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Posts Tagged ‘Vervain’

Good evening, genties and ladlemen, and anyone else out there who happens to stumble upon this, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where week by week I try, in my small way, to do some justice to the incomparable Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold.  This week we forge ahead in Cetaganda, wherein Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin Ivan Vorpatril get embroiled in mysterious doings on a visit to the capital of the Cetagandan Empire on Eta Ceta IV, and, in chapters Three and Four, learn some hopefully interesting information.

Chapter Three

Miles, Ivan and Vorob’yev fly towards the Cetagandan Imperial Residence, also known as The Celestial Garden or just Xanadu.  It’s covered by a gigantic force dome six kilometers across, which Vorob’yev says consumes an entire generating plant all by itself.  The city radiates outward from it.

“The ceremony today is in some measure a dress rehearsal for the final one in a week and a half,” Vorob’yev went on, “since absolutely everyone will be there, ghem-lords, haut-lords, galactics and all. There will likely be organizational delays. As long as they’re not on our part. I spent a week of hard negotiating to get you your official rankings and place in this.”

That place will be among the ghem-lords, but near the front, at least.  They are all wearing their formal house uniforms; Miles normally likes the riding boots that replace his leg braces, but they are uncomfortable on his burns.  After they land, Miles carries the long wooden box with their gift to the Cetagandans.  They are guided expertly into the dome and through the throne; Miles recognizes the Marilacan and Vervani representatives, as well as others from Aslund, Beta Colony and Jackson’s Whole.  He finds the whole experience a bit surreal.  Miles notices some smaller floating spheres across the hall, and realizes those must be haut-ladies in the personal force spheres they always wear in public, transparent from the inside, and proof against anything short of a gravitic imploder lance.

A majordomo approaches them, informing them of their place, and inquiring after their gift.  Miles opens the box to display an old, battered sword which is a sword carried by Emperor Dorca Vorbarra, ancestor of Gregor, during the first Cetagandan War, and the majordomo is impressed in spite of himself.  While they are waiting for things to start, Miles is approached by an old woman(?), completely hairless, who tells him a lady has requested his presence.  Miles follows “ba” away, through corridors and across a garden, and into a small building occupied by a haut-lady sphere; the lady dismisses the servant.

The silence lengthened. Maybe she’d never seen a physically imperfect man before. Miles bowed and waited, trying to look cool and suave, and not stunned and wildly curious.

“So, Lord Vorkosigan,” came the voice again at last. “Here I am.”

“Er . . . quite.” Miles hesitated. “And just who are you, milady, besides a very pretty soap-bubble?”

There was a longer pause, then, “I am the haut Rian Degtiar. Servant of the Celestial Lady, and Handmaiden of the Star Crèche.”

Miles doesn’t know what her title means, but he knows that “The Celestial Lady” was the late Empress haut Lisbet Degtiar, and Rian confirms their relation (though is baffled by Miles’s idle question about Yenaro).  He asks about the hairless servant, and Rian explains about “ba”, the sexless servants bred by the haut, the older ones having been made hairless because of the fashion at the time.

Rian asks Miles why he is at the Celestial Garden, and Miles’s straightforward explanation about the funeral and the gift she dismisses as mockery.  She is astonished by his offer to help, and he concludes that she is under some misapprehension about him, and asks to start their conversation over.  She accuses him of being a thief, and he realizes she is after the wand; she recognizes it from his description.  He tells her he’s willing to bring it back if she can prove it’s hers, in exchange for some information, like perhaps what it is…

Just then he hears music starting, and realizes that the procession is about to begin, and he tells her he has to leave.  She says she will contact him, and wafts away.  By the time Miles has hobbled his way back, the delegations are on their way in, and Ivan and Vorob’yev are dawdling, waiting for him and extremely annoyed.  Miles catches up and promises to tell Ivan later what was going on.  They are supposed to enter the rotunda and leave the gifts in a spiral based on their importance, but before they reach the rotunda the procession grinds to a halt.  It restarts, but diverted off to one side, as there seems to be some commotion in the rotunda itself.

Miles couldn’t stand it. After all, they can’t massacre me here in front of everybody, can they? He jammed the maplewood box at Ivan, and ducked under the elbow of the ghem-officer trying to shoo everyone out the other door. Smiling pleasantly, his hands held open and empty, he slipped between two startled ghem-guards, who were clearly not expecting such a rude and impudent move.

On the other side of the catafalque, in the position reserved for the first gift of the haut-lord of highest status, lay a dead body. Its throat was cut. Quantities of fresh red blood pooled on the shimmering green malachite floor all around, soaking into the gray-and-white palace servitor’s uniform. A thin jeweled knife was clutched rigorously in its outflung right hand. It was exactly the term for the corpse, too. A bald, eyebrowless, man-shaped creature, elderly but not frail . . . Miles recognized their intruder from the personnel pod even without the false hair. His own heart seemed to stop in astonishment.

Somebody’s just raised the stakes in this little game.

A ghem-officer comes to escort Miles out of the room; Miles complies, but asks about the body, and the officer says that it was Ba Lura, the Dowager Empress’s personal servitor of long standing, apparently driven to commit suicide on its mistress’s bier.  Miles rejoins Ivan and Vorob’yev, concluding that the death probably happened while Miles was talking with haut-lady Rian.  Vorob’yev rebukes Miles for his temerity, but is quite interested when Miles shares the identity of the body.

They circle around to the Eastern Pavilion, where the delegations are being seated during the wait.  Miles sees the Vervani and seizes the opportunity to talk with Mia Maz, who is also looking to talk to him.  Miles tells her about the Ba Lura’s body, though he’s already beginning to doubt the official story, and asks her about her “research question”.  He invites her over to the Barrayaran Embassy after the ceremony to tell him about it, and she accepts.

They are fed a bewildering number and variety of tiny hors d’oeuvres, by which point the majordomo had everything reorganized and sent them back towards the rotunda in their proper order.  When Miles lays down his gift, he notes how clean and dry the floor is, and wonders if they had time to scan everything or if the murderer was counting on haste; he wishes he’d been in charge of the investigation.  By the time they emerge, about an hour late, Miles feels like he’s spent an eternity in the bubble, and does not look forward to having his boots removed back at the embassy.

Comments

Ah, there’s the murder.  Or is it a suicide?  It’s a time-honoured genre, isn’t it, the suicide mystery?  No?  Well, maybe it was a murder, then.  Or an “assisted suicide” like they mentioned in the earlier chapters…

Miles really is trying to get in trouble, isn’t he?  Wandering off with a strange ba, and then trying to get a peek at a crime scene?  Oh, well, if he didn’t, there’d be no plot, or less of one.  Still, I feel a lot of sympathy for Ivan when he tries to keep Miles from getting into trouble, though admittedly less of it when he tries to convince Miles to give up on solving the puzzle…  Curious that when Miles crosses through the guards, he thinks only of being shot, not of getting into trouble, or getting his planet in trouble, as one might expect him to be worried about…

First introduction of the haut-ladies and their force bubbles, though of course the haut-ladies themselves had already been mentioned briefly.  They are integral to the plot, as we learn more about their all-but-alien ways, customs, and priorities, not least down there in the next chapter…

How did Rian find out that Miles had the rod, by the way?  Did she receive an actual message from Ba Lura, or someone else, with the information, or did she just trace its movements and conclude that the Barrayarans must have it?  Why Miles in particular, though?  Why didn’t she summon Ivan as well, or just Ivan?  I suppose that if she was so embarrassed about having lost it, she wouldn’t exactly announce her failure to the authorities and get a lot of official help, which would explain why there were no actual arrests or interstellar incidents, at least not right away, but she immediately leapt to the conclusion that Miles knew what he had and, I don’t know, had some kind of ransom demand or something.

