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Posts Tagged ‘Naismith’

Time is winding down, and eventually, like now, I’m going to have to give up waiting for inspiration to strike and give you another one of those dull and boring introductions.  So here it is.  Welcome to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Again.  Aren’t you glad you came back?  About now is when I hope that Scott Adams is right and nobody reads introductions, because I just have the same stuff to say over again.  Lois McMaster Bujold wrote a bunch of science fiction books in a sort of series, most of them having to do with a guy named Miles Vorkosigan, and I liked them so much I bought the company I read them over and over and then decided to be sneaky and read them over slowly, synopsizing them on a blog for random people on the Internet to read.  And this is it.  Or it will be soon.  Not in short choppy sentences like these ones, I’ll tell you.  I write a big long run-on sentence, and then I splice it to another one with a semicolon.  Want to see?  Well, as it happens I did a couple more chapters of Diplomatic Immunity, one of those Vorkosigan books I was talking about, and I’m going to paste it in below and you can see for yourself.

Chapter Sixteen

Miles imagines that the quaddies will stall as much as they can on the delivery of a pilot, but with the infection in his bloodstream, time is not on his side.  He calls Ekaterin, who turns out to be in the tactics room with Vorpatril, and so is up to date on current events.  He makes sure that she knows the truth about Bel’s situation, and asks her to use her judgement how much to relay to Nicol; Ekaterin says she thinks that Nicol can handle, and deserves, the whole truth.  He proceeds to let her know about the booby trap which has probably led him to be infected too; in the background he can hear Admiral Vorpatril cursing at the news.

He began again. “I’m . . . I’m sorry that . . . I wanted to give you—this wasn’t what I—I never wanted to bring you grief—”

“Miles. Stop that babbling at once.”

“Oh . . . uh, yes?”

Her voice sharpened. “If you die on me out here, I will not be grieved, I will be pissed. This is all very fine, love, but may I point out that you don’t have time to indulge in angst right now. You’re the man who used to rescue hostages for a living. You are not allowed to not get out of this one. So stop worrying about me and start paying attention to what you are doing. Are you listening to me, Miles Vorkosigan? Don’t you dare die! I won’t have it!”

That seemed definitive. Despite everything, he grinned. “Yes, dear,” he sang back meekly, heartened. This woman’s Vor ancestoresses had defended bastions in war, oh, yes.

He bids her farewell, carefully ignoring the anguish underlying her words, and decides he needs to get on with his hostage rescue.  It occurs to him to wonder whether the ba even knows about his former career as Admiral Naismith, or if it just thinks he’s some kind of diplomat, potentially out of his depth.  It doesn’t know which one of them may have fallen prey to its trap, either.  He wanders the infirmary, trying to determine which of the supplies there might be put to a more interesting usage.

He makes that the Clogston is ready to put Bel into a bod-pod in case of a loss of pressure, and shuts their inner door in case the automatic systems don’t cut in.  Clogston says they almost have a second blood filter ready for him, and Miles noncommittally asks them to let him know when it’s ready, though he doesn’t plan to tie himself down to it just yet.  He tries to determine what areas of the ship the ba can monitor from Nav/Com, and what its blind spots are.  If he takes out too many of its internal monitors, is it likely to panic and ram the station?

Miles realizes then that the ba is not acting very much like a professional agent, which would be destroying evidence and either trying to make it to safe or neutral ground, or just surrendering and waiting to be bailed out by their government–or, in extremis, committing suicide.  While it’s an interesting conclusion, it doesn’t help make the ba’s actions any more predictable.

Roic calls Miles on his wristcom channel; he says he’s switched into a work suit, and took the opportunity to put his own wristcom into his helmet.  He says he’s found some a cutter and some other nice tools, if he can get them to where Miles is; Miles tells him to cut his way through the decks to try to avoid cameras on the airseal doors.  Roic cuts his way through to the middle deck, and, by tapping on his ceiling, manages to find a panel close to Miles.  He cuts a hole through it and passes a small work suit through to Miles, who dons it hurriedly, taping his own wristcom into the helmet and setting the suit temperature as low as he can stand, and then jumps down to join Roic.

They sneak down to Solian’s office, where Miles is sure they can access as many of the monitors as the ba can; he checks them quickly and confirms that the ba couldn’t have seen them enter the office.  Miles considers how best to make a surprise attack on the ba, cutting through half a dozen bulkheads not seeming very feasible.  His vision is beginning to blur, and he’s shivering; Roic says that the admiral told him that he’s got the same thing that Thorne had.  He says he should’ve been the one to run the remote controls, or that Miles should have brought Jankowski instead.

Vorpatril interrupts to tell them, indignantly, that the quaddies seem to have caved and sent over a jump pilot; Miles wonders who they found to volunteer, and suspects that the quaddies have some kind of plan.  Vorpatril says that the quaddies cut him out of the loop, while he and Watts were arguing over whose strike team should get to go in.  One of the airlocks begins to activate, and Miles watches the vid as a naked man with pilot implants comes on board–Dmitri Corbeau.  Over the speakers, the ba forces Corbeau to show the contents of his mouth to its camera, and any other places he might be hiding anything; then it tells him to release the pod to drift away, and gives him instructions to go through the doors it opens for him.

Vorpatril wonders why the hell the quaddies sent Corbeau, and suggests he may be trying to desert; Miles considers it unlikely, but he wonders just who holds Corbeau’s loyalties right now.  Miles just spots three figures–Greenlaw and the other two quaddies on the ship–making their escape through one of the other airlocks while the ba’s attention is thus diverted.  Miles approves, meaning that the ship now contains fewer hostages, civilians, and non-Barrayarans.  They’re running out of time to insert a strike force, which should be done before the ship starts to move.

Miles finally manages to get a view of Nav/Com, but with no sound.  He sees the ba inject Corbeau with a hypospray of something, and wonders if it’s a drug, perhaps one with an antidote, one of his diseases, or an inoculation, or just a bluff; he suspects the latter, but it does seem to reduce the likelihood that Corbeau is colluding with the ba.

Over his wrist com, muffled as from a distance, Miles heard a sudden, startling bellow from Admiral Vorpatril: “What? That’s impossible. Have they gone mad? Not now . . .”

After a few more moments passed without further enlightenment, he murmured, “Um, Ekaterin? Are you still there?”

Her breath drew in. “Yes.”

“What’s going on?”

“Admiral Vorpatril was called away by his communications officer. Some sort of priority message from Sector Five headquarters just arrived. It seems to be something very urgent.”

Corbeau and the ba are going through preflight checks; Corbeau seems to be explaining his every move carefully, partly to defuse the ba’s suspicions, but also perhaps to stall.  Vorpatril returns to tell him that he’s been ordered to bring his ships to a rendezvous near Marilac at maximum speed.  Since one of the lesser-known purposes of the Komarran trade fleet escorts is to provide an innocuous way to keep Barrayaran ships deployed through the wormhole nexus, this makes perfect sense–but only in a dire emergency.

Marilac is, of course, a neighbour of the Cetagandan Empire, and Barrayaran fleets mustering there means that they’re intending to offer a threat to the Cetagandans.  Relations with the Cetagandans must have been dropping quite precipitously…and given Gregor’s earlier comment, it may very well have something to do with the Cetagandan ship Gupta and his friends encountered near Rho Ceta.  Miles’s mind works furiously as he wonders if that ship was actually sent to crash into the sun.  It must have been the annual ship sent out from the capital with the year’s crop of haut babies–and the ba who took those babies must be a renegade, not an agent at all.

“The crime isn’t murder,” Miles whispered, his eyes widening. “The crime is kidnapping.”

The murders had come subsequently, in an increasingly panicked cascade, as the ba, with good reason, attempted to bury its trail. Well, Guppy and his friends had surely been planned to die, as eyewitnesses to the fact that one person had not gone down with the rest on the doomed ship. A ship hijacked, if briefly, before its destruction—all the best hijackings were inside jobs, oh, yes. The Cetagandan government must be going insane over this.

“My lord, are you all right—?”

Ekaterin’s voice, in a fierce whisper: “No, don’t interrupt him. He’s thinking. He just makes those funny leaking noises when he’s thinking.”

As far as the Cetagandans could tell, the ship just disappeared on its way to Rho Ceta, and the only sign of what happened to it is Gupta.  And Gupta, unfortunately, led the trail straight to Komarr, to the Barrayaran Empire.  Miles uses the Emperor’s Voice to countermand the admiral’s orders, to Vorpatril’s relief; then, to his consternation, he orders all the records from the past twenty-four hours, and Gupta’s interrogation if possible, sent, on clear channel, to the Imperial Residence on Barrayar, as well as ImpSec HQ on Barrayar, ImpSec Galactic Affairs on Komarr, and to ghem-General Dag Benin on Eta Ceta (with the personal note “by Rian’s hair this one’s real, Dag”).

Vorpatril protests strongly, noting that Miles must have deduced that they’re on the verge of war with the Cetagandans, and asks Ekaterin if he’s started hallucinated or something; Ekaterin tells him that Miles just needs to “unpack” his reasoning a little more.  Miles explains that the ba is a criminal, who hijacked a ship, robbed it of the year’s crop of haut-babies, and disposed of it, resulting in the death of a planetary consort–and then shipped it out on a ship belonging to the Barrayaran Empress’s family, so the Cetagandans must be convinced of the Barrayaran’s complicity.  Only Gupta’s survival has ruined its plans, though Miles isn’t sure yet what those plans are, what, or who, the ba wanted the fetuses for in the first place.

