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Posts Tagged ‘Livia Nu’

Lots of people talking about Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras, Lent and Ash Wednesday, and all that.  If there is one thing that I don’t think you should give up for Lent, though, I’d say that it would be the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, particularly her Vorkosigan saga, and I’m not just saying that because I’m here to summarize another couple of chapters for you, and planning to continue doing so in the weeks to come.  Also, it’s non-fattening and doesn’t cause cancer, though there may be unforeseen side effects.  This week I continue with The Vor Game, fourth novel in the series chronologically and second featuring Miles Vorkosigan as protagonist, though it was originally published a bit out of order.  I’ll be covering chapters Eleven and Twelve this week, as things look brighter, and then darker, for our characters.

Chapter Eleven

Elena appears down the corridor, and Miles is caught off guard by the short haircut she now sports.  She compliments Chodak on his work and asks if the motionless Oseran soldiers are dead.  Miles says they’re just stunned; Elena wants to space them, but agrees with Miles that they can’t take the time right now, though they do drag them into the airlock for concealment.  Then she tells the three other soldiers who had accompanied her to clear their path, but subtly, and then vanish and forget all about this.  Gregor and Miles change into stolen Oseran uniforms in the airlock, Miles wishing for some actual boots that would fit him rather than Victor Rotha’s sandals.

Gregor and Elena exchanged looks, each warily amazed at the other, as Gregor yanked on grey-and-whites and plunged his feet into the boots.

“It’s really you.” Elena shook her head in dismay. “What are you doing here?”

“It was by mistake,” said Gregor.

“No lie. Whose?”

“Mine, I’m afraid,” said Miles. Somewhat to his annoyance, Gregor did not gainsay this.

Miles reminds them that they don’t have long until these Oserans are missed, as he takes their weapons, indentification and money, helping himself to a ration bar that he finds.  They leave the airlock, marching through empty corridors with Miles hidden in the centre of their cluster, take a drop-tube and come out at a cargo lock with a shuttle outside.  Arde Mayhew and Ky Tung are piloting, and Tung reproves Miles for taking so long to return.  Mayhew, who has been faking a malfunction, reports it cleared and detaches from the station.

Elena informs them that it’s now safe, at least to talk; the shuttle is scheduled, though the passengers are not.  Oser will be searching Triumph and the military station soon, though they might be able to smuggle Miles back onto Triumph after the search has passed.  Tung tells them that if they hadn’t been able to rescue Miles quite so quietly, they would have taken Ariel and officially declared rebellion against Oser, which Miles is glad didn’t happen.  Tung asks Miles what his plan is, and why he’s there.  Miles says he’s there by accident, though Oser didn’t believe it.  Tung says that Miles’s accidents are better than most people’s plans, and offers him the chance to retake the Dendarii; Miles says he doesn’t want them, but Tung says that he does.  Miles asks how Oser took over in the first place.

Tung says that after a bad contract, Oser, who had taken over a lot of administrative duties, had gotten them some boring wormhole guard duty work, and in the ensuing peacetime, had outmaneuvered Tung and Baz Jesek by a “financial reorganization”, swinging the votes of the captain-owners, with Auson’s support, to put himself in charge.  Elena says they should have known Oser couldn’t be trusted after he made a pass at her, even if he did take “no” for an answer.  Tung had decided to bide his time and hope for Miles’s return, though Elena had tried to tell them that he likely wasn’t coming back, at least unless his other plans didn’t pan out.

Mayhew says that they have five minutes to either announce their intention to dock or cut and run for the Ariel.  Tung offers to put four ships at Miles’s back, since Miles is more likely to get wholehearted support than Tung himself.  Miles repeats that he didn’t come back to take back the Dendarii; he’s more concerned about stopping a planetary civil war, or even an interstellar one.  Running through his options, he asks them to send him to Vervain.  Tung is getting frustrated about Miles’s secrets, but Elena reminds him that she, Baz and Mayhew are all sworn to Miles.  Tung says this is another reason why he needs Miles, and reminds Miles how much they’ve stuck their necks out to rescue him from Oser.  Gregor speaks up (in his imperial We) to say that he will provide for anyone left as a refugee for helping him escape.  Tung finally agrees to try to smuggle Miles and Gregor onto an outgoing ship for Vervain.

Mayhew and Tung go out to drum up transport, leaving the other three behind.  Miles asks Elena how live with the Dendarii has been apart from the troubles with Oser, and she tells him that Tung has been training her solidly on everything she needs to know to make her rank of Commodore a reality.  Baz has been carrying on as engineering head, but is discouraged by the power struggles for command, which he doesn’t want to have to deal with.

“I’m sorry,” said Miles.

“You should be.” Her voice cracked, steadied, harshened. “Baz felt he’d failed you, but you failed us first, when you never came back. You couldn’t expect us to keep up the illusion forever.”

“Illusion?” said Miles. “I knew . . . it would be difficult, but I thought you might . . . grow into your roles. Make the mercenaries your own.”

“The mercenaries may be enough for Tung. I thought they might be for me, too, till we came to the killing. . . . I hate Barrayar, but better to serve Barrayar than nothing, or your own ego.”

