Posts Tagged ‘Ky Tung’

Good day, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I try to distill (or is that “dilute”?) the essence of the fine novels and stories in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga.  This week I cover the last two chapters of Brothers In Arms, which wraps up most of its plot threads, though it seems to start up some others…

Chapter Fifteen

Miles immediately contacts Nim and tells them about the Cetagandans and their plasma weapons; Nim says he’s already run into them, since they fired at the Dendarii when they tried to enter.  He tells Miles that Elli’s wristcomm is down on the lower levels, not moving, and she stll doesn’t respond.  Miles wonders if it’s still on her wrist, or if she’s lying stunned or dead somewhere.  Miles tells Nim to anonymous inform the police about the presence of the armed men in the tower, maybe paint them as potential saboteurs, and then try to keep them sealed in the tower, pulling back when the police arrive if possible, but if necessary just pretending to be tourists out for a stroll.

As Miles signs off, Mark grabs him and tries to get him to call the Dendarii back and get them to clear out the Cetagandans.  Miles says that stunner tag is one thing, but plasma arcs have a longer range.  Ivan expresses concern that they’re about to be caught in a pincer between Barrayarans and Cetagandans, but Miles claims to have a “cloak of invisibility”.  He leads them back towards the Barrayarans.

“No!” Mark balked. “The Barrayarans might kill you by accident, but they’ll kill me on purpose!”

“The ones back there,” Miles jerked his head over his shoulder, “would kill us both just to make sure. The Dagoola operation left the Cetagandans more peeved with Admiral Naismith than I think you have grasped. Come on.”

Miles, hoping his plan will actually work, finds a pumping station, quiescent now that high tide is receding.  To be certain, Miles checks the control panels, and, retrieving his grandfather’s knife from Mark, disables the warning lights.  He opens the pump chamber, puts his grappler on the inside of the door as a handler, reassures himself that he’ll be able to reopen it from the inside even if locked from outside, and puts a fisheye scanner on the control panel.  Then he urges them all inside the pumping station; Ivan is far from thrilled, and neither is Mark.  Miles tells Ivan he does have a chance of making it past Destang’s squad, although he might still get arrested when the police show up, but, ­sotto voce, he asks Ivan not to leave him along with Mark.  The appeal for help persuades Ivan to stay, though he still protests it’s like a trap.  Miles says it’ll be like a tactics room with the power out, and besides, Mark will get to share the experience.

The three of them clamber down into the chamber, Ivan closing the door so Miles can turn on his light.  Ivan says at least they won’t be heard in there, and Miles says he went past it twice without really noticing it.  He sets up his receiver to project the view from the fisheye lens, and says now they just have to wait.  He calls Nim back, who tells him that the police have arrived, and they’re withdrawing; no update on Quinn, and, when Miles asks, they haven’t heard from Captain Galeni either.

Miles now wished he’d kept Galeni by him as heartily as he wished he’d kept Quinn. But they hadn’t yet found Ivan then; Miles hardly could have done otherwise. He felt like a man trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle of live pieces, that moved and changed shape at random intervals with tiny malicious giggles.

A Cetagandan scout appears in the display, now wielding a stunner, withdrawing just before a pair of Barrayarans appear from the other end, also getting out their stunners, both sides apparently aware of the police and wanting to de-escalate the situation.  Soon three Barrayarans and two Cetagandans are approaching each other in the corridor.  Miles wonders if the Cetagandans have Elli captive, if they’ll let her go or decide to cut her throat to keep her quiet, if he should charge out with his few troops and attack them; he restrains himself.

The lead Cetagandan and Barrayaran catch sight of each other and each fires, stunning the other.  The second Cetagandan is stunned trying to check on his fallen companion, and the remaining Barrayarans go to inspect their downed opponents, trying to identify them.  Just then the amplified, unintelligible voices of the police blare down the corridor; the Barrayarans pick up their stunned comrade and carry him onward.  They encounter another pair of Cetagandans, firing behind them, and stun one of them, the other stunning one of the Barrayarans.  As they try to shoot the other Cetagandan, a mass of stunner fire from the police takes out everyone but the Barrayaran carrying his unconscious comrade; when the police come into view he puts up his hands and surrenders meekly.

The two converging police squads came within a breath of repeating the mutual annihilation of their fleeing suspects, but managed to get their true identities communicated just in time. Miles was almost disappointed. Still, nothing could go on forever; at some point the corridor would have become impassable due to the piles of bodies, and the havoc trail off according to the typical senescence curve of a biological system choked on its own waste.

Once the police have cleared the place, the Tidal Authority and the bomb squads would go over the whole place with a fine-toothed comb; if Miles and his friends get discovered in the process, it won’t be fatal, as long as nobody panics.  Mark asks whose side Miles is on, and Miles says this is all for Mark’s benefit.  He and Mark consider each other; Miles understands the fascination with a clone of oneself, but he thinks he would really prefer actually combining his genes with those of a woman who is, preferably, smarter, faster and more attractive and than he is.

He knew what Mark was. Maybe it was more important to realize what he was not. Mark was not a duplicate of Miles himself, despite Galen’s best efforts. Was not even the brother of an only-child’s dreams; Ivan, with whom Miles shared clan, friends, Barrayar, private memories of the ever-receding past, was a hundred times more his brother than Mark could ever be. It was just possible he had under-appreciated Ivan’s merits. Botched beginnings could never be replayed, though they could be—Miles glanced down at his legs, seeing in his mind’s eye the artificial bones within—repaired. Sometimes.

Ivan wonders about Miles’s motivations too; he says one Miles is enough, when they both keep trying to lock him in closets.  He recalls how Miles used to bully him and Elena around all the time, which image baffles Mark.

Miles asks Mark if he thinks he’s Evil; Mark says he’s a murderer, isn’t that enough?  He admits that the weapon went off while he and Galen were struggling for it, but that he’d wanted it to.  Miles asks Mark what he’d do if he were free; he points out that Galen’s body may well have washed out to sea by this point.  Mark says that Miles is the free one; Miles blinks in surprise, pointing out that Mark’s only restraint was Galen, and he’s now gone.  Miles is held by his sense of obligation to Barrayar and to the Dendarii.  Once Mark gets out of Miles’s shadow, he can find out what he truly is.  Miles reiterates his offer to smuggle Mark out with the Dendarii and take him to Barrayar to meet his family.

Mark says he doesn’t want to meet them, and when prodded, admits that what he really wants is to bust up the illegal clone business on Jackson’s Whole.  Miles thinks this is an interesting idea, and asks Mark how he’d go about it.  Mark says he’d blow up the labs and rescue the kids, but Miles says that that wouldn’t achieve much unless Mark could deal with the underlying demand.  The best way to stop rich people from wanting to buy clone-bodies, he points out, would be to provide them another way of extending their lifespan.  Mark says he could just kill them, but Miles counters that rich people tend to have good bodyguards.  Mark really needs power, money and training, all of which he could get on Barrayar…

Mark repeats that he doesn’t want to go to Barrayar.  Ivan tells Miles that he’s completely crazy; Miles says it’s time somebody took the clone-merchants on, and while he can’t spare the time and attention to do it himself, he could support Mark’s efforts, as long as he’s willing to stop trying to take his place.  Mark says that, if anything, Miles should be trying to take his place, and looks at him suspiciously.

Miles laughed, painfully. What a temptation. Ditch his uniform, walk into a tubeway, and disappear with a credit chit for half a million marks in his pocket. To be a free man . . . His eye fell on Ivan’s grimy Imperial dress greens, symbol of their service. You are what you do—choose again. . . . No. Barrayar’s ugliest child would choose to be her champion still. Not crawl into a hole and be no one at all.

Miles spots the police patrols receding, and judges it’s time to leave before the techs come with their scanners.  Ivan opens up the door and boosts Miles out; Mark has a moment of panic when he thinks he might be left behind, but Miles lowers the grappling line for him and he subsides.  Miles calls Nim and asks for a status update; Nim says they’ve pulled back into the air, and the place is crawling with police, and still no sign of Elli.  He gives Miles Elli’s coordinates and Miles says he’ll try to pick her up on their way out.

They sneak past a group of techs at the T intersection, and find a policeman guarding the lift-tube in the nearest tower.  Miles reluctantly stuns him, having hoped to make their exit without a trace, and they go up to the level where Quinn’s signal has been coming from.  They trace it to a locked utility closet, and Miles, with visions of slow deathtraps left by the Cetagandans, manually overrides the door and pushes it open to find her limp body inside.  Checking for a pulse, he finds that she’s only stunned, and almost collapses in relief.


The farce continues, with Miles luring the Barrayarans and Cetagandans into firing at each other, and watching from their hidden location as people stun each other.  I like the way that Bujold keeps consistent with her technology–stunners, nerve disrupters, and plasma arcs were introduced right from the beginning, in Shards of Honour.  It’s a nice group of weapons–the ones that only knock out your opponent, the ones that damage people but, presumably, nothing else (unless there’s some kind of computer systems made out of neural tissue, perhaps), and then the ones that do physical damage and burn things.  There are no easy defenses against any of them, that I recall (though Miles was supposedly selling some kind of personal shield in The Vor Game, wasn’t he, perhaps for nerve disrupters?).  The horrific potential of nerve disrupter damage was also brought up very early in Shards of Honour, between Dubauer and Koudelka, but stunners still seem to be nice and safe (except for the hangover, of course).  Admittedly she doesn’t waste a lot of time describing how they work–this is space opera, after all–but having their effects well-defined makes it easy for the reader to keep her honest…

I may have mentioned before how helpful the reread is for helping me make sense of confusing scenes.  The whole sequence at the tidal station is so complex, with people splitting up and going in different directions, going up and down, etc., that going through it more slowly rewards you with actually being able to keep track of what’s going on.  There’s two towers mentioned, for instance, Tower Six and Tower Seven, which I had trouble keeping straight, but apparently Six has the Barrayarans and Seven has the Cetagandans.  Similarly, I kept somehow missing Miles actually placing his fisheye camera on the wall and had to go back and check for it when they were using it to watch the combatants.

Miles’s conversation about Mark and his goals, to get rid of cloning, is more foreshadowing of Mirror Dance–or, more likely, plot seeds that were later incorporated into Mirror Dance.  Miles’s points are well taken, about the difficulty of eradicating the trade by taking direct action against its participants, rather than just trying to make it obsolete.  In some ways, though, that’s like trying to get rid of homelessness by giving them all free accomodation–effective (and even cost-effective according to some studies), but yet seeming somehow ethically wrong anyway.  It seems like it should be possible to make it economically unfeasible through repeated sabotage (though that is more dangerous); making it socially unacceptable doesn’t work when cultures are scattered so widely that there’s a lack of cultural consensus on right and wrong.

Chapter Sixteen

Miles, Mark and Ivan pause at the exit of the tower with the unconscious Elli, trying to gauge how to get to the shelter of the bushes past the police vehicles scattered around.  Miles wishes they had some alcohol (Ivan had neglected to bring his hip flask), because a splash of that would have made them carrying Elli’s limp form seem more acceptable.  They make it to the bushes, Ivan complaining that Miles should date lighter women.

Miles looks around, telling Ivan they still haven’t seen the man in face paint that Mark had told them about earlier.  Miles quizzes Mark about the precise colours of the paint, and Miles tells him that means a century-captain (Mark having misidentified it).  As a full ghem-lord, he won’t want to risk being captured and shamed, so he’ll have hung back, but be more committed to carrying out his mission.

They pass through the woods and find a utilitarian kiosk with a single door, the lights above it knocked out.  The door opens and they aim their stunners tensely until Miles recognizes Captain Galeni and calls out to them; Galeni comes over to join them, somewhat surprised to find them all alive.  Miles notices that Galeni seems to be in a state of mild exhilaration, his face is slightly bruised, and he’s carrying a Cetagandan plasma arc.  They ask about the ghem-lord, and Galeni says he’s run into him already.

Galeni tells them that he’d gone into utility tunnels through the kiosk when he couldn’t find another way into the Barrier, but got turned around and ended up on a nearby pedestrian crossing, where he found Ghem-Lieutenant Tabor from the Cetagandan Embassy standing by a car.  He soon realized that Tabor was serving as a perimeter man for a Cetagandan team; Tabor couldn’t figure out what Galeni was doing there, thinking he was drugged or something (which Miles could well believe, given Galeni’s fey state).  Tabor received a message and tried to shoot Galeni with a stunner; Galeni was only half-hit but pretended to be out cold.  He waited, biding his time and eavesdropping on Tabor until the century-captain showed up; his arrival distracted Tabor and Galeni was able to get the jump on them.

Miles’s brows rose. “How the devil did you manage that?”

Galeni’s hands were flexing as he spoke. “I don’t . . . quite know,” he admitted. “I remember hitting them. . . .” He glanced at Mark. “It was nice to have a clearly defined enemy for a change.”

Upon whom, Miles guessed, Galeni had just unloaded all the accumulated tensions of the last impossible week and this mad night. Miles had witnessed berserkers before. “Are they still alive?”

“Oh yes.”

Miles asks if Tabor’s call is still nearby; Galeni says the police may have found it by now, he heard them in the tunnels, but Miles says they’ll have to chance it.  Mark grumbles that he doesn’t have diplomatic immunity.  Miles asks him if he’d like to really earn that credit chit; Mark says it doesn’t exist, but Miles counters that that was what Ser Galen thought, and he’d been wrong about other things.  Miles asks Galeni if the Cetagandans can be roused, and is pleased when told they should be conscious by now.  He tells Mark to be Lord Vorkosigan, and he’ll be Admiral Naismith, since Mark doesn’t have the Betan accent down yet.  Galeni agrees that Mark owes them this much cooperation.

They make their way through the tunnels, dodging police, until they reach the Cetagandan groundcar, unadorned with any incriminating embassy markings; Miles notices the blood on the pavement and dents in the side.  The two Cetagandans in the backseat are bound and gagged; Tabor is awake, the century-captain is still out cold, and Miles gets the medkit while Ivan loads Elli into the vehicle.  The others get in the back with the Cetagandans and Ivan lowers a reflective canopy to hide them from outside viewers.  Miles injects the century-captain with synergine to rouse him, and gives Elli one too for good measure.  Ivan drives off, and Miles calls NIm to signal him to withdraw and follow them.

“Hello, Tabor,” said Mark, carefully coached, in his best Barrayaran Vor tones—did it really sound that snide?—”How’s your bonsai?”

Tabor recoiled slightly. The century-captain stirred, staring through slitted but focusing eyes. He tried to move, discovered his bonds, and settled back—not relaxed, but not wasting energy on futile struggle.

Galeni reached over him and loosed Tabor’s gag. “Sorry, Tabor. But you can’t have Admiral Naismith. Not here on Earth, anyway. You can pass the word up your chain of command. He’s under our protection until his fleet leaves orbit. Part of the agreed price for his helping the Barrayaran Embassy find the Komarrans who had lately kidnapped some of our personnel. So back off.”

Tabor’s eyes shifted, back and forth, as he spat out his gag, worked his jaw, and swallowed. He croaked, “You’re working together?”

“Unfortunately,” growled Mark.