Sealer Greenlaw’s voice breaks into the communication then, reporting that they’re back on board Graf Station.  She urges him to keep Vorpatril from launching any kind of strike force, since it’s been confirmed that the ba has a deadman switch on board to trigger the biohazard on the station.  She says that Corbeau had worked out a code, where he could communicate simple messages by blinking the Idris‘s running lights, and this was the word they got from him.  They’re searching for the bomb, but she doesn’t have high hopes for finding it when they don’t even know precisely what they’re looking for.  Vorpatril informs her that the Lord Auditor has been infected himself; Greenlaw expresses her sympathy, but Miles says he’s not dead yet, just before opening up his faceplate to vomit on the floor.

As Greenlaw and Vorpatril argue back and forth, Miles inspects Nav/Com, and finds a freezer case which must hold the ba’s samples.  He asks Greenlaw if they can signal back to Corbeau at all; Greenlaw confirms that they can, through a navigation buoy, and Miles asks them to tell him to open all the airseal doors in the central nacelle, and if possible kill the security cameras.  Miles then cuts off his voice feed and talks to Roic directly through helmet contact; he says that Greenlaw will never give approval for a strike force, but he thinks the ba will likely set off the bomb before leaving the system even if they cooperate.

He suggests that the two of them head for Nav/Com, where he will arrange a distraction for the ba while Roic jumps it.  Roic’s suit should hold off any weapon fire for long enough, and he assures Roic that the ba will not target Miles himself.  As long as Roic grabs its hands and keeps it from operate the deadman switch, they should be okay.  He spots the video feeds for the central nacelle going dark, and they prepare to move; he can barely hear, in the comlink, Ekaterin trying to reassure Vorpatril that Miles is trying something, and Clogston breaking in to inform them that Miles’s blood filter is ready.

Roic and Miles jog down the nacelle’s corridor, Miles feeling distinctly ill and wondering if he’s liable to have a seizure anytime soon.  The doors open for them just fine, until they reach the door to Nav/Com itself–which proves to have been cut open, not left unlocked, which Miles finds mildly reassuring.  Miles reassures Roic that he’s glad he didn’t bring Jankowksi, then lunges inside as soon as Roic opens the door for him.  He runs for the freezer case and holds it in front of him; as the ba is turning, in surprise and reaction, Miles finds it’s unlocked, and flips it open.  Sampling needles fly into the air and fall to the deck, many of them shattering; the ba moves towards him, hands extended in disbelief, and Roic grabs its wrists and lifts it up into the air.  Miles calls for Vorpatril to send in reinforcements, in biotainer suits, then he opens his faceplate to vomit again, at length.

It’s over. Can I please die now?

Except that it wasn’t over, not nearly. Greenlaw had played for fifty thousand lives. Now it was Miles’s turn to play for fifty million.

Comments

We finally get some more Ekaterin in this chapter, at least remotely.  She gets to bolster Miles’s sagging spirits, as well as helping interpret for him when his mind is racing past the comprehension of lesser mortals.  What would have happened if Vorpatril had concluded that Miles was delirious?  At what point can you safely stop obeying the orders of the Emperor’s Voice?  I suppose at about the time that people stopped obeying Mad Emperor Yuri, or the king that Jaime Lannister killed.  There might be no good choice, if you thought that an Imperial Auditor had defected to the enemy…

But Miles finally figures out most of what’s going on here, what may have been screamingly obvious to some after finding out about the odd departure trajectory of the Cetagandan ship off Rho Ceta.  The motivations of the ba (mostly referred to as such, no longer as Dubauer that much) are still a little obscure, but perhaps we’ll find out more about that later.

Corbeau’s appearance was kind of an “Oh, yeah!” kind of moment.  As in, here’s a somewhat-neglected character, who happens to be a pilot, so of course, who else could the author send in at that point?  It gives him some character redemption, and makes him less of a pouty lovesick screwup.  Roic gets some good action too, first cutting his way back to Miles, and then actually taking down the ba, or at least holding him at bay.

Chapter Seventeen

Two men from Vorpatril’s strike force carry Miles back to the infirmary, almost falling through the hole Roic had cut in the floor, followed by Roic, carrying the ba’s remote trigger, Corbeau, and the ba, bound to a float pallet.  Clogston declares the entire ship a Class Three Biocontamination Zone, so they don’t need to all crowd into the infirmary.  The ba is moved into the second ward, where it will be interrogated about the location of the bomb on Graf Station; since fast-penta is unlikely to work on it, it will probably require Barrayaran-style interrogation techniques, which the quaddies are unlikely to approve of.

Miles asks how Bel is doing, and Clogston says it seems to be delirious, asking for the Admiral; Miles immediately realizes it means Admiral Naismith, a.k.a. him, and hurries to its side.  Bel doesn’t seem to be in great shape, and keeps mumbling about “balla”.

Miles elbowed to the edge of Bel’s bunk to put himself in Bel’s line of sight, staring down at the herm in wild hope. Bel’s head jerked. The eyelids flickered up; the eyes widened. The blue lips tried to move again. Bel licked them, took a long inhalation, and tried once more. “Adm’ral! Portent. ‘S basti’d hid it in the balla. Tol’ me. Sadist’c basti’d.”

“Still going on about Admiral Vorpatril,” Clogston muttered in dismay.

“Not Admiral Vorpatril. Me,” breathed Miles. Did that witty mind still exist, in the bunker of its brain? Bel’s eyes were open, shifting to try to focus on him, as if Miles’s image wavered and blurred in the herm’s sight.

Bel knew a portent. No. Bel was trying to say something important. Bel wrestled death for the possession of its own mouth to try to get the message out. Balla? Ballistic? Balalaika? No—ballet!

Miles confirms that Bel is trying to say that the bomb is in the Minchenko Auditorium, probably hidden in the lights, and Bel adds that the device is likely homemade, so they should check for what Dubauer may have purchased on the station.  Miles relays this information to Sealer Greenlaw, though he notes that the ba could have been planting false information, but this gives her and Venn something to look for.  Miles calms Bel down with reassurances about Nicol and the vid cube of their potential children, and wonders if he’ll look that bad in a few hours.

He finally allows himself to be put on a hospital bed, though he demands a secured comconsole, and to keep his comlink.  He’s hooked up to the blood filter, though he finds the sensation of cold blood re-entering his body intensely unpleasant.  He tells Roic to give the trigger device to the bomb disposal tech when he arrives, then to supervise the ba’s interrogation.  He also tells Roic to make sure some qualified medical personnel go to check on the replicators and see that they’re kept alive and well, which he emphasizes is extremely important.  He wonders if they’ve been given the same infection as he and Bel, but he suspects that that wasn’t quite part of the ba’s instincts.

Roic returns in a few minutes to report that the ba seems to be mostly raving incoherently, and its physical condition is deteriorating as well; Miles says that it must be kept alive, as proof for the Cetagandans, and also asks if he can get any confirmation on the device’s placement in Minchenko Auditorium.  Roic says he’ll also tell the physicians about Miles’s seizures, since Miles hasn’t gotten around to that yet.

Miles’s comconsole arrives and he makes contact with Admiral Vorpatril; he tells the admiral to prepare a fast ship to carry him, Thorne, the ba, Gupta if possible, the thousand replicators, and guards and medical staff.  Ekaterin insists on coming along too, but Miles says she should follow in _Kestrel_ so as to stay out of medical quarantine.  He tells the admiral to start negotiating their passage right away, to Rho Ceta.

Vorpatril’s head jerked back in startlement. “If the orders I received from Sector Five HQ mean what we think, you’ll hardly get passage there. Reception by plasma fire and fusion shells the moment you pop out of the wormhole, would be what I’d expect.”

Unpack, Miles,” Ekaterin’s voice drifted in.

He grinned briefly at the familiar exasperation in her voice. “By the time we arrive there, I will have arranged our clearances with the Cetagandan Empire.” I hope. Or else they were all going to be in more trouble than Miles ever wanted to imagine. “Barrayar is bringing their kidnapped haut babies back to them. On the end of a long stick. I get to be the stick.”

He instructs Vorpatril to begin loading the cargo right away, and they will depart as soon as everybody is aboard.  Ekaterin says she’ll send over his seizure stimulator as soon as she’s back on the Kestrel, and they bid farewell through their holographic images.  Miles tries to fight off unpleasant images of his impending deliquescence and war between two empires, trying to cheer himself up with images of the medtechs trying to deal with a thousand squalling haut infants.

He is woken up from nightmares by a call from Sealer Greenlaw, who tells him, in vast relief, that they found the device in the auditorium.  He would have only had material for the one, based on his purchases, but it was a simple balloon filled with the contaminants, painted to camouflage it, with the remote trigger and another one set to be triggered by high-decibel sound.  Miles says it must have been set up after Gupta’s attack, when it realized that Cetagandans were likely on its trail, though its motivation is unclear–perhaps merely petty revenge.