Miles asks Elena why they didn’t just leave the fleet, and she says that he left them in charge, so it would feel too much like deserting, which Baz doesn’t want to do again.  Elena asks Gregor what he’s doing out here, and Gregor says that he also tried deserting, and it didn’t work out for him either.  Miles tells them how the Barrayarans don’t know what really happened with Gregor, and Elena quickly realizes how troublesome it would be if something happened to Gregor in Miles’s custody.

“Your father’s Centrist coalition government would be the first thing to fall,” Elena continued. “The military right would get behind Count Vorinnis, I suppose, and square off with the anti-centralization liberals. The French speakers would want Vorville, the Russian Vortugalov—or has he died yet?”

“The far-right blow-up-the-wormhole isolationist loonie faction would field Count Vortrifrani against the anti-Vor pro-galactic faction who want a written constitution,” put in Miles glumly. “And I do mean field.”

“Count Vortrifrani scares me,” Elena shivered. “I’ve heard him speak.”

“It’s the suave way he mops the foam from his lips,” said Miles. “The Greek minorists would seize the moment to attempt secession—”

“Stop it!” Gregor, who had propped his forehead on his hands, said from behind the barrier of his arms.

Elena relents and half-seriously offers Gregor a position with the fleet, which he half-seriously considers, asking Miles if he does want to be back in charge.  Miles heatedly denies it, and Gregor backs off; Miles is secretly grateful that he didn’t order Miles to do it anyway.

He asks Elena what the situation is with Vervain, where they hope to reach the Barrayaran Consulate.  Elena says the Vervani are concentrating on ships rather than stations, which makes sense with their multiple wormholes, but Aslund is starting to see them as potential aggressors.  Aslund is even considering a first strike, but Oser is setting the price for that prohibitively high, since he doesn’t want to take that job either.  Vervain has also hired a mercenary fleet, Randall’s Rangers.  There is no Randall anymore, but they have a Barrayaran Second Officer, and the current commander is someone named Cavilo.  Startled, Miles tells Elena how Cavilo bid for his arrest on the Jacksonian Consortium station, so they’ll avoid the mercenaries and just wait quietly at the Barrayaran Consulate until someone comes to bring them home.

“Strange,” said Gregor, looking at Elena—at the new Elena, Miles guessed—”to think you’ve had more combat experience than either of us.”

“Than both of you,” Elena corrected dryly. “Yes, well . . . actual combat . . . is a lot stupider than I’d imagined. If two groups can cooperate to the incredible extent it takes to meet in battle, why not put in a tenth that effort to talk? That’s not true of guerilla wars, though,” Elena went on thoughtfully. “A guerilla is an enemy who won’t play the game. Makes more sense to me. If you’re going to be vile, why not be totally vile? That third contract—if I ever get involved in another guerilla war, I want to be on the side of the guerillas.”

“Harder to make peace, between totally vile enemies,” Miles reflected. “War is not its own end, except in some catastrophic slide into absolute damnation. It’s peace that’s wanted. Some better peace than the one you started with.”

Mayhew and Tung return, with news of a ship to take them to Vervain, a Vervani pilot who’s run intelligence personnel for them three times previously.  Gregor will pass, but Miles is too conspicuous, and they have to put him in a cargo box.  They put Miles in the crate and Miles bids farewell to Elena and Tung.

They board the Vervani ship and leave the station without incident, quartered in a supercargo cabin, with a three-day trip to Vervain Station ahead of them.  Miles contemplates with trepidation the report he’ll have to write on the incident.  Trying to determine where the problems in the Hegen Hub are stemming from, he has to conclude that it is Vervain–Pol is reacting, not instigating, the Jacksonians are trying to stay out of it, and Aslund doesn’t have the resources.

Gregor comments on how different Admiral Naismith seemed from Ensign Vorkosigan; he asks if Miles wishes he were still with the Dendarii, but Miles says he doesn’t regret turning down Tung, who wasn’t offering admiralty as much he was offering a fight at bad odds.  Miles tells Gregor he’s happy with the changes in Elena’s life, but admits ambivalence over her ending up with Baz; still, he hopes that they’re okay, with only Tung to protect them from Oser.  They both conclude, reluctantly, that they’re better off out of the potential Oseran conflict.

After they dock at Vervain Station, the captain tells them that they need to wait for someone to escort them the rest of the way.  Who eventually turns up is half a dozen men in uniform with stunners at the ready.  Miles reassures Gregor that the captain has pulled it off three times already, but the captain says that he only pulled it off twice…  The lieutenant in charge of the squad calls in to inform Cavilo of the Oserans they’ve caught, and Gregor and Miles debate telling them, obviously Randall’s Rangers, who they really are.

When Cavilo arrives, it turns out to be the women that Miles had previously met as Livia Nu.  She is surprised to see “Victor Rotha” there; she asks him what happened to his protective suits, and Miles merely says that she should have bought when she had the chance.  He wonders to himself what she was doing on Pol Station in the first place, talking with Jacksonians and killing poor Liga.  She calls to the sickbay on Kurin’s Hand, one of her ships, to let them know she’ll be sending them a couple of prisoners to interrogate, and she might want to sit in herself.

The captain asks for assurances that his wife and son are safe.  Cavilo tells one of the soldiers to take him to look at the monitors on Kurin’s Hand‘s brig, and he can earn them another week of life by doing another job for her.  After the captain leaves, Cavilo calls Kurin’s Hand and tells them to run the tape they made last week, and not tell him that it’s not live.