“A mercenary,” caroled Miles, “gets it where he can.”

The century-captain tells “Naismith” that taking the Dagoola contract was a mistake; Miles agrees amiably, claiming that the Dagoolans stiffed them, too.  He can’t afford personal vengeance, though, having been driven to work with his “old friends” the Barrayarans.  Tabor is surprised that “Naismith” really seems to be a clone; “Lord Vorkosigan” says they thought he was a Cetagandan clone, but they now know he was made by the Komarrans.  Miles says they promised to cover him until he leaves Earth, as long he avoids Barrayar in future, which he has no interest in anyway.  Elli awakens and looks around in surprise at her surroundings, but decides to keep quiet until they can brief her more fully.

Ivan asks where he should drop off the Cetagandans, and Galeni says cheerfully that there’s no need for an incident, for him to reveal what the Cetagandans were really doing at the Tidal Barrier; he tells Ivan to take them to a hospital, since Tabor has a broken arm and his comrade has a concussion…unless Tabor prefers treatment at the Cetagandan embassy instead?  Tabor chooses the embassy, to keep either of their ambassadors from having to get involved in the messy exchange of charges that would result at the hospital.  They drop the two Cetagandans off, tossing the key after them once they’re out of the car, Galeni promising to return the car…after the Barrayarans have examined it thoroughly, of course.

Ivan asks Miles if he thinks the Cetagandans are convinced; Miles says he’s not sure they bought the idea that Barrayar had nothing to do with Dagoola, but they should now be easy to convince that Vorkosigan and Naismith are two different people.  Ivan wonders if Destang will approve, and Galeni says that he “doesn’t give a good goddamn” about what Destang thinks; Miles agrees, though he realizes they are all very tired.  He asks Mark where he wants to be dropped off; Mark says any tube station, and Galeni doesn’t object.  Ivan takes them to the nearest one and Miles and Mark get out and go down the lift tube.

In the station, Miles pulls out the coded card with the hundred thousand Betan dollars on it and gives it to Mark, telling him that he should be able to use that to disappear easily enough.  Mark asks what Miles wants of him; Miles says he’s a free man, they won’t be pursuing him over Galen’s death.  He admits he’d like more from Mark than that, but he’ll settle for what he can get.

“What is it that you want me to do?” Mark demanded. “What are you setting me up for? Did you really take that Jackson’s Whole garbage seriously? What do you expect me to do?”

“You can take it and retire to the pleasure domes of Mars, for as long as it lasts. Or buy an education, or two or three. Or stuff it down the first waste chute you pass. I’m not your owner. I’m not your mentor. I’m not your parents. I have no expectations. I have no desires.” Rebel against that—if you can figure out how—little brother. . . . Miles held his hands palm-out and stepped back.

Mark swung into the lift tube, never turning his back. “WHY NOT?” he yelled suddenly, baffled and furious.

Miles threw back his head and laughed. “You figure it out!” he called.

Miles returns to the car, and Elli asks if that was a good idea.  Miles says Galen twisted Mark so much that Miles couldn’t help any more, so the best he can do is deprive Mark of the object of his obsession and see if he can untwist himself.  He calls Nim and dismisses them back to the shuttle, but decides that he and the others have to go back to the embassy and face the music.  No point in lying any more, either, he says, and Galeni agrees.  “I do not care for doctored reports anyway. Eventually, they become history. Embedded sin.”

Miles apologizes for Galen’s death, and Galeni says he never thought Miles was omnipotent.  Miles tells Ivan to drive slowly, and they enjoy a leisurely drive through London’s summer dawn.  All too soon they are lined up in Galeni’s office, facing a disgusted-looking Destang.

“Vorkosigan.” Miles’s name hung in the air before them like a visible thing. Destang regarded it without favor, and went on, “When I finished dealing with a certain Investigator Reed of the London Municipal Assizes at 0700 this morning, I was determined that only divine intervention could save you from my wrath. Divine intervention arrived at 0900 in the person of a special courier from Imperial HQ.” Destang held up a data disk marked with the Imperial seal between his thumb and forefinger. “Here are the new and urgent orders for your Dendarii irregulars.”

Destang tells him that a mercenary fleet in a system in that sector has slipped over the edge from blockade into outright piracy.  They captured a passenger liner to convert into a troop transport, and had the bright idea to hold the passengers for hostage.  While many of the governments whose citizens were captured are involved in negotiations, Barrayar had only a few, including the wife of one Lord Vorvane, Minister for Heavy Industries, and were unable to get a representative onto the team.  The Barrayaran fleet is blocked from the shortest route, but the Dendarii are only a couple of weeks away.  Their orders are to rescue the Barrayarans and as many other citizens as possible, and convince the pirates that they should reconsider their career choices, as usual without revealing who hired them, method left entirely to Miles’s discretion.  Destang hands over the most recent intelligence information they have, as well as, somewhat grudgingly, another eighteen-million-mark credit chit.  After that he can report to Commodore Rivik at Orient Station, and, with any luck, he’ll stay out of Destang’s sector until he’s had the chance to retire.

Destang turned his eye on Ivan. “Lieutenant Vorpatril.”

“Sir?” Ivan stood to attention with his best air of eager enthusiasm. Miles prepared to protest Ivan’s complete innocence, ignorance, and victimhood, but it turned out not to be necessary; Destang contemplated Ivan for a moment longer, and sighed, “Never mind.”

Destang then turns to Galeni.  Galeni is facing charges of disobeying orders in leaving the embassy, but since Miles is already evading those charges, it doesn’t seem fair to punish Galeni for it.  Destang admits that they did end up rescuing Ivan and killing an enemy of Barrayar; anything about Galeni’s motives and thoughts is mere speculation…unless he agrees to fast-penta.  Galeni asks if it’s an order, and Miles can tell he’ll resign if pressed.  Destang says no, and he’s going to pass the whole mess up to Simon Illyan, who can deal with the political questions; in the meantime, Galeni can resume his post on Earth, at the ambassador’s request.

Miles and Elli return to the Triumph, the Dendarii busily preparing for departure.  Miles sends the curious away with instructions to help get things ready.  They encounter Tung, dressed in civilian clothing, who says he’s retiring and getting married.  A distant relative of his, a widow, has a tourist boat on the Amazon which he’s going to help her with, once Miles finishes buying out his share of the Triumph.  Miles is somewhat distressed by this, but Tung assures him that he’ll do fine, he’s earned his rank, and, he says with a wink, the Dendarii don’t have to make a profit.

After Tung leaves, Miles tells Elli they’ll need to send someone to infiltrate the pirate fleet, and he realizes that Elli is the logical choice to send.  Overcoming his reservations, he muses that they need someone able to do “criminally psychotic”, just as Private Danio approaches Miles to thank him for bailing him out.  He tells her to get Thorne to collect any additional information he can from Earth before they leave, and is relieved that this, at least, will be a straightforward mission.


The pirate mission is one of the great untold Dendarii stories, in that we get a fair number of details about it here, at the end of the book, and then the next we see of it is Miles recovering from it in the Borders of Infinity framing story.  For some authors, this would be a cliffhanger, but for Bujold it just means that the Dendarii are returning to business as usual.  She does lampshade it a bit, actually, when she has Destang refer to it as “divine intervention”.  What would Destang have done with Miles, and Galeni, otherwise?  Punishment details?  Court martials (or is that “courts martial”)?  Even humiliating fast-penta interrogations would be fraught.  He’s wise to push Galeni’s case up to Simon Illyan, where I’m sure Aral Vorkosigan will encourage him to give Galeni the benefit of the doubt.

The scene with Mark and Miles and the Cetagandans is cute, and probably muddied the waters for some time.  Later, when Mark is accepted as a Vorkosigan and Miles’s brother, one might wonder if they figure out that they were had, especially after Admiral Naismith’s forced retirement…  This book was written before Cetaganda, of course, so Bujold may not have realized yet that Miles did have a few allies inside the Cetagandan power structure, who turn up the next time Miles and the Cetagandans cross paths, in Diplomatic Immunity.  So perhaps by then they’ve decided to let bygones be bygones, or just given up..
According to the timelines supplied in most of the books (and in The Vorkosigan Companion), Miles is 24 in Brothers In Arms, 25 by the time of the Borders of Infinity framing story, and 28 for Mirror Dance.  Those three or four years are another gap filled with Dendarii missions for Miles–as, admittedly, were the four years between The Vor Game (age 20) and Brothers In Arms, but since those include Ethan of Athos, “Labyrinth”, and “The Borders of Infinity”, it feels like we know more about them.  I doubt Bujold intends to fill in all of that history, by this point, though it does give her plenty of room to add in any “remember when” backstory scenes or discussions if needed for later plot or character development.  Of course, Mark isn’t idle in that period either, but we’ll find out more about that in Mirror Dance.  Miles is 30, of course, for Memory, where he learns the truth about Galeni’s comment about doctored reports.

I did it!  Brothers In Arms is done, and in plenty of time for me to read Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance…assuming that it doesn’t get delayed like CryoBurn did.  By popular request, I will be doing the Borders of Infinity framing story next, but I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll do that next week, and then give myself a week off before Mirror Dance, or if I’ll do the week off right away and then the framing story.  Chronologically, there is a longer gap before Mirror Dance (and it does look like it has more chapters than Brothers–thirty-two–but we’ll see how I feel next week.  Until then…


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Good evening, or morning, or afternoon, or stroke of noon, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I recount and discuss the sundry events chronicled by Lois McMaster Bujold concerning the life and times of Miles Vorkosigan & his esteemed colleagues, family, friends, and foes.  This week we are concluding the tripartite (as subdivided by me, in any case) story of “The Borders of Infinity”, a short novel of Mr. Vorkosigan’s exploits (as his alter ego Admiral Miles Naismith, and with the occasional assistance of his loyal troops, the Dendarii Mercenaries).

The Borders of Infinity (Concl.)

After the chow calls were regulated, things quieted down for a while, but the amount of violence, including that from the Enforcers themselves, is on the rise. Miles takes to walking the perimeter of the dome after every call, as much to burn off energy as to inspect things.  Suegar joins him sometimes, and on one walk Miles asks him if his sermons are getting any better response.  Suegar says he doesn’t have as much time as he used to, but at least he doesn’t get beaten up anymore.  He tells Miles about a mining camp he was once at, which had gotten subdivided into hundreds of tiny claims.  Like the Dagoola camp, lots of people going hungry, suffering from accidents and disease, fighting a lot, but they also worked hard because there was hope for the future.  On Dagoola IV, though, he has to keep going or else the inertia of the place will suck him down.

They reach the point on the edge farthest from the women’s camp, and Miles suddenly notices a group of four men ahead of them, and more visible beside and behind.  Miles recognizes one of them as a former friend of Pitt’s, and thinks one of the others is actually one of his own Enforcers.  He berates himself for having fallen into a predictable routine.  Pitt’s lieutenant pulls out a rag rope braided into a strangling cord.

“You,” said Pitt’s lieutenant hoarsely. “I couldn’t figure you out at first. You’re not one of us. You could never have been one of us. Mutant . . . You gave me the clue yourself. Pitt wasn’t a Cetagandan spy. You are!” And lunged forward.

Miles dodged, overwhelmed by onslaught and insight. Damn, he’d known there must be a good reason scragging Pitt that way had felt so much like a mistake despite its efficiency. The false accusation was two-edged, as dangerous to its wielder as its victim—Pitt’s lieutenant might even believe his accusation true—Miles had started a witch-hunt.

Miles and Suegar try to fight, but to little avail.  One of the men removes the rope bracelet holding Suegar’s scripture to his wrist and taunts him with it; he starts to tear it up, then decides to eat it.  Enraged, Miles punches the nearest attacker, breaking his hand and wrist, as Suegar chases the paper-chewer.  The cord goes over Miles’s neck, and he manages to get one hand, the broken one, underneath it.  His vision is closing in when rescue arrives, in the form of Beatrice and some Enforcers and commandos.  When he recovers a bit, he sees Suegar lying on the ground, curling up around his stomach.

They carry Suegar back to the camp, and Beatrice finds a doctor, but all she can say is he has a “busted belly” and lament about how few medical skills she seems to have without the technology she was trained with.  She says all they can do is keep him warm and see if he lives or dies; personally, she doesn’t think much for his chances, and Miles agrees.  Beatrice asks Miles what they should do with their attackers, and Miles says they should let them go; they’re not the enemy.  He pleads with Beatrice until she agrees, with ill grace.

Miles sits next to Suegar, giving him water from time to time, and nursing his own injured hand.  A chow call passes and Beatrice brings their rat bars by.  Miles contemplates the pain of losing friends, and wonders if Suegar will be as bad as Bothari, or worse.

He lay back and stared at the dome, the white, unblinking eye of a dead god. And had more friends than he knew already been killed by this megalomanic escapade? It would be just like the Cetagandans, to leave him in here all unknowing, and let the growing doubt and fear gradually drive him crazy.

Swiftly drive him crazy—the god’s eye blinked.

Miles opens his eyes wide, wondering if he’d blinked, or hallucinated, but he sees the dome flicker again, then blinks out, leaving them in the unaccustomed darkness of real planetary night.

“CHOW CALL!” Miles screamed at the top of his lungs.

Bombs start to land on the buildings encircling the former dome, lighting up the night again.  Miles grabs Tris as she goes by, and yells to her to get the group leaders organized, to get their groups of 200 set up around the perimeter, and keep the chow call discipline so they won’t mob the shuttles.  Tris is flabbergasted, and Miles repeats that they just need to follow the drills they’ve practiced.  As more explosions and flares light up the camp, causing Miles to wonder why his people had decided to pick them up at night instead of in daylight, he grabs Beatrice and tells her the same as Tris, telling her to try to calm people down by explaining they get a shuttle seat instead of a rat bar.  Then he asks her to come back and guard Suegar once she’s spread the word.  Beatrice doesn’t know what he’s talking about until he indicates the fourteen shuttles (including one he’d only been hoping would be repaired in time) already dropping down from the sky around the perimeter of the camp.

Beatrice stood with her mouth open, staring upward. “My God. They’re beautiful.” He could almost see her mind start to ratchet forward. “But they’re not ours. Not Cetagandan either. Who the hell . . . ?”

Miles bowed. “This is a paid political rescue.”


“We’re not something wriggling with too many legs that you found in your sleeping bag. The proper tone of voice is Mercenaries!—with a glad cry.”

Miles continues accosting people and spreading the news himself, commandeering a tall commando at one point to help him see what’s going on.  The fourteen groups do seem to be assembling at about the right positions as the shuttles land.  He walks over to the nearest shuttle, hoping that his plan will keep the shuttles from being overrun with prisoners.  The shuttle disgorges armed troopers, a small group pointing their weapons at the prisoners and a larger one heading to the Cetagandan buildings outside the circle.

He spots Lieutenant Murka and calls him over; Murka immediately notifies Ky Tung of Miles’s presence through his headset.  Miles grabs Murka’s headset to talk to Tung directly, asking whether Elli and Elena have been retrieved yet.  Tung says they don’t have the two women yet, and informs Miles they have about two hours for the lift.