Miles says they will need to leave soon, and mentions the orders from home, and the tensions with Cetaganda, and his plan to defuse it by bringing the evidence to them.  He notes that the ba, and Gupta, both committed crimes in Barrayaran and Cetagandan space before reaching quaddiespace, so submits that they have prior claim, not to mention that their very presence might be hazardous.  Greenlaw asks about their fines.

“Let . . . on my authority, I am willing to transfer of ownership of the _Idris_ to Graf Station, in lieu of all fines and expenses.” He added prudently, “As is.”

Her eyes sprang wide. She said indignantly, “The ship’s contaminated.”

“Yes. So we can’t take it anywhere anyway. Cleaning it up could be a nice little training exercise for your biocontrol people.” He decided not to mention the holes. “Even with that expense, you’ll come out ahead. I’m afraid the passengers’ insurance will have to eat the value of any of their cargo that can’t be cleared. But I’m really hopeful that most of it will not need to be quarantined. And you can let the rest of the fleet go.”

“And your men in our detention cells?”

“You let one of them out. Are you sorry? Can you not allow Lieutenant Corbeau’s courage to redeem his comrades? That has to be one of the bravest acts I’ve ever witnessed, him walking naked and knowing into horror to save Graf Station.”

Greenlaw points out that Miles himself went after the ba, and Miles admits he’s got a bit of a gift for timing.  He also asks to bring Bel Thorne with him, who he feels responsible for, as part of his “work gang”, in the hopes that the haut women will be able to save him when they get to Cetagandan space.  Greenlaw accedes to his requests, though she reserves the right to levy further charges after they’ve assessed the _Idris_, which the Barrayarans can send someone else to work out.

Miles asks Clogston about Corbeau, and learns that the hypospray was a bluff after all.  Miles asks to see him, and Clogston concedes that Miles and Bel don’t seem to be directly contagious, except possibly through exchange of bodily fluids; Miles tries to shrug off visions of a future where he’s never fully cured, and never able to safely touch his wife again.  Corbeau comes in, and Miles thanks him for his heroic gesture; Corbeau says he did it for Garnet Five and the quaddies, but Miles says that he’ll doubtless get medals from other people if they want to.

Corbeau asks what Miles wants of him, and Miles says that since he’s forced to leave quaddiespace before completing his diplomatic goals, he’d like to leave someone behind as a full Barrayaran consul.  Someone who seems to like quaddies, and is willing to spend a couple of years away from home–someone like Corbeau himself; Miles doesn’t think that Vorpatril would object to having Corbeau taking off his hands.  Corbeau protests that he doesn’t have any training or experience for it, and Miles says that he has managed to make it through pilot training, which shows a certain amount of dedication, and he’ll be able to hire staff to assist him.  After two years, of course, he can muster out and stay in Quaddiespace if he desires.  Corbeau agrees to think about it, at least, and Miles dismisses him, willing to settle for that.

Miles immediately calls Ekaterin, who is about to leave the Prince Xav, and says they’re almost ready to leave Quaddiespace.  He asks her to give Garnet Five a call and pitch the consul idea to her, so that hopefully she can convince Corbeau to accept.  Thinking of Bel, he asks her to ask Nicol if she’d like to come along, perhaps on the Kestrel; the trip is unlikely to be fun for either him or Bel, and even if the haut can cure the infection, there will likely be a long convalescence.

Miles drowses for a while, reluctant to give way fully to sleep in case he never emerges.  First Bel, then himself, are evacuated from the Idris; on his way out, one of the officers confirms that they found Solian’s remains in a supposedly-empty bod-pod, which Miles tells him to bring along as further evidence.

Comments

Here begins the denouement, though things were knotted tightly enough that even this stage of it is still fairly tense.  The problem of the ba’s bio-bomb is settled, starting with Bel’s barely-coherent intelligence and relayed to Greenlaw and the capable quaddies.  We also have to tie up the problems we’re given at the outset, the detained Barrayarans and the diplomatic kerfuffle with the quaddies; I think Greenlaw gives in and accepts Miles’s offer at least partly because she’s tired of arguing with Miles, who has a lot of appealing logic on his side.  I certainly wouldn’t want to be a stickler for counting diplomatic coup when there’s a war at stake, and possible involuntary involvement in it.  The literally tainted offer of the Idris is somewhat amusing, but I’m presuming that its original value is more than adequate for the fines that the Brrayarans have run up, however much Greenlaw hedges her bets about it.

Setting up Corbeau as a Barrayaran consul is a little more questionable, given Corbeau’s near-total lack of qualifications for it, whatever Miles says; I guess “likes quaddies”, as well as being a hero, will have to do for now.  At least he’s probably a step up from a part-time worker who handles paperwork for Cetagandans as well as Barrayarans (and she’ll probably still be on call).  One wonders if the position does continue after Corbeau’s mustering-out…

I can’t help but think that Miles having a seizure would be far from a good idea with the parasites in his bloodstream, both of them stressing out his system.  At least the parasites are supposed to stay clear of the brain, but still, it might have some kind of unsalutary effect on his body temperature, if nothing else.  The necessity for keeping track of the seizures must have been a bit of a pain for the author once it was introduced, because it has to come up every once in a while.  One wonders if the Cetagandans could have cured the disorder, but I suppose that even offering it would be considered a bit too much of a temptation for an Imperial Auditor, since it’d be viewed as a bribe, and it may even have been one.  For now he’s just got to live with it.

I’m always a little taken aback when a mention is made of the holographic display of a comconsole.  At some point everyone was certain that holographic displays were going to be the way of the future, but somehow they haven’t managed to manifest yet, except through special effects trickery, and it’s beginning to seem like they’re not going to.  Of course, ten years ago everyone said that picture phones were just never going pan out, too, and now people Skype all the time, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about.  In any case, I keep forgetting whether comconsoles are supposed to display holograms or use screens, or both, or either, depending on the model, and in general I just picture screens unless actually informed otherwise…


Only two chapters left–well, one and an epilogue–which is more denouement than I was guessing at last week.  I have a concert to go to next Wednesday, so with any luck I’ll get it done ahead of time and schedule it to go out a little early, and without luck I’ll finish it up on Thursday or something.  After that will be the usual week off, and then I guess it’ll be time for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, which will be interesting, as a book I’ve only read once…

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Sometimes good things come to those who wait…and sometimes they even appear early, without you have to wait quite as long after all, like this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I cover what may be one of the best chapters in this book, or maybe even the entire series…and the one before it, too.

Why early?  Well, it’s like this…one of the great things about having moved the weekly Reread posts to Wednesdays is that, after inevitably done absolutely nothing on it for the entire weekend, I can do one chapter on Monday, take a night off, then do the other chapter on Wednesday.  Whereas before I’d have to do Monday and Tuesday, two nights straight, which felt like more work somehow.  But what do I do when I have plans on Wednesday night?  Like this week?  That’s right, Monday and Tuesday.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.  Although I am wishing I hadn’t already squandered my single chapter…

Chapter Twenty-Four

Miles gives Gregor an update before the party, which makes them both late.  As they arrive, Gregor admonishes Miles to not appear too grim, or people will wonder what’s wrong; Miles echoes the sentiment, and manages to improve Gregor’s mood by reminding him of Laisa.  They find Laisa with Cordelia and Alys; once Gregor and Laisa are reunited, Cordelia urges Alys to go off and enjoy herself with Simon Illyan.  Gregor notes Illyan’s improvement with approval, which Cordelia credits to Alys as much as Miles.  Miles notices something different about Illyan’s clothing–apparently Alys has finally gotten him to go a tailor.
Miles spots Ivan, who’s squiring Martya Koudelka, but Ivan keeps being distracted by Delia, who’s sitting cozily on a couch hobnobbing with Duv Galeni.  Martya mutters that she’ll be glad when Delia finally picks someone, and she can stop living off her sister’s castoffs.  Miles asks Martya how long Duv & Delia has been going on, and she says Delia told her Duv was going to be the one a month ago.

“Um . . . and when did old Duv find out?”

“Delia’s working on it. Some fellows you have to hit with a brick to get their attention. Some you have to hit with a big brick.”

The dancing starts, and the couples head off to the ballroom; Miles manages a few dances with ladies who don’t mind his height, none of them available, then retreats to be a wallflower.  Ivan joins him briefly, and they see Illyan dance past with Lady Alys, astounding both of them with his skill.

A wisp of hair escaped Lady Alys’s elaborate beflowered coiffure, and she brushed it back from her forehead. The image of her en deshabille at breakfast burst in Miles’s memory, and he had the sudden sensation of being hit with a big brick. He choked on his own wine.

Good God. Illyan’s sleeping with my aunt.

Ivan asks him if he’s all right, and Miles says he’s fine, deciding he’ll let Ivan figure this one out by himself.  He heads for the buffet, where he encounters Galeni.  He mentions that he had been going to ask Delia; Galeni says that he had first checked whether Delia thought Miles was serious about her.  Miles asks Galeni if he’s serious, and Galeni says, “Deathly.”  She has the background, the connections, the brains, and the beauty.  Miles offers to put in a good word with Delia’s father, Commodore Koudelka, and Galeni asks Miles politely to not try to do him any more favours.  He’s learned from his earlier mistakes, and plans to propose to Delia on the ride home.