Chapter Four

Ivan manages to prise one of Miles’s boots off, then refuses to take the other one off until Miles spills some of his information.  Miles tells Ivan that the dead ba was their mysterious visitor on the space station, and Ivan insists that surely now is time to inform Vorob’yev.  Miles says that for all he knows Ba Lura had dozens of identical clone-siblings, and he offers to let Ivan sit in on his “briefing” with Mia Maz if he keeps quiet.

“All right,” he said at last, “but after we talk to her, we report to ImpSec.”

“Ivan, I am ImpSec,” snapped Miles. “Three years of training and field experience, remember? Do me the honor of grasping that I may just possibly know what I’m doing!” I wish to hell I knew what I was doing. Intuition was nothing but the subconscious processing of subliminal clues, he was fairly sure, but I feel it in my bones made too uncomfortably thin a public defense for his actions. How can you know something before you know it? “Give me a chance.”

After Ivan and Miles change out of their funeral outfits, Mia Maz arrives and Miles has her escorted up to his room, sure that if it were bugged that someone would already have let them know.  She refuses to let them call her “Milady”, Vervain being a democracy, and Miles ponders that, like his mother, she probably doesn’t see any difference in importance between Ba Lura’s body and that the Dowager Empress.  Maz tells them that Ba Lura’s suicide is unprecedented, and precedent is a very strong driver in Cetagandan society.  She also tells them that the haut never clone their servants, considering each to be a work of art, like everything in the Celestial Garden.

Miles asks about the symbol he’d asked her about, keeping mum about where he actually saw it.  Maz says it’s a symbol of the Star Crèche, and not something often seen by outlanders.  The Star Crèche is the haut’s private gene bank, where they keep every haut’s genetic information, and no haut can be born without the Star Crèche’s approval of the genetic combination.  The Dowager Empress has been, as the senior female in the Emperor’s line, in charge of the Star Crèche since his accession.  There hasn’t yet been an announcement of who her successor is to be, since it should fall to the mother of the Emperor’s heir, as yet undesignated; he has until the end of the funeral rites to make the declaration, and until he bestows the seal of the Star Crèche, no further “genomic contracts” can proceed among the haut.  As an interim move, he could give it to one of his maternal aunts.

After a brief interruption for pastries, Ivan asks if these contracts are like marriages.  Maz says that there can be simple one-off contracts for children, which become part of their father’s “constellation”, or clan, and these may happen without any direct input from the genetic parents, being concluded by their elders instead.  There are exclusive contracts, lifetime monopolies, and the mother of an Imperial heir must never have contracted her genome before and must never do so again except by the emperor.  She thus has a chance to become the dowager empress and mistress of the Star Crèche, or at least mother of a satrap governor, so as a result many more hauts have daughters than sons.  Ivan asks about sex, and says that it’s completely separate from reproduction, but still intricately formalized.

Most haut live with their constellation, though some leave home and become reclusive in old age.  Ivan asks about the haut-ladies who marry ghem-lords, and Maz says this is part of how the haut control the ghem.  Having a haut wife is the ultimate coup for a ghem-lord, but one that cannot be refused, and she instantly takes precedence over all other wives, and she never comes with a dowry, so she can act as a financial brake on his ambitions.  Apart from that, nobody’s quite sure how the haut-ladies keep their ghem husbands in line.

Miles asks Maz if she has a picture of the seal of the Star Crèche, which she calls up on the comconsole.

It was a clear cubical block, measuring maybe fifteen centimeters on a side, with the bird-pattern incised in red lines upon its top. Not the mysterious rod. Miles exhaled with relief. The terror that had been riding him ever since Maz had mentioned the seal, that he and Ivan might have accidentally stolen a piece of the Imperial regalia, faded. The rod was some kind of Imperial gizmo, obviously, and would have to be returned—anonymously, by preference—but at least it wasn’t—

Maz called up the next unit of data, “And this object is the Great Key of the Star Crèche, which is handed over along with the seal,” she went on.

Ivan choked on his wine. Miles, faint, leaned on the desk and smiled fixedly at the image of the rod. The original lay some few centimeters under his hand, in the drawer.

Miles asks about the Great Key’s purpose; Maz isn’t sure, but says that since it’s a couple of hundred years old, it may be obsolete or purely ceremonial by this point.  Ivan’s concern over their possession of this object becomes more visible, and Miles hurriedly begins to feign discomfort from his burned legs.  Maz offers to continue the etiquette lesson some other time, and Miles swiftly agrees.  After she leaves, Ivan once again pressures Miles to get rid of the thing, but Miles says he knows how to solve their problem and get it back to its rightful keeper.  He wonders how Ba Lura came to be in possession of the Key, and in their docking bay, with the cameras disabled.  Ivan says it was obviously taking the Key somewhere, and probably killed itself in shame over losing it.  Miles wonders why it hadn’t been better guarded if the Key was that important.

Vorob’yev knocks and enters, asking if their tutorial with Maz was helpful.  He has a scented paper invitation for Miles and Ivan for Lord Yenaro’s party, and he says that their attending would help smooth over the incident with the sculpture, assuming of course that they accept it was an accident.  Miles says they plan to attend.  He asks if Vorreedi is back yet, and Vorob’yev says he’s been held up by complications, but after the ‘Autumn Leaves’ incident they’ll be sending someone to take his place so he can return to Eta Ceta.  He also asks Miles not to dash off like he did in the rotunda; the Cetagandans are too polite to complain, but Vorob’yev is the one who’ll have to deal with their ruffled feelings after Miles leaves.

Ivan wonders how well Miles, and Ivan himself, can be protected against further incidents at Yenaro’s party.  Miles says they’ll just have to take the risk, but he thinks that an outright attempt on his life would be far too much of an insult to the emperor at his mother’s funeral.  Ivan asks if he really thinks that these incidents are all related, and Miles asks if Ivan really thinks they’re all unrelated.  Ivan asks Miles how he’s going to rid of the Key, and Miles says he’s not sure, but there is a lady’s reputation involved.

