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

Chapter Thirty-One

“Did you find them?” Lord Mark asked.

“Yes,” said Bothari-Jesek tightly.

“Did you destroy them?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mutely, she shook her head.

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

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

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

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

I could get used to that.

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

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

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

“Nobody gives money to ImpSec!”

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

<hr>

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gah!” said Miles.

“What?” snapped the junior guard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right. But you suspected Ryoval had Mark.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

Chapter Thirty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I still have it,” smiled Lilly.

“For a while.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. I stunned you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

” . . . I think I love you.”

“This is a problem?”

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

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

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

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

It ticked on the windows. . . .

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

The window burst inward.

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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


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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where the hell did you get a ship?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“—he’s fatter.”

Comments

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where we now?”

“I’d rather not say, just yet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


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

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

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

He, of course, was not Miles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not, you’re making me play him!”

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

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

Comments

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

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

Chapter Ten

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

“I will be back,” Quinn swore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

“Quinn, I can’t!”

“On my order. On my hands.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We have Phillipi.”

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tonkin said Norwood was laughing,” Thorne added.

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

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

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

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

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

“I . . . hardly know.”

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

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

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

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

“Partly.”

Right.

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

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Welcome back, somewhat belatedly, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  I had, of course, planned a week off after finishing Ethan of Athos, but the extra day was due to a deadline that I didn’t plan ahead for quite well enough.  That’s out of the way now, so without further ado, let’s return to the reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga with the novella “Labyrinth”.

Written, with two other novellas (“The Mountains of Mourning”, already covered, and “Borders of Infinity”, still to come), between the novels Brothers In Arms and The Vor Game, “Labyrinth” was first collected with those two stories into Borders of Infinity, but the more recent omnibuses have split them up; this one comes after Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos in Miles, Mystery and Mayhem.  (Apparently it’s also collected in Miles, Mutants and Microbes for some benighted reason.)  It does come chronologically after Ethan of Athos, and before “Borders of Infinity”, as part of what I think of as the Dendarii Adventures era of Miles’s life.  Since it doesn’t have chapters, I divided it, somewhat arbitrarily, into three parts, approximately the same length as two chapters, so let’s get started with the first bit.

Labyrinth

Miles looks at a globe of Jackson’s Whole, the planet they are approaching–a cold planet, only temperate at the equator–and wishes he didn’t have to go there.  He admits to himself that if it wasn’t Jackson’s Whole, it would be somewhere else; they wouldn’t have been so successful if there hadn’t been a demand for what they sold.  The crime families are getting sufficiently established, though, that Miles thinks that it can’t be long until they start becoming actively staid.

House Dyne, detergent banking—launder your money on Jackson’s Whole. House Fell, weapons deals with no questions asked. House Bharaputra, illegal genetics. Worse, House Ryoval, whose motto was “Dreams Made Flesh,” surely the damndest—Miles used the adjective precisely—procurer in history. House Hargraves, the galactic fence, prim-faced middlemen for ransom deals—you had to give them credit, hostages exchanged through their good offices came back alive, mostly. And a dozen smaller syndicates, variously and shiftingly allied.

Even he, unfortunately, has to deal with them; he has a list of weaponry to buy.  Bel Thorne comes into the cabin to tell him that Ariel is close to docking at Fell Station.  Miles has been noticing that the hermaphrodite has been emphasizing its female side in his presence on this trip, which disturbs him slightly.  He asks Bel if it had ever been to Jackson’s Whole; Bel says it was there once, with Oser to buy from a different Baron Fell.  Bel asks Miles if he’s giving planet leave for the crew, and offers to book a room for two near the docks…  Miles says day passes only, and tries to reject Bel’s offer politely.  They’ve been around this subject more than once already, and Miles wishes he could bring himself to be firm enough to settle it once and for all.  He isn’t even sure what Bel sees in him, for that matter.  Miles asks Bel why it doesn’t go back to Beta Colony and settle down with another hermaphrodite.  Bel says Beta Colony is too boring, that’s why it left.