Miles heads back into the ballroom, leaning against the wall and going over the case in his head, until he realizes he’s starting to glower, and snags a dance with Laisa.  While mirror-dancing with her, he sees Galeni being accosted by an ImpSec colonel and two guards.  He moves to keep them out of Laisa’s view; Galeni seems quite angry, and Delia looks worried.  Then the colonel grabs Galeni’s arm, and when Galeni pulls free, one of the guards pulls out a stunner.  Miles excuses himself hastily from Laisa, telling her to go see Gregor, and goes to investigate.

Miles asks the colonel what’s going on, and the colonel tells him that Haroche has ordered Galeni’s arrest, and removing him immediately from the Imperial Residence.  Miles assures Galeni he has nothing to do with this, and wonders if it can be related to his case.  Martya and Ivan come over, and the guards begin to get more nervous; the colonel says that Haroche is on his way over, and Miles advises Galeni to go quietly.  Galeni asks Ivan to get Delia home, before she does anything foolish, and accompanies the guards down the corridor.

Around the corner, they throw Galeni against the wall and start frisking him; Miles forestalls Galeni’s response by admonishing them and telling them to treat him like a fellow officer.  Miles asks what the real charge is, and the colonel tells him it’s treason, which flabbergasts Miles and Galeni.  Miles tells Galeni to go along, and he’ll clear it all up with Haroche; Galeni accedes.
Miles returns to find Gregor, Laisa, Delia and Cordelia gathered to try to find out what’s going on.  Miles says he should have been informed, but all he knows is that ImpSec has arrest Galeni, though he doesn’t mention the charge in Laisa and Delia’s presence.  Haroche himself arrives then, and Gregor asks him to explain himself.  Haroche says he’s only just found out about a possible security risk in one of the guests in the Imperial Residence, and it was his first priority to assure the Emperor’s safety.

“Oh.” Gregor turned to Countess Vorkosigan, and made a vague frustrated gesture at Delia and Laisa. “Cordelia, would you . . . ?”

Countess Vorkosigan smiled very dryly. “Come, ladies. The gentlemen need to go talk.”

“But I want to know what’s going on!” protested Laisa.

“We can get it later. I’ll explain the system to you. It’s really stupid, but it can be made to work. Which, come to think of it, could also sum up a great many other Vor customs. In the meantime, we need to keep the show going out there” — she nodded toward the reception rooms — “and repair what damages we can from this, ah” — a sharp glance at Haroche, which should have made him wince — “unfortunate exercise in caution.”

Haroche, Miles and Gregor move to Gregor’s office; Haroche says he has copies of the report for both of them.  Haroche leads them to the main point of the security report, where they found that the retina scan on Miles’s faked visit was an older copy, from before his cryo-revival, which made some perceptible changes.  It could only have been done physically on the actual machine itself.  The changes to the admittance log, though, were done over the network, through Guy Allegre’s comconsole, and it originated from Galeni’s machine.

Miles points out that Galeni’s machine doesn’t mean the man himself; Haroche says that they can’t fast-penta Galeni, so they may have to settle for circumstantial evidence.  He reminds Miles that Galeni’s father was involved with the original Komarran plot, and Miles’s own clone-brother killed Galeni’s father.  He also mentions the resentment from Miles’s recent interference in Galeni’s courting of Laisa, quoting Galeni’s exact description of Miles on his first call.  Miles says it was to his face, not to his back, and asks how Haroche got that message; Haroche admits that the public Vorkosigan House comconsoles have been routinely monitored for decades.

Miles insists that he can’t believe in Galeni’s guilt, that he’d through away all his hard work like that.  Haroche encourages him to look over the reports, saying he’s not happy to find disloyalty among ImpSec personnel.  Haroche leaves, and Miles heads home as well, not wanting to have to answer questions right now.  In the groundcar, he is struck with another seizure, and comes to to find a panicked Martin leaning over him, and blood in his mouth from bitten tongue and lip.  He tells Martin to take him home, since he’s going to need some time to recover and then to look over the report before he can be of any help to Galeni.  The doctors are right–the seizures being triggered by stress will make him unfit for any sort of active duty.

Comments

So now the Duv and Delia relationship is established, as well as the Alys and Simon Illyan one–at least Miles has figured them out, even if Ivan is still a little slow on the uptake.  Not sure why Simon and Alys are being so coy about theirs, but I guess they’re worried about people’s reactions…particularly Ivan’s, I’d imagine.  I don’t think Duv and Delia are a Great Romance or anything, but they seem to have compatible goals, at least, so they’ll make a good partnership.

So Duv Galeni was the traitor all the time, eh?  Who’d have thought it?  I guess he just snapped or something.  …Yeah, I didn’t buy it either.  Don’t worry, next chapter will lead us to the real culprit.

Also…liked Martya’s “big brick” reference…followed by the big brick hitting Miles when he finally figures out what’s going on with Alys and Simon.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Miles wakes up the next morning with a postseizure hangover, and wonders if the symptoms are getting worse as time goes on, or if it’s just that the rest of his life is improving.  He spends the morning going over Haroche’s report, whose data is scanty but almost more convincing because of it.  He finds little to help Galeni, who’s being held at ImpSec “on suspicion”, a disturbingly indefinite state.  He does go to ImpSec to meet with Dr. Weddell, who is anxious to go home; he confirms that the sample the exact same prokaryote used against Illyan.  Now he also knows that it was never intended to be swallowed; it was packaged into sporelike capsules designed to be dispersed into the air and dissolve on moist mucous membranes.  They would only briefly be visible into the air, and would be odourless, but would hang around in the air for several minutes.

Haroche calls and asks Miles to stop in, and Miles releases Weddell to go home.  He tells Haroche he hasn’t changed his mind, and gives him a copy of Weddell’s report.  Haroche says that of the other Komarran Affairs analysts, two had no knowledge of the sample, and the other two had no perceptible motivation.  Miles points out it’s still circumstantial, and Haroche agrees; he asks if it’s possible Miles could somehow elicit a confession from Galeni, and Miles says he still doubts Galeni is guilty.  Haroche says it will then inevitably have to proceed to a court-martial.  Miles says he doesn’t want some military court guessing about the verdict; he wants to keep looking for other possible culprits.  Haroche protests that that amounts to a witch-hunt, tearing ImpSec apart.

“If you have nothing more concrete to offer, I’m ready to lay the charges and let the court-martial sort it out.”

You can lay the charges, but I’ll not light the fuse. . . “I could decline to close my Auditor’s case.”

“If the court-martial convicts, you’ll have to close it, my lord.”

No, I won’t. The realization made him blink. He could keep his Auditor’s inquiry open forever if he so chose, and there wasn’t a damned thing Haroche could do about it. No wonder Haroche was being so exquisitely polite today. Miles could even veto the court-martial. . . .

But he realizes that the greatest qualification for being an Auditor must be probity, so he should refrain from mucking around too much with his powers.  Haroche recognizes Miles’s reluctance, and offers to downgrade the charge from treason to assaulting a superior officer–a short prison term and a dishonourable discharge rather than the death sentence.  Miles still isn’t sure, since this will wreck Galeni’s future career, not to mention not doing Komarran relations any good.

Haroche then changes the subject, saying that he had another reason for calling Miles up.  He’s been looking at Miles’s medical records, and thinks the controller-seizure device treatment sounds promising.  He tells Miles how he’s been impressed at how he worked with Illyan over the years, and the records he’s been reading about Miles’s career, and he thinks Miles’s discharge was a mistake.  He’d like to work with the Dendarii Mercenaries again, and rather than work with an offworlder like Elli Quinn, he’d prefer to reinstate Miles.

He had to swallow, in order to breathe. “Everything . . . to be as it was before? Take up where I left off?” The Dendarii . . . Admiral Naismith . . .

“Not exactly where you left off, no. By my calculations you were about two years overdue for your promotion to captain, for one thing. But I think you and I could be a team just as you and Illyan were.” A small twinkle lit Haroche’s eye. “You will perhaps forgive me my touch of ambition if I say, maybe even better? I’d be proud to have you on board, Vorkosigan.”

Miles sat stunned. For a moment, all he could think, idiotically, was I’m sure glad I had that seizure last night, or I’d be rolling on this carpet again right now. “I . . . I . . .” His hands were shaking, his head exploding with joy. Yes! Yes! Yes! “I’d . . . have to close this case first. Give Gregor back his choke-chain. But then . . . sure!” His injured lip split again as it stretched, painfully, into an unstoppable grin. He sucked salt blood from it.

“Yes,” said Haroche patiently, “that’s exactly what I’ve been saying.”

Miles, despite the joyous visions in his mind, is suddenly uncertain, and he asks Haroche for some time to think about it.  Haroche agrees, but asks him not to take too long, since he already has a potential mission in mind.  He heads back to Vorkosigan House, somehow feeling like he’s retreating, and ends up fleeing to the small room on the fourth floor.  He realizes that he was kidding himself about how much he’d gotten over the loss of Admiral Naismith.  The Naismith part of him wants to accept the offer, to be reunited with Elli and Taura and the others, but the other part of him whispers that the price seems to be sacrificing Galeni, and letting Haroche get back to running ImpSec without Auditorial interference.