Comments

Big cultural infodump galore, and I confess I stripped it of most of the colourful dialogue that might have made it more palatable, but it is an interesting setup.  Very heavy on the ­in vitro, consciously the opposite of the Barrayarans, who are so amazingly primitive that they still think body-births are a pretty neat idea.  But now at least we know what the maguffin is…

I can’t help thinking of “haut” as being directly borrowed from the French word, meaning “high”, but I can’t make myself stop pronouncing it as “hot” (or possibly “haught”).  Well, in French there’s a distinct lack of pronounced consonants, so “haut-lord” would sound like “Oh lord”, so I’ll leave it that way for now in case I ever have to say it out loud.  Not sure where “ghem” is supposed to come from, though–the “gh” makes me think of “ghee”, so maybe, um, South Asian?  There’s an Andre Ghem from Brazil, so maybe Portuguese?  Or just random from the writer’s brain, as happens…

Mia Maz’s description tends to paint her as physically attractive, though somewhat older, so it’s never quite clear if she’s supposed to be a romantic interest or not.  Or, you know, just a physically attractive female character interacting in a non-romantic way with our main character, who nonetheless notices and ponders possibilities, the way guys do.  Not that she doesn’t end up with a little romance by the end of the book, but not with Miles or Ivan.  I think that Miles’s declared first lover is still to come, in an earlier-published story (still not clear about what happened on Beta Colony as a teenager, though), so reading in publication order there would be no suspense there.

I can’t help but snort at Miles’s outraged assertion that “he is ImpSec”.  Three years of training and field experience, eh?  Well, move over, Mr. Negri, here comes Miles Vorkosigan!  I can’t remember exactly how much time is supposed to have passed between this book and The Vor Game, but somehow I don’t think it was enough to transform him into Simon Illyan overnight.  Okay, he’s more ImpSec than Ivan, but I suspect that when Vorreedi is finally brought into the loop, he won’t thank Miles for keeping this all to himself…


With all this information, hopefully there will be something more exciting coming up soon.  Like Yenaro’s party?  Or is there another scene yet before that?  I guess you’ll find out next week, unless you read ahead.  Until next week, then, may all your rereads be happy ones!

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Welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, as we enter a whole new era, by which I mean a new omnibus.  This one is, for some reason, called Miles, Mystery and Mayhem, and it looks like it contains Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos, and “Labyrinth”, only two of which actually have Miles in them, but I suppose they all have mystery and mayhem to a greater or lesser degree.  The first of them, Cetaganda, probably contains a fair bit more mystery than mayhem, depending on how you define them, of course.  It comes fairly late in publication order, later even than The Vor Game, and I think is the last one published that was out of chronological order–that is, the last one to come chronologically before any other already-published novels.  So she hasn’t done that in a while, but I suspect that, given the large gap before Cryoburn, we wouldn’t mind something filling that in at some point…

I am amused to note that at the beginning of Miles, Mystery and Mayhem electronic copy (I don’t have a paper copy to check, alas) there is a nice little wormhole map of Barrayar and some of its environs, including Komarr, Pol, The Hegen Hub, Vervain, Aslund…  Yes, that’s right, this is the map that actually should have been in The Vor Game, a.k.a. Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Omnibus.  Oops.  Anyway, that’s enough ado, so on I shall proceed to cover the events of the first two chapters of Cetaganda

Chapter One

Lieutenants Miles Vorkosigan and Ivan Vorpatril are in a small personnel pod being piloted from a Barrayaran courier vessel toward a station orbiting the Cetagandan homeworld, Eta Ceta IV.  Miles compares the many lights on the planet below to the comparative sparseness of population on Barrayar, as he compares Ivan’s stature and handsomeness  to his own stunted figure.

Barrayaran Imperial Security didn’t pay him to be pretty, thank God, they paid him to be smart. Still, the morbid thought did creep in that he had been sent along on this upcoming circus to stand next to Ivan and make him look good. ImpSec certainly hadn’t given him any more interesting missions, unless you could call Security Chief Illyan’s last curt “. . . and stay out of trouble!” a secret assignment.

On the other hand, maybe Ivan had been sent along to stand next to Miles and make him sound good. Miles brightened slightly at the thought.

They are there to attend the funeral of the haut-lady Dowager Empress, and they speculate idly whether her death was natural.  Miles points out that she was a generation older than his grandfather, after all, and if it were at all suspicious, likely Illyan would have kept them home.  And if the Emperor had died instead, then they’d be in some defensive outpost hoping the Cetagandan war of succession didn’t spill over.  As it is, they’re just there to pay their respects and report on the event for Illyan later.  All the haut-lord satrap governors are going to attend.

“If any two governors come, I suppose the rest have to show up, just to keep an eye on each other.” Ivan’s brows rose. “Should be quite a show. Ceremony as Art. Hell, the Cetagandans make blowing your nose an art. Just so they can sneer at you if you get the moves wrong. One-upmanship to the nth power.”

“It’s the one thing that convinces me that the Cetagandan haut-lords are still human, after all that genetic tinkering.”

Ivan grimaced. “Mutants on purpose are mutants still.” He glanced down at his cousin’s suddenly stiff form, cleared his throat, and tried to find something interesting to look at out the canopy.

“You’re so diplomatic, Ivan,” said Miles through a tight smile. “Try not to start a war single . . . mouthed, eh?”

The pod is piloted into their assigned docking station, and Ivan and Miles unbuckle and head for the airlock.  As it opens, a man hurtles inside, white-haired but with no facial hair.  As he reached for a pocket of his uniform vest, Miles shouts “Weapon!” and Ivan launches himself at the man.  The man pulls a nerve disrupter from his trouser pocket, but Ivan dislodges it, and it ricochets throughout the cabin before Miles snatches it.  Ivan gets him in an armlock, and Miles pulls the object out of his vest pocket, an odd wand somewhat like a shock stick.  The man cries out in dismay as Miles takes it, continuing to struggle.

The intruder shook off Ivan’s grip and recoiled to the hatchway. There came one of those odd pauses that sometimes occur in close combat, everyone gulping for breath in the rush of adrenaline. The old man stared at Miles with the rod in his fist; his expression altered from fright to—was that grimace a flash of triumph? Surely not. Demented inspiration?

The man ducks back through the airlock, and kicks Ivan back into the pod when he tries to follow.  By the time they emerge from the pod, he’s disappeared out of the docking bay.  Miles tells Ivan the man had a desperate look to him, even before he drew a weapon.  They look around and realize that nobody else is there, Barrayaran or Cetagandan, and wonder where their welcoming committee is.  Miles points out two surveillance cameras ripped from their moorings, so it looks like the man wasn’t any kind of official emissary.  They speculate on whether he wanted to pod for an escape, or if he was after Miles, and wonder where station security is.  Ivan notes that the man must have been in disguise, since the hair that came loose during the struggle has an obvious adhesive at one end, and Miles wonders if station security has cleared personnel out of the station to try to hunt down a fugitive.

The pilot tells them that flight control has stated quite forcefully that they are in the wrong dock, and orders them to leave the station and wait for instructions, even though he’s sure he docked at the coordinates he was given.  They reboard the pod and the pilot undocks.  He asks if he should report the incident to station security, and Miles tells him to wait until they ask, since it’s not their job to do the Cetagandans’ work for them.  Ivan is dubious, but Miles says the competency of Cetagandan station security is doubtless something Illyan would be interested in.  Miles examines the items they captured.  The nerve disrupter is civilian make, not military, high quality but not decorated, meant to be concealed.