The first group of 200 is assembled ready for the shuttle, and the second group is being organized to sit down and wait calmly.  Miles notes an odd procedure as the prisoners are boarded onto the shuttle–cutting open the back of the uniform, using a medical stunner, then ripping out the serial numbers the Cetagandans had tagged them all with.  Bel Thorne appears, with a doctor and some clothes.  Before Miles can change, the doctor does the same operation to him, and he yelps in pain before the stun kicks in.  The doctor explains that Elli and Elena discovered that the barcodes were done in a special ink with embedded chemicals that would begin to dissolve an hour after being removed from the dome, leading to a very messy death.  Miles shudders at the news and tells Thorne to authorize a commendation for the two women, promising to take their (Barrayaran) employers to task for missing the vital bit of information.  He also asks for a quick stun for his broken hand.

Thorne expresses concern about the increased size of the operation, which was supposed to just be a pickup for Colonel Tremont, and turned into a full jailbreak, using the full resources of the entire Dendarii fleet.  He points out that there’s twice as many prisoners as Dendarii.  Miles promises that their employers will pay for the operation, but he’ll have to deliver the bill in person.

Ky Tung appears just as the first wave of shuttles is launching, each as it fills up rather than waiting for the others, so Miles judges timing is extremely tight.  He tells Miles that they’re loading the prisoners into some used freighters, which can hold 5000 prisoners each, though not particularly comfortably, but they’ll be okay if they lie down and don’t breathe too much.  The local Cetagandan military are on practice maneuvers on the other side of the solar system, so all they have to deal with is some local police shuttles for now.  They’d had to wait for the maneuvers, which had been the holdup, after the revised and expanded plan was put into effect.  Tung says that the defense forces on the planet have been reduced substantially since Miles went in, stripped off to other hot spots, but they only have two hours.  Getting the fourth and last load into the air will be cutting it rather fine, depending on how fast they can load them in the first place.

“Have you found Elli and Elena yet?”

“I have three patrols out searching.”

He hadn’t found them yet. Miles’s guts tightened. “I wouldn’t have even attempted to expand this operation in midstream if I hadn’t known they were monitoring me, and could translate all those oblique hints back into orders.”

“Did they get ’em all right?” asked Tung. “We argued over some of their interpretations of your double-talk on the vids.”

Miles confirms they were right, but is surprised they have actual vids.  Tung says that they got a burst transmission daily, and some people found Miles’s efforts entertaining.  He says Elli and Elena were in contact as of yesterday, and assures Miles that his three patrols wouldn’t do any better with Miles himself helping.  Miles can’t help but worry about them, though, especially knowing that Cetagandans killed spies, after interrogating them thoroughly first.  He tries to reassure himself that there would be more resistance here if the Cetagandans had captured them…unless they were killed by friendly fire, of course.

He tells the soldier with his clothes to go and fetch Beatrice and Suegar; he enjoys the experience of being able once more to give orders without having to give a sermon for each one.  He feels exhausted, and has trouble dressing himself one-handed until Thorne comes to help him out.  Miles asks where his headset is, and Thorne says he was scheduled for immediate evacuation.  Miles swallows his annoyance and admits he’s not yet enough in the loop on the details of the operation to be giving orders, but he’s available to bring up the rear.

The soldier returns with Beatrice and Suegar.  Miles’s personal surgeon takes a look at Suegar, gives him synergine for the shock, and pronounces him in bad shape.  Miles tells him he’ll see Suegar personally brought for surgery on the command ship.  Tung receives a message on his comm set; Elli and Elena have been found and are being brought to the drop site, and haven’t asked for a medtech so are probably okay.

Miles asks Beatrice to get Tris and Oliver so he can talk to them before they go up.  When they arrive, he congratulates them on having “achieved an army”.  Tris is pessimistic, wondering what will happen if anything goes wrong, or if anyone starts to panic.  Miles says they can ride with him if that makes them feel better, though he will be going up in the last load; Tung receives this announcement with consternation.  He also tells Tris and Oliver that his original mission had been only to rescue Colonel Tremont, so he could raise an army to fight off the Cetagandans, but when that didn’t work out, he decided to just raise an army himself.  Tris and Oliver are now the new Marilac resistance, Miles tells them, overriding their protests of inexperience.  Oliver says his time in the military actually ended while he was at Fallow Core, and wonders when he’ll be able to retire now.

“The odds were worse for Barrayar, in its day, and they ran the Cetagandans right off. It took twenty years, and more blood than either of you have seen in your lives combined, but they did it,” asserted Miles.

Oliver seemed more struck by this historical precedent than Tris, who said skeptically, “Barrayar had those crazy Vor warriors. Nuts who rushed into battle, who liked to die. Marilac just doesn’t have that sort of cultural tradition. We’re civilized—or we were, once. . . .”

“Let me tell you about the Barrayaran Vor,” cut in Miles. “The loonies who sought a glorious death in battle found it very early on. This rapidly cleared the chain of command of the accumulated fools. The survivors were those who learned to fight dirty, and live, and fight another day, and win, and win, and win, and for whom nothing, not comfort, or security, not family or friends or their immortal souls, was more important than winning. Dead men are losers by definition. Survival and victory. They weren’t supermen, or immune to pain. They sweated in confusion and darkness. And with not one-half the physical resources Marilac possesses even now, they won. When you’re Vor,” Miles ran down a little, “there is no mustering out.”

Tris says they will still need supplies, and Miles says there will be covert support of the Resistance as long as there’s a Resistance to deliver it to.  Tris asks Oliver if he’ll be joining her, and he says he will.  Miles asks Tung how they’re doing, and he says they’re a few minutes behind, unloading.  Miles tells Tris and Oliver to go up in the next wave, on separate shuttles, and help speed up the unloading.

Beatrice lingered. “I’m inclined to panic,” she informed Miles in a distant tone. Her bare toe smudged whorls in the dampening dirt.

“I don’t need a bodyguard anymore,” Miles said. He grinned. “A keeper, maybe . . .”

A smile lighted her eyes that did not yet reach her mouth. Later, Miles promised himself. Later, he would make that mouth laugh.

The second wave begins to lift, even as more first wave shuttles are still landing; the fog has turned to rain.  Tung swears suddenly and then tells Miles that two shuttles have been destroyed by a Cetagandan fighter–one full, one empty.  Miles is relieved that Tris and Oliver weren’t on them, but is saddened by the loss of the 200 prisoners, and the six Dendarii crewmembers.  Beatrice asks for a task, to keep her mind busy, and Miles sends her to tell the leaders of the two groups now without a shuttle to divide up among the others; the last wave will have to go up overloaded.  Tung says they were already overloaded, this will make it worse.  Miles asks him to calculate how far behind they’ll be when the rest of the Cetagandans return.  Tung works it out and says that five shuttles will still be waiting to unload.

Tung makes a few suggestions–don’t send those five shuttles down, and leave a thousand prisoners on the behind.  Miles isn’t keen on the idea, and points out that the last groups of prisoners have been watching Miles carefully, and any sign they’ll be left behind will likely lead them to riot.  Tung says they won’t notice, with the shuttle timing so skewed.

“So we just leave them standing there, waiting for us?” The sheep look up, but are not fed . . .


“You like that option, Ky?”

“Makes me want to puke, but—consider the 9,000 others. And the Dendarii fleet. The idea of dropping them all down the rat hole in a pre-doomed effort to pack up all these—miserable sinners of yours, makes me want to puke a lot more. Nine-tenths of a loaf is much better than none.”

Miles proposes an alternate option.  The freighters are the slowest ships, but the Triumph is faster.  If they can take the last five shuttles and have them dock to the Triumph instead, jettisoning five fighters to make room, then the Triumph‘s shields can protect them while they cram the prisoners into the corridors.  The added mass of people may slow it down, but they can jettison some of the drop shuttles to offset it.  They should have enough oxygen to make it to the jump point, after which they can redistribute people.  Tung begins to protest the cost, and Miles stops him and says he’ll tack it onto the bill to their employers.  Tung runs the calculations and says it’ll buy them 15 very expensive minutes.

The second wave of shuttles begins to return, and, after giving Murka strict orders to not bother returning to the ship without Miles, Tung boards his shuttle with the third wave, leaving less then two thousand prisoners still on the ground, waiting.  The last wave of shuttles begins to return just after the last of the third wave leave, but the Marilacans’ discipline seems to be holding.  Miles sees Suegar onto the shuttle first, noting that he’ll actually reach Triumph faster this way than he would if he’d been loaded onto a freighter first.

The last of the armored troops that had been occupying the Cetagandan ground installations reaches the shuttle, reporting to Murka.  Plasma fire bursts out of the darkness, some Cetagandan holdout who’d found a weapon.  One immobilizes a Dendarii trooper’s armour, another flies off harmlessly into the air; rear-guard soldiers pick up weapons and head off after it, but Miles calls them back, saying there’s no time.  Miles helps the trooper out of his armour and they dash for the shuttle.  As Murka is waiting for the last few to board, he gets decapitated by a plasma beam across his neck.  Miles grabs Murka’s headset and runs up the ramp, partly melted by the plasma beam, and tells the pilot to lift now.

The shuttle begins to lift off as the ramp retracts…and jams on the melted section.  They can’t pull it in further, or seal the hatch, so Miles tells them to jettison it.  Now it’s stuck, though, and can’t slide back out, either.

Hands reached out to thump on it urgently. “You’ll never get it that way!” Beatrice, across the hatch from Miles, yelled fiercely, and twisted around to kick at it with her bare feet. The wind of their flight screamed over the open hatchway, buffeting and vibrating the shuttle like a giant blowing across the top of a bottle.

To a chorus of shouting, thumping, and swearing, the shuttle lurched abruptly onto its side. Men, women, and loose equipment tangled across the tilting deck. Beatrice kicked bloodily at a final buggered bolt. The ramp tore loose at last. Beatrice, sliding, fell with it.

Miles dove at her, lunging across the hatchway. If he connected, he never knew, for his right hand was a senseless blob. He saw her face only as a white blur as she whipped away into the blackness.

The white blur loops over and over in Miles’s head, as he finds himself crouched on the deck, pinned by the shuttle’s acceleration, the hatch finally closed.  He sees Pitt’s lieutenant, who had grabbed a weapon near the end, standing over him, and tells him he’d better kill a lot of Cetagandans, because otherwise the price they’d paid was too high.

He crawls forward to talk to Suegar, who’s barely conscious with the drugs and the pain, telling him how it worked out according to the scripture, “up through the regions of air” with “agility and speed”.  Suegar tells him he knew it wasn’t scripture, they both knew it, but Miles make him laugh weakly anyway.  Miles himself manages not to weep until they’re through the wormhole.


Whew, that’s intense, that ending.  Even though they’d taken out a lot of the Cetagandan defense, the whole operation was, in some ways, so precarious that it didn’t take much to jeopardize it.  The one fighter who managed to take out two shuttles, the single sniper killing Murka (poor Murka, you were so brilliant on Jackson’s Whole) and, indirectly, Beatrice…  Those two deaths haunt Miles for a long time, as I recall, particularly Beatrice’s.  The whole scene with the ramp, though, I always found confusing and hard to picture.  Maybe now I have it down, but I guess I always had a problem with the relationship between the ramp and the hatch, and wasn’t sure why you couldn’t close the watch without retracting the ramp.  I suppose the ramp must retract to inside the hatch, but, evidently, it’s a bad design if all it takes is a little bit of plasma melting to make it unworkable.

She was set up for most of the story as a potential romantic interest for Miles, at least once he broke through the defenses that she had put up against the dangers of the camp.  How precisely their relationship would have worked, I don’t know, since I imagine she would be following Tris into the Marilacan Resistance.  I suppose Miles could have tried to make her join the Dendarii instead, but that would have been a really bad idea, since she’d have been torn between the two and probably ended up bitter and resentful.  Probably wouldn’t have made a good Lady Vorkosigan either, though I guess it’s hard to say; we don’t really know much about her beyond the hardened exterior.

The first time through the story, for sure, I had no idea what was coming, what Miles was waiting for, and when the dome shut off and the shuttles came down I had a sudden flash of recognition of how brilliant this plan actually was.  Especially when Miles was concocting it on the fly after the failure of the original plan and only able to communicate it to the Dendarii officers through indirect means, spouting sermons and hoping that Elli and Elena would be able to pass them along.  To think, the best thing the Cetagandans could have done to stop the plan would have been to just stop recording everything.  But I guess Elli and Elena (who are some kind of inseparable bicorporate Cetagandan-infiltration machine in this story) were probably prepared to make sure things got recorded anyway.

All those extra costs that Miles incurs just to try to save a few more lives–well, losing the two shuttles isn’t really his fault, but preparing to sacrifice five brand-new fighters, and maybe two or more of the freighters, can’t be cheap.  Even just mobilizing the entire mercenary fleet to save all the prisoners rather than just trying to sneak one out must have been a costly decision.  And that ramp will probably need to be replaced, too.  The original Borders of Infinity anthology had a scene with Miles trying to explain his cost overruns to Simon Illyan (set after Brothers In Arms), which leads into the story itself.  You ever wonder about those poor Barrayaran peasants whose taxes are used to subsidize Miles’s little adventures?  Well, I’m sure they tax the nobility as well…or, at least, get them to give the Emperor gifts on his birthday every year, but I’m not sure who the main tax burder really falls on.  I guess that somebody, at least, thinks they’re worth it, even if all they’re doing is secretly giving a black eye to the Cetagandans.

Still wonder whether the Cetagandans recognizes Miles, and if they did, if they recognized him as Miles Naismith or Miles Vorkosigan.  I guess, after the fact, unless the records got wiped by Elli-and-Elena, they’d be able to figure out who was behind it all, but in the context of Miles Naismith, for sure.  There’s no evidence that they ever connected the two, and if they did, maybe they just decided that Miles Vorkosigan had a clone or something.  Which would be ridiculous, of course, since clones don’t really work that way, do they?

On that note…we’re done “The Borders of Infinity” and ready to start on Brothers In Arms, wherein we ask the question, “What if Miles had a clone?”  I’ll start week after next, because I get another week off now before leaping into another full-sized novel.  Not quite into my favourite stretch, but without this one Mirror Dance doesn’t stand up, and without Mirror Dance, Memory doesn’t stand up, so it’s a necessary step, and in some ways encompasses a major transition in Miles’s life which begins to throw everything else out of balance.  So there’s that.  In two weeks, then…

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Right!  So, the Vorkosigan Saga, written by Lois McMaster Bujold, is what I’m summarizing here, with comments of course, and this week I’m finishing off The Vor Game, which is of course one of the books in the series, the fourth chronologically, if you don’t count that one novella, or the much-earlier book I’m not doing, and of course ignoring publication order, so this week I’m doing Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen, because I normally do two chapters but I only did one last week.  Any questions?  No?  Then let’s get on with it, shall we?

Chapter Sixteen

When Cavilo’s shuttle docks with the Ariel, they find only a deserted chamber closed off with blast doors at each end (and Miles watching through vid link).  Cavilo and an escort of Rangers emerge in space armour, and an unarmoured Gregor.  Cavilo, helmet off, asks “What’s the trick?”, at which point Miles blows the docking clamps.  Her shuttle’s boarding tube tears away, and the airlock shuts automatically.  Miles notes that the shuttle is tumbling through space, damaged by the blast.  He tells Bel Thorne to keep an eye on it just in case.