“Mind you, a great place to raise kids.” One corner of Miles’s mouth twisted up.

Thorne grinned. “You got it. You’re an almost perfect Betan, y’know? Almost. You have the accent, the in-jokes . . .”

Miles went a little still. “Where do I fail?”

Thorne touched Miles’s cheek; Miles flinched.

“Reflexes,” said Thorne.

Bel says it won’t give him away, and offers to help him.  Miles says they have a mission, and tells Bel that buying weapons is only the cover for it.  Bel isn’t surprised; the Ariel is the fastest ship in the fleet, not the biggest cargo carrier, and Miles is overseeing it himself rather than leaving it to the quartermaster.  Miles says he does want to make contact with the new Baron Fell, but adds that at some point a certain middle-aged man is going to appear and sign up as a Dendarii medtech, at which point they’ll be leaving the planet at all speed.  The man is a defector from Bharaputra Laboratories, their top geneticist, and their secret employer (Barrayar, of course) will grant him asylum after that; all the Dendarii need to do is play dumb about his identity and feign outrage when he disappears on Escobar.  Should be pretty straightforward…

After they dock at Fell Station, they go to purchase their arms, but soon receive an invitation from the Baron himself.  After going back to change into more formal uniforms, they arrive at Baron Fell’s private quarters.  Miles notes that the private sector of the station seems to run completely independently from the rest of the station, able to separate if necessary, and probably has its own engine and weapons too.  The reception chamber inside is large, open and yet with numerous private nooks.  The exits are all guarded, and one wall is a large viewport overlooking the docks and the planet below.  The various groups of people inside are dressed in a variety of fashions, but Baron Fell’s customers don’t mingle with each other.  When a serving woman offers them drinks, Miles allows Bel to take some, though Miles, with poor alcohol tolerance, doesn’t drink much of his.

They hear music from nearby, and move towards it, but are caught off-guard by the musician, who Miles takes for one of House Ryoval’s wilder experiments.  A woman floats in a null-gee bubble, playing a double-sided stringed instrument with hammers held in all four of her hands, her lower arms emerging from where her legs would have been.  Thorne identifies her as a quaddie, from a genetic experiment dating back two hundred years, to about the time of the first hermaphrodites.  They’d been planned as ideal zero-gravity dwellers, until the advent of artificial gravity made them obsolete, but they fled and set up their own null-gee world far away from Earth.  Thorne is surprised to see one so far from home.  They listen to the piece until its end, and Miles encourages Bel to go talk to her.

Bel is momentarily tongue-tied, then asks her about her instrument, which she calls a double-sided hammer dulcimer.  Bel asks her how she got there, and she said she was working her way back home from Earth and took employment with Baron Fell on the way.  She is pleased to be recognizes as a quaddie, not a genetic freak, and Bel commiserates, as a hermaphrodite himself.  She introduces herself as Nicol, no last name, and Bel asks her what she’s doing later.

At that point they are interrupted by Georish Stauber, a.k.a. Baron Fell, a jovial-looking man, older than Miles had pictured.  Miles bows expertly, then castigates himself for not bowing awkwardly like Bel, to help preserve his Betan cover.  The Baron tells Miles he’s glad to meet Admiral Naismith at last, after his rapid rise and mysterious origins; Miles finds his gaze almost too avid, and wonders if Fell knows about his dual identity.  The Baron compliments him for his success at Vervain, and his disposal of the fleet’s previous commander.

“You interest me exceedingly,” continued the baron. “For example, there’s the puzzle of your apparent age. And your prior military career.”

If Miles had kept his drink, he’d have knocked it back in one gulp right then. He clasped his hands convulsively behind his back instead. Dammit, the pain lines just didn’t age his face enough. If the baron was indeed seeing right through the pseudo-mercenary to the twenty-three-year-old Security lieutenant—and yet, he usually carried it off—

The baron lowered his voice. “Do the rumors run equally true about your Betan rejuvenation treatment?”