The short rod was odder still. Embedded in its transparent casing was a violent glitter, looking decorative; Miles was sure microscopic examination would reveal fine dense circuitry. One end of the device was plain, the other covered with a seal which was itself locked in place.

“This looks like it’s meant to be inserted in something,” he said to Ivan, turning the rod in the light.

“Maybe it’s a dildo.” Ivan smirked.

Miles snorted. “With the ghem-lords, who can say? But no, I don’t think so.” The indented seal on the end-cap was in the shape of some clawed and dangerous-looking bird. Deep within the incised figure gleamed metallic lines, the circuit-connections. Somewhere somebody owned the mate, a raised screaming bird-pattern full of complex encodes which would release the cover, revealing . . . what? Another pattern of encodes? A key for a key . . . It was all extraordinarily elegant. Miles smiled in sheer fascination.

Ivan asks if he’s going to give it back, and Miles says he will if they ask for it, otherwise he’ll keep it as a souvenir.  Or give it to Illyan, whose cryptographers could probably spend a long time picking it apart.  To placate Ivan, Miles gives him the nerve disrupter.  They receive new docking instructions, and end up two rows up from their original dock.  They debark again, a little more hesitantly this time.  They are met by Lord Vorob’yev, the Barrayaran ambassador, with four Barrayaran guards, and two Cetagandan station officials.  Miles is taken aback by the lack of Cetagandan security he was expecting, and realizes they didn’t connect their pod to the fugitive below.

They give a coded diplomatic disk to Vorob’yev and declare their six pieces of luggage, but don’t mention their more recent acquisitions.  One of the Cetagandans takes their luggage off, no doubt to be searched, but Vorob’yev tells them not to worry, it will be returned, eventually.  Miles tells Vorob’yev their trip was uneventful, but comments that they were redirected to a different docking port at first, and Vorob’yev says this is just a particularly ornate runaround to put the Barrayarans in their place.  They go to Vorob’yev’s diplomatic shuttle, leaving their Cetagandan escort outside, and relax in Vorob’yev’s lounge with a glass of wine.

Miles debates on whether to tell Vorob’yev about the incident, as Ivan silently urges him, but he tries to consider possibilities.  The Cetagandans could be stringing them along waiting for them to incriminate themselves, or they may just not have caught up with the fugitive yet.  Their luggage arrives as they finish their wine, and as Vorob’yev goes to deal with it, Ivan asks Miles what he’s up to.  Miles isn’t sure, off-balance because the Cetagandans failed to respond as he thought they would.  He tells Ivan they should be reporting to Lord Vorreedi, who’s in charge of ImpSec at the embassy.  Miles doesn’t look forward to having this little mystery taken out of his hands, though.

Vorob’yev returns and tells them they are welcome that evening to attend a reception at the Marilacan Embassy, which he heartily recommends.  Ivan asks about clothing, and Vorob’yev recommends they stick to uniforms, which will help keep them from running afoul of the complex Cetagandan language of clothes.  The shuttle undocks from the station, and Miles concludes that the fugitive must have eluded the Cetagandans, and nobody else knows of their little prizes.

Miles kept his hand down, and did not touch the concealed lump in his tunic. Whatever the device was, that fellow knew Miles had it. And he could surely find out who Miles was. I have a string on you, now. If I let it play out, something must surely climb back up it to my hand, right? This could shape up into a nice little exercise in intelligence/counter-intelligence, better than maneuvers because it was real. No proctor with a list of answers lurked on the fringes recording all his mistakes for later analysis in excruciating detail. A practice-piece. At some stage of development an officer had to stop following orders and start generating them. And Miles wanted that promotion to ImpSec captain, oh yes. Might he somehow persuade Vorreedi to let him play with the puzzle despite his diplomatic duties?

Comments

I never remember Vorob’yev’s name, though now I wonder how I could forget it with its awkward (from the Anglophone standpoint) apostrophe in the middle.  Apologies to my friend Anna Korra’ti if she happens to be reading this, but I’ve never been sure about the usage of apostrophes in fantasy names, so I’m obscurely troubled when I find them in real-world names too.  I find it a little puzzling, since from what little I know of Russian, the apostrophe is often used to represent the glottalization of a consonant…but so is the “y”, so are they really both needed?  Not sure.  In any case, it’s awkward to type.

Earlier I think I mentioned Cetaganda as one of the “planet” books, but I guess that’s not strictly true.  Cetaganda isn’t a planet, it’s an empire, and each of the planets (as we see later) is Something Ceta, where Something tends to be a Greek letter.  Where this actually comes from is unclear, since it’s not an astronomical thing, or at least not an Earth-centered one.  The constellation of Cetus, the whale, is well known for the star Tau Ceti, among the nearest sunlike stars, but Tau Ceti appears on the Nexus map and is not part of Cetaganda; there’s a completely different Tau Ceta which is one of the Cetagandan worlds.  Anyway, it’s clear where the “Ceta” comes from, but what about the “ganda”?  It’s a mystery, I guess.

I can understand Ivan’s frustration with Miles’s refusal to offload the mystery onto their superiors, though it’s entirely in character for Miles not to want to.  Here he is on a completely non-Dendarii mission, which he doesn’t want to be just boring and diplomatic, and this thing drops right into his lap; of course he wants to explore it.  One can already see him burning through another superior or two, like ImpSec Captain Lord Vorreedi…

Reading chronologically, it’s almost a little frustrating to see Miles with no Dendarii.  First we see him in The Warrior’s Apprentice, at the end of which he’s forced to leave the Dendarii behind, and then in The Vor Game he is reunited with them and assigned as a liaison.  And now we have Cetaganda, where (spoiler alert) the Dendarii never appear.  Again, this was written chronologically out of order, as Bujold filled in a time gap, and explained some of the events in her (very early) novel Ethan of Athos, and by that point she’d already written several Dendarii stories.  She never really did a straight Dendarii novel, if there really was such a thing, and one presumes she was never really that interested in that kind of story, so there’s lots of gaps in the timeline.

Chapter Two

Miles dawdles about getting dressed for the reception, trying to figure out whether he should carry the rod with him or leave it in the room.  Ivan chides him for his slowness and says that maybe it’s a practical joke designed to drive Miles crazy.  Miles makes a quick sketch of the symbol on the end on a plastic flimsy and leaves the rod in his dresser, telling Ivan that since they don’t have a lead-lined box, it doesn’t really matter where they hide it.  Ivan says they have one in the embassy, but Miles says that since Vorreedi is out of town, trying to deal with some Barrayaran merchant ship impounded at a jump station, he’s reluctant to tell anyone else at the embassy about it.

Ivan once again tells Miles to finish getting ready.  Miles puts his leg braces on under his uniform trousers, lamenting the fact that he hasn’t had his bones replaced with plastic yet.  They join Vorob’yev in the foyer and head over to the Marilacan embassy, which he tells them is “neutral but non-secured territory”.  There won’t be any haut-lords there, but there may be some minor ghem-lords.  Vorob’yev notes that Marilac has been accepting much “aid” from Cetaganda, thinking that that will keep them safe.