More boots rounded the corner, a heavy regulation tread. Cavilo smiled sourly, but smoothed the expression into something sweeter as she turned to greet the newcomer.

“Stanis, darling. Look what we netted this time. It’s that little renegade Betan who was trying to deal stolen arms on Pol Station. It appears he isn’t an independent after all.”

The tan and black Rangers’ uniform looked just fine on General Metzov, too, Miles noted crazily. Now would be a wonderful time to roll up his eyes and pass out, if only he had the trick of it.

General Metzov stood equally riveted, his iron-grey eyes ablaze with sudden unholy joy. “He’s no Betan, Cavie.”

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DUN DUN DUN!

Metzov turning up here was admittedly a nice plot twist, far trumping the Cavilo = Livia Nu thing.  I mean, sure, Cavilo has been a mystery for, what three chapters now, and Livia Nu an enigmatic figure for a couple before that, so I recall being surprised when it was revealed they were one and the same, but Metzov’s appearance was both a surprise (what the hell?  Wasn’t he back on Barrayar?) and an immense complication, because he is one of the few people in the Hegen Hub who could recognize both Miles and Gregor for who they are.  And given that he’s left Barrayar after being unfairly treated (as he would see it) by the current government, and is working for a mercenary outfit, his loyalties are unlikely to still be to Gregor.  Anyway, it does finally tie “The Weatherman” more solidly into the rest of the novel.

The whole conversation about Miles not wanting to help out the Dendarii is somewhat frustrating.  Reading the books in publication order, as I did, I knew that Miles was with the Dendarii in later books (so this doesn’t count as a spoiler, really), so I wanted them to join up again right away…and instead Miles waffled and hemmed and hawed and turned them down, even though we suspect that he’ll be sorry for doing it.  When he does fall into Cavilo’s hands on Vervain Station, I was all, like, “See?  I told you so!”  Oh, well, as I once read in a Dragon Magazine article, it’s not the end of the world if your characters get captured.  It’s just a different complication for them.  And Cavilo has once disadvantage over Oser–she doesn’t realize how dangerous Miles’s tongue is.

Chapter Twelve

Metzov tells Cavilo that Miles is a Barrayaran, and they have to get him out of sight, and he presumes Gregor is his bodyguard.  Then Metzov takes a closer look, and doesn’t quite recognize Gregor until he hears his voice.  Gregor asks Miles who this is, and Miles tells him this is Metzov.  Metzov asks Gregor in disbelief where his security is, and Cavilo asks who they are.

“Power. Money. Strategic leverage. More than you can imagine,” Metzov answered.

“Trouble,” Miles put in. “More than you can imagine.”

Metzov insists again that they be taken back to the ship, and they march off.  Once on board, Cavilo orders that they be taken to Medical for interrogation or the brig, but Metzov is unwilling.  He asks Gregor for his parole, to Cavilo’s bafflement; Gregor asks if Metzov is thus declaring himself Gregor’s enemy.  Metzov then says that they should go to his cabin, without witnesses or recordings, at least for the initial discussion.  Cavilo agrees provisionally.

In his cabin, Metzov ties up Miles with tangle-cord but gives Gregor the best chair in the room, and Cavilo questions his logic.  Metzov says she can keep her stunner out if she wishes, but he can’t decide if he should take out a weapon in front of Gregor.  Cavilo, exasperated, asks him to explain.  Metzov introduces Miles first, as Aral Vorkosigan’s son, though since he’d heard Miles was under arrest by ImpSec, he’s not sure what he’s doing posing as a Betan gunrunner.  At last, he introduces Gregor as Emperor of Barrayar, which sparks Cavilo’s interest.

Cavilo begins to speculate on what they can get for these prisoners, and Miles advises them to let him and Gregor go, and collect the gratitude of Barrayar instead.  Metzov growls that he owes Barrayar nothing, and says they can go down to the brig now.  Cavilo says that Miles can go, since he’s nothing, by comparison, but Gregor she sends instead to a comfortable visiting officer’s cabin, and adjacent to her own, though one with the commlink cut off.

Cavilo joins Miles’s escort to the brig.  As they enter, the Vervani captain is just leaving with assurances of his family’s continued health, when Miles says he should ask to see them in the flesh.  Cavilo refuses, and the captain says that he won’t work for her anymore, so Cavilo orders him taken to his family’s cell and locked in.  As he is turning to go, Cavilo shoots him with a nerve disrupter, and warns Miles not to call her bluff again.  Miles, cowed, agrees.  On the way to Miles’s cell, Cavilo asks for the recording of Metzov’s quarters.

The guards re-searched Miles, and took ID scans. Cavilo blandly informed them that his name should be entered as Victor Rotha.

As he was pulled to his feet, two men with medical insignia arrived with a float-pallet to remove the body. Cavilo, watching without expression now, remarked tiredly to Miles, “You chose to damage my double-agent’s utility. A vandal’s prank. He had better uses than as an object-lesson for a fool. I do not warehouse non-useful items. I suggest you start thinking of how you can make yourself more useful to me than as merely General Metzov’s catnip toy.” She smiled faintly into some invisible distance. “Though he does jump for you, doesn’t he? I shall have to explore that motivation.”

