This week, Miles and his entourage head for Beta Colony. Some time has passed; Miles’s legs are now unbroken, and he has used them to trudge around some military cemeteries on Escobar. Miles and Elena do not find what they are looking for. That took about two paragraphs, and the rest of the quest for Elena’s mother will wait for a later chapter. We’re on Beta Colony! And we need to get to know it real fast, because we’re not here for long.
If you’d like to catch up on previous posts in the re-read, the index is here. At this time, the spoiler policy permits discussion of all books EXCEPT Gentlemen Jole and the Red Queen. Discussion of any and all revelations from or about that book should be whited out.
When Bothari gets held up in customs at the shuttleport, Miles takes Elena on a tour. This leads to his acquisition of a mortgage, an obsolete RG freighter, an unspecified quantity of an intoxicating green substance, and a new armsman, Arde Mayhew. Elena gets hit on. Bothari is unamused. Miles’s grandmother, Mrs. Naismith, requests Miles’s help with a strange man who is hiding in the recycling center her neighbor manages. Miles checks out the situation and acquires a second armsman, Baz Jesek, engineer and deserter from the Imperial forces. Now very short on cash, Miles finds a job for his freighter, hauling “agricultural equipment” into a war zone. Elena accidentally watches a Betan holovid drama on the Escobar War. Miles announces his plan to take his scrappy little jump ship into a war zone to his grandmother and his bodyguard. Bothari almost refuses to allow Elena to accompany them, but when Mrs. Naismith suggests that Elena might enjoy meeting Betan young people and going to parties, Bothari decides to bring her along on the side trip to Tau Verde IV.
Sometimes, a situation constitutes a BLOGGING EMERGENCY in which an aspect of the section under consideration has to be dealt with before I, your intrepid re-read blogger, can deal with anything else. And this is one. HELLO, ARDE MAYHEW! We haven’t seen you since the end of Shards! SOMEONE NAMED NAISMITH OWES YOU SOMETHING. We met Pilot Officer Mayhew when Cordelia was escaping from her psychiatrist. At no point in The Warrior’s Apprentice will anyone point out this connection. Arde was chosen for his discretion.
The opening chapters of this book were a crash course in Miles’s Barrayar. These chapters are the corresponding crash course in Beta Colony. It has an amazing shuttleport. There’s a shopping mall, and ice cream, and an extended zoo habitat. Indeed, Silica Zoo seems to have made a significant effort to eliminate the traditional barriers we associate with zoos by bringing zoo exhibits and habitats into non-zoo public spaces. If poorly planned, a public zoo exhibit runs the risk of being more like a fish tank in a dentist’s office than an opportunity for the public to confront and develop a relationship with unusual fauna. The shuttleport exhibit seems to highlight the habitat rather than the species of lizard residing within it, and I think that’s a little disappointing. I think public zoo exhibits should be radical and thought-provoking.
Beta Colony’s other notable feature is the appearance of sexual freedom. Reproduction is subject to stringent social control, and birth control implants are mandatory for women and hermaphrodites. Miles spent a school year on Beta Colony, so he’s had the opportunity to observe that sexual freedom is not the same thing as sexual opportunity. His experiences point out that a person can have a not-particularly-Barrayaran perspective on disabilities and still be a creep about it. These attitudes are not arrayed on a