuts out.

Venne asks him to come down to the Tactics Room; when Aral says he’d been specifically confined to quarters, Venne tells Aral that he’s the ranking officer on board now, and the Prince is dead, and Admiral Vorhalas with him.  When Aral hears that, he commands that they immediately adopt his contingency plan for full retreat.  He tells Venne that the Escobarans have “plasma mirror shields”, which they got from the Betans, that reflect plasma bursts back on the attacker, which render the Barrayaran ship’s weapons useless.

Cordelia asks him how he knew about the mirror shields, and Aral tells her that he drugged her while she was asleep and she told him everything.

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Aral doesn’t seem to be acting at all suspicious in this chapter, does he?  “Prince Serg, you can’t leave the ship!”  “Shut up, I’ll leave if I want to!”  Just like Cersei trying to get Robert Baratheon into the tourney by forbidding him to go.  Reverse psychology, that’s what it’s called.  Not that Serg seems to need it, he’s off in his own little world where nothing could possibly go wrong.  Also, Aral’s little speech about the “calm men in beautiful green silk rooms” can be read two ways.  It can refer to the men who planned the war…or it can refer to the men who planned on it going wrong.  But that’s next chapter.

Not sure what the point is for Bothari’s cardiac arrest episode.  It doesn’t really impact the plot, so I guess it must be a character thing–that no matter what Bothari is or what he’s done, Aral and Cordelia are still willing to give him mouth-to-mouth rather than have him die.  “The parody of a kiss was horrible, but to shrink from it beneath contempt.”  So I guess it’s really no hard feelings for the abortive rape, then.  Cordelia knows that Bothari was as much a victim as she was.  That’s Cordelia–she can’t help but see other people’s viewpoints.  I expect that if she spent enough time with Vorrutyer or Serg she would have understood and pitied them.  Until they killed her.  (Or maybe not, considering what happens to Vordarian in the next book…)

Chapter Ten

Illyan comes back to move Bothari somewhere else (presumably he’s no longer at risk now that Aral is in full charge), leaving Cordelia alone for twelve hours.  She puzzles at the question of what Aral used to drug her, and then begins to suspect that he didn’t drug her at all, which meant that he knew about the plasma mirrors all along.  And didn’t tell anyone else.  The invasion was, she realizes, intended to fail, to kill Prince Serg, Ges Vorrutyer, and the rest of the “bad eggs”, hiding the deaths among the rest of the casualties.  And if Aral didn’t get the information from her, it must have been through the Emperor himself, which meant he was plotting to kill his own son.  The enormity of the plan staggers her, and she almost hopes that she’s wrong, that Aral just drugged her after all.

Finally Illyan returns to escort her to the brig.  She is placed in a cell with a beautiful, dark-haired Escobaran woman who seems to be almost catatonic, until the Barrayarans come to take the woman away, drugging her when she struggles.  After they bind up Cordelia’s cracked ribs, she is left alone.  After a period of time measured only in ration pack deliveries, the lights begin to flicker. Cordelia floats upwards as the artificial gravity cuts out, then smashes back down when it returns extra strength.  She realizes the ship must be under attack, with the shields drawing energy from other systems.  Then the lights and gravity go out entirely, and she is flung into the darkened cell to float in midair.  Finally she manages to reach a corner, and braces herself in it, until finally the power comes back on, and she finds herself on the ceiling; she crashes to the floor and breaks her left arm.

For three hours she tries to attract anyone’s attention, but nobody comes for her until after they make it through a wormhole jump.  The lieutenant in charge of brig brings a medical corpsman around, who puts her arm in a cast.  Things return to normal, and after a while they go through another wormhole jump.

Illyan finally comes to fetch her, and she asks if Aral was all right after the attack; Illyan assures her he’s fine.  He tells her she’s going to be shuttled to a POW camp onplanet, to be held there until exchanged home.  The war is over; the Barrayarans have retreated, but they blocked the wormhole behind them.

“How the devil do you block a wormhole?”

“In a way, it’s a very old idea. Fireships.”

“Huh?”

“Send a ship in, set up a major matter-antimatter explosion at a midpoint between nodes. It sets up a resonance—nothing else can get through for weeks, until it dies down.”