Cavilo has put her helmet back on, and her Rangers are forming up defensively, but there’s still nothing to see.  Miles puts on his own helmet and examines his own half-dozen space-armoured troops, and his plasma cannon, fully capable of blowing away someone in space armour, as well as the hull of the ship.  He signals Elena to open the blast doors between Cavilo’s group and the cannon, then issues an ultimatum.

“Cavilo!” he shouted. “Deactivate your weapons and freeze, or I’ll blow Gregor to atoms!”

Body language was a wonderful thing. It was amazing, how much expression could come through the blank shining surface of space armor. The littlest armored figure stood openhanded, stunned. Bereft of words; bereft, for precious seconds, of reactions. Because, of course, Miles had just stolen her opening line. Now what do you have to say for yourself, love? It was a desperate ploy. Miles had judged the hostage-problem logically insoluble; therefore, clearly the only thing to do was make it Cavilo’s problem instead of his own.

Cavilo hisses to Gregor that he’d said Miles was safe.  Gregor says that he’ll prove Miles is bluffing, and just walks right up to the tip of the plasma cannon.  Miles is almost lost in admiration before he remembers to shut the blast doors again, this time with Gregor on his side.  Miles is relieved that Gregor picked up his cue, and in an inspired fashion, though he admits he had a few backup plans as well.  He orders Elena to mop up the Rangers, and they arm their weapons (none of them, even the cannon, had actually been charged).

As they move up to the tactics room, Miles admits to Gregor that he’d been worried about whether he’d actually been taken in by Cavilo.  Gregor says that she reminded him too much of Count Vordrozda.  Miles asks Gregor if he’d realized that he could have just had Cavilo “rescue” him all the way to Barrayar, and Gregor says all that would have taken was a complete lack of personal honour.  Gregor says he would have had her killed, if she’d killed Miles, and yet, he wished she had been for real.

Miles briefs Gregor on the tactical situation, spotlighting their shortage of information on the Cetagandans, after Elena secures the boarders.  He asks Gregor to choose–to go home on board the Ariel, or to stay for the battle, even to command.  Or, as a more realistic option, Gregor can decree the Dendarii to be real Barrayaran forces, and negotiate a treaty with Vervain.  Gregor asks if there’s a way he can actually serve in the combat.

“If—in your judgment—the best and most vital service you can give everyone else risking their lives here is as a minor field officer, I will of course support you to the best of my ability,” said Miles bleakly.

“Ouch,” murmured Gregor. “You can turn a phrase like a knife, you know?” He paused. “Treaties, eh?”

“If you would be so kind, sire.”

Miles wonders how they can deal with Randall’s Rangers, now doubtless in disarray.  Gregor mentions that Cavilo had implied that the Dendarii were part of her forces, and she had been going to confer with them.  Miles wonders if they can take advantage of that somehow; he also points out to Gregor how he himself had single-handedly sabotaged the Cetagandan invasion.  He orders Cavilo brought in so they can try to nail down the Rangers somehow.

Cavilo rolled her short-cropped blond head in futile resistance, the limit of physically possible motion. She glared furiously at Gregor as the soldiers exited. “You snake,” she snarled. “You bastard.”

Gregor sat with his elbows on the conference table, chin resting in his hands. He raised his head to say tiredly, “Commander Cavilo, both my parents died violently in political intrigue before I was six years old. A fact you might have researched. Did you think you were dealing with an amateur?”

“You were out of your league from the beginning, Cavilo,” said Miles, walking slowly around her as if inspecting his prize. Her head turned to follow him, then had to swivel to pick up his orbit on the other side. “You should have stuck to your original contract. Or your second plan. Or your third. You should, in fact, have stuck to something. Anything. Your total self-interest didn’t make you strong, it made you a rag in the wind, anybody’s to pick up. Now, Gregor—though not I—thinks you should be given a chance to earn your worthless life.”

Cavilo says that Miles doesn’t have the guts to kill her; Miles agrees and says he was planning to give her to the Cetagandans instead, at which she pales.  Gregor offers her safe passage out of the Hegen Hub after the battle if she cooperates, by yielding up command of her forces, probably to a Vervani liaison.  Cavilo acquiesces with bad grace, telling Miles that she hopes to be there when his “loyalties” turn around to bite him.  After she leaves, Miles is dismayed when Gregor and Elena admit he and Cavilo are somewhat similar, at least in stature and twistiness of plotting, and Miles hopes he never sinks to her level.

Back on the Triumph, Miles is briefing Gregor on the upcoming negotations, quite needlessly, mostly because he feels the urge to babble.  Chodak brings the “prisoners”, Ungari and Overholt, into the room, only leaving Miles and Gregor alone with them reluctantly.  Ungari begins threatening Miles’s health and career before noticing Gregor.

“My apologies, Captain,” said Miles, “for my high-handed treatment of you and Sergeant Overholt, but I judged my plan for retrieving Gregor too, uh, delicate for, for . . .” your nerves, “I thought I’d better take personal responsibility.” You were happier not watching, really. And I was happier not having my elbow jogged.

“Ensigns don’t have personal responsibility for operations of this magnitude, their commanders do,” Ungari snarled. “As Simon Illyan would have been the first to point out to me if your plan—however delicate—had failed. . . .”

“Well, then, congratulations, sir; you have just rescued the emperor,” snapped Miles. “Who, as your commander-in-chief, has a few orders for you, if you will permit him to get a word in edgewise.”

Gregor appoints Ungari and Overholt as his ImpSec escort, and tells them to share any information they have with the Dendarii, since he has officially designated them as Imperial forces.  Miles assigns the Ariel and a fast courier to Gregor, still thinking of his escape route, giving him an intelligence report and asking him to be sure that the surviving Dendarii get paid, if nothing else.  Ungari protests Gregor’s destination of Vervain Station, but Gregor says there are more urgent issues right now; to forestall Ungari’s further protests about Miles’s duties, he appoints Miles official Dendarii liaison.  Overholt becomes Gregor’s interim batman and bodyguard, and when he protests that he’s not trained for it, Miles says that none of them are.

Miles waits in Triumph‘s tactical room as the Dendarii prepare to jump into the Vervain system.  A scout returns to announce they have some clear space, and the ships begin jumping at thirty-second intervals, pushing safety margins.  Miles examines the tactical display, with some minutes-out-of-date information from the other side of the wormhole, and then it is Triumph‘s turn to jump.  The Cetagandans have taken the far Vervain wormhole, but are still being held off from the Vervani battle station on the other side.  Unfortunately, a lot of the Vervani fleet is guarding the planet itself, which the Cetagandans are bypassing entirely.

Failing subterfuge and maneuvering to both sides, the best way to take a wormhole is with a “sun wall” of massed nuclear weapons, which was part of how the Cetagandans had taken the other wormhole.  The arrival of the Dendarii has forced the Cetagandans to reconsider what they had thought would be a final assault on the Vervani station, especially with the implication of further reinforcements.  Ky Tung tells Miles that even that won’t get them to abandon the attack entirely, since they have too much face to lose by giving up now.  The Dendarii and Cetagandans begin maneuvering, each trying to gang up on ships and overload their plasma mirrors, or get close enough to use an imploder lance.

In the tac room, they receive a message that Oser has escaped from the brig and freed the rest of the prisoners as well.  Miles contacts Auson to ensure that the tac room and bridge are both well protected.  Eventually a cargo shuttle launches, apparently with some of the prisoners on it; Miles orders them not to fire on it.  He tries to page Oser, who seems to be heading for the Peregrine, but Oser refuses to open contact.  As it nears its destination, though, a Cetagandan ship picks it off.  The Cetagandans finish their attack pass, slightly the worse for wear, but the Dendarii ships are badly battered.  It takes hours for them to form up again, and reinforcements are still arriving from across the system.

As the Cetagandans begin their next attack run, one of the jumpscouts suddenly announces that help is coming, and they need to keep the wormhole clear.  With some difficulty, Tung complies, and even he is startled at the first ship that comes through, which Miles recognizes as the Prince Serg, the first of the promised Barrayaran reinforcements.  The Cetagandans soon discover at the Prince Serg‘s imploder lances are longer range than theirs, even as more ships, including Polians and Aslunders, enter the system as well.  Tung almost faints with hero-worship when the Prince Serg announces the presence of Aral Vorkosigan, and orders the Cetagandans to surrender; Miles promises that he’ll introduce Tung to Aral later.

The Cetagandans break and retreat, and even the Vervani in orbit break off from planetary defense to help mop them up.  At some point Miles realizes that their part in the battle is over.


The first time I read this, I remember when the Prince Serg showed up I was like, “Yes!”  Crowning Moment of Awesome.  Though, let’s face it, Miles doesn’t have a lot to do with that.  He obviously wasn’t on the Prince Serg, since he screwed his chances for that on Kyril Island when he stood up to Metzov.  It was surely Ungari or someone else from ImpSec who passed the word on Gregor’s location back to Barrayar in the first place, and given the timing of the cavalry’s arrival, they must have been on their way to the Hegen Hub a while ago, probably long before Miles found out about the Cetagandan invasion.  All that Miles did, really, was help the Vervani hold the wormhole long enough to keep the Cetagandans at bay.  Which is nothing to sneeze at, but it wouldn’t have been enough if the Prince Serg hadn’t arrived.  So, on further thought…it’s a little unsatisfying.

Gregor has a good Moment of Awesome as he walks up to Miles’s cannon, playing his part consummately and helping turn the tables on Cavilo.  I like the bit where Miles threatens Gregor’s life, stealing Cavilo’s line and throwing the hostage situation back on her.  I mean, honestly, how convincing would it have been for her to threaten Gregor at that point?  Could she still have fallen back on the Cetaganda plan?  I suppose she hadn’t quite run away yet, and Randall’s Rangers were still cooperating…  It’s also quite a relief to see that Gregor has learned from the lessons of Vordrozda and other toadies, and can overcome his self-doubt enough to at least see through Cavilo’s facade.

For some reason, when I remember the bit with Oser’s escape, I always used to remember Auson being on the shuttle and getting blown up too.  But I guess if he was actually in command of the Triumph, he wouldn’t have fled with Oser–if he was still on Oser’s side, he would have helped Oser take over the ship or something.  Auson still filed with Oser as “annoying Oserans”, I guess, since I never forgave him for his assholery in The Warrior’s Apprentice.  And we never, ever see him in the series ever again after this book, at least as far as I can remember (and bolstered by The Vorkosigan Companion), so he might as well be dead.  He certainly never became a friend of Miles’s, and was never invited to his wedding or into his inner circle.  Maybe he just quietly mustered out between books or something.

At least Gregor makes it possible to deal with Ungari and Overholt successfully.  At least they’re rational enough to obey their Emperor, rather than just trying to swaddle him in bubble-wrap and stick him in a closet.  Of course, they must have realized that Miles still had the upper hand, but, like Aral later, they were convinced that Gregor was actually in command and not just a figurehead to be protected.

I still find the whole “naming things after Prince Serg” a little disturbing.  Since only a scant few people know his real nature, it’s natural that he should have become some kind of a war hero, but naming first a planet, and then the first of the new generation of warships, after him may be going over the top.  I imagine that Miles and Gregor, and maybe Aral and Illyan too, must find heaploads of irony in “Serg” being Gregor’s salvation.

Chapter Seventeen

Miles checks on the escaped prisoners and finds that still unaccounted for are Oser, the Peregrine‘s captain and two other loyal Oserans, as well as Metzov and Cavilo.  Miles thinks that Oser, at least, was on the shuttle, and maybe all of them were.  On his way back to his cabin with an escort, he encounters a group of wounded being transported to sickbay, transferred from other ships since the Triumph had been behind the front lines, and follows them to provide what morale-boosting he can, until exhaustion takes over and he heads back to his cabin.

He hit the code-lock on Oser’s cabin. Now that he’d inherited it, he supposed he ought to change the numbers. He sighed and entered. As he stepped inside he became conscious of two unfortunate facts. First, although he had dismissed his commando guard upon entering sickbay, he had forgotten to call him back, and second, he was not alone. The door closed behind him before he could recoil into the corridor, and he banged into it backing up.

The dusky red hue of General Metzov’s face was even more arresting to the eye than the silver gleam of the nerve disrupter parabola in his hand, aim centered on Miles’s head.

Metzov and Cavilo have both acquired some ill-fitting Dendarii uniforms; Miles notices Cavilo has bruises on her neck and looks to be in an odd mood.  Metzov drops the nerve disrupter and grabs Miles around the neck, pushing him against the wall and beginning to choke him as Miles struggles feebly.

Cavilo slipped forward, crouching, soundless and unnoticed as a cat, to take up the dropped nerve disrupter, then step back, around to Miles’s left.

“Stanis, darling,” she cooed. Metzov, obsessed with Miles’s lingering strangulation, did not turn his head. Cavilo, clearly imitating Metzov’s cadences, recited, ” ‘Open your legs to me, you bitch, or I’ll blow your brains out.’ ”

Metzov’s head twisted round then, his eyes widening. She blew his brains out. The crackling blue bolt hit him square between the eyes. He almost snapped Miles’s neck, plastic-reinforced though those bones were, in his last convulsion, before he dropped to the deck. The blistering electrochemical smell of nerve-disruptor death slapped Miles in the face.

Miles watches Cavilo, wondering what had happened in the cabin while they’d been waiting for him.  Eventually Miles asks if she’s going to kill him too.  Cavilo says she’d rather survive to see her revenge play out, and she believes that Miles will still keep his word about letting her go free.

After a few moments, coming up on the time they might expect the reinforcements to storm in, she strolled over to his side. “I underestimated you, you know.”

“I never underestimated you.”

“I know. I’m not used to that . . . thank you.” Contemptuously, she tossed the nerve disruptor onto Metzov’s body. Then, with a sudden baring of her teeth, she wheeled, wrapped an arm around Miles’s neck, and kissed him vigorously. Her timing was perfect; Security, Elena and Sergeant Chodak in the lead, burst through the door just before Miles managed to fight her off.

Miles boards the Prince Serg in his Dendarii uniform, in his Admiral Naismith role, along with Tung, Elena and Chodak.  The Executive Officer, Commander Natochini, is there to give a delighted Tung a your of the ship, while Miles and Elena are escorted to meet with Admiral Vorkosigan, and Tung will join them all for lunch after the tour.  Lieutenant Yegorov, escorting them, asks Elena if she is Barrayaran, and she tells him briefly that her father was a Vorkosigan Armsman.  Yegorov isn’t quite as sure about Miles, in his Betan persona, and delicately encourages him to be more “formal” with the Count.

Miles notices how squeaky clean the Prince Serg is, in contrast to the somewhat battered Triumph, and then notices that there is some repair work going on–which turns out to be actual construction work not yet finished when they took the ship out of Barrayaran orbit.  He thinks that if it hadn’t been for Metzov, he could’ve been working on the ship himself.