Miles asks her what use Metzov is to her, and she says he’s an experienced ground-combat commander, and then that he amuses her.  Miles wonders what use Metzov’s skills will be to her in a space fleet as he is locked into his solitary cell.  He’s left alone there for an undetermined time, only a nearly-inedible ration bar for company, as he contemplates how close they still are to the Barrayaran Consulate.  He doubts that its notional diplomatic immunity would hold against Cavilo for long if she needed something from it, though.

A visitor some time later proves to be General Metzov.  Not invited to dinner with the Emperor, though he is confident that Cavilo, only a woman after all, will come to her senses and seek out his expertise in Barrayaran matters soon enough.  He asks what’s going on, and Miles tells him that Gregor got separated from his security and they’re trying to return to the Barrayaran Consulate.  Not satisfied, Metzov asks why they are there, why they came from Aslund.  Miles tells him how Cavilo killed the freighter captain, so there’s nobody to corroborate his story anyway.

He asks Metzov to guess what’s going on, and Metzov concludes that Miles has concocted some plot to get the Emperor alone, probably to assassinate or brainwash him, unless there’s some secret mission.  Miles points out that in the latter case, the Emperor should have some security, and in the former, Miles would have brought some himself.  Metzov decides that with fast-penta they’ll find out his secrets soon enough, or he’ll break one of Miles’s bones every day until he talks.

Miles begins to wonder what this visit is about, since it’s not a proper interrogation, and realizes that Metzov, excluded by his lover Cavilo, is lonely and homesick.  He tries to draw Metzov out, asking whether Cavilo’s changed his mind about female soldiers.  Metzov is confident that he’ll be taking over Randall’s Rangers within a few months, and Cavilo won’t be a problem.  After giving Miles one last chance to confess his plans, he leaves.  Miles tries again to work out what’s going on in the Hegen Hub.  If Vervain is planning something which involves a planetary invasion, are they going after Pol or Aslund?  Aslund, as a cul-de-sac, isn’t that attractive, but attacking Pol will just drive them to ally with Barrayar.  Miles concludes that he’s still missing something, and he wonders how well Gregor is doing against Cavilo, if he’s falling victim to her wiles.

Miles is left in the cell for another couple of days; in desperation he begins trying to make macrame letters out of loose threads to try to send out a message.  In this endeavour he is interrupted by another visitor, this time Cavilo.  She comments on how poorly he looks, and Miles says he needs a library viewer, or maybe an exercise period.  She begins to ask Miles about his mother, touching mostly on the topic on how she came to marry Lord Aral Vorkosigan and become accepted by Barrayaran society.  She concludes that despite Barrayar’s dislike for offworlders, Cordelia’s military background helped win her some respect.

Miles asks after Gregor, and Cavilo says he’s well, and amusing her.  Miles hopes that he’s being fed better than Miles himself, and shows her the ration bar; she claims to be surprised and deplore such paltry rations, and offers him a more regular menu.  Miles warns that she’s coming close to causing an incident between Vervain and Barrayar, but Cavilo claims she’s only keeping him safe from the secret police.  Miles asks why he’s locked up, and Cavilo says that it’s to keep him safe from Metzov, rapidly using his usefulness, and his threats of bone-breaking.  Realizing that means she’s heard Metzov’s earlier conversation, he asks if Metzov’s disloyalty is the problem, but she says the strategic situation is changing and he may no longer be necessary.

Returning the conversation to Gregor, Cavilo asks about the urgency of Gregor marrying and getting an heir, and Miles confirms the civil war that would result otherwise.  He suddenly realizes that Cavilo is angling to marry Gregor and become Empress herself.

“Commander Cavilo, I don’t think you understand Barrayar. Or Barrayarans.” Actually, there’d been eras in Barrayaran history where Cavilo’s command style would have fit right in. Mad Emperor Yuri’s reign of terror, for example. But they’d spent the last twenty years trying to get away from all that.

“I need your cooperation,” Cavilo said. “Or at any rate, it could be very useful. To both of us. Your neutrality would be . . . tolerable. Your active opposition, however, would be a problem. For you. But we should avoid getting caught in negative attitude traps at this early stage, I think?”

Miles asks about the freighter captain’s family, and Cavilo claims that the Vervani had demanded their release, and she merely hadn’t wanted him to know she had no more hold over him, and that executing him herself was no different from ordering it done.  Miles begins to understand Cavilo more, as a homicidal paranoid, just like good old Bothari.  He starts trying to change his attitude, as if he was grudgingly being won over, but isn’t sure how he can protect Gregor from her.  Trying to seduce her himself doesn’t seem like it would work.

She keeps her promise to change his rations, his next meal being delivered in five courses with two bottles of wine, and shortly thereafter he receives clean clothes, underwear and toiletries.  He wonders about Cavilo’s background.

God, where had she come from? A mercenary veteran, she had to have been around for a while to have risen this far, even with shortcuts. Tung might know. I think she must have lost bad at least once. He wished Tung were here now. Hell, he wished Illyan were here now.

Her flamboyance, Miles increasingly felt, was an effective act, meant to be viewed at a distance like stage makeup, to dazzle her troops. At the right range, it might work rather well, like the popular Barrayaran general of his grandfather’s generation who’d gained visibility by carrying a plasma rifle like a swagger stick. Usually uncharged, Miles had heard privately—the man wasn’t stupid. Or a Vorish ensign who wore a certain antique dagger at every opportunity. A trademark, a banner. A calculated bit of mass psychology. Cavilo’s public persona pushed the envelope of that strategy, surely. Was she scared inside, knowing herself for overextended? You wish.