“The Marilacans aren’t paying sufficient attention to their own wormhole nexus maps,” Vorob’yev went on. “They imagine they are at a natural border. But if Marilac were directly held by Cetaganda, the next jump would bring them to Zoave Twilight, with all its cross-routes, and a whole new region for Cetagandan expansion. Marilac is in exactly the same relationship to the Zoave Twilight crossings as Vervain is to the Hegen Hub, and we all know what happened there.” Vorob’yev’s lips twisted in irony. “But Marilac has no interested neighbor to mount a rescue as your father did for Vervain, Lord Vorkosigan. And provocative incidents can be manufactured so easily.”

Miles is worried briefly that Vorob’yev is alluding to Miles’s own experiences in the Hegen Hub, but concludes that he has no way of knowing of Miles’s involvement.  They discuss the way that the ghem-generals are subdued by the failure in Vervain, and Ghem-General Estanis having committed suicide, even though he may have some help along the way.

“Thirty-two stab wounds in the back, worst case of suicide they ever saw?” murmured Ivan, clearly fascinated by the gossip.

“Exactly, my lord.” Vorob’yev’s eyes narrowed in dry amusement. “But the ghem-commanders’ loose and shifting relationship to the assorted secret haut-lord factions lends an unusual degree of deniability to their operations. The Vervain invasion is now officially described as an unauthorized misadventure. The erring officers have been corrected, thank you.”

“What do they call the Cetagandan invasion of Barrayar in my grandfather’s time?” Miles asked. “A reconnaissance in force?”

Vorob’yev tells them that ImpSec has been informed of his suspicions about Marilac, but so far it’s just a theory.  He asks them to keep an ear open for interesting gossip and information, and relay it to Vorreedi when he returns, while trying to not to give away too much in return.  Their car drives into the Marilacan embassy’s garage and into a foyer, then the lobby where the reception is taking place.

The center of the lobby was occupied by a large multi-media sculpture, real, not a projection. Trickling water cascaded down a fountain reminiscent of a little mountain, complete with impressionistic mountain-paths one could actually walk upon. Colored flakes swirled in the air around the mini-maze, making delicate tunnels. From their green color Miles guessed they were meant to represent Earth tree leaves even before he drew close enough to make out the realistic details of their shapes. The colors slowly began to change, from twenty different greens to brilliant yellows, golds, reds and black-reds. As they swirled they almost seemed to form fleeting patterns, like human faces and bodies, to a background of tinkling like wind chimes. So was it meant to be faces and music, or was it just tricking his brain into projecting meaningful patterns onto randomness? The subtle uncertainty attracted him.

The Marilacan ambassador, Bernaux, tells them that the sculpture, called ‘Autumn Leaves’, is a gift from a local ghem-lord.  After being introduced to Bernaux, they are set loose to mingle, though Miles wishes he could listen in on Vorob’yev and Bernaux’s conversation.  Miles and Ivan separate, and Miles watches ‘Autumn Leaves’ cycle through to a cold, bleak winter.  He doesn’t see any hairless faces that could be their mysterious fugitive, but he watches as Ivan quickly corrals himself a ghem-lady.  Miles considers the difference between himself and Ivan, how Ivan can bounce back from rejections until he finds an acceptance, while Miles takes them personally and spends his time brooding instead.

Ivan, Miles and the ghem-lady are soon joined by a ghem-lord who is introduced as Yenaro, who turns out to be the sculptor who created ‘Autumn Leaves’.  The ghem-lady, Gelle, introduces the Barrayarans to Yenaro, who tells Miles that they have a connection–his grandfather as the ghem-general who commanded the Barrayaran invasion (not “reconaissance”) that Miles’s grandfather Piotr repulsed.  Miles points out that General Yenaro was only the last of the five commanders, and received more than his due share of blame as a result.

Gelle asks Yenaro about the “banal” sculpture in the lobby, which Yenaro says is only a practice piece, but the Marilacans are happy enough with it.  He prefers to create scents, himself, putting down Gelle’s own scent in the process.  He also tells her how Ivan is a biological body-birth, which Gelle apparently finds faintly off-putting, deploring Yenaro’s obnoxiousness and taking her leave.

Yenaro tells them that they should experience the sculpture from the inside.  Miles agrees, but is then called over by Vorob’yev, though he promises to return.  Vorob’yev introduces him to an attractive, slightly older woman named Mia Maz, from the Vervani Embassy.  Maz specializes in women’s etiquette, and has apparently been trying for some time to convince Vorob’yev that he needs a women’s expert as well.  Vorob’yev protests that he hasn’t one with the experience, and Miles suggests that Maz could take on an apprentice.  Vorob’yev excuses himself, and Maz expresses her gratitude to Miles for his father’s help against the Cetagandan invasion attempt.

Miles asks Maz if the ghem-ladies are really that different, and Maz insists they are, though she admits the Barrayarans have more in common with the ghem-lords than many other cultures do.  The haut-lords and ladies, on the other hand, are entirely different, each sex with its own area of power and control, though mysterious to outsiders.  Miles takes a chance and shows her the sketch of the bird-logo from the rod, asking her if she recognizes it.  Maz says that it looks like a personal seal, rather than a family, but it lacks the decorative cartouches which have been in vogue for three generations so it must be an old one.

Ivan reappears with Yenaro, turning his charms on Mia Maz, and insisting that Miles take a turn passing through the sculpture as Ivan has just done.  Miles reluctantly takes leave of Maz and lets Yenaro escort him inside.  Miles asks for technical details, and Yenaro says that the floating flakes are driven by magnetism, not gravity, but it emerges that it was really put together by technicians, with Yenaro as the designer.  Yenaro and Miles get into a discussion on whether design is sufficient, or if physical work is equally of value, and Yenaro invites Miles to a private gathering at his home two nights hence, which Miles decides to accept.

They enter the sculpture, and Miles is interested enough until he realizes that he can feel burning sensation in his legs–something about the magnetism is heating up his leg braces, and he frantically peels them off, leaving burns on his legs and hands.  Yenaro calls for help, and Miles finds he’s drawn the attention of most of the attendees.  Miles concludes that the magnetic fields used by the sculpture had a bad effect on the metal of the braces, like shoving them in a microwave.

Bernaux asks if he wants to go visit the embassy infirmary, but Miles says he’d rather go home.  Yenaro, distraught, insists that the sculpture be destroyed, though Bernaux temporizes that they may settle for just doing a thorough safety check.  Ivan and Vorob’yev escort Miles to the Barrayaran groundcar and head back to their embassy.  They discuss whether this was more than an accident–the field would have been harmless to anyone not wearing a lot of metal, but it seems like it would have taken too much lead time.  Their departure had been scheduled two weeks ago, the reception invitation came three days ago, and the sculpture had only been installed the day before.

Vorob’yev thought it over. “I think I must agree with you, Lord Vorpatril. Shall we put it down as an unfortunate accident, then?”

“Provisionally,” said Miles. That was no accident. I was set up. Me, personally. You know there’s a war on when the opening salvo arrives.