Miles is relieved to know the reason for the Baron’s interest, and asks him why he doesn’t just do the usual Jacksonian thing and have himself transplanted into a clone-body.  Baron Fell says that he’s had some trouble in that area, with the body donors dying inconveniently, and he doesn’t want to risk having his own brain die in the process.  Miles “admits” that he did partake in an experimental procedure, but claims it wasn’t successful, leaving his bones overly brittle, and his expected life-span not good.  Baron Fell is disappointed, while Bel conceals his amusement at Miles’s fabrication, the rejuvenation treatment being 100% mythical.

A newcomer approaches them, with a bodyguard–heightened metabolism and callus-ridged hand marking him as a strong fighter even unarmed; the man himself appeared young, but there was likely an older brain inside the body.  Baron Fell introduces him as Baron Ryoval; Miles makes sure to bow awkwardly this time.  The quaddie, Nicol, recoiled when Ryoval approached, and is now pretending to tune her dulcimer, keeping it between her and Ryoval, who appraises her openly.  Ryoval is about to request a song when he receives a page on his wrist com.

“This is Manager Deem in Sales and Demonstrations. We have a problem. That creature House Bharaputra sold us has savaged a customer.”

Ryoval’s greek-statue lips rippled in a silent snarl. “I told you to chain it with duralloy.”

“We did, my lord. The chains held, but it tore the bolts right out of the wall.”

Ryoval tells them to stun it, which they already have, then tells them to starve it into submission.  The “client” is injured, so Ryoval assigns his personal physician to look at him, but is annoyed at their incompetence.  He returns to his song request, but doesn’t let Nicol play very long before interrupting her and saying she’s just what he’s looking for.  Nicol and Bel are both annoyed at the song’s interruption.  Fell says that she’s still not for sale, but Ryoval says Fell hasn’t heard his offer yet.  Fell and Ryoval debate whether she can be duplicated, particularly her musical skills and creativity; Miles realizes that Fell is really just lording his possession of Nicol over his rival.

Ryoval offers to buy a tissue sample instead; Fell says it will disrupt her uniqueness, but Ryoval points out that it takes ten years to grow a mature clone, as Fell well knows.  Bel interjects that Fell can’t sell any part of her, because she’s a free citizen; the barons are unimpressed with his interruption.  Ryoval tells Bel condescendingly that Fell owns her contract, and on Jackson’s Whole that’s sufficient, not like the laws from Beta Colony, which don’t apply here.  Bel asks if that means he could kill Ryoval with impunity, and Ryoval says that the practical matter of being killed by his bodyguard will make that unlikely.

Miles tells Bel it’s time to move on.  Ryoval invites Miles to visit his establishment downside, where he might find something to his taste, but Miles says Fell already has his credit chit.  Bel won’t drop the subject of Nicol, though; Ryoval responds by saying that, as a hermaphrodite, Bel could get a job with him for a substantially higher pay than a mercenary, with “group rates”.  Miles restrains Bel from taking too much offense, and Ryoval says he’d buy a tissue sample from him as well.

Bel’s breath exploded. “My clone-siblings, to be—be—some sort of sex-slaves into the next century! Over my dead body—or yours—you—”

Bel was so mad it was stuttering, a phenomenon Miles had never seen in seven years’ acquaintance including combat.

“So Betan,” smirked Ryoval.

“Stop it, Ry,” growled Fell.

Ryoval sighed. “Oh, very well. But it’s so easy.”

Miles bids them farewell.  Ryoval reiterates his invitation, as a more cosmopolitan sort than his friend.  Miles declines again, and Ryoval says it’s a shame to miss their fascinating dog-and-dwarf act…  Miles and Bel retreat, and one of Fell’s guards escorts them out.