He wonders if Cavilo is actually winning Gregor over, or if he’s stringing her along with a story of a despised prospective bride.  Or maybe there really is such a bride.

Cavilo returns with another soldier in tow, who identifies Miles as “Admiral Naismith”.  Miles realizes he must have been another mercenary at Tau Verde, as he tells Cavilo that he should hire Naismith, he’s a military genius.

Cavilo reappeared after a moment, to stand in the aperture with her hands on her hips and her chin outthrust in exasperated disbelief. “How many people are you, anyway?”

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Luckily, Metzov turns out to be a lot less effectual that one might fear.  I guess the fact that he was exiled to Kyril Island should have been an indication.  He can’t bring himself to actually give Cavilo the respect she deserves, assuming her a fallible woman who needs his help, and probably fancies her in love with him as well.  His ambivalence about the Emperor shows that he hasn’t quite made up his mind about Barrayar yet, either.  Cavilo, on the other hand, is all decisiveness, even at the risk of making the wrong decision.  Perhaps her earlier loss that Miles theorizes were because of indecisiveness, either hers or someone else’s.

Again, reading these books in publication order would lead you to worry less about Miles getting injected with fast-penta, since his first, memorable experience is definitely in Brothers In Arms.  And his first experience using it, of course, at least for real, was back in “Mountains of Mourning”.  Breaking his bones as a threat…well, that might work eventually, but Miles is probably less scared of it than many people, having experienced it so many times.

We’ve been given little enough evidence of Gregor’s reliability that there is a reasonable doubt about how well he’ll do against Cavilo’s wiles.  Unless, of course, you remember that Cordelia was the major mother-figure for most of his childhood.  Even if Gregor is experimenting with rejecting Barrayar and its planned destiny for him, he must still remember his lessons from Cordelia, and considering her profound doubts about Barrayaran society, he’s probably drawing on them rather than reject them too.  If he’s smart enough, that is.


Five chapters left in the book, which means that once again there’ll be a one-chapter week in there somewhere.  I always feel like we should continue on into the Dendarii novellas after that, but instead we jump around in publication order again, first up several years to Cetaganda, and then, since I have committed myself to it, back several years to Ethan of Athos.  In the reprint omnibuses, I guess that means I go on to Miles, Mutants and Mayhem.  But first, three more weeks of The Vor Game, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, shall we?  See you next week…

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Sing “hey”, my fine fellow, hearken thee to the publication of another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I reiterate and explicate the events of the Vorkosigan Saga novels of Lois McMaster Bujold, a brace of chapters at a time.  At this juncture, I will yield to you some stuff about Chapters Seven and Eight of The Vor Game, a novel written out of sequence but occurring chronologically after the stuff I did before but before the stuff I haven’t done yet.  I promise that there is less bathos to come.

Chapter Seven

Miles is moved from the informary to an apartment one floor down in ImpSec Headquarters, a small one-room efficiency usually used by protected witnesses and “political unpersons”.  All his possessions from Kyril Island are there.  Miles wonders if it’s bugged, or if nobody is bothering.  He seems to be allowed to roam around, but not to leave the building, and soon discovers that even roaming around is discouraged.  After unpacking and cleaning up his possessions, he spends most of his time pretending he’s in a cabin on a spaceship.

Two days later he receives visitors–first ImpSec officers who give the apartment, and Miles himself, a thorough sweep, and then the man they are escorting, Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, dressed innocuously in undress greens.  He sits down in one of Miles’s chairs to relax, offering a bag with a pair of bottles of Vorkosigan wine.  Gregor tells Miles that Cordelia sent him, but he can’t stay long, his time scheduled down to the minute as usual.

Miles contemplated his old playmate. If they’d been even a little closer in age, he and Gregor, they might have fallen more into the role of foster-brothers; Count and Countess Vorkosigan had been Gregor’s official guardians ever since the chaos and bloodshed of Vordarian’s Pretendership. The child-cohort had been thrown together anyway as “safe” companions, Miles and Ivan and Elena near-agemates, Gregor, solemn even then, tolerating games a little younger than he might have preferred.

Gregor commiserates with Miles about his abbreviated military career, saying that while he did have some ship duty himself, it was mostly just “pretend” patrols, in orbit, with Gregor as a pretend commander, no real risk allowed.  He tells Miles that it’s the unplanned experience, like Miles’s and Prince Serg’s, among others, that makes one a “real” officer.  Miles keeps quiet on what he knows about the real Prince Serg.

Miles decided to change the subject. “So we all know what happened to me, what have you been up to for the last three months? I was sorry to miss your last birthday party. Up at Kyril Island they celebrated it by getting drunk, which made it virtually indistinguishable from any other day.”

Gregor grinned, then sighed. “Too many ceremonies. Too much time standing up—I think I could be replaced at half my functions by a life-sized plastic model, and no one would notice. A lot of time spent ducking the broad marital hints of my assorted counsellors.”

Miles expresses the wish that Gregor does settle the succession soon, because after Gregor things get quite muddied, with half a dozen claimants with equally good, if remote, claims.  Miles admits that he’s on the list himself, but would rather flee for his life than end up on the throne.  Gregor empathizes with the desire to flee, recalling a tale of a former Chinese emperor who ended up working as a janitor somewhere, but Miles says that he hopes Illyan would find him first.