Except that, usually, one knew why a war had been declared. It was all very well to swear not to be blindsided again, but who was the enemy here?

Lord Yenaro, I bet you throw a fascinating party. I wouldn’t miss it for worlds.

Comments

Second bizarre incident, check.  No suspicious deaths, yet–the Dowager Empress’s doesn’t count, I don’t think–but definitely a mystery looming.  We have nowhere near enough information about anything yet, but what’s going on is definitely very Cetagandan, if nothing else.  Or “Byzantine”, if you prefer.  I don’t recall yet if Cetaganda is really a hotbed of intrigue, but I suspect that it is, with haut-lords plotting and ghem-lords carrying out their schemes, or something like that.

One thing I don’t recall us ever seeing is regular, everyday Cetagandans.  We see the lords and ladies, and a few police-types, but what about the Cetagandan civilians?  Are they oppressed, or fairly free?  The fact that they still live in a monarchy implies something closer to the former, since the Cetagandans seem a little more paranoid, if more technologically sophisticated, than Barrayarans.  Or are there any civilians?  Is everyone either ghem or haut?  I suspect not–after all, we see a lot of Barrayaran Lords, but there are still regular people out there too, in the cities as well as the backwoods.

More than a few references to past Cetagandan adventures–Mia Maz and her thanks from Vervain–and future ones, with Vorob’yev’s discussion of Marilac’s relationship with the Cetagandans.  From books already published, by this point, so this is more backfilling, like the links to Ethan of Athos I mentioned earlier (though they don’t come up until much later).

Yenaro is so obviously a rebellious youngster, like a teenager, emotionally, an artist working with scents as a way of annoying his no-doubt militaristic ghem-lord father.  This is probably why we haven’t had nearly as much trouble with the Cetagandans in a while, if the up-and-coming generation are this kind of “retro-avant” spoiled dilettantes.


So, two chapters in, we can see that Cetaganda is shaping up to be a mystery, of a sort, though what kind is not quite clear.  We have an implicit promise from the author that things will be explained if we read to the end, though, so please join me next week as I continue to do so.

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

Chapter Sixteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you would be so kind, sire.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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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It’s time now, once again, for another installment of The Vorkosigan Saga Reread, which gives me the opportunity to reread, albeit very slowly (two chapters a week), through Lois McMaster Bujold’s saga of Miles Vorkosigan and, well, his friends and family…  This week I cover chapters Thirteen and Fourteen of The Vor Game, the second novel chronologically to feature Miles himself as main character, wherein Miles’s immediate prospects increase more than somewhat.

Chapter Thirteen

Miles is granted an exercise period, in a gymnasium aboard the ship, empty but for himself and the guards, where he sees no opportunities for escape for him and his brittle bones.  On his way back to his cell, he passes a blond man he recognizes as Oser’s lieutenant, but much the worse for wear–shirtless, covered with shock-stick and needle marks, and mumbling with the aftereffects of fast-penta interrogation.  After he’s in his cell, Miles wonders how the lieutenant got there, if he had tracked down Miles and Gregor, or if Vervain was just another stop on their sweep of the system.  What’s certain is that Cavilo now knows what Oser knew, which explains his identification as Admiral Naismith.

That night he is taken from his cell, for what he expects to be the fast-penta interrogation at last, though he’s now sure what secrets he still has remaining.  They take him to G Deck, where Gregor’s cabin is supposed to be, but Miles is taken instead to Cavilo’s personal office.  She has a stunner to hand, but no hypodermic, though her perfume is irritating Miles’s nose.  She tells him that, to safeguard the life of his Emperor, Miles has been given the task of retaking the Oseran Mercenaries.  As such, she will be sending him back to Aslund Station, but won’t actually be providing any aid.

“I’m told you could do it with your wits alone. This I wish to see.”

“Oser will kill me. He’s already tried once.”

“That’s a chance I must take.”

I really like that “I,” lady. “You mean me to be killed,” Miles deduced. “What if I succeed instead?” His eyes were starting to water; he sniffed. He would have to rub his madly itching nose soon.

“The key of strategy, little Vor,” she explained kindly, “is not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory. Ideally. Your death has one use; your success, another. I will emphasize that any premature attempt to contact Barrayar could be very counterproductive. Very.”

Miles asks, his eyes watering, if he can talk to Gregor himself, but Cavilo says that will be his reward for success.  She comments on his unexpected tears, and Miles, sneezing, shouts that he’s allergic to her perfume.  Cavilo is genuinely amused by this, wondering if she can turn this into a gas grenade.  Miles asks if he can at least have some boots instead of his current slippers.

“In this uniform, on Aslund, I’ll be like a cat in a dog suit,” he protested. “Shot on sight by mistake.”

“By mistake . . . on purpose . . . goodness, you’re going to have an exciting time.” She keyed the door lock open.

By the time he’s recovered from her perfume, he’s been loaded onto a ship bound for Aslund Station.  His cabin is not much better than his cell, and he reflects on the supposed glory of ship duty, and his monumental screwup in losing Gregor.  When the ship gets within Aslund’s defence perimeter, they take him from his cabin, where they are arguing about whether to let them board and takes Miles, and risk getting arrested themselves.

A voice from the comm; “This is the picket ship Ariel, Aslund Navy Contract Auxiliary, calling the C6-WG out of Vervain Hubside Station. Cease accelerating, and clear your portside lock for boarding for pre-docking inspection. Aslund Station reserves the right to deny you docking privileges if you fail to cooperate in pre-docking inspection.” The voice took on a cheery tone, “I reserve the right to open fire if you don’t stand and deliver in one minute. That’s enough stalling, boys.” The voice, once gone ironic, was suddenly intensely familiar. Bel?

The crew addresses him as “Rotha” again, which gives Miles an idea.  He pleads with them not to turn him over to the Oserans, because of an unfortunate incident involving faulty plasma arcs.  The captain decides to send Miles to them in a “bod-pod”, a personal inflatable escape pod, over Miles’s theatrical protests.  Miles flashes back briefly to the bubble tent on Kyril Island as they eject him into space and pitch darkness, though he soon finds a cold-light tube to illuminate his claustrophobic enclosure.  Eventually, he finds himself snagged by a tractor beam, brought into an airlock, and rolled into a cargo bay.  His rescuers free him from the pod, and Bel Thorne is surprised and elated to see Miles.

In Bel’s cabin, Miles gives him a slightly edited version of the truth, leaving out the Barrayaran connections, mentioning the lieutenant captured by Randall’s Rangers, identified as Lake by Bel.  Bel tells him that the Aslunders have become jumpy about sabotage, hence the searching all ships coming in range, and there are many garbled versions of Miles’s return making their way through the fleet.  Tung has been arrested, but nobody else, which puzzles Miles.  Bel explains that if Oser had moved against Baz & Elena, it might have sparked open conflict, so he’s just kept them all separated.  Miles says that a fight among the Oserans is just what Cavilo wants, so he needs to do something unexpected, like get Oser to cooperate with him.  Once Miles gets himself a borrowed, overlarge uniform, he contacts Oser.