Yegorov brings them into Aral’s office, where he and Miles have a heartfelt reunion.  Yegorov is taken aback, but is escorted out by Aral’s armsman Jole.  Aral then greets Elena warmly and conveys Cordelia’s good wishes as well, as well as the reminder: “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  After a pause, Miles asks about the ceasefire; Aral says that the Cetagandans have withdrawn, except for the ships that were too badly damaged, and regular commercial traffic should resume within days.  Things are returning to the status quo, though Aral points out that several Cetagandan senior officers are being recalled to make “apologies” to their Emperor.

Aral explains that Simon Illyan would have been there, but he and Aral couldn’t both go offplanet at the same time.  The Emperor’s absence was covered up by a young lookalike who was only too happy to help cover up Gregor’s “secret mission”, though he’s spent a lot of time absent from the capital.  It’ll be up to Gregor to explain it in the end, he expects.  Aral had taken the Prince Sergon a diplomatic mission to Pol, where they spent some time trying to negotiate passage into the Hub, and were still in orbit when they heard about the Cetagandans invading Vervain.  Gregor gets all the credit for persuading the Aslunders to join in, and the Vervani are quite taken with him.  They are working on a permanent treaty now between Barrayar, Pol, Aslund and Vervain, and Gregor is doing quite well at it.

“It . . . astonished me, that you permitted him to jump with you into the fire zone. I hadn’t expected that.”

“Well, when you came down to it, the Prince Serg’s fleet tac room had to have been among the most tightly defended few cubic meters anywhere in Vervain local space. It was, it was . . .”

Miles watched with fascination as his father tried to spit out the words perfectly safe, and gagged on them instead. Light dawned. “It wasn’t your idea, was it? Gregor ordered himself aboard!”

Aral admits that he wanted to forbid it, but he realized the time had come to stop guarding Gregor and start obeying him.  Miles asks about Ungari, and Aral says he’s not best pleased with Miles.  Miles says he did what needed to be done, and Aral says he’s begun to realize that Miles doesn’t belong in the regular Service, like “a tesseract…in a round hole”.  Elena says that, like Metzov, he could become a mercenary.  Aral says that he’d tracked down Ahn and gotten the rest of the story about Metzov on Komarr–Metzov had killed a Barrayaran guard who objected to his torture of the Komarran prisoner, then fabricated an escape to cover it up, killing the Komarran in the process.  Ahn was almost relieved to be finally interrogated about it after Metzov disappeared.  Aral almost wishes they’d taken Metzov alive to execute as a show of goodwill to Komarr.

Miles brings up the matter of payment to the Dendarii, and Aral says that while ImpSec’s budget wouldn’t cover it, a “friend in a high place” will make sure that it gets covered, by a special appropriations bill in the Council.  He tells Miles to submit a bill, and Miles whips out a data disk he already had ready; Aral is impressed, and says he’ll have a credit chit before they leave.  Elena asks what the Dendarii are supposed to do now, if they’re going to be abandoned again, after supposedly being made an Imperial fleet.  Aral says they can’t stay so near Barrayar, but their fate is still under discussion.  As they go to lunch, Miles reminds Aral that Ky Tung still thinks of him as Admiral Naismith, and Aral admits that Illyan and Ungari won’t want to waste such a potentially useful cover.

“I should warn you, Admiral Naismith is not very deferential.”

Elena and Count Vorkosigan looked at each other, and both broke into laughter. Miles waited, wrapped in what dignity he could muster, till they subsided. Finally.

Admiral Naismith was painfully polite during lunch. Even Lieutenant Yegorov could have found no fault.

Later, Miles picks up another credit chit, this time from the Vervani, who are happy enough to pay off the forces that kept the wormhole defence from crumbling entirely before the “Hegen Alliance” forces could arrive.  He then heads for a medal ceremony, where Cavilo is also in attendance with her unsympathetic “honour guard” of Barrayaran female auxiliaries.  She is wearing the perfume that so bothered Miles before, but he makes a show of putting in some highly effective nasal filters to defuse her ploy.  He reminds her to get clear of Vervain as soon as she can, before the Cetagandans spill the beans on her involvement; he also tells her that the Dendarii have managed to get paid in full by the Barrayarans, Vervani and Aslunders for their efforts.  Cavilo is furious, and warns Miles that they better not ever meet again, but she still has the gall to accept a medal on behalf of Randall’s Rangers.

Weeks later, after Miles has returned to Barrayar for home leave, he is invited to lunch with Gregor.  Miles compares the sumptuous food with the horrible rations he and Gregor had endured in the Hegen Hub, and Gregor says he hadn’t realized how boring space stations were compared with the natural beauty of Barrayar.  Gregor and Miles compare experiences, and Gregor is cheered to hear that Miles never gave any orders in the battle himself.  Gregor talks about how easy it is, in the computer displays, to forget the deaths and injuries are happening to real people.

Miles asks Gregor if he told Illyan the truth about going over the balcony on Komarr, and Gregor admits he only said he was drunk.  Miles tells Gregor to talk to someone about it, and recommends his mother, who will “put Gregor the man before Gregor the emperor”.  Gregor says he is feeling somewhat better, though he didn’t volunteer for any of this.  He says that he wonders when his genes, Mad Yuri’s or Prince Serg’s, will start to drive him mad as well, and Miles realizes that he’s found out about his father.  He asks, and Gregor confirms that he found out, while he was on Komarr.  Miles says that Cordelia will tell him the whole truth about that if he asks as well.

“I’m afraid of power . . .” Gregor’s voice went low, contemplative.

“You aren’t afraid of power, you’re afraid of hurting people. If you wield that power,” Miles deduced suddenly.

“Huh. Close guess.”

“Not dead-on?”

“I’m afraid I might enjoy it. The hurting. Like him.”

Miles reminds Gregor how he always hated going hunting with Count Piotr.  Gregor wonders how many horrible things he could have stopped if he’d strangled Cavilo in her sleep.

“If I’d strangled her while she slept—which I had a chance to do—none of those horrors would have come to pass.”

“If none of those horrors had come to pass, she wouldn’t have deserved to be strangled. Some kind of time-travel paradox, I’m afraid. The arrow of justice flies one way. Only. You can’t regret not strangling her first. Though I suppose you can regret not strangling her after. . . .”

“No . . . no . . . I’ll leave that to the Cetagandans, if they can catch her now that she has her head start.”

“Gregor, I’m sorry, but I just don’t think Mad Emperor Gregor is in the cards. It’s your advisors who are going to go crazy.”

Gregor stared at the pastry tray, and sighed. “I suppose it would disturb the guards if I tried to shove a cream torte up your nose.”

“Deeply. You should have done it when we were eight and twelve; you could have gotten away with it then. The cream pie of justice flies one way,” Miles snickered.

After a sophomoric verbal food fight, Miles reminds Gregor that he’s actually good at his job, and he should keep at it.  He adds that he has a meeting with Simon Illyan that afternoon, and notes that as an Ensign he can’t be demoted any further.  Gregor says it might not be that bad; he might get promoted, and after all, Kyril Island needs a new base commander…

At ImpSec HQ, Miles notes the door guards are part of the crew he’d supervised a few months earlier.  He’s left to make his own way to Illyan’s office, trusted without an escort.  Illyan tells him that he still seems to have a problem with subordination, and Miles says he can’t help it if people keep giving him the wrong orders.  He says that he did a survey of the Hegen Hub, he found the destabilizing elements, and he even got the Dendarii to leave.  He rescued Gregor, which he wasn’t ordered to do, but he assumed Illyan would have wanted.

“As I recall,” said Illyan (and Illyan’s memory was eidetic, thanks to an Illyrican bio-chip) “I gave those orders to Captain Ungari. I gave you just one order. Can you remember what it was?” This inquiry was in the same encouraging tone one might use on a six-year-old just learning to tie his shoes. Trying to out-irony Illyan was as dangerous as trying to out-bland him.

“Obey Captain Ungari’s orders,” Miles recalled reluctantly.

Illyan says that Ungari’s career came close to being ruined, and Miles says that sometimes he needed to be Lord Vorkosigan, or Admiral Naismith, rather than Ensign Vorkosigan.  He asks Miles what superior officer’s career he should ruin next, and Miles suggests Illyan himself.  Illyan says that it’s already been suggested, that they might make a virtue of necessity…  He is interrupted then by the arrival of Gregor.

“Did you tell him about the Dendarii yet?” Gregor asked Illyan.

“I was working around to it,” said Illyan.

He tells an eager Miles that they’ve decided to keep the Dendarii on permanent retainer, with Admiral Miles Naismith as a liaison.  Gregor says that they’ve proven their worth as a force that can go places where Barryaran forces cannot; Illyan silently mourns the expense to his budget.  Gregor adds that they’ll try to find opportunities to use the Dendarii actively when possible; Illyan says more likely as espionage than covert ops.  He says that Miles will operate independently, which at least will keep him out of Illyan’s hair; Gregor adds that he’s working to get rid of Illyan’s prejudice against youth.

“Aral and I have labored twenty years to put ourselves out of work. We may live long enough to retire after all.” He paused. “That’s called ‘success’ in my business, boys. I wouldn’t object.” And under his breath “. . . get this hellish chip taken out of my head at last. . . .”

Prompted by Gregor, Illyan tosses Miles some lieutenant’s collar tabs and congratulates him gruffly on his promotion; Miles switches tabs on the spot.  Illyan promises him nothing he doesn’t earn, including reprimands, and Miles says he looks forward to it.


Just when you think everything is wrapped up neatly, with Metzov and Cavilo disintegrated anticlimactically by the Cetagandans, there they are, in Miles’s cabin, threatening his life…but Metzov makes his final, fatal miscalculation of Cavilo, and then she doesn’t follow through on it.  It’s probably a cold calculation of her chances of escaping the Triumph on her own, showing that she’s not as cartoony a villain as Metzov.

Miles thinking about how he could have been on the Prince Serg himself make me wonder how that alternate timeline would have played out.  Gregor would have been alone in the Hegen Hub, drafted into working on the Aslund military station.  Ungari would have been there, possibly with some other ImpSec subordinate; how long would it have taken for him to find Gregor?  Of course, nobody would have stopped Cavilo’s Cetagandan plot, and she would have been unlikely to meet up with Gregor to alter it, so by the time Ungari had found Gregor, the escape route through Pol might have been closed, and Komarr would have been seriously threatened…though there still would have been the Prince Serg to fight it.  They’d have still gone to Pol to try to get through to the Hub to find Gregor, but the Cetagandans might have had more momentum by this time, and no Vervani or Aslunders to help out the Barrayarans.  If Gregor got out of it at all, he’d probably start thinking of himself as a screwup; the Oserans would either have gotten trapped between Aslund and the Cetagandans, or pulled out through Jackson’s Whole.  So probably not that bad, but Miles and Gregor’s careers wouldn’t have gotten the boost they needed.

It’s too bad we didn’t get to see more of the actual meeting between Aral and Ky Tung, because the lunch was dismissed in just the one sentence about Miles’s behaviour.  For some reason I picture Bujold sitting at her computer/typewriter keyboard staring at a blank screen/empty piece of paper trying to come up with the scene, then shrugging and skipping over it entirely.  Maybe Tung was infallibly polite as well, following on Miles’s example, and nothing exciting or witty got said; maybe he became uncharacteristically tongue-tied.  After all, it’s not like Aral and Tung became bosom friends after this encounter…

The ending is mildly prequelitic, since, as I said, there’d already been multiple stories and novels where Miles was manifestly in charge of the Dendarii and reporting to Barrayar, but at least the author makes it plausible that things turned out that way.  Aral, Gregor and Illyan are all impressed with Miles’s proven competence, though of course they show it in different ways.  There are clear parallels with Miles’s next major change of career, in Memory, including the promotion that means more to Miles than it does to anyone else…

Where do the female Barrayaran auxiliaries guarding Cavilo come from?  What kind of female staff do they have on the Prince Serg?  Previous comments always led me to believe that Barrayaran ship crews were 100% male…  Are they from another ship that came along later?  It’s not like there’s an Empress to guard, or there may have been a Droushnakova or two.  It’s mostly an offhand remark, and I’m sure the thinking behind it is just that they wouldn’t trust regular male officers not to either underestimate Cavilo or fall for her charms, but it doesn’t quite add up for me.

They’re so careful about Miles’s Naismith/Vorkosigan identities, not letting Ky Tung in on the secret, and later talking about how they don’t want a good cover identity to go to waste, and of course it becomes a major plot point in later books…so why were they so careless around Yegorov?  He escorts this short Betan guy to meet with Aral Vorkosigan, who embraces him like long-lost family, and I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for Yegorov to find out about the diminutive Miles Vorkosigan.  Maybe he has a higher security rating than I think, maybe he’s really ImpSec, and maybe Aral’s Armsman is taking him off to be scared out of his mind, but really, couldn’t they have been a wee tiny bit more discreet?


Close to the wire, but I did manage to get both chapters done, so we are now done The Vor Game.  I will be taking my usual week off, so come back here two weeks from now, when I’ll start on the next novel chronologically, Cetaganda…wherein we never see the Dendarii at all.  Second book in the series to be named after a planet, which I’m glad she didn’t do consistently, or else we’d have books like Jackson’s Whole instead of Mirror Dance, Sergyar instead of Shards of Honour, Kibou-Daini instead of Cryoburn, etc.  Anyway, until then…

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[Hearty greeting]!  [Summary of facts: 1. Lois McMaster Bujold, Author; 2. Vorkosigan Saga, Series; 3. The Warrior’s Apprentice, novel; 4. Chapters, 4a. Fifteen, 4b. Sixteen].  [Reiteration of weekly nature of post].  [Abjuration of further ado].

Chapter Fifteen

Miles spends time practicing tactical patterns on Triumph‘s computer instead of sleeping; Elena wanders in and joins him.  Miles teachers her a few patterns, which she takes to easily, and Miles wonders how Ivan Vorpatril can go to the Academy and not Elena.  Elena asks if he’s serious about breaking the blockade, and Miles says that their fast courier hasn’t shown up yet, so they’ll have to keep trying at least to break a path through.

This was just the sort of thing he would have been taught how to do at the Imperial Service Academy, he thought with an inward sigh. There was probably a book on it. He wished he had a copy; he was getting mortally tired of having to re-invent the wheel every fifteen minutes. Although it was just barely possible there was no way for three small warships and a battered freighter to take out an entire mercenary fleet.

Miles is just working up the courage to make a move on Elena when Auson contacts him, telling him that Ky Tung is back, on some kind of passenger ship, wanting to talk.  When Miles contacts him, Tung asks if the job offer is still open.

They rendezvous in two shuttles.  Miles wonders how he can prove that Tung and his men are loyal, and Tung says he’ll have to take it on trust.  Miles says he cannot give Tung back his ship, just one of the stolen Pelian ships, and a staff officer position; he’ll have to work with Auson and Thorne, and get paid in millifenigs.  Miles asks Tung why he really returned, and Tung says that Oser violated his contract, refusing to give Tung another ship, and publicly humiliated him, and Miles’s force is the only one capable of doing Oser any inconvenience.  Tung says he brought all of his crew, including his pilot officer, but excluding his communications officer, who is actually a spy for the Barrayarans.