Trying to change the subject again, Miles notices the tacti-go game that Gregor brought.  They start playing, and Miles’s beats Gregor too quickly the first time, but tries harder to make the games close after that, aided by the second bottle of wine.  Gregor says that Miles should be an officer, it’s been so long since Gregor could beat him at tacti-go, but Miles points out the lack of variables which make it a poor simulation of real battle.

Gregor says that with Miles’s real experience with the Dendarii Mercenaries, he shouldn’t have needed to prove himself on Kyril Island, but Miles reminds him how secret that escapade is, and how without Ky Tung he wouldn’t have pulled it off in any case.  Gregor wonders why Illyan hasn’t done more with them, but Miles says that their belonging to ImpSec is mostly just a legal fiction, and Illyan mostly just wants to keep them away from Barrayar; besides, they’re the wrong size to really accomplish much with.

Miles diffidently mentions that he doesn’t really think it proper to ask Gregor’s help to get him out of his situation, but…  Gregor says that he’s another prisoner of ImpSec himself, and in any case Illyan is determined to keep Miles out of sight for a time.

“Time.” Miles swallowed the last of his wine, and decided he’d better not pour himself any more. Alcohol was a depressant, it was said. “How much time? Dammit, if I don’t get something to do soon, I’m going to be the first case of human spontaneous combustion recorded on vid.” He jerked a rude finger at the ceiling. “I don’t need to—don’t even have to leave the building, but at least they could give me some work. Clerical, janitorial—I do terrific drains—anything. Dad talked with Illyan about assigning me to Security—as the only Section left that would take me—he must have had something more in mind than a m-, m-, mascot.” He poured and drank again, to stop the spate of words. He’d said too much. Damn the wine. Damn the whine.

Gregor, who had built a little tower of tacti-go chips, toppled it with one finger. “Oh, being a mascot isn’t bad work, if you can get it.” He stirred the pile slowly. “I’ll see what I can do. No promises.”

Two days later, whether by Gregor’s doing or not, Miles is assigned a job working in the ImpSec building’s administration, assisting the guard commander.  The initial novelty of the job has worn off after a month, and Miles realizes that in a sense he is his own guard, his own loyalty being used against him to keep him from escaping.

Was he going to get out of this bloody box before Winterfair? How long did it take the world to forget him, anyway? If he committed suicide, could he be officially listed as shot by a guard while escaping? Was Illyan trying to drive him out of his mind, or just out of his Section?

He begins to amuse himself in his off hours by watching all of the training vids in alphabetical order, but after several weeks, is only up to “L” before he is summoned to Illyan’s office.

There is another man there when Miles arrives, who Illyan introduces as Captain Ungari, one of ImpSec’s galactic operatives.  Illyan then asks Miles if he’s heard from the Dendarii Mercenaries recently.  Miles replies truthfully that all he’s had was a birthday message from Elena about a year ago, which Illyan already knows about.  Illyan shows Miles a wormhole map which he recognizes as the Hegen Hub–a system with no planets, but multiple gates to Pol (adjacent to Komarr), Vervain (adjacent to the Cetagandan Empire), Jackson’s Whole (another nexus, and a center of criminal activity), and Aslund, which only has the one jump point.

Illyan says that though the Hegen Hub is as crucial to Cetagandan trade and civilian travel as it is to Barrayaran, there may be trouble brewing there.  Pol is beefing up its defenses, on the side opposite the Barrayaran Empire, which is disturbing; Jackson’s Whole is doing the same on its side of the Hub.  Vervain has hired a mercenary fleet, Randall’s Rangers.  This has caused some concern for Aslund, so they have started building their own jump-point defense station, and have hired their own mercenaries–formerly known as the Dendarii Mercenary Fleet, though they have reverted to the Oseran Mercenaries more recently.

Illyan postulates that Cetaganda sees an opportunity to seize complete control of the Hegen Hub, which would mean that they would control two of Komarr’s four jump routes.  As Miles knows, the best way to capture a jump point is from both sides at once, so if the Polians have discovered a connection between the Oseran/Dendarii Mercenaries and Barrayar, namely Miles, they might panic and seek out a Cetagandan alliance.  Illyan says he wants more information, and asks Ungari if he thinks Miles is suitable.  Ungari is a little dubious, because of Miles’s conspicuousness and physical limitations, but Illyan says he trusts Aral’s judgement on the matter, and thinks that Miles is so conspicuous as to make a good “stalking goat”.

Illyan asks Miles if he could play Admiral Naismith again, and Miles replies, half-seriously, that the problem would be to stop playing Naismith once he started.  Illyan tells Ungari that Miles is his; first of all, to determine what’s going on in the Hegen Hub, and secondly to try to move the Dendarii/Oserans out of the equation, up to and including supplying a bogus contract with ImpSec money.  Miles is to pretend to Admiral Naismith traveling incognito, with Ungari as a bodyguard, but there will be an additional real bodyguard if Ungari has to operate separately.  Miles accepts the assignment readily.