Back on the Ariel, Bel apologizes for losing his temper; Miles says that Ryoval, who’s much older than that body, was just toying with them.  Bel goes on to castigate himself for his poor showing with Nicol.  Miles commiserates, but thinks that they don’t have the manpower to really do anything to help the quaddie, if Fell is really that committed to keeping her.  He then begins to wonder where the scientist they’re supposed to pick up has gotten to.

The intercom bleeps, and Bel answers is; Nicol is at the docking hatch asking to see it.  She is escorted inside, traveling in a float chair, which seems to have been customized just for her.  Bel greets her affably, but Nicol is all business, asking Bel to confirm that he is a mercenary, and sympathetic to her plight.  Miles points out she got herself into the situation, and Nicol says she intends to get herself out.  She says that while Baron Fell is formidable protector, he’s dying, or convinced that he is.  He had a clone-body prepared, but it was assassinated two months ago by parties unknown, though his half-brother Baron Ryoval, is a prime suspect.

Nicol says she wants to buy passage out with them.  She can’t leave openly, because of the contract she signed with Baron Fell back on Earth; she can’t buy it out without the Baron’s consent, and it won’t expire for five more years.  Her living expenses seem to be going up, so she’d rather try to buy her way out now than wait while her bankroll decreases.  She’d been promised help with her music career which has never materialized, and she doesn’t want to end up down on the planet.

She paused. “Are you afraid of Baron Fell?”

“No!” said Thorne, as Miles said, “Yes.” They exchanged a sardonic look.

“We are inclined to be careful of Baron Fell,” Miles suggested. Thorne shrugged agreement.

Nicol offers them a wad of money, probably a couple of thousand Betan dollars.  Miles remember all that he owes to Bel, and gives Bel permission to do the negotations.  Bel says that the price isn’t quite right, and picks only a single Betan dollar off the stack.  Miles says that he demands a veto if they can’t do this in secret.

Miles is awakened from sleep a few hours later to be notified of an urgent call from a man on the planet who says his name is Vaughn.  This is a code name which means he’s the man they’re supposed to pick up, a Dr. Canaba.  Miles finds out that he’s still on the surface, instead of on the space station, and says there’s a problem.  He’s reluctant to talk about it over an insecure channel, but he says he’s lost something which he needs to bring with him, some samples which he’s sure Miles’s employers will want.  Miles, who knows more about what his employers at ImpSec want than Canaba imagines, is skeptical, but Canaba insists, refusing to leave without them.  Miles agrees to meet him on the planet, though he objects to the extra risk.

Miles and Bel meet Canaba down on the planet in a cold, snowy little park, with two Dendarii guards; he leads them into an abandoned building which he thinks is unmonitored, which Bel confirms.  Miles asks Canaba about his motivations in leaving his comfortable job for House Bharaputra, insisting that he needs to know about what Canaba wants before he can commit to protecting Canaba with any confidence.

Canaba says that what appealed to him about Jackson’s Whole was the ability to work unfettered of inconvenient legalities, but he began to resent the work that the Bharaputrans kept requiring him to do, interrupting his own research.  No other first-rate scientists, just hacks, and many of Canaba’s discoveries languish in obscurity because House Bharaputra doesn’t think them profitable enough, and he can’t publish his work.

He stopped, lowered his head. “I doubtless sound like a megalomaniac to you.”

“Ah . . .” said Miles, “you sound quite frustrated.”

“The frustration,” said Canaba, “woke me from a long sleep. Wounded ego—it was only wounded ego. But in my pride, I rediscovered shame. And the weight of it stunned me, stunned me where I stood. Do you understand? Does it matter if you understand? Ah!” He paced away to the wall, and stood facing it, his back rigid.

“Uh,” Miles scratched the back of his head ruefully, “yeah. I’d be glad to spend many fascinating hours listening to you explain it to me—on my ship. Outbound.”