A buzz, a glitter, and Admiral Oser’s hawk face materialized over the vid plate. “Yes, what is it—you!” His teeth shut with a beak’s snap; his hand, a vague unfocused blur to the side, tapped on intercom keys and vid controls.

He can’t throw me out the air lock this time, but he can cut me off. Time to talk fast.

Miles leaned forward and smiled. “Hello, Admiral Oser. I’ve completed my evaluation of Vervani forces in the Hegan Hub. And my conclusion is, you are in deep trouble.”

Miles offers Oser information about Cavilo, just as Oser discovers Miles is on the Ariel, and threatens Bel with charges of mutiny.  Bel insists that Oser needs to listen to him.  Miles says that he and Oser can’t afford to fight, and if Oser forces him to, Miles probably can’t win, but any damage they do to each other will be to Cavilo’s benefit.  Oser is skeptical of any information that came from Cavilo, but Miles says he’s beginning to understand her, and her passion for utility, which is why Oser needs to hire him as Tung’s replacement.  Miles insists that he doesn’t have the luxury of time to take revenge on Oser.  He admits he doesn’t know exactly where Cavilo wants to offer battle, but he also offers his anonymous employer to pay the Oserans for the fight as well as the Aslunders.  Oser asks for assurances, and Miles points out that he himself wants the assurance of not being spaced again, but he promises not to foment mutiny.  Oser finally agrees, reluctantly.

As they dock at Aslund Station, Miles musters Bel and his crew as his troops, insisting that they “march as if they had an empire at their backs”.  They emerge to find Oser with a squad of escorts, and an unarmed Elena.  Oser is eager to get to work, but Miles insists on a tour of the station first, where he makes an effort to be seen being friendly with Oser as much as he can, and greets as many Dendarii as he can as well.  Once he judges that Oser’s reached the limit of his tolerance, the two Admirals head over to Triumph.

In the docking bay, Thorne’s sergeant swears and shoves Miles to the ground before being hit in the chest by a nerve disrupter bolt.  Miles ducks and rolls, eventually hiding behind the sergeant’s body, wishing for a thicker shield as more bolts pepper the body and the deck around him, and shouting soldiers and workers try to bring down the sniper.  Miles urges them to stun him for questioning, and eventually the firing dies down.  Bel Thorne helps him up and tells Miles that he was the sniper’s only target.

“I noticed,” Miles stuttered. “I’m only lightly fried.” Thorne helped him sit up. He was shaking as badly as after the shock-stick beating. He regarded his spasming hands, lowered one to touch the corpse beside him in morbid wonder. Every day of the rest of my life will be your gift. And I don’t even know your name. “Your sergeant—what was his name?”

“Collins.”

“Collins. Thanks.”

“Good man.”

Oser tells Miles that the attack wasn’t his doing, which Miles accepts.  Elena and another woman are dragging a man across the deck, stunned, and when they get closer Miles recognizes him as General Metzov.  Miles tells Oser who he is, and says this is Cavilo’s second in command, a fine source of information on her plans, pretending that his parade around the station had been nothing more than a ploy to draw him out.  He tells them to take Metzov to sickbay and prepare him for fast-penta interrogation.

Miles stared down at Metzov’s unconscious form, trying to think. Had Metzov been sent by Cavilo, or was this murder attempt entirely on his own time? If sent by Cavilo—had she planned him to fall alive into her enemies’ hands? If not, was there a back-up assassin around here somewhere, and if so was his target Metzov, if Metzov succeeded, or Miles, if Metzov failed? Or both? I need to sit down and draw a flow-chart.

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Here is where, finally, Miles begins to turn the tables on people.  Once he ends up on Bel’s ship, and can finally begin to accumulate a bit of a power base, he can work on upsetting Cavilo’s plans to create chaos by attempting to assert some order.  He manages to convince Oser to work with him, against Oser’s better judgement, drawing on Oser’s concerns about Cavilo.  Maybe Cavilo isn’t quite as smart as she could be, to let Miles go like that, but then, meeting Gregor has caused her to change her plans somewhat.  Oser, who earlier was smart enough to have nothing to do with Miles and would rather space him than listen to him, doesn’t quite manage it the second time.  Do we buy it?  Well, quite frankly, I wasn’t quite sure that I bought the earlier, ruthless Oser, and now Miles does have his small power base, so it gives his words a bit more clout.

However impressive Cavilo’s proverb about ensuring all paths lead to victory may sound, one would think that it would lead to a lot of paralysis in practice.  It sounds suspiciously like “minimax regret”, where you try to minimize your maximum regret, which leads to refusing to take any chances.  Since that’s not really Cavilo’s problem, I suspect that she really works by different principles as well.  After all (spoiler alert!) she doesn’t win…

At least a couple more minor characters get names, Lt. Lake and Sgt. Collins, though a little too late to do either of them any good.

Chapter Fourteen

Miles manages to convince Oser to limit Metzov’s interrogation to just the two of them and Elena, with two of Oser’s guards outside a soundproofed glass door, by claiming that Metzov’s information, while probably not current if he was sent out as an assassin, may still be too hot for general consumption.  Metzov is just recovering from stun as Elena administers the fast-penta, and Miles himself is still shaky from the attack.

Oser begins by confirming Metzov’s identity, and why he was supposed to kill Miles.  Metzov says that Cavilo had told him Miles had escaped and Metzov was the only one she could trust to kill him.  Miles takes a turn, asking who they were supposed to be using Metzov’s ground-combat experience against.  Metzov tells him “Vervain”, and thinks finally start making sense to Miles.  Metzov says they’re supposed to raid the planet for valuables, retreat before the Cetagandan invasion hits, and then fence the stuff on Jackson’s Whole.

“God, it fits, it fits.” Miles began to pace the cubicle with uneven steps. “What’s the only way to take a wormhole jump? From both sides at once. The Vervani aren’t Cavilo’s employers—the Cetagandans are.”

Metzov’s role in this is to be a “stalking goat”, for the Cetagandans to claim that they’re just rescuing Vervain from their Barrayaran attackers.  Cavilo gets paid by Vervani and Cetagandans before fencing the stolen goods, and the Cetagandans probably punch through into the Hegen Hub.  The Vervani they’d probably leave as an “allied satrapy” until they can absorb it.  Miles can’t decide whether the Cetagandans would try to take Pol or leave it, or maybe lure Barrayaran into attacking them to push Pol onto Cetaganda’s side.  Oser, unwilling to face an enemy the size of Cetaganda, says they should just get away from Aslund before they get trapped in the Hub, but Miles points out that if Metzov’s been sent out to be captured, this must be Cavilo’s old plan.

Though he doesn’t tell Oser about Gregor, Miles realizes that her new plan must be to flee to Barrayar with the love-smitten Gregor, and count on him and Barrayar’s military to protect her from the Cetagandans she double-crossed.  If Miles and Metzov kill each other, there are two fewer inconvenient Barrayaran character witnesses against her, and she can present herself as Gregor’s rescuer and become Empress just like Cordelia became Countess Vorkosigan.  As for the Cetagandans, she’d prefer them to bog down on Vervain so she didn’t have to run from them too hard.