Cordelia whistled. “Clever—why didn’t we think of that? How do you get the pilot out?”

“Maybe that’s why you didn’t think of it. We don’t.”

“God—what a death.” Her vision of it was clear and instant.

“They were volunteers.”

Illyan says they have about a thousand prisoners, compared to over ten thousand Barrayarans left behind on Escobar, so she should be pretty valuable.

In the shuttle, she is accompanied by one of the techs from her own ship, and the dark-haired Escobaran woman.  The tech has been in a cell the whole time and doesn’t know much about what’s going on, and the woman, who was captured two months ago, can’t remember much of what happened on the ship; Cordelia surmises she may have been another of Vorrutyer’s victims.

When the shuttle arrives, Cordelia is pleasantly surprised to find that they are once again on the nameless planet, right next to the underground depot.  They are processed in, and Cordelia and the Escobaran sent to the women’s quarters, which are only sparsely occupied.  The ranking officer, Lieutenant Marsha Alfredi, is relieved to find that Cordelia is higher rank and can take over.  Alfredi says that the guards have been “pigs”, until the previous day, when the worst of the guards were suddenly relieved, and the camp commandant taken out and shot.  Cordelia fills them in on the Barrayarans’ retreat, and the prisoners are surprised but jubilant.  She tells them there’s a new commander, hence the changes, but when she mentions Vorkosigan’s name, the “Butcher of Komarr”‘s reputation has them all worried again.

The other prisoners come over to hear if the rumous of peace are true, and Parnell jumps up on a bunk and says that he heard from a Barrayaran guard that the invasion failed because Cordelia assassinated Vorrutyer.  Cordelia protests that that’s not what happened, but the prisoners are too busy cheering her and carrying her on their shoulders to be interested in details and denials.

The truth was too complicated and ambiguous to appeal to them, and she herself, suppressing everything in it that had to do with Vorkosigan, was unable to make it sound convincing. Her duty seemed drained of meaning, dull and discolored. She longed for home, and her sensible mother and brother, and quiet, and one thought that would connect to another without making a chain of secret horror.

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(Chain of Secret Horror would be a great name for a metal band.  Just sayin’.)

So, Cordelia figures out what’s really going on.  I’m not sure whether the whole plot was planned out in full before Aral was brought into it or not; I seem to recall that he became involved after the failed assassination attempt on him, but now I can’t recall for sure where that’s stated.  Now Cordelia’s presented with what I might call “Rorschach’s Choice”.  Basically, when a lot of people die, and you discover that they have been sacrificed against their will for what might nevertheless end up being a net gain, for instance when they, or a similar number of other people, would have died anyway–do you tell people about it, however heinous the loss of life might have been, and thus nullify the thing that might have been gained by their deaths?

Other random, non-plot-related events–Cordelia’s arm getting broken in the artificial gravity glitch.  Unless it affects the plot in the next couple of chapters.  Maybe people start saying, “Oh, that Butcher of Komarr, he even broke her arm, poor thing.”  Seriously, one gets a little tired of the Butcher of Komarr thing.  He’s gotten rid of the abusive guards and shot their commander…but oh, he’s going to be worse, because he’s the Butcher of Komarr!  He could give all of the captives’ children puppies and cotton candy, and everyone would suspect him of secret, hidden cruelty, because he’s the Butcher of Komarr!  Of course, sometimes evil, heartless, and/or amoral characters do thing which have good effects merely to satisfy their whims, or because they despise inefficiency (they’re Lawful Evil rather than Chaotic, you see), but we know Aral’s not like that…  I hope he spent those extra character points he got from his Reputation (12-, Bad) wisely.

Also, we will see the beautiful amnesiac dark-haired Escobaran woman again.  In fact, she was mentioned earlier–as the “other female prisoner” from a few weeks earlier who fell into Vorrutyer’s clutches.  I’m pretty sure it’s the same one, anyway, and Cordelia may even have figured it out.


So we’re now two-thirds of the way through the book, if I recall correctly.  We’re practically into the denouement, except that there’s one more plot twist before the end…well, not a plot twist, per se, but more consequences of the events of the book before we can start to settle down.  Until next week, then…

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