Canaba says he needs someone with Miles’s practical mind right now.  He had seven gene-complexes, for curing diseases, for improving oxygen generation in algae…and one that may be the only surviving sample, brought by a mysterious man to a Bharaputran lab which ended up destroyed by mysterious offworlders.  Miles realizes that this must be Terrence Cee’s telepathy gene complex, which of course Elli had already brought back a copy of, and so is already on Barrayar, but if the others are near the same potential, Miles’s boss Simon Illyan will not want Miles to let them slip through his fingers.

Canaba said he’d hidden the dormant samples inside a live organism where he didn’t think they’d be discovered.  Miles asks why he didn’t just put them in his own body, and Canaba realizes that would have been smarter, but too late now.  He says the organism was an attempt to create a super-soldier for a foreign government, given to House Bharaputra because House Ryoval tended to specialize in one-offs rather than armies.  They blended animal genes with humans to try to surpass human limitations, but what they ended up with were monsters.

“Tell me,” Miles choked, “were there any actual combat-experienced soldiers on the committee?”

“I assume the client had them. They supplied the parameters,” said Canaba.

Said Thorne in a suffused voice, “I see. They were trying to re-invent the enlisted man.”

They produced ten prototypes, then the clients lost their war.  Only one was still alive, which Ryoval meant to kill before he left, out of mercy, but a few days ago it was sold to House Ryoval, for its uniqueness.  He asks the mercenaries to kill it and retrieve the samples, before he’ll agree to go with them.  Miles agrees, and tells Canaba to report to his ship in 48 hours.  He asks how to recognize it, and Canaba says it’s eight feet tall with fangs (not _his_ idea).  The rest of the body should be destroyed as completely as possible.

“I . . . it might also be best if my future employer didn’t learn about this. They have intense military interests. It might excite them unduly.”

“Oh,” said Miles/Admiral Naismith/Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan of the Barrayaran Imperial Service, “I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

Miles assures Canaba that they’ll be able to handle it, and shoos him out.  He tells Bel that he’ll try to get it without a raid, if at all possible.

Comments

How many Bujold books/stories start with Miles approaching a planet and looking down on it from space?  This one, Cetaganda, possibly Brothers In Arms…not that many, but it seems a bit of a cliche nonetheless.  I guess it’s just like an establishing shot, but for some reason I recalled this one starting at Baron Fell’s reception.

The quaddies were, of course, introduced in Falling Free, which I’m not covering in this Reread for various reasons–it’s too far outside of the timeline, and I don’t like it that much compared to the rest of the series.  Between this story and Diplomatic Immunity, we learn enough about them, as far as I’m concerned.  Interesting to place them and the hermaphrodites as being part of the same uterine-replicator-spawned wave of genetic experimentation.

I’d also forgotten that Terrence Cee’s telepathy genes scored a mention here as well.  Which reminds me that Barrayar does have possession of the telepathy genes right now; does that mean that there’s some little telepaths growing up on Barrayar?  You know, Bujold could seriously start a major plotline involving the telepaths growing up on Barrayar, Athos, and possibly Cetaganda, but I suppose it may not really be her style.  She may just be inclined to quietly forget it.  Besides, she may not want to move forward in the timeline that far…

Baron Ryoval is a nasty piece of work, but then I get the impression that one does not rise to the top of a Jacksonian house by being the nicest.  Baron Fell is affable enough, but has a petty streak to him, and can doubtless be ruthless as well.  Fell, Bharaputra and Ryoval are the Houses I remember encountering the most, at least here and in Mirror Dance, which are where most of the Jackson’s Whole references occur (apart from the Bharaputrans who show up in Kline Station in Ethan of Athos, and whatever random Jacksonians we see in the Hegen Hub in The Vor Game).  Do we ever find out why it’s called Jackson’s Whole, by the way?  Who’s Jackson?  Why “Whole”?  It’d be nice to see some kind of canonical explanation for it sometime.


Approximately one-third of the way through, now, but we’re still just setting up the central plot of the story.  Nicol is just a subplot, though an important one nonetheless.  Next week I should, hopefully, be back on schedule, unless my long weekend throws me off, but I’ll try not to let  it.

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