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Posts Tagged ‘Ungari’

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

Chapter Sixteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you would be so kind, sire.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Seventeen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I never underestimated you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh. Close guess.”

“Not dead-on?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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


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

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