What if Galeni’s really guilty?  Can he really doubt his own character judgement that much?  He remembers the jump-pilot that he’d ordered Bothari to interrogate, back at the beginning of Naismith’s career, and who’d ended up dying; does he need to sacrifice another life now to go back to the Dendarii?  He suddenly remembers Haroche’s expression after he made the offer, and realizes that Haroche knew exactly what he was doing–he was, essentially, offering Miles a bribe.  He begins to realize how much he’s been underestimating Haroche, despite the knowledge that Illyan had appointed him to such a high ImpSec post.  Haroche must have felt sure that Miles would bite, especially with the captaincy thrown in.

Haroche certainly had no trouble figuring out where my on-switch was located. But Haroche was a loyal weasel, Miles would swear, loyal to Gregor and the Imperium, a true brother in arms. If money meant anything to the man, Miles had seen no hint of it. His passion was his ImpSec service, like Illyan himself, like Miles too. The work he had taken over from Illyan.

Miles’s breath stopped; for a moment, he felt as frozen as any cryo-corpse.

No. The work Haroche had taken away from Illyan.

Oh.

He suddenly realizes the motive, to get Illyan out of the picture, was just to allow Haroche to move into his job.  Haroche could easily have planted all of the evidence in the computer systems–who better?  Despite his conviction, though, he has no proof.  He could just accuse him out of the blue, but if he tipped his hand too soon, Haroche doubtless had other resources to marshall to get him out of the picture.  Even if he refused Haroche’s bribe, that might be enough to make him suspicious.  So he could take the bribe, and bide his time…but, he realizes, Haroche is probably not as enamoured of Admiral Naismith as he pretends, and he would be just waiting for the opportunity to bump Miles off untraceably.

His mother knocks on the door, and she and Illyan ask if he’s all right, because they’d heard him thumping around, and wondered if he was having a seizure.

He fought to keep his words even. “Just . . . wrestling with temptation.”

Illyan’s voice came back, amused. “Who’s winning?”

Miles’s eye followed the cracks in the plaster, overhead. His voice came out high and light, on a sigh: “I think . . . I’m going for the best two falls out of three.”

Even if he could trust Haroche, he thinks after they’ve left him alone, Haroche has only tempered his offer for Miles Naismith–he doesn’t know Lord Vorkosigan, which isn’t surprising since Miles hardly does, either.  Miles realizes he’s sick of trying to figure out what Haroche expects him to do.  What else can he do, though?

Who are you, boy?

. . . Who are you who asks?

On the thought a blessed silence came, an empty clarity. He took it at first for utter desolation, but desolation was a kind of free fall, perpetual and without ground below. This was stillness: balanced, solid, weirdly serene. No momentum to it at all, forward or backwards or sideways.

I am who I choose to be. I always have been what I chose . . . though not always what I pleased.

He lingers in his newfound serenity, choosing to be himself, and Haroche’s spectre dwindles.  He realizes that Haroche is likely to balk at actually having him killed, just yet, because that would draw the wrong kind of attention.  Galeni, on the other hand, is at high risk of a staged Vorish suicide, a supposed confession of guilt.

As soon as Haroche knew Miles knew, it would be a race against time. And all Miles had was a trail of mirrors and smoke.

Smoke.

Air filters.

Miles’s eyes widened.

Comments

This is the chapter.  This.

The detective realizes who the criminal is…but has no proof.  Nonetheless, he can now construct the entire chain of events, and everything fits together.  In case there was any doubt that at least one plotline in the book is a mystery–not quite a murder, but close to–that should be gone by now.

And yet, integrated with this scene is Miles wrestling with his own identity.  He realizes that he’s no longer the person that Haroche is trying to bribe, the one at the beginning of the book, who would have leapt at the chance to be reinstated.  Admiral Naismith is not completely gone, but he’s losing ground to Lord Vorkosigan, who can’t sacrifice a probably-innocent man, Duv Galeni, even to regain his heart’s desire.  So that’s Miles’s advantage, that Haroche doesn’t have his measure anymore, because he doesn’t realize how Miles has changed.  Of course, if Miles had been more willing to throw Galeni to the wolves, I’d be willing to bet that Haroche wouldn’t even have broached the subject of reinstatement…he only needed it as the bribe.

Miles’s epiphany, or revelation, or satori, or whatever he does, seems to hinge on a realization that he doesn’t have to choose to be a particular thing, and then try to shoehorn himself into it.  Which is good, because he’s rarely done that.  Was it just since the cryo-revival, when he had to try harder to be Admiral Naismith because it was slipping away from him?  Well, I’m sure he’ll fall back into that trap from time to time, because unless you live on a mountaintop somewhere you keep having to deal with a world that wants to put you in a box.

Sounds like a perfect qualification to being an Imperial Auditor, doesn’t it?


Tune in next week for…the Final Confrontation!  Good vs. Evil!  And something about air filters!

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Clever ideas for blog post introductions having temporarily (I hope) forsaken me, I will prosaically welcome you back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the results of my rereading the Vorkosigan Saga, as I’ve done several times in the past.  This time, though, I am endeavouring to share with you my insights into the novels and stories of Lois McMaster Bujold, at least the ones that concern the Vorkosigan family of Barrayar and their close friends and associates.  This week we cover the third and fourth chapters of Memory, the prosaically-titled but nonetheless fascinating story of what happens to Miles Vorkosigan when everything that gives his life meaning is put into jeopardy…

Chapter Three

Because they need adjoining rooms, for security reasons, Miles and Taura are obliged to take luxury suites on the ship to Tau Ceti.  After that he will have to travel as boring old Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan, and deal with people suspecting him of having a cushy courier job because of his family connections.  But he has a week until then to spend in room service-catered luxury, with Taura.

After Taura completes her security sweep of the cabins and they leave orbit, Miles tells her to take a week-long vacation.  He reminisces about their first time together, and he can still remember every time they’ve made love, both before and since his relationship with Elli Quinn.

Oh, they’d tried to be good. Dendarii regs against cross-rank fraternization were for the benefit of all, to protect the rankers from exploitation and the officers from losing control of discipline, or worse. And Miles had been quite determined, as the young and earnest Admiral Naismith, to set a good example for his troops, a virtuous resolve that had slipped away . . . somewhere. After the umpteenth we’ve-lost-count-again time he had been almost killed, perhaps.

Well, if you couldn’t be good, at least you could be discreet.

Taura kisses him and then heads to the bathroom to freshen up.  He encourages her to take her time and be decadent.  She rarely gets to indulge her feminine side, but she feels safe to do it with him.  He does sometimes have to discourage her from the extremities of pink that she keeps trying to festoon herself in.  She does not disappoint when she returns, in creamy and shimmery fabric.  She’s also trimmed her claws, to keep from leaving embarrassing scratches this time.  He notices that he feels a little defensive about his arrangement with Taura, and wonders if he’s breaking his own rules by doing this.

Later he wakes to watch her as she sleeps, a rare gift for her to feel safe enough for that.  Her flesh is hot because of her heightened metabolism, which is also shortening her lifespan, though an active Dendarii medical project is lengthening that as much as possible.  Taura already has a few grey hairs, at the age of twenty-two.

It’s a good thing she loves Admiral Naismith. Lord Vorkosigan couldn’t handle this.

He thought a bit guiltily of Admiral Naismith’s other lover, the public and acknowledged Quinn. Nobody had to explain or excuse being in love with the beautiful Quinn. She was self-evidently his match.

He was not, exactly, being unfaithful to Elli Quinn. Technically, Taura predated her. And he and Quinn had exchanged no vows, no oaths, no promises. Not for lack of asking; he’d asked her a painful number of times. But she too was in love with Admiral Naismith. Not Lord Vorkosigan. The thought of becoming Lady Vorkosigan, grounded downside forever on a planet she herself had stigmatized as a “backwater dirtball,” had been enough to send space-bred Quinn screaming in the opposite direction, or at least, excusing herself uneasily.

Admiral Naismith’s sex life is astonishing and mostly free of strings, but it’s not satisfying him anymore.  Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan, he suddenly realizes, has no sex life at all, and he wonders when that happened.

Taura awakens and they eat, Miles feeling no guilt about ordering everything because he knows she’ll take care of any leftovers.  They reminisce about his rescue of her, and he reminds her that he was actually sent to kill her.  She says he changed that, and he seems to like rescues better than any other mission.  She wonders if he’s like one of those people who give other people the gift they want themselves–if he needs to be rescued, or wants freedom that he doesn’t have.  Miles changes the subject, and then the food arrives.