“B—” choked Miles, and swallowed the rest. Ye gods. Had he been recognized? If the man was one of Captain Illyan’s agents, almost certainly. And what the devil had the man made of the recent events, seen from the Oseran point of view? Miles could kiss goodbye any hope of keeping his late adventures secret from his father, then.

In the end, his stomach queasy, and not wishing to get a reputation for space sickness, Miles accepts Tung’s offer, ruefully accepting the rank of Admiral that seems to have stuck to him.

The Ariel, which had been sent with Bel Thorne, Baz Jesek and Arde Mayhew to deliver the Betan weapons to Felice, and return with the fast courier, is five days late in returning.  Bel smugly promises a surprise in the docking bay, and when Miles arrives, they unload a mixed bag of personnel, soldiers and civilians.

There was a group of a dozen or so black-uniformed Kshatryan Imperial mercenaries who formed their own tight little island in the sea of color; on closer look, their uniforms, though clean and mended, were not all complete. Odd buttons, shiny seats and elbows, lop-worn boot heels—they were long, long from their distant home, it seemed. Miles’s temporary fascination with them was shattered at the appearance of two dozen Cetagandan ghem-fighters, variously dressed, but all with full formal face paint freshly applied, looking like an array of Chinese temple demons. Bothari swore, and clapped his hand to his plasma arc at the sight of them. Miles motioned him to parade rest.

Freighter and passenger liner tech uniforms, a white-skinned, white-haired man in a feathered g-string—Miles, taking in the polished bandolier and plasma rifle he also bore, was not inclined to smile—a dark-haired woman in her thirties of almost supernatural beauty, engrossed with directing a crew of four techs—she glanced toward him, then frankly stared, a very odd look on her face. He stood a little straighter. Not a mutant, ma’am, he thought irritably. When the flex tube emptied at last, perhaps a hundred people stood before him in the docking bay. Miles’s head whirled.

Baz introduces them as Dendarii recruits; he admits he wasn’t actually tasked to recruit, but he applied some “forward momentum” to help solve their personnel problems.  Most of them were just galactics trapped in Felice by the blockade, and Baz accepted anyone who didn’t look too hopeless with a weapon.  Miles asks about the Cetagandans, and is assured that they know about the Barrayaran connection–the Dendarii Mountains were an infamous site in the Cetagandan invasion–but they need a ride out of the system.  Most of the recruits have hired on under the condition that they be discharged outside of Tau Verde.

Miles examines his new recruits’ dossiers, especially the beautiful dark-haired woman.  Her name is Elena Visconti, she used to fight for Escobar, and she was discharged for medical reasons after the Barrayaran invasion…around the same time as Bothari.  Surely not, he thinks…she lists herself as unmarried, with no dependents, but the resemblance to Elena Bothari is tantalizing, even if he can’t figure out how Visconti and Bothari would have gotten together.  He decides to try to bring them back together innocently, and see what happens.

After running an officers’ meeting the next day to try to brainstorm ways to break the blockade, Miles returns to his quarters to see what can be done to fit all seven of them on the fast courier, trying to convince himself that if necessary he can leave behind Elli Quinn, and possibly Baz Jesek to save him from Barrayaran desertion charges.  Elena and Bothari are with him; Elena tells him she’s set up physical training for the new recruits, and urges Miles himself to come, despite his protests about his stomach.

Visconti arrives, and Miles’s cheerful welcome dies when he sees the needler pistol in her hand.  She addresses Bothari, sure now that she recognizes him; Bothari, incredibly, lets his weapon fall.  She tells Miles about his “bodyguard”–an ex-Barrayaran soldier, Admiral Vorrutyer’s chief torturer and rapist, helping to supply pregnant women for Prince Serg’s benefit.  The Escobaran government let the war criminals go in the peace settlement, but she urges Miles to arrest Bothari.

“I don’t—it’s not—” began Miles. He turned to Bothari, his eyes imploring denial—make it not be true—”Sergeant?”

The explosion of words had spattered over Bothari like acid. His face was furrowed with pain, brow creased with an effort of—memory? His eyes went from his daughter to Miles to the Escobaran, and a sigh went out of him. A man descending forever into hell, vouchsafed one glimpse of paradise, might have such a look on his face. “Lady . . .” he whispered. “You are still beautiful.”

Visconti shoots Bothari, who collapses against the wall, before Miles and Elena can restrain her.  Bothari coughs up blood from the internal wounds of the tiny needles, and dies.  Elena begins to put a stranglehold on Visconti, and Miles tells her to stop, that this might be her mother.  Visconti examines her, disdainfully, calling her “that one’s spawn”, and wonders aloud if Miles is another such “experimental fetus”.

Mayhew opens the door, sees Bothari, and runs for a medtech.  Visconti apologizes for executing the criminal in front of Miles, who thinks to himself that it was suicide, he couldn’t have been caught off-guard without acceding to it willingly.

He looked up at her across a vast gulf, one meter wide. “I don’t mock you. But—until I was four, almost five years old, I couldn’t walk, only crawl. I spent a lot of time looking at people’s knees. But if there was ever a parade, or something to see, I had the best view of anybody because I watched it from on top the Sergeant’s shoulder.”

Visconti spits on Bothari’s corpse, and Miles’s rage is forestalled by the medtech’s arrival, asking what happened.

His mouth was stiff; he made it move by force of will. “An accident. He was cleaning the weapons. The needler was set on auto rapid-fire.” Two true statements out of three.

Miles asks about the cryo-chambers; they’re all in use, says the medtech, but she can dump one if necessary, preferably the ones with the least chance of recovery, there being two worse than Bothari.  Miles considers it for a moment, then says not to bother, that Bothari hates the cold.

Elena was turning around and around between the dead and the living, like a creature newly caged discovering that cold iron sears the flesh. “Mother?” she said at last, in a tiny voice not at all like her own.

“You keep away from me,” the Escobaran woman snarled at her, low-voiced and pale. “Far away.” She gave her a look of loathing, contemptuous as a slap, and stalked out.

Mayhew leads Elena out of the room, leaving Miles to ask Bothari’s dead body what he should do now.


Again, without the knowledge of Shards of Honour, this would be a vast surprise, though not without a certain amount of foreshadowing throughout this book as well.  Having read Shards, you can see the trouble building as Miles makes his plans for the happy reunion.  You feel bad on Elena’s behalf, but you can’t blame Visconti (can’t call her Elena too, can I?) for her behaviour.  It’s hard for a victim to give their torturer the benefit of the doubt for their claims of redemption.  I do recall that there is some mention of rapprochement between mother and daughter later in the series.  I don’t think that Visconti stays with the Dendarii, and I imagine she realizes how uncomfortable it would be for her after that point; even if she thinks that Miles approved her action by claiming it was an accident, she would probably be uneasy around Elena.

Who are the seven for the fast courier?  Miles himself, Elena, Bothari, Mayhew, Baz, Elli Quinn…who am I missing?  Had he added Elena Visconti to his plan by this point, in advance of himself?  I’m sure he’s leaving Thorne, Auson, Tung and the rest of the Oserans behind, not to mention the Felicians.

Tung’s defection comes as a bit of a surprise, but I guess it’s just Oser’s diplomatic nature coming to the fore.  We do meet Oser this book, as I recall, though I recall him more from The Vor Game.

Five more references to his stomach, this time mostly associated with pain or nausea.  Nice the way she manages to sneak them in, until you begin to wonder if there’s something more to it than just indigestion and stress…

Chapter Sixteen

Miles begins to cry three days later, at night.  His stomach hurts constantly, and he stops eating much.  Elena isn’t doing too much better.  Miles stop contributing much at Dendarii staff meetings, and he snarls at Mayhew when he attempts to warn Miles about leaving them out to dry.  Miles returns to his cabin, throws up, not for the first time, resolves to do something, then collapses into sleep.

He is very slowly getting himself dressed when Elena comes in, exclaiming over how messy his cabin is now that he no longer has a batman to keep it tidy.  Miles half-jokingly suggests he take on Mayhew instead.  Miles has been keeping Bothari’s coffin in his room, rather than the cold morgue.  Elena tells him how things are falling apart without him, everybody working too hard and arguing with each other.  Miles says he doesn’t know what good he is–everyone else does something real except him.
Elena says that Miles never doubted Visconti’s accusations, and Miles says he knew Bothari better than she did.  Elena remembers how excited she used to get for rare visits from her father, or summers when he was at Vorkosigan Surleau all the time, and now she discovers all the time he was a monster.  Miles tries to persuade her that he was trying to make himself better, and Elena says she’s more worried about turning out a monster herself.  Miles tries to reassure her that she’ll be her own person, and Elena says that’s rich, coming from him, flower of the Vor.  Miles begins to babble about how the earlier generations weigh down heavily on him.

“Elena, I love you, I’ve always loved you—” She leaped like a startled deer; he gasped and flung his arms around her. “No, listen! I love you, I don’t know what the Sergeant was but I loved him too, and whatever of him is in you I honor with all my heart, I don’t know what is truth and I don’t give a damn anymore, we’ll make our own like he did, he did a bloody good job I think, I can’t live without my Bothari, marry me!” He spent the last of his air shouting the last two words, and had to pause for a long inhalation.

Elena says she’s worried about her own genetic risks now, and about what Miles’s family will think.  Miles says he doesn’t care, but Elena refuses to go back to Barrayar.  Miles offers half-heartedly to live with her somewhere else, but Elena says that he’ll go back when it’s his turn to be Count Vorkosigan.  Miles says he’ll give it up to his heir, Ivan Vorpatril, instead, and Elena tells him how Ivan used to try to grope her when they were alone.  She tells Miles that she does love him, but she has to be something on her own, not just an annex to Miles.  She admits she has promised herself to Baz, and admonishes Miles when he asks her to break her word.  She shames him into coming to the staff meeting, then retreats.

The meeting, to plan the blockade-breaking, starts with the animosity between various representatives that has been growing over the past week, and General Halify watches in dismay.  Pet plans are brought up yet again and shot down–piracy, hit-and-run tactics, raiding the Pelian capital.  Miles speaks up, comparing their ideas to a chess player who can’t play until he’s cleared most of the pieces off the board.  Then he has an idea, but is drowned out when he tries to describe it.  He throws his grandfather’s dagger up, to land, ringing, in the middle of the table, then gets up on the table to retrieve it, this time with everyone’s undivided attention.

Miles yanked the dagger out, resheathed it, and strode up and down the tabletop. His leg brace had developed an annoying click recently, which he’d meant to have Baz fix; now it was loud in the silence. Locking attention, like a whisper. Good. A click, a club on the head, whatever worked was fine by him. It was time to get their attention.

He tells them that they can’t beat the Oserans straight up, but their real mission is just to remove their power from the system.  The weak link there is their relationship with the Pelians, and Miles proposes striking at it by going after their payroll.

First, they send some former Oserans to pick up the payroll directly, just ahead of the real Oserans.  They slug it out with the Pelian ship guarding the next shipment, settling for blowing it up when the Oserans themselves approach.  After that, Miles is forced to use his ace in the hole, sending a message to the Barrayaran spy signed with the Vorkosigan seal to get an inside line on the Oserans; the spy surreptitiously microwaves the next shipment into ash.

He sends Baz, Visconti, and other techs to sneak into the Pelian capital and intercept the next digital transfer.  Meanwhile, he plans an attack on the next payroll shipment of Betan dollars before the Oserans can pick it up.

His space armour modified by Baz to fit him perfectly, he suits up along with Elena and the other assault teams.  Seeing Elena’s bleak face, he warns her that he can tell she’s thinking of suicide, but she shuts him out.  They have made sure to disconnect the remote overrides in the Oseran armour, after using against the Oserans themselves earlier.

As they are moving towards the shuttle, he is suddenly struck by a painful cramp, and begins to throw up inside his spacesuit.  Alarmed by his odd telemetry, one of the mercenaries opens his faceplate, to discover Miles’s vomit is almost pure blood.  They take off his armour, and Elena hovers anxiously over him.  He orders her to take charge; she says she can’t do it.

“Liege-lady. You can. You must. I’ll be with you.” He writhed, gripped by some sadistic giant. “You are true Vor, not I. . . . Must have been changelings, back there in those replicators.” He gave her a death’s-head grin. “Forward momentum—”

She rose then, determination crowding out the hot terror in her face, the ice that had run like water transmuted to marble.

As the medtechs put him onto a float pallet and take him away, he hears Elena urging them to win the battle for Admiral Naismith, and wonders how he manages to make so many heroes without becoming one himself.  Soon he is sedated into unconsciousness.


The first part of the chapter is one of the harder sections to read, as it’s never fun to see the normally manic Miles sunk into depression.  Not without reason, of course–it never is–but I still want to shake him and get him moving again.  That’s practically what Elena does, coming in as someone who is suffering as much as Miles is, in her own way, and yet someone who knows him well enough to be able to prod him out of himself again.

Miles’s unrequited love for her is finally dealt with, perhaps not as gently as it might have been.  You can’t blame her for her feelings about Barrayar, which has never treated her particularly kindly, barring her from so many opportunities on account of her sex, not to mention her father’s own betrayal, as she sees it.  Her father was insane, her mother despised him…  Miles is the only thing that could really tie her to the planet, but she wisely sees that she couldn’t bear to actually be married to him.  Does she return to the planet at any time before “Winterfair Gifts”?  Probably not.  Perhaps, if Miles had asked her before they left Barrayar, before he gave her the opportunity to blossom, she might have settled for him, and they could have been unhappy together.  It is better for both of them in the long run, but you always gotta root for the guy, don’t you?

Great ending to the chapter, the stomach foreshadowing coming to a head, as Miles pays the price for neglecting his own health.  In a spectacular fashion, too.  I can’t help but noticing that this also cleverly gets the author out of having to write another space battle/spaceship boarding scene.  I’m sure that wasn’t the main goal or anything, but considering that she can now replace that tension with the suspense of what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-Miles, it’s a reasonable exchange anyway.  You can’t do the same kind of scene in a book too many times anyway.

Also–“Forward momentum”, once in each chapter.  I keep expecting to run across some reference to Ms. Bujold saying that that was her originally suggested title, but the publishers picked this one instead.  Must be just me, I guess.

I think we’re getting close to the climax now.  Actually, I’m not quite sure where to put the climax of the book–maybe the blood-vomiting scene is it, or the death of Bothari, or maybe it’s yet to come.  (Yes, there is a major scene of conflict left to come in the book, but to me it feels too close to the end, and not tied closely enough to the main plot, to be the real climax of the book.)   There’s twenty-one chapters in total, plus an epilogue, so three more weeks should do it.  Then maybe I’ll take a weeks or two off for Christmas…  I should still be here next week, though.

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Good evening, or morning, or noon, or dusk, wherever and whenever and whoever you may be.  Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, covering Lois McMaster Bujold’s stellar (and I’m not just saying that–this is science fiction, there’s stars all over the place) Vorkosigan series.  This week we cover Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first Miles Vorkosigan book.