Comments

The conversation with Gregor is interesting because of his repeated references to being trapped and wishing for escape, which seems at first like just commiserating with Miles, but there will turn out to be something deeper than that to it.  Gregor resents his ImpSec escort, his overscheduled time, and in particular the sham that his military career seems to be without “real” experience.  He even envies Miles’s exploits with the Dendarii.  Most of this is only clear in hindsight, so I’m helpfully pointing it out to you now.

The whole lecture about the Hegen Hub is a kind of “As You Know Bob” conversation, as Illyan gets Miles to recite what he knows about them, but it puts me in mind of similar scenes in James Bond movies and the like, so I guess it works okay.  It works better if you have a map, which, as I said, the digital copy doesn’t.  There’s one in the Vorkosigan Companion (included with the CD that came with the Cryoburn hardcover); there’s also a version at http://pw1.netcom.com/~fresne/nexus.htm, and there may be others.  All of them are highly schematic, of course, since the positions are fairly arbitrary–I don’t know if wormholes are supposed to take one in the direction they’re “facing” or not, for instance–so you can probably arrange them however you want as long as the lines all connect.

Chapter Eight

Miles takes the role of Victor Rotha, “Procurement Agent”, a.k.a. Arms Dealer.  Rotha is purportedly Betan, and so is his ship, now docked at Pol Six.  The trip from Barrayar was uneventful, though Ungari took as many opportunities as possible to gather data about every single jump station on the route.  Pol Six, Pol’s station in the Hegen Hub, had started out as a communication station, but has grown to much more than that, with Navy ships visible all around.

Ungari tells Miles to be conspicuous, drawing attention away from Ungari himself, and maybe even try to make a few contacts.  He is escorted by his bodyguard, Lieutenant Overholt, who is dressed like a bodyguard trying to look like a tourist, which should help with “Victor Rotha”‘s noticeability.  They make their way through security and onto the space station, where “Rotha” has an appointment set up.

A curious trio idled just across the busy concourse from Miles. A big man dressed in loose clothing ideal for concealing weapons scanned the area uneasily. A professional counterpart of Sergeant Overkill’s, no doubt. He and Overholt spotted each other and exchanged grim glances, carefully ignored each other after that. The bland man he guarded faded into near-invisibility beside his woman.

She was short, but astonishingly intense, slight figure and white-blond hair cropped close to her head giving her an odd elfin look. Her black jumpsuit seemed shot with electric sparks, flowing over her skin like water, evening-wear in the day-cycle. Thin-heeled black shoes boosted her a few futile centimeters. Her lips were colored blood-carmine to match the shimmering scarf that looped across alabaster collarbones to cascade from each shoulder, framing the bare white skin of her back. She looked . . . expensive.

Just then, Miles is startled by his first appointment, a Mr. Liga, a man supposedly after better armaments for his mining facility guards.  Liga notes that the man that the blonde woman was talking to was a representative of House Fell, arms dealers of Jackson’s Whole.  He takes Miles and Overholt to an otherwise unoccupied hotel room, where Miles shows him vids of the weapons he has for sale–for educational purposes only, since they are all illegal on Pol Six, though Liga points out that Pol’s authority doesn’t extend far into the free space of the Hegen Hub.

When Liga disparages Miles’s price for nerve disrupters, Miles takes out a hidden vid and shows Liga a Betan nerve disrupter shield net, a new development not yet officially on the market.  Liga is intrigued, and borrows the vid to show to his supervisor, despite the high price tag that Miles quotes him.  After they leave, Miles asks Overholt if he did well, and Overhold says he was “very smooth”.

As they are eating lunch afterwards, Miles is surprised to be greeted as “Admiral Naismith”, by someone that he recognizes as Clive Chodak, a Dendarii commando.  Chodak is with another man, unfamiliar to Miles.

“I’m sorry, you’re mistaken,” Miles’s denial was pure spinal reflex. “My name is Victor Rotha.”

Chodak blinked. “What? Oh! Sorry. That is—you look a lot like somebody I used to know.” He took in Overholt. His eyes queried Miles urgently. “Uh, can we join you?”

“No!” said Miles sharply, panicked. No, wait. He shouldn’t throw away a possible contact. This was a complication for which he should have been prepared. But to activate Naismith prematurely, without Ungari’s orders . . . “Anyway, not here,” he amended hastily.

Chodak tracks Miles down after he’s returned to the ship, but before Ungari’s return, and after some deliberation Miles authorizes Overholt to let him in.  Chodak is reluctant to talk until Overholt leaves, and is pleased that Miles remembers him.  He asks Miles what his plans are, but Miles is coy, presuming Chodak to be a spy on Pol Six for the Oserans.  Chodak apologizes for having inadvertently blown Miles’s cover, and asks why he was away so long; Miles says that he spent some time in prison (Kyril Island, close enough), and then with his other interests.  He asks why he hasn’t heard from Commodore Jesek, and Chodak tells him that Jesek has been demoted to fleet engineer, and Ky Tung to chief of personnel, leaving Admiral Oser in charge.

Chodak warns Miles that his superior, who was with him at the time, is loyal to Oser (Chodak implies he’s more loyal to Tung, without saying it outright), and will probably report back on sighting Miles.  Miles says as long as he doesn’t know that Chodak spoke to Miles privately, it’s okay; he may be able to make a deal with Oser.  Chodak warns him that Oser doesn’t think that he got the better of his last deal with Miles, that he thinks Miles was a scammer and would have lost if Tung hadn’t switched sides.  As Chodak leaves, Miles tells him to cover his ass.