He asks if she had been surprised to find out his true identity, and she says she’d always suspected he was secretly a prince.  Miles says far from that, never having wanted the Imperium, and he wonders if Admiral Naismith is more real than Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan; it certainly seems to be the easier identity to slip into.  Returning to the earlier topic, he says he doesn’t really want “freedom”, especially not in the sense of having no responsibilities.  He wants to be himself, to the fullest, and achieve whatever destiny that brings him.  He wonders if being Naismith is that; he’s never been able to bring himself to abandon Barrayar entirely and take the Dendarii with him, especially with the consequences Miles having a private army would bring down upon his father.  He doesn’t look forward to taking his father’s place one day, being Count, and the duties that go with that…

Taura asks after Mark; Miles says he went to Sergyar with their parents, then continued on to Beta Colony, living with their grandmother and studying accounting.  Miles doesn’t understand that choice, and wonders why they aren’t more similar; Taura says maybe he’ll learn to like accounting later.  Miles’s thoughts turn to the Duronas, and he wonders if Mark knows how they’re doing on Escobar…and if they could help him out with his medical issues, sub rosa.  If he went to visit Sergyar, he could maybe sneak from there to Escobar…and maybe even convince Illyan he’s visiting Rowan Durona for romantic reasons.  Then he could get cured and resume his duties without anyone else being the wiser.  He begins to wish he hadn’t deleted the other copy of the mission report.

Resolved to his Escobar plan, he turns back to a gastronomically-sated Taura to fulfill other appetites.

Comments

A lot of backstory in this chapter…and backstory that you’ve seen if you read all the other books.  But it does add on a few details, like the fact that Miles and Taura’s relationship is now depicted as an on-again off-again thing.  After the pass she made at Mark back in _Mirror Dance_, based only on the fact that Quinn wasn’t on the mission, it shouldn’t be that surprising.  I’m not as sanguine as Miles that Elli is, or would be, okay with it.  Maybe she knows, maybe not.  Maybe she doesn’t envision a married life with Lord Vorkosigan on Barrayar…but she might nonetheless want them to be monogamous and committed to each other with the Dendarii.  He even thinks to himself that he may be breaking his own rules.  After all, Elli was incensed when he chose Taura as a bodyguard for this trip, so I’m sure Quinn knows about the hanky-panky that was likely to ensue, and she didn’t like it.

In other words, Miles does something stupid and insensitive again, which is a little out of character for him.  He’s still in denial, or is it bargaining now?  Promising that he’ll go to Escobar and get things fixed up on the hush-hush, and then everything can go back to normal.  But there are those nagging doubts–he’s not satisfied with either of his identities right now, Lord Vorkosigan being dull and sexless, but Admiral Naismith starting to feel a little hollow.  He’s still leaning towards Naismith, but his health issues are putting Naismith in danger, and threatening to take the choice out of his hands, so he’s panicking.

Maybe it’s just me, but after so much was made of her short lifespan, I began to wonder if Taura was ever going to actually die.  They make the point, several times, throughout the later books, that they’d managed to heroically extend her life by quite a bit, but I confess that it began to wear on me a bit.  They don’t have to show her on her deathbed, coughing up blood and shedding hair by the bucketful, but…well, I suppose it’s painful to say goodbye to loved characters sometimes, even if one is the author.  And not every death can be a heroic sacrifice used as a crucial blow against the enemy.  Lois McMaster Bujold is certainly no George R.R. Martin, and it’s true that more advanced societies accept death less casually (at least, according to the Steven Pinker book I’m reading right now), and have the technology to fight it more successfully in Bujold’s far future.  But it exists, it’s a fact, and reminding us that one character is living on borrowed time, and then continuing to lend her time, can begin to wear a little thin.  I think they did establish by the time of Cryoburn that she was dead, at least.  Not that I dislike the character that much (though she’s not actually a favourite), but an author has certain obligations to follow through on these things…

Chapter Four

Upon arriving in Vorbarr Sultana, Miles is picked up by an ImpSec car, which he wishes would dawdle a little more on its way to the ugly headquarters building.  As he stands outside the door, he’s fast losing confidence in his Escobar plan, and decides he’ll have to deliver his notes on the seizure verbally to Illyan, pretending that he thought they were too sensitive to commit to even a confidential report.

Decision made, he heads inside, checking his coat and heading for Illyan’s office unescorted.  Illyan’s secretary is chatting with General Lucas Haroche, Head of ImpSec’s Domestic Affairs division, in charge of covering investigations of plots based on the homeworld, as Guy Allegre does on Komarr.  Miles generally deals with the Galactic Affairs office on Komarr, if not Illyan himself, but he hadn’t been given time to stop in there.  Miles greets them, and the secretary asks for the report; Miles says he’d rather deliver it in person, but the secretary says Illyan is out of town.  Reluctantly, Miles leaves the cipher-case with the report, rejecting the secretary’s offer to pass on Miles’s extra verbal information, and makes do with leaving a message for Illyan to contact him as soon as possible.

He asks if Illyan left any orders for him, but he didn’t, despite the supposed urgency of Miles’s return.  Miles asks if he can go visit his parents, hoping to skive off to Escobar after all, but he’s told that he has to keep himself available on one-hour notice.  Haroche asks after Miles’s parents, but Miles says his mail hasn’t caught up with him yet, and Haroche likely has more up-to-date information than he does, but Haroche tells him that Sergyar has been split off from Domestic Affairs into its own bureau, despite the small size of its colony.  Miles expresses surprise, but allows that Sergyar’s position in the nexus gives it a certain importance.  He bids them farewell and says he might as well head home.

On his way out, he bumps into Duv Galeni.  Last Miles had heard, Galeni had been working on Komarr, but Galeni says he’d requested a transfer back to Barrayar…  He’s interested in a Komarran woman from the Toscane family, who has come to Vorbarr Sultana as a government lobbyist, and decided to follow her.  Galeni admits his relationship is still more hopeful than actual, and Miles wishes him luck.  Miles says he’s headed home, and Galeni bids him farewell.  At the exit, Miles pauses to consider how exactly he’ll get home, since the entire Vorkosigan household has decamped to Sergyar, and so there won’t be any Armsmen there to pick him up.  He considers the safety of ordering a public taxi, and decides that the weather is not awful, so he’ll walk home.

His walk is uneventful–no attention spared for his deformities, and he’s not sure whether having his spine straightened had that much of an effect, or if Vorbarr Sultana’s denizens are getting better.  Vorkosigan House is situated on a block that used to have three mansions; one of them was torn down to make a park, and the other bought by the Imperium and turned into offices.

Vorkosigan House sat in the center, set off from the street by a narrow green strip of lawn and garden in the loop of the semicircular drive. A stone wall topped with black wrought-iron spikes surrounded it all. The four stories of great gray stone blocks, in two main wings plus some extra odd architectural bits, rose in a vast archaic mass. All it needed was window slits and a moat.

The guard kiosk is manned only an ImpSec corporal who salutes Miles, telling him that his luggage has already arrived.  He says the most excitement they’ve had since the Count and Countess left was a stray cat getting caught in the defenses; Miles spots a few signs that the cat is none the worse for wear and has in fact been adopted by the guards.  Keeping a pet on duty is against regulations, but Miles realizes the man must be bored and decides to overlook it; he asks what they named it, and the corporal admits they called it “Zap”.  Miles heads inside, considering how young the corporal seems to him.  He opens the automatic door and enters the disconcertingly empty house.

Keeping the lights down, he explores in unaccustomed solitude, finding half the furniture gone and the rest covered up.  There is a lightflyer and a groundcar, but the risk of seizures makes him an unsafe driver or pilot.  He’s been cadging a lot of rides since his cryo-revival.  The kitchen is empty of food, which he makes a note to get some of if he’s going to be here for any length of time.  Maybe a servant, too–not a stranger, but maybe some pensioner could come back for a few days.  Or maybe he can just get some instant meals.  There’s still wine in the cellar, so he brings up a couple of bottles of “a particularly chewy red” from his grandfather’s day.

He heads up to his third-floor room, turning on the lights this time; his room hasn’t really been lived in for a while, even when he was recuperating a few months ago.  He considers his utter freedom to do whatever he wants, except go to Escobar to get his head examined.  He unpacks his clothing and changes into more comfortable clothes.  He’s been avoiding alcohol in case it exacerbates his seizures, but now he’s planning to stay in until Illyan calls for him, so he pours himself some.  Planning to have some food later, he instead drops off to sleep after two-thirds of a bottle.

By noon the next day the problem of food was becoming acute, despite a couple of painkillers for breakfast, and the absence of coffee and tea turning downright desperate. I’m ImpSec trained. I can figure out this problem. Somebody must have been going for groceries all these years . . . no, come to think of it, kitchen supplies had been delivered daily by a lift-van; he remembered the Armsmen inspecting it.

He inspects the computer records, finds the name of the supplier, boggles at the quantities they were ordering, and instead just walks down to a nearby store.  He grabs coffee, tea, eggs, and some prepackaged food (“Reddi-Meals!”), as well as some cat food.

He gathered up his spoils and took them to the checkout, where the clerk looked him up and down and gave him a peculiar smile. He braced himself inwardly for some snide remark, Ah, mutant? He should have worn his ImpSec uniform; nobody dared sneer at that Horus-eye winking from his collar. But what she said was, “Ah. Bachelor?”

After he’s finally had some food, he still has lots of time to kill, some of which he spends looking up medical clinics and ranking them by reputation and likelihood they’ll keep his visit secret from ImpSec.  He paces around the house, dredging up old memories.