Oser and Miles try to figure out when the invasion was planned for, if it was supposed to coincide with their planned infighting over the mercenary fleet.  Miles urges Oser to move closer to the Vervain wormhole, to try to blockade it against the Cetagandans.  The Vervani will doubtless mobilize, but unfortunately against the Oserans rather than the Cetagandans.  Miles says they will have to try to hold the wormhole and hope for reinforcements, Polians, Aslunders or even Barrayarans; he points out to Oser how Barrayaran intelligence activity has increased recently.

Oser thinks it over, and decides he can’t risk it, that he wants to pull out, though he will spare Miles’s life in exchange for the information.  His fleet wouldn’t be able to stand up to Cetagandan forces, and he doesn’t want to sacrifice himself like that.  Miles can’t get him to reconsider, and neither can Elena, so she jabs the fast-penta hypospray into his neck.  The guards outside the door are momentarily alarmed, but Elena kisses Oser’s hand affectionately and they relax.

Elena puts an arm around Oser and they follow the guards as they take Metzov down to the brig, until Miles decides they can’t keep the charade up that long, and they veer off to Oser’s cabin instead.

Elena’s inspired mutinous gesture had given him the best break of the day. He had the momentum now. He wouldn’t stop till he was brought down bodily. His head spun with the unutterable relief of at last getting the shifting, writhing, cluttering might-be-might-be-might-be nailed to a fixed is. The time is now. The word is go.

They reach Oser’s quarters and Elena asks Miles what he’s going to do now.  Miles says that Cavilo still has Gregor, and explains her marriage plan.  He says that Gregor was probably the one who planted the idea in her head in the first place, but he’s not sure what Gregor intended by it.  Elena judges Gregor as unlikely to be genuinely love-struck, having always seemed slightly undersexed.

Elena licked her lips in thought. “Is she pretty?”

“Yeah, if you happen to like blond power-mad homicidal maniacs, I suppose she could be quite overwhelming.” His hand closed, the texture of Cavilo’s pelted hair remembered like an itch on his palm. He rubbed it on his trouser seam.

Elena brightened slightly. “Ah. You don’t like her.”

Miles gazed up at Elena’s Valkyrie face. “She’s too short for my taste.”

Elena grinned. “That, I believe.”

Corporal Meddis from the brig calls up to Oser’s cabin, telling them that Metzov’s in a cell.  Miles tells him that they have some spare fast-penta, so they should bring up Captain Tung.  When they ask for reinforcements, Miles suggests Sergeant Chodak.  After keying off the comm, Miles asks Elena why Oser only arrested Tung and not the rest of them; Elena says that Tung got arrested for losing his temper and beating Oser up, though he might have done it on purpose to draw attention away from the others.

Tung arrives with an escort of six men, including Chodak; Oser is smiling benignly in his fast-penta haze, and Miles asks the squad to remain behind outside, and leave Chodak and one of his men inside to help out if Tung gets violent.  Once the door closes, they inform Tung that Oser’s been fast-penta’ed, and Chodak restrains the Private he picked to accompany him from doing more than watching.  Tung exults in how the tables have been turned, but Miles has to bring him back down.  He tells Tung how the freighter captain gave him up to Cavilo, and speculates on whether Tung planned it that way.

“I came to the Hegen Hub on a contract,” continued Miles, “which is now in disarray almost beyond repair. I haven’t come back here to put you in operational combat command of the Dendarii—” a beat, as Tung’s worried features attempted to settle on an expression, “unless you are prepared to serve my ends. Priorities and targets are to be my choice. Only the how is yours.” And just who was going to put whom in command of the Dendarii? As long as that question didn’t occur to Tung.

Miles says the offer is conditional on Tung recognizing Miles as his superior officer, and Tung accepts.  He then gives them another version of the rest of the information, how he’s been “hired” by Barrayaran Imperial Security to rescue the hostage, Gregor Vorbarra, and hopes to stop the Cetagandan invasion and block the wormhole in the process, until reinforcements arrive.  Tung is puzzled at Miles’s explanation of Cavilo’s plan, so Miles assures him that he will take care of the hostage, leaving Tung to secure the wormhole.  He orders Tung to bring the fleet up to readiness, and to make up with Captain Auson.

They order Auson to Oser’s cabin, then hold him at stunnerpoint; he is dismayed to see Miles.  He asks Auson if he’ll cooperate in commanding the Triumph, or if he’ll have to turn it over to Bel Thorne instead.  Miles offers clear captaincy of the Triumph for Auson, Tung’s share bought out, and both that and the Ariel owned by the fleet, with Tung as Tactical Chief of Staff.  Auson accepts, conditional on Tung apologizing, but when the conversation turns to verbal sniping against Bel Thorne, Elena trains her nerve disrupter on Auson to shut him up.  Eventually Tung accedes to an apology, of sorts:

Tung took a breath. “Auson, you can be a real shithead sometimes, but dammit, you can fight when you have to. I’ve seen you. In the tight and the bad and the crazy, I’ll take you at my back before any other captain in the fleet.”

One by one, they deal with the other captain-owners, most of whom end up on board, though the Peregrine‘s has to be stunned and replaced with his reluctant first officer.  Tung briefs them on their tasks, eventually convincing them that it’ll be easier to hole the wormhole than retake it from the Cetagandans, and dismisses them to their duties.  Miles sends Elena to squeeze as much information out of Metzov as she can, in hopes that some of it will still be accurate, after seeking her reassurance that he’s doing the right thing.

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And in a whirlwind, once again seizing the forward momentum, Miles retakes the Dendarii Mercenaries (as I imagine the Oserans will be swiftly re-renamed, if they haven’t been already).  Oser’s refusal to risk himself to try to save somebody else’s lives is entirely in character, but we still don’t really like him for it, do we?  Elena’s move with the fast-penta is inspired, and leaves Miles free to try to build up his power base again, with Sgt. Chodak reprising his role as Most Promising New Dendarii Character.  So Miles doesn’t have to talk his way through Oser…just everybody else.

Cavilo’s plan, at least her original one, was audacious–did she come up with it herself, and offer it to the Cetagandans, or did they come up with it and then find someone willing to execute it?  I could see it either way, but Cavilo instigating it makes a little more sense because otherwise the Cetagandans would have to be careful not to let word of their plan get out, probably by killing anyone who wasn’t willing to go along with it.

At this point the Cetagandans are still fairly faceless, though I suppose we did see a few of them as Dendarii recruits back in The Warrior’s Apprentice, didn’t we?  Of course Cetaganda is the most detailed examination of their culture, but they must also show up in Ethan of Athos, one of the earliest books.  In the series so far, though, we’ve only seen them as invaders and aggressors, but we saw a lot of Barrayaran invaders and aggressors in Shards of Honour too, so we must have confidence that there’s more to Cetaganda than that.


Three more chapters left in The Vor Game, so next week will likely see the climax, since there must be at least a chapter of denouement in there too…(reads ahead)…well, maybe half a chapter.  Until then…

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