Miles wonders whether he shouldn’t just leave the mercenaries to Oser after all, though it nags at him that he still has three liegepeople among them, but it is ultimately Ungari’s decision.  Ungari is not happy at Miles’s blown cover, though Miles points out that Chodak was the one who blew it, and he wonders whether Chodak did it intentionally, to hedge his bets.  Ungari opines that it may be too risky to activate Admiral Naismith after all, and he had half a mind to confine Miles to the ship, but Liga had made another appointment with Victor Rotha, and Ungari wants to know who’s behind Liga, particularly if it happens to be the Cetagandans, before they move on to Aslund Station.

Miles shows up at Liga’s hotel room only to find the blonde woman there instead, dressed more seductively than before, who introduces herself as Livia Nu.  She says she’s Liga’s superior, “in a sense”, and disapproves of Miles’s attempts to find out more, though Miles says that unlike House Fell, he needs to be careful who deals with.  Livia dismisses her bodyguard, and Miles sends Overholt out as well.  Once they are alone, Livia reaches into her cleavage and produces the vid disc he’d given to Liga, and asks how many he can provide.  Miles says a strictly limited number, since he’s not a manufacturer, but promises to undercut anyone else’s price.  She wonders what she can do with so few, and Miles suggests she sell them to governments as samples.  He says he could do so himself, but he came in through Pol and has to leave through Cetaganda or Jackson’s Whole, and doesn’t think he’ll be able to take his cargo out past them without it being confiscated.

She asks if he can provide one sample, in her size, but Miles says that they’re standard size and he hasn’t had any luck cutting one small enough to fit either of them yet, and prefers to sell them in lots anyhow.  He says he’ll moving on to Aslund soon, and Livia says they can come to some agreement, starting to move in on him.  He mentions her boss from House Fell, and asks for a meeting with him, but Livia says “business before pleasure”.  Unnerved as she puts her hand on his neck, he breaks away and flees the room, taking the vid disc with him, and promises to set up a meeting later.

Ungari wakes him up in the middle of his sleep period, telling their pilot to move off from the station, outside of Polian space.  He tells Miles that Liga’s body was found in the hotel room, and an arrest warrant is being issued for Victor Rotha, since the murder seemed to have happened around the time of Miles’s second meeting there.  Miles tells how he didn’t even meet with Liga the second time, only Livia Nu, and he’d have told Ungari if he’d killed anyone.  Ungari says that Miles is being framed, and Miles realizes that Livia Nu might not be Liga’s boss, but instead just killed him and took the disc that way.

Miles says that if he was wrong about who she was, they need to find out more about her, but Ungari says that now they can’t go back through Pol, and can’t go to Aslund because of the “mercenary complications”; it’ll have to be the Jackson’s Whole station.  Ungari will double back to Aslund, while Miles and Overholt take the long way home.  Miles wonders if whoever framed him anticipated them cutting and running, but Ungari is confident they couldn’t know about his information source.  Miles notes that they could plan for both contingencies, like he would himself, but Ungari has left the cabin.

Comments

There were, of course, lots of Dendarii, so it’s kind of nice that the first one we see in the book is not one of the major ones we’d seen before, but nonetheless somebody that Miles knew, at least slightly.  I don’t remember what happens with Chodak in the book, so I guess I’ll have to wait and find out.

I can’t help but feel that Ungari is being a bit of a buttwad about Miles’s cover being blown, but one would hope that maybe he’s just being mad that it hadn’t occurred to him that the Dendarii/Oserans would have anyone on Pol Six that would recognize Admiral Naismith while he was out and about as the absolutely conspicuous Victor Rotha.  This is one of the ways that Ungari fails to endear himself to the reader throughout this book, and provides another bad example for Miles, another superior officer that he knows better than and that the reader wants him to insubordinate, the way we want Harry, Ron and Hermione to not listen to Professor McGonagall when she tells them not to go investigating on their own…  (Though Professor McGonagall is really much nicer.)

Also the introduction of Livia Nu (as we know her in this chapter, at least).  I can’t remember if she was honestly trying to seduce Miles or if she was more likely to try to kill him first.  After all, how did she get close enough to kill Liga?  I suppose she could have just broken in to the room and hidden in the bathroom or something.  Does that mean that Liga was in there the whole time she was meeting with Miles?  Hmmm.

Miles’s escape from the room…what was the reason?  Later in the series he expresses a preference for tall women, but in this chapter he thinks to himself “I finally meet a woman who’s barely taller than I am, and I don’t even know which side she’s on,” so maybe he hasn’t realized it yet.  What have his sexual experiences been up to this point?  There was supposed to be some girls on Beta Colony, I think, though none of them particularly good experiences.  No women at the Academy, no women on Kyril Island, no women in ImpSec…  So he might not have gotten laid in several years, but I guess he wasn’t desperate enough for lust to overcome his better judgement, because his instincts were spot-on in scarpering.  He was probably also thinking that Overholt would be able to tell what was going on, and Ungari would not be impressed, unless he had something solid to show for it.  And doubting Livia’s motivations, with good reason.


As we reach the Hegen Hub, the space-opera section of the plot is beginning to thicken, but a few crucial ingredients have yet to appear, or reappear…  Probably at least one of them will do so in the next couple of chapters, so come back next week for another exciting installment!

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