For his evening meal, Miles decided to keep up the standards. He donned his dress greens, pulled all the covers off the furniture in the State dining room, and set up his wine with a proper crystal glass at the head of the meters-long table. He almost hunted up a plate, but reflected he could save the washing up by eating the Reddi-Meal! out of its packet. He piped in soft music. Other than that, dinner took about five minutes. When he’d finished, he dutifully put the covers back on the polished wood and fine chairs.

He wishes some of the Dendarii were there so he could have a real party.  The next evening, he’s driven to call Ivan, who’s surprised to see him back in town.  He tells Ivan about how he’s rattling around in Vorkosigan House; Ivan says it’s appropriate for the formerly-dead Miles to be in such a mausoleum.  Ivan says there’s not much going on, between Emperor’s Birthday (where he’d had to deliver the Vorkosigans’ bag of gold) and Winterfair, but apparently Gregor is having a state dinner in a couple of days, and Lady Alys had asked Ivan to bring some younger people for dancing later.  Miles surmises she really wants Ivan to bring a date, or a fiancée; he says he doesn’t have a date, and Ivan says he should ask one of the Koudelka girls.

“Did you ask Delia?” said Miles thoughtfully.

“Yeah. But I’ll cede her to you if you like, and take Martya. But if you’re escorting Delia, you have to promise not to make her wear high heels. She hates it when you make her wear high heels.”

“But she’s so . . . impressive in them.”

Miles asks Ivan for a ride, pretending his is in the shop, before he realizes that would result in Ivan driving him.  Instead, he remembers Duv Galeni and offers to invite him along.  Galeni can bring this Komarran girl along, impressing her with an official state dinner, and he can drive Miles instead.  Ivan says he’d been to do something to welcome Galeni to the capital anyway, and this is just the ticket.

Comments

I enjoy the scenes with Miles in the empty Vorkosigan House, living the bachelor lifestyle.  I’m almost surprised that Vorkosigan House is quite that deserted, but I guess it is still under guard, so it’s not likely that squatters are going to break in and set up house there.  At the moment he’s still convinced he’s going to be out of there soon and back to the fleet, so he’s not putting down any roots yet.

Illyan does seem to be deliberately avoiding Miles at this point.  He should have been able to determine when Miles would be returning to the capital and make himself available, if he’d wanted to–there doesn’t seem to be any actual crisis calling him away, though I suppose that part’s a bit vague.  So it seems that summoning Miles back, just to make him wait, is less an urgent need for Miles than it is an urgent need for Miles to not be with the Dendarii right then.  Could it be that Illyan has some dire suspicion about Miles’s intentions?  Or perhaps he knows something that would make it dangerous to leave Miles in charge of a mercenary fleet?  Or to be doing combat missions in space armour?  Nah, couldn’t be.

Finally, we have one of the more fateful conversations in Barrayaran history.  If it hadn’t been for Miles not wanting to drive but not wanting Ivan to drive either, would they have thought to invite Duv Galeni along?  Would the meeting between Gregor and Ms. Toscane have taken place at the right time, before she gave in to Duv’s deliberate charms?  Also, the return of the Koudelkas, or at least Delia; probably we won’t see much of Kareen, who may very well be on Beta Colony right now, if Mark is…

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It’s the Barrayar scenes–most of the book, from Chapter Four onward, really–that make Memory one of my favourites, so I’m glad that there’s a lot of them coming up.  Though admittedly they’re not all cheerful ones…as we’ll probably find out in the next couple of weeks.  Oh, sure, a lot of them just look like Miles being at loose ends, but I enjoy them nonetheless.  So come back next week, and we’ll see…

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It’s the First of May, and the next book on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread starts today.  (What were you expecting?)  Having finished off the first of the truly great Vorkosigan Saga books, Hugo-winner Mirror Dance, we move on to what may be my personal favourite book of the entire series, Memory.  Which originally I thought had the dullest title of the whole series (which it really does), but I’m long past holding that against it.  Feast your brains now upon the first two chapters of the book now…

Chapter One

Miles regains consciousness, his thoughts very scattered, and tries to figure out what’s going on.  He’s in zero gravity, strapped to a surface and wrapped in medical foil, wearing the lining from his space armour.  He doesn’t seem to be injured, though.  He had been on a Dendarii mission, he and Quinn and a patrol rescuing Barrayaran Lieutenant Vorberg from hijackers…and that’s the last thing he remembers.  He hears moans from nearby, so obviously someone else is wounded; he concludes he’s in a Dendarii shuttle, at the emergency medical station, with a medtech near the injured person.  He’s not sure why he’s strapped down, though–apart from a headache, somewhat like a post-stun migraine, he seems to be fine.

The medtech sees him awake and comes to check him out; he tells Miles that he had some sort of seizure, which lasted close to five minutes, and he was unconscious for half an hour.  Miles tries to get up, and the medtech says that Quinn had ordered Miles sedated if he did.  Miles asks about the hostage, Vorberg, and the medtech says they should be able to reattach his legs, but he refuses to give more details, referring him to Captain Quinn.

He doesn’t see Quinn until they dock, and Vorberg is rushed off to sickbay.  Quinn first reports that the rescue had gone well, all the crew from the hijacked ships recovered.  They captured the hijackers’ main ship and took nineteen prisoners, but half a dozen more are on the run in a pinnace.  Miles tells her to interrogate the prisoners, and hopefully they’re the same crew who did another job the year before, which would enable the Dendarii to collect another reward for them.

Miles asks what exactly happened to Vorberg.  Quinn says that Miles keeled over, the plasma arc in his combat suit locked on, and sliced Vorberg’s legs off just below the knee, as well as cutting through several walls, before they could open up his armour and deactivate it.  Quinn had to stun Miles to get him to go limp, which explains his headache.  She asks him what happened, and Miles explained about his seizure.  Quinn is less than impressed that he hadn’t told her about the prior seizures; Miles said there had been a few shortly after his cryo-revival, but they’d seemed to stop on their own.  He admits that he hasn’t informed ImpSec yet, mostly for fear they’ll put an end to his Dendarii assignments and give him a desk job, or a medical discharge.  He’s only told the fleet surgeon, who hadn’t solved the problem yet.

Quinn, still annoyed that he hadn’t told her, his second-in-command and lover, tells him to report to sick bay while she finishes mopping up, and he acquiesces.  There he is scanned, sampled and tested, before being left alone to wait for the surgeon.  He assures himself that Quinn is competent to finish up the mission, and reexamines his scars from the last time she was left in charge.  He’d worked hard to overcome his physical limitations, and found a perfect niche for himself as a covert agent with the Dendarii Mercenaries.  This mission had seemed right up their alley–a hijacking which had included a Barrayaran Imperial Courier, who they’d tried to auction off.  Simon Illyan had authorized him to recover the courier over as many dead hijackers as necessary, and even make it clear that it was the Barrayarans who’d authorized it this time.  Miles itches to find out if it was just happenstance, or if they’d gone after the courier on purpose.

The surgeon arrives, fresh from fixing up Vorberg, and says he’ll recover, though he will be a few centimetres shorter, and be recovered in about six weeks.  Miles winces, but reassures himself that at least the damage was reparable.  She checks over the scans, and still can’t find anything suspicious, adding she really needs to monitor him during an actual seizure, though they’d tried to trigger one before and failed.  Miles had not been wearing the monitor she’d given him, since it didn’t fit under his space armour.

Her teeth clenched. “Couldn’t you have at least thought to — to disable your weapons?”

“I could hardly be of use to my squad in an emergency, disarmed. I might as well have stayed aboard the Peregrine.”

“You were the emergency. And you certainly should have stayed aboard the Peregrine.”

Miles’s presence had been necessary, however, to use ImpSec recognition codes for Vorberg, but he concedes that he’ll try to restrain himself until they’ve fixed the problem.  She tells him he’ll need to go to a specialist in cryo-neurology to find his answers, then releases him to oversee the interrogation.

Comments

This chapter both starts with a protagonist who doesn’t know where he is, and has a lot of recap, so I guess it’s meant to orient people who haven’t read the rest of the series.  And yet, it heavily depends on prior events, particularly the cryo-revival from Mirror Dance, so in some ways it’s the least amenable to reading out of order, at least for best effect.  Many of our prior cast reappears, from sources as disparate as Brothers in Arms and “The Mountains of Mourning”.  There’s still enough information for, hopefully, one to orient oneself if the rest of the series is unread, or at least not fresh in your memory, but for best results read the prior books in the series, to get the full “spearpoint” effect.

It was really kind of a dick move, not telling Quinn about the seizures, but Miles is scared stiff of them.  He’s not quite ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away, but he’s nonetheless hoping they’re no big deal, so he’s not going to bother telling people about them.  Maybe after they’re cured, ten years later, he’ll bring it up as an anecdote one day.  “Oh, yeah, I had seizures a few times after that time I got killed and revived.  No big deal, they went away.”  Given Cordelia’s assessments of his sanity, and Admiral Naismith’s necessity to it, in the last book, I’m sure his brain is working hard to keep from dealing with the fact that the Admiral’s existence may be threatened.  Although I think part of the goal of this book is showing that things weren’t as bad as Cordelia had thought.