Had a nice chat about Bujold with Jo Walton at a convention this past weekend, which was a good time.  Since I seem to do all my work on Monday and Tuesday anyway, it didn’t hold me up much, but here I am, still at the last minute, but persevering for the benefit of all my loyal readers.  (Note to self: Get more loyal readers.  Some of Jo Walton’s would do nicely.)

Chapter Thirteen

Bothari takes charge of their horde of new prisoners, leaving Elena as Miles’s bodyguard, though Miles gets her to take notes for him as well.  Miles has the Triumph‘s medical staff take care of Tung’s own wounded, with a couple of guards to watch over them.  The Felician Colonel Fehun Benar and two others are all but catatonic after their torture, done mostly through hypospray.
Doctors from both sides work on a temporary face replacement for Elli Quinn, which Miles and Elena force themselves to watch.  Even when Miles is ready to leave, Elena wants to stay, to harden herself like she thinks a real soldier should.  He persuades her to leave anyway, and they argue about whether women should even be in combat at all.  Miles adds that his mother was a real soldier, and she never hardened herself like that.

Miles organizes a staff meeting to plan for the counterattack.

He quickly slid into the role of referee, controlling the flow of ideas while concealing his own dearth of hard factual information. He folded his arms, and said “Um,” and “Hm,” but only very occasionally “God help us,” because it caused Elena to choke. Thorne and Auson, Daum and Jesek, and the three freed Felician junior officers who had not been brain-drained did the rest, although Miles found he had to steer them gently away from ideas too much like those just demonstrated not to work for the Pelians.

He urges Daum to continue trying to contact his government.

Miles is given the executive suite, though housekeeping has been neglected, with detritus on the floors and fuzzy patches on the bathroom walls.  After trying the null-gee bed and rejecting it, he ends up going out for a walk, looking for Bothari and a bottle of scotch.  Seeing an observation deck, he heads for that, until he hears a cry of distress from Elena.

Rushing up onto the catwalk, he sees Bothari trying to strangle Baz Jesek, while Elena, clothes in disarray, is trying to stop him.  Elena appeals to Miles to stop her father, and despite his own rush of jealousy, he orders Bothari to stop.  Bothari doesn’t respond, and when Miles tries to pry his grip loose, threatening to break his brittle fingers, he relents.  As Elena rushes to Baz’s side, Bothari says that he caught Elena “nuzzling” with “that coward”.  Elena fiercely defends Baz’s bravery, though Miles realizes that she’s crediting Baz with the soldier Miles himself killed with his space armour’s medkit.  Miles tries to persuade Bothari that Baz is a fellow armsman, which Bothari rejects; he is also still intent on a better match for his daughter.

Baz croaked out words. “No . . . dishonor!” Elena hushed him, and lurched to her feet to face Bothari, fiercely.

“You and your military honor! Well, I’ve faced fire, and I’ve killed a man, and it was nothing but butchery. Any robot could have done it. There was nothing to it. It’s all a sham, a hoax, a lie, a big put-on. Your uniform doesn’t awe me any more, do you hear?”

Trying to defuse the situation, Miles sends Elena to take Baz to the infirmary, and then asks Bothari to share his scotch.  Once Bothari calms down a little, Miles asks for assurances that he won’t kill Baz, if only because they need techs.  Bothari grumbles, but assents, then asks Miles to promise that if Bothari dies, Miles will see to Elena’s future himself, with a “proper baba” to arrange the marriage.  A little while later, Bothari asks Miles to also promise not to leave his body out in space if he dies there, but to see him buried back on Barrayar, at Cordelia’s feet.

Baz is back on duty, albeit with a neck brace, the next day, and they are working feverishly to fix up the Triumph–ostensibly to help fight off the Pelians, but Miles also thinks to himself that it’s their only hope to all escape, if they can persuade one of Tung’s pilot officers to take them.  Of course, that would leave them back on Beta Colony without the profits they need to pay off their mountain of debt.  They install Daum’s weapons on the refinery, but they are still critically short of personnel, so Miles tries another tactic.

Armed with wine, fruit, packaged delicacies, and folding chairs, Miles makes his way to Ky Tung’s prison cell to attempt to woo him.  When Miles arrives, Ky Tung is trying to pry open his light fixture, but he gives up when he sees Bothari at Miles’s side.  At first he refuses more than “name, rank, serial number”, but Miles promises not to interrogate him, and pours him some wine.  Tung starts by asking about his troops, and Miles tells him about their status.

“Sorry things got so messy,” Miles apologized. “I realize how it must burn you to have your opponent blunder to victory. I’d have preferred something neater and more tactical myself, like Komarr, but I had to take the situation as I found it.”

Tung snorted. “Who wouldn’t? Who do you think you are? Lord Vorkosigan?”

Miles inhales some wine in startlement before he realizes that Tung is talking about Aral, and says that Aral is now Count.  Tung begins to rhapsodize about Aral’s book on the Komarr invasion.  When Miles lets slip that he’s actually met Aral, Tung is more interested, and asks if he has a companion volume about the retreat from Escobar.  Tung says that he was a junior lieutenant in a small mercenary fleet at Komarr, and begins replaying the invasion from his perspective, which Miles soaks up avidly.

When Tung finishes, Miles offers him a position with the Dendarii, but Tung is still skeptical, annoyed at losing his ship, and determined not to betray his employer.

Tung eyed him with amused tolerance. “Now, regardless of what that ass Auson seems to think, I have you pegged as a hotshot junior officer in over his head—and sinking fast. Seems to me it’s you, not I, who’s going to be looking for a new job soon. You seem to have at least an average grasp of tactics—and you have read Vorkosigan on Komarr—but any officer who can get Auson and Thorne hitched together to plow a straight line shows a genius for personnel. If you get out of this alive, come see me—I may be able to find something on the exec side for you.”

Miles insists that he has his own contract, and Tung says that he doubts that Felice would honour any contract Daum made.  As Miles is leaving, Tung asks for a screwdriver, and Miles is half tempted to give him one.  Though Bothari wonders what he gained from it, Miles is satisfied with the progress he made.


Ah, the lovely irony of Tung expounding on Aral to Aral’s son (did he but know it).  I can’t remember if Tung and Aral meet at some point–at Miles’s wedding, perhaps?  Or in The Vor Game?  He is the most perceptive, as befits his senior status, but at least he sees Miles’s potential in “personnel”.  That is really Miles’s forte, come to think of it–I remember contrasting his first chapter in Mirror Dance with Mark’s, how he knows all the Dendarii while Mark is just faking his way through.  (Miles is still faking his way through most of the way right now, of course, but he’s getting better.)

You hear about protective fathers scaring off potential suitors, but Bothari takes the prize, I think.  Too bad that Elena has never fully agreed with her father’s plans, but she still doesn’t know what her father has to try to make up for–both in compensation and in amends.  Even Miles only has the barest inkling that Bothari’s family origins are that lowly, and his past crimes…well, there is one bit where drunken Bothari is mumbling about how blood washes away sins, from Cordelia’s frantic inspiration back in Shards of Honour, but Miles doesn’t seem to attach much significance to it.  Or maybe he’s just willfully blind…

But Elena is definitely beginning to turn away from her father and toward Baz.  Poor Miles, alas, is still outside her romantic considerations, being part brother, part friend, and part liegeman, that scene in the library earlier in the book notwithstanding.  (Is Baz supposed to be the guy in too little shirt on the original paperback cover?  I’ve always wondered, though it’s not how I pictured him…  It’s not Bothari, not Bel Thorne, probably not Auson or Arde Mayhew…)

Chapter Fourteen

When the Pelians come, they come without Oserans, obviously no longer trusting the mercenaries.  They come from the direction of the outer system, and they slow down, obviously intent on capture; Miles is delighted that he predicted them so precisely.

He is the last aboard the Triumph, needing to avoid being trampled by his own men; the ship is run by a bare skeleton crew.  Auson greets him as “My Lord”, and Miles tries to explain that only certain people get to call him that.  Arde Mayhew is piloting, manually, which he finds a chore. The refinery is loaded down with Daum’s weaponry, more than they have people to man them; Baz and Elena have tried to fix the control systems, but they’re still buggy.

The lead Pelian shop lets loose a bombardment of “dandelion bombs”, which split into separate needles after lauch, and the defenders try to take out as many of them as they can.  One Pelian ship is blown up by a lucky shot, and as the rest begin to scatter, Triumph and Ariel swoop in on either side.  As more of the Pelian ships are destroyed, they begin to accelerate again, trying to break off the attack.  One of the ships, as it passes, hits the refinery with an odd weapon that Miles can’t identify, and he asks Auson to try to capture the ship, over the captain’s objections.

As they overtake the Pelian ship, Miles decides that the Pelians will probably try to self-destruct their ship rather than surrender, but they’ll want to escape in their shuttle, so he decides to board the ship with a squad of engineers while they are running away.  They blast their way through the airlock after the shuttle leaves, and Miles and the four techs split up to search the ship.  One tech manages to prevent a chain reaction set up to implode the ship, but Miles encourages them to keep searching in case there’s more than one trap.  Miles finds a bomb made from an oxygen canister rigged up to the microwave, and disarms that one; then another tech, Kat, finds all the dandelion bombs in the armory rigged to go off.  She starts disarming them, and Miles and the other techs join her as fast as they can; they finish the last with seconds to spare.

When Miles returns the ship the refinery, he has not only the mysterious weapon, but a suit of battle armour almost his size, albeit with female plumbing.  The Felicians tell Miles that one of the beams hit the prison section, causing loss of air; Elena let the prisoners out rather than leave them to suffocate, and they haven’t all been recaptured yet.  She had to stun her father to do it, and Bothari is still out.  Miles publicly commends Elena for her merciful actions.  She says two were killed by the beam–an “electron orbit randomizer”, as Baz identified it–and eleven more asphyxiated, including one of Tung’s pilots, but Tung himself escaped.  Miles gives orders that the prisoners are not to be killed, afraid to lose the last pilot and their hope of escape.

He asks about the weapon, and according to Baz it’s a weapon from Beta Colony that never caught on, and he knows how to fix the shields to block it; Miles is disappointed that it’s not a new high-tech secret.  When he asks about Daum, another Felician officer, Lieutenant Gamad, tells him that Daum was killed in the attack, and Gamad is now the ranking officer.

It took three days to ferret out the escaped prisoners from all the corners of the refinery. Tung’s commandos were the worst. Miles eventually resorted to closing off sections and filling them with sleep gas. He ignored Bothari’s irritated suggestion that vacuum would be more cost-effective. The bulk of the round-up duty fell naturally, if unjustly, to the Sergeant, and he was tight as a drawn bowstring with the tension of it.

When the final head count was made, Tung and seven of his men, including his other Pilot Officer, turned up missing. So did a station shuttle.

Miles has no choice but to wait for the Felicians to come claim their cargo; the shuttle sent to contact them hasn’t returned.  He has half a mind to send Lt. Gamad off in another one, since Gamad is trying to throw his weight around, at least until he hears people calling Miles “Admiral Naismith”, a title which has spread through his troops.

Finally, after eight more days, a Felician cruiser arrives.  When its officers board, they bring plastic crates which Miles hopes contain money.  They ask after Daum’s manifest, but it is presumed lost when Daum was killed.  The captain goes off with Gamad to talk strategy, and, nettled, Jesek and Mayhew follow them.  The paymaster asks for the contract, and Miles says they had a verbal agreement, and argues with the paymaster over the validity of such a contract, but the paymaster concedes that if Miles has the cargo, he’ll get paid.

He opens the crates, and Miles inspects its content, brightly coloured paper money, which the paymaster identifies as Felician millifenigs.  When Miles asks how much it’s actually worth, the paymaster is eventually forced to admit that while they were listed last year as 150 to the Betan dollar, since the blockade they have dropped off the exchange entirely.

Miles fingered his dagger. “And just what are these—millifenigs,” he would have to experiment, he decided, to find just the right degree of venom to pronounce that word, “backed by?”

The paymaster raised his head proudly. “The government of Felice!”

“The one that’s losing this war, right?”

The paymaster muttered something.

“You are losing this war, are you not?”

Miles demands real Betan dollars, but the paymaster says that Daum took most of the offworld currency with him to buy the cargo in the first place.  Beaten, Miles lets the paymaster leave, and examines the bills.  He tries burning one, only to extinguish it hurriedly when it sets off alarms, and contemplates how many it would take to wallpaper Vorkosigan House.

He varied his financial structure by building a square fort, with corner towers and an interior keep. The gate lintel had a tendency to collapse with a slight rustle. Perhaps he could pass on Pelian commercial shipping as a mentally retarded mutant, with Elena as his nurse and Bothari as his keeper, being sent to some off-planet hospital—or zoo—by rich relatives. He could take off his boots and socks and bite his toenails during customs inspections . . . But what roles could he find for Mayhew and Jesek? And Elli Quinn—liege-sworn or not, he owed her a face. Worse, he had no credit here—and somehow he doubted the exchange rate between Felician and Pelian currency would be in his favor.

One of the mercenaries opens the door and says he heard that their pay had arrived.  Miles decides he can just give it out to them, omitting any mention of its actual worth, and hope he’s far away when they found out.  He deputizes the mercenary, Trainee Nout, to take the payroll to a safe place and guard it with his life, and Nout happily complies, dazzled with his new responsibilities.

Later, as Miles is watching repairs being made to the RG-132, Jesek and Mayhew return, claiming to have set the Felicians straight.  The Felicians themselves soon appear, apologizing to Admiral Naismith for not having understand the situation.  One of the Felicians introduces himself as General Halify, who has been ordered to hold the refinery, but only after sending the Betan armaments back to protect Felice itself.  In an effort to take the galactics out of the equation, Halify proposes hiring the Dendarii to break the Oseran blockade.

Miles temporizes that he lacks most of his forces, and Halify offers to let him send for them; the Felicians have a fast ship they can lend.

Miles was about to make a rude reply, when it hit him—here was escape, being offered on a platter. Pile his liege-people into the jump ship, have Thorne and Auson run him through the blockade, and thumb his nose to Tau Verde IV and all its denizens forever. It was risky, but it could be done—was in fact the best idea he’d had all day—he sat up, smiling suavely. “An interesting proposition, General.” He must not appear too eager. “Just how do you propose to pay for my services? The Dendarii do not work cheaply.”

“I’m authorized to meet whatever terms you ask. Within reason, of course,” General Halify added prudently.

“To put it bluntly, General, that’s a load of—millifenigs. If Major Daum had no authority to hire outside forces, neither do you.”

“They said, by whatever means necessary.” The general’s jaw set. “They’ll back me.”

Miles demands that he be paid in real Betan dollars, and asks for a written contract signed by someone with actual power to pay him.  Miles agrees, and General Halify pledges his personal word on it, which takes Miles aback.  Miles pledges his own word, wondering if he really means it, or if he’s already lost his honour.


Piled deeper and deeper…his payroll imaginary, and yet another layer of his bluff being called as he is asked to summon his real mercenary fleet.  And pledging his word on it, too.  After his protests to the paymaster that “his soul is in his breath”, can he break his word that easily?  Miles is like Matrim Cauthon that way–with more honour than he claims to have.  He claims to be on the verge of running, but the list of people he feels that he owes something to begins to grow longer and longer, so he can’t break away unless he can bring all of them with him too.