Chapter Two

Miles composes his umpteenth report for ImpSec–well, it can’t be more than forty missions, he calculates, but he no longer knows the number offhand.  He’s leaving in a lot of raw data for the ImpSec analysts and just adding a personal synopsis.  They’re at Zoave Twilight, collecting money from insurance companies, salvagers, and governments, which Miles dutifully includes in an appendix.  Another appendix includes interviews with their captives, showing that they probably weren’t after Vorberg specifically, unless only the deceased hijackers (which included captain and senior staff) were in on it.  All in all, they’ve made a fair profit on the mission, and Miles hopes that maybe this will encourage Illyan to finally promote him to Captain.  If only it weren’t for the combat armour recordings, including Miles’s accidentally slicing up Lieutenant Vorberg.

Suit #060’s vid recording had some really great close-ups of Lieutenant Vorberg, shocked from his doped stupor, screaming in agony and toppling unconscious in one direction while his severed legs fell in the other. Miles found himself bent over, clutching his chest in sympathy.

This was not going to be a good time to pester Illyan for a promotion.

Vorberg has been sent home already, and he never got a good look at Miles, during or after the rescue.  Miles wished he could delete his squad’s recordings, but that would be too obvious.  Unless he omitted all of them, which would make it less obvious that he was trying to cover something up.  He debates it with himself–he could describe it in neutral language and blame it on an equipment malfunction.  It would be lying, even if by omission.  But it would be good practice to make up a fake report so he’d be better able to detect fake reports in future.  He’d be sure to miss some reference elsewhere in the report, though, and then he’d be in even more trouble…but then again, it might not be that hard to find them all.  Eventually, he tries it; it takes him twenty minutes, and the whole thing lifts right out.  He’d half-proud, half-disgusted with his accomplishment.  Neither of ImpSec’s observers in the fleet have enough information to contradict him, though.  He files both versions of the report to decide later.

Baz Jesek and Elena come to his quarters and ask to talk to him.  Miles wonders what would have happened if Elena had consented to marry him, instead of leaving Barrayar with him on the journey that had ended up spawning the Dendarii Mercenaries–if they’d be happy, or regretful, if they’d have children…  He briefly entertains the thought of something happening to baz, and him having to console the grieving widow…except that Elena’s more regularly in dangerous situations than her husband.

She took a deep breath. “My lord — ”

Another sure sign of something unusual, when she addressed him in terms of their Barrayaran liege relationship.

” — we wish to resign.” Her smile, confusingly, crept wider, as if she’d just said something delightful.

Miles is flabbergasted, and asks why.  Baz says he’s been offered a position at a shipyard at Escobar, which would pay enough for them to leave the mercenaries.  Elena denies that they’re unhappy with their pay–they want to start a family.  Miles feels like he’s been hit with another rocket-grenade.  Elena says that as his vassals, they have to petition him for release from their duties.  Miles is dubious about losing his two top officers, but Baz says his engineering second is ready to take over, and Elena says that Elli Quinn is also ready to move up.  Miles wonders if Illyan will have a problem with Quinn, a non-Barrayaran, but Elena said it didn’t seem to bothering him during the previous crisis.  Miles asks if they’ll really need to fully retire, instead of just taking a leave of absence, and Elena says she doesn’t know if she’ll want to come back.

“I thought you wanted to become a soldier. With all your heart, more than anything. Like me.” Do you have any idea how much of all this was for you, just for you?

“I did. I have. I’m . . . done. I know enough is not a concept you particularly relate to. I don’t know if the wildest successes would ever be enough to fill you up.”

That’s because I am so very empty. . . .

She says she’d always taken for granted that the military was the only worthwhile career, because that’s what she was taught, but also that she couldn’t do it.  She’s proven the second wrong, and now she’s wondering about the first.  When she spent time on Barrayar with Cordelia, they talked a lot; Cordelia told her a lot about all the things she’d done in her career, and Elena wanted more of that variety for herself.  She says by the time she’d be ready to come back, the Dendarii will likely not even be around any more, and she’d rather move on, maybe become a commercial shipmaster.

Miles says he’s sure she’ll be great at anything she tries to do.  He does note that he can’t actually release them from being his vassals, but he can agree to let them go their own way for as long as they want.

It wasn’t fair, for people to go and change on him, while his back was turned being dead. To change without giving notice, or even asking permission. He would howl with loss, except . . . you lost her years ago. This change has been coming since forever. ‘You’re just pathologically incapable of admitting defeat. That was a useful quality, sometimes, in a military leader. It was a pain in the neck in a lover, or would-be lover.

He releases them from their oaths, and asks them to name the first child after him, but Elena says they’re planning on a girl, and there aren’t any good female forms of his name…  Elena asks when they can go, and Miles says as soon as he’s notified Quinn, who’s currently down on Zoave Twilight.  He leaves a message for her to get in touch with him as soon as she’s back, and, after the Bothari-Jeseks leave, he works on rearranging crew assignments to fill the gaps.

He was not, he assured himself, in shock about this. There were limits even to his capacity for self-dramatization, after all. He was a little unbalanced, perhaps, like a man accustomed to leaning on a decorative cane having it suddenly snatched away. Or a swordstick, like old Commodore Koudelka’s. If it weren’t for his private little medical problem, he would have to say the couple had chosen their timing well, from the Fleet’s point of view.

When Quinn arrives, she brings a package from ImpSec, which includes a credit chit for their latest mission, and a coded mission chip for his eyes only.  When he decodes it, all it says is for him to report to ImpSec HQ immediately, via a government courier ship at Tau Ceti.  He notes that these orders would have taken precedence over any current missions, and he can’t think what that would be, except for a new mission assignment, and why would he need to go all the way back to Barrayar for that?  He begins to worry that it might be bad news about his parents, but he tells himself that they’re both important enough figures that news would have filtered out here if anything had happened to them.

Quinn asks what happens if he has another seizure when he’s travelling, and then asks him why he’s so strongly in denial about it.  She encourages him to seek help at ImpMil Hospital, but he says it’s too late for him to come forward with this by now.  She asks him to throw himself on Illyan’s mercy, but he says that after what happened to Vorberg, there’s little chance of that any more.  He tells her that it lifts out of the mission report, and she’s aghast that he would even consider that.  Annoyed, he tells that Illyan doesn’t really know everything, but Quinn is dubious that he’ll be able to keep it a secret.  She accuses him of being as bad as Mark, which isn’t a good sign, especially when she accuses Mark of having caused the whole thing in the first place by going down to Jackson’s Whole.

It ends up in a shouting match, which Miles caps by telling her, at the top of his lungs, about Bez and Elena leaving and her getting promoted.  He dismisses her, but she asks him who’s going to bodyguard him to Tau Ceti then.  He says he’ll get Taura to do it, which infuriates Quinn, and she stalks out of the room.  Miles then goes to his comconsole, deletes the long form of the report, and dumps the doctored version onto a card to take home with him to Barrayar.

Comments

A shouting match with Elli Quinn?  That’s not a good sign.  Even Mark’s coup on Jackson’s Whole hasn’t done much to change her attitude toward him, apparently, but this is really about the seizures, and Miles’s avoidance of them, with Mark pulled in as one of those long-term-couple grievances that end up sneaking into arguments if they go on long enough.  I’m not sure if she knows about Miles’s romantic history with Taura–which predates their own affair, admittedly–but if she did, that would explain her fury at Miles selecting Taura as bodyguard instead of Quinn.  Is this the end of Miles and Quinn’s relationship?  (Yes, I believe so.)

It’s tempting to conclude, based on later events, that Miles doctoring this report is what really gets him in trouble, but the peremptory summons was already on his way by that point.  I guess I’ve never been clear if ImpSec had belatedly found out about the seizures anyway, and were planning to castigate him for not mentioning them earlier, or what was going on.  Maybe this time through I’ll figure it out, because I normally just conclude that the report was the problem, when it was just a symptom.  Anyway, Miles is beginning the downward slope–screwing up on the Dendarii mission, losing Elena from his support system, alienating Elli…  And let’s note that he’s already lost Ky Tung and Bel Thorne.  But he’s got a few more big stops before he reaches bottom.


Two chapters done this week, despite the rush of last-minute taxes submission.  This was helped along by my actually getting a digital copy of Memory, so I am able to cut-and-paste the quoted sections after all.  Twenty-nine chapters in this book, so there’ll be at least one single-chapter week in there somewhere, but I’m glad not to have wasted it this early.  Also, I note that I’m getting close to the two-year anniversary of this blog (though, even with the changed day of the week, I won’t be posting on May 17th itself).  I know I’m impressed that I’ve kept it up this long, and I think by this point I might as well keep going.  Who knows, there may be another book out by the time I’m done…

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

Chapter Thirty-One

“Did you find them?” Lord Mark asked.

“Yes,” said Bothari-Jesek tightly.

“Did you destroy them?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mutely, she shook her head.

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

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

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

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

I could get used to that.

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

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

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

“Nobody gives money to ImpSec!”

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Gah!” said Miles.

“What?” snapped the junior guard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right. But you suspected Ryoval had Mark.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

Chapter Thirty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I still have it,” smiled Lilly.

“For a while.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. I stunned you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

” . . . I think I love you.”

“This is a problem?”

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

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

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

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

It ticked on the windows. . . .

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

The window burst inward.

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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


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

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

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