I wonder a little at Miles’s lack of reaction to the casualties in the battle with the Pelians, but I guess this is actual battle, so he’s going to feel better about killing enemy soldiers than he is about torturing prisoners for information.  And perhaps space combat is more bloodless that way…but cue “Aftermaths” again.  Who’s going to clean the Pelian corpses out of the asteroid belt after the battle, and send them home to their families?  We’ve barely seen any Pelians, though, mostly just Oserans who have largely been swayed to Miles’s side (the Pelians are right to stop relying on them, quite frankly).  Were there Pelians on the refinery when it was captured?  Were Pelians the ones who tortured Daum’s friend Fehun Behar, or was that Oserans?  I can’t remember if we get to find out who started the war between Felice and Pelias on Tau Verde IV…or if it matters.  It’s a little sordid, but then I’ve never been quite easy in my mind about the conquest of Komarr, either.

I almost forgot to begin looking for Miles’s references to his stomach hurting.  Going back, there’s one reference to his stomach hurting in Chapter Ten (after Auson kicked him there in Chapter Eight), an ambiguous reference in Chapter Eleven (“anticipation turning to lead in his stomach”), another one in Chapter Twelve (his stomach contracting after hearing about the casualties taking the refinery), and then, in Chapter Thirteen, his stomach “turning inside out” when he tries the null-gee bed.  All pretty innocuous.  In Chapter Fourteen?  “His stomach sent up a throat-burning, acid belch” while he’s disarming the dandelion bombs; his “heart sinks into his foaming stomach” when he heard one of Tung’s pilots is dead; and, when burning the millifenig note, trying “to see if anything could hurt more than his stomach”.  Of course, he’s under a lot of stress, but he’s not really paying as much attention to himself as he should be, too busy trying to take care of everyone else.  It’s kind of like when a female character keeps throwing up and you’re yelling at the book, “It’s morning sickness!  You’re pregnant!”  Except not quite like that.  Anyway, good foreshadowing on Bujold’s part, if you’re paying attention.

More to come, as always.  I’m not sure how close we are to the big plot twist yet, the one that was lightly foreshadowed back in the earlier chapters…  Next chapter looks pretty wrenching, as I recall, so it should be a fun time for all, next week…  See you all then!

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New post!  Vorkosigan reread!  Lois McMaster Bujold!  Warrior’s Apprentice!  Chapter Eleven!  Chapter Twelve!  Miles Vorkosigan!  Dendarii Mercenaries!  Now read!

Chapter Eleven

A week later, Miles is still in command as the Ariel nears a refinery in the asteroid belt, their planned rendezvous.  As they draw closer, Miles begins to think there aren’t enough lights or activities for it to be still operating.  Daum, who also doesn’t like the look of it, assures Miles that they sent the right recognition codes.

They receive a transmission from a Felician Colonel Fehun, and Daum relaxes at seeing the familiar face.  Miles is also relieved at the prospect of fulfulling his contract and getting rid of his “prisoners”.  The conversation with Fehun is frequently interrupted by static, and Miles suddenly notices that a small knick-knack on Fehun’s desk is switching position between shots.  He cuts the transmission, telling them to pretend technical difficulties, and tells Daum that this is just a recording, that the refinery has already been captured and Pelians and Fehun suborned.

Miles realizes that it’s all over–they’d be captured, their cargo taken by the Pelians, the Barrayarans held for ransom.  He wonders if he can arrange to be imprisoned on Beta rather than have to face his father.  Auson looks similarly dismayed at having to explain his failure, but Daum and Thorne are asking him for orders.

My God, thought Miles, don’t they realize they’re free? And more wildly, with new rocketing hope—They followed me home, Dad. Can I keep them?

Thorne, experienced, knew the ship, soldiers, and equipment intimately, not with facile surface gloss but with true depth; more vital still, Thorne had forward momentum. Miles stood straight as he could and barked, “So, Trainee Thorne, you think you’re fit to command a warship, eh?”

Thorne came to a stiffer attention, chin raised eagerly. “Sir!”

Miles asks Thorne, as an exercise, how he would take the station, and Thorne suggests counter-ambushing and capturing the refinery from within.  Miles, trying to sound knowledgeable, asks what they’d do about the other ships that are surely waiting nearby.  Daum suggests arming the refinery with the maser scramblers they were smuggling.  Miles reminds them that they can’t afford to squander personnel, and asks Thorne to convince him that it’s not “tactically premature” to capture the refinery.  Thorne says that any ships out here will certainly be Oseran, since Pelians don’t have many, and with their knowledge of Oseran codes and procedures, they’ll have the advantage.

Miles authorizes Thorne to lead the assault; Thorne asks for “Commanders” Elena Bothari and Baz Jesek, and Miles agrees.  Auson, arms still in casts, looks almost mutinous as the party moves out.

“May I point out, you’re still on the sick list, Trainee Auson.”

Auson waggled his arms. “I could’ve had these off day before yesterday, damn it.”

“May I also point out, that while I’ve promised Trainee Thorne a command, I have not said of what ship. An officer must be able to obey as well as command. To each his own test, to each his own reward. I’ll be watching you, too.”

“There’s only one ship.”

“You’re full of assumptions. A bad habit.”

“You’re full of—” Auson shut his mouth with a snap, and gave Miles a long, thoughtful stare.

Miles is disappointed to find that there is no space armour sufficiently small to fit him, and Bothari refuses to let him go in a mere pressure suit.  The equipment is in good condition after the week of inspections; Bothari gives covert instructions to his daughter on how to use her equipment, and Miles reminds Elena that she’s supposedly there as an observer.  Elena agrees, and thanks Miles for giving her the opportunity.  Miles quietly asks Baz to look after her as well, and Baz replies that he’d “follow her anywhere”.  Baz asks Miles if this “Commander” rank means anything, and Miles temporizes that it’s as real as the Dendarii themselves.

Baz’s eyebrows lifted. “And what does that mean?”

“Well . . . My fa—a person I knew once said that meaning is what you bring to things, not what you take from them. He was talking about Vor, as it happened.” Miles paused, then added, “Carry on, Commander Jesek.”

Baz’s eyes glinted amusement. He came to attention and returned Miles an ironic, deliberate salute. “Yes, sir—Admiral Naismith.”

Miles returns to the tactics room with Bothari, and monitors the transmissions along with Auson.  Miles and Auson agree that they’d love to be heading for that battle right now.  The communications officer puts up displays for the battle armour’s telemetry, and Miles tries to puzzle it out without making it too obvious.  Auson shows him Elena’s display, and tells him how they can monitor the suit completely, even take control of it remotely if necessary.  Auson says that feature is rarely used, and once he walked an unconscious man all the way back to the ship before discovering he’d lost his head.

The Ariel and the RG 132 are pulling into the dock; Miles wished he’d been able to contact Mayhew and let him on the plan, but they didn’t have any secure channels.  Miles suddenly wonders if the enemy have any similar systems in their battle armour, and Auson says that some of the Pelians do.  They can pick up enough to know the Dendarii are outnumbered about two to one.  Miles asks if they can use the Oseran codes to hack into their battle armour.  They can’t do anything too obvious, because the override can be turned off, but Miles thinks they can get away with it if they’re subtle.

They break into the Oserans’ system, and begin tinkering.  They back up the waste systems on one, and throw the targeting systems slightly off on another, before deciding to wait until Thorne launches his attack.  The Dendarii attack takes the defenders by surprise.

Miles hummed over his readouts. An enemy officer turned her head to look over her shoulder, calling orders to her platoon; Miles promptly locked the helmet in its position of maximum torsion, and the Oseran’s head perforce with it. He picked out another soldier, in a corridor his own people had not yet reached, and locked his suit’s built-in heavy-duty plasma arc into full-on. Fire flared wildly from the man’s hand at his surprised reflexive recoil, spraying floor, ceiling, and comrades.

Miles looks for Elena, finds her in combat, and tries to help her out, but her opponent is a Pelian in armour he can’t access.  He finds an Oseran drawing a bead on her, and spikes the man with his entire medkit at once, allowing Baz to come to Elena’s aid.  Auson pulls Miles’s attention away when he exclaims at the sudden appearance of a large Oseran warship behind them.


Miles moves forward from capturing ships to capturing…well, not quite battle stations, but a station, at least.  I suppose that Thorne can’t have been that happy under Auson, among the Oserans.  Or maybe it’s just that crush it has on Miles.  Anyway, it’s quite eager to prove itself, which Miles takes clear advantage of.  Note that, with hermaphrodites, Galactic Standard, a.k.a. English, seems to just use the vanilla third-person inanimate as a gender-neutral pronoun.  Sometimes it does get a little confusing…

Lots of stuff in this chapter.  More “forward momentum”…Elena getting another chance at combat…Elena and Baz drawing closer together…Baz actually calling Miles “Admiral”.  The high point, of course, has to be the armour hackage, which one presumes is a fairly original idea with Miles, or nobody would ever have that kind of remote control built into their suits.  Maybe they were just in a unusual position, knowing the Oseran security codes, but still, seems like a weakness that Miles himself would want to close off for his own troops now that he knows about it…

And then the enemy reinforcements arrive at the end.  All the better to pull you into the next chapter…

Chapter Twelve

Miles curses himself for not realizing that the full-feedback battle armour implied that the Oserans had a ship nearby to monitor it as well.  Auson says that it’s Ky Tung, a snobby Earther with a pocket dreadnought; he’s asking them to surrender, which Miles isn’t eager to consider, since Thorne is almost finished taking over the refinery.  Miles decides they should try to ram Tung’s ship, which incenses Auson, who doesn’t want “his” ship used for such a medieval purpose.

The communications officer calls their attention to the fact that Mayhew has started the RG 132 moving–despite its glacial acceleration, it does mass a lot more than the pocket dreadnought.  Tung takes too long to discern its intention, and belatedly starts to rotate the dreadnought into a position where it can thrust away, getting one shot off at the freighter.

Then, almost in slow motion, with a kind of crazy majesty, the RG 132 lumbered into the warship—and kept going. The dreadnought was nudged into the huge smeltery. Projecting equipment and surface housings snapped and spun off in all directions.

Action calling for reaction, after an aching moment the smeltery heaved back. A wave of motion passed down its adjoining structures, like a giant’s game of crack-the-whip. Smashed edges of the dreadnought were caught up on the smeltery, thoroughly entangled. Gaudy chemical fires gouted here and there into the vacuum.

The RG 132 drifted off. Miles stood before the tactics room screen and stared in stunned fascination as half the freighter’s outer hull delaminated and peeled into space.

Thorne and his commandos board the crippled dreadnought and capture its crew.  Only then can they spare attention for the RG 132.  When Mayhew comes on board the refinery, brushing off Baz’s compliments on his ramming action, he is distraught over the fact that his Necklin rods, essential for jump and machined to exacting tolerance, are now bent.  While the refinery can be set up to fix the ship’s hull, the rods themselves would have to be specially commissioned, and cost much more than the ship itself originally had.  Miles asks Mayhew why he did it, rather than just surrendering; Mayhew says he could see they were in trouble, and it seemed the kind of thing a proper armsman should do.

Thorne and Auson find them, and Thorne reports on casualties.  The Dendarii have suffered two dead and five wounded, including Elli Quinn, whose face has been ruined by a severe plasma burn.

“The enemy’s total personnel were 60 from the Triumph, Captain Tung’s ship—twenty commandos, the rest technical support—and 86 Pelians of whom 40 were military personnel and the rest techs sent to restart the refinery. Twelve dead, 26 injured moderate-to-severe, and a dozen or so minor injuries.

“Equipment losses, two suits of space armor damaged beyond repair, five repairable. And the damages to the RG 132, I guess—” Thorne glanced up through the plexiports; Mayhew sighed mournfully.

“We captured, in addition to the refinery itself and the Triumph, two Pelian inner-system personnel carriers, ten station shuttles, eight two-man personal flitters, and those two empty ore tows hanging out beyond the crew’s quarters. Uh—one Pelian armed courier appears to have—uh—gotten away.” Thorne’s litany trailed off; the lieutenant appeared to be watching Miles’s face anxiously for his reaction to this last bit of news.

On the bright side, Thorne says, they also freed 23 Felician prisoners, which could help their personnel problems.  Major Daum has, unfortunately, been unable to get in touch with his superiors.

Ky Tung is being marched past them when he sees Auson and Thorne.  He is surprised to see them alive, and then realizes that happened when he sees that they’re armed.

“I might have known. Oser was right to keep you two clowns as far away from the real combat as possible. Only the comedy team of Auson and Thorne could have captured themselves.”

Seeing Auson and Thorne united in their dislike of Tung, Miles seizes the moment and rewards them both–Thorne with captaincy of the Ariel, and Auson with command of Triumph.  As Tung is led away, with orders to be sedated, Miles wonders if he can make use of him as well, since Tung does have thirty years of experience.  He sends Auson to get his casts removed.

An engineering tech, Mynova, asks about their combat bonus and their pay schedule.  Miles says it will be monthly, even as he wonders where the money will come from if they’re still there in a month.

Thorne asks about the counterattack, which there is bound to be after the escaped courier.  Miles asks for suggestions, and Thorne begins to detail them; Miles realizes he isn’t tracking well, and says they’ll have a meeting later to discuss them.

Miles’s head spun. The jumbled geometries of the refinery, its ups and downs chosen, apparently, at random, did nothing to decrease his sense of disorientation. And it was all his, every rusty bolt, dubious weld, and stopped-up toilet in it . . .

Elena was observing him anxiously. “What’s the matter, Miles? You don’t look happy. We won!”

A true Vor, Miles told himself severely, does not bury his face in his liegewoman’s breasts and cry—even if he is at a convenient height for it.


Maybe another alternate title for the book could be “Mo’ Mercenaries Mo’ Problems”.  No?  All right.  Anyway, Miles’s impulse to save Arde Mayhew and his ship has led him into more and more complicated situations, like a Red Queen’s Race where he’s trying to keep from losing everything.  And now, ironically (as it just struck me) he’s actually destroyed, or crippled, Mayhew’s ship in the process…so his original goal has been lost.  Admittedly, with the state of mind he was in on Beta Colony, he was likely to get involved in something just as hare-brained eventually no matter what, trying to find some direction for his life, not to mention trying to impress Elena.

Why does Arde Mayhew’s ship never get a name, by the way?  I guess not everybody is sentimental enough to name their ships, especially cargo freighters, but I would have thought that Mayhew might have come up with something, since he was somewhat attached to it.  Maybe his mind just didn’t run that way.  And, speaking of namelessness, the “communications officer” who is a major player in the battle-armour scene never seems to get a name.  Was Bujold consciously trying to avoid cluttering her story with named characters who never come up again?  And yet the woman who asks about their pay at the end of the chapter get a name, if only because Miles has to directly address her.  Maybe Bujold’s editors complained about too many named characters, too.  And maybe I’m just too used to reading Wheel of Time books where one-shot characters get named all the time.


And now we’re done for another week…two more chapters to come next week…we’ll see if Miles can pull something else out of his bag of tricks…but not until next Tuesday…good night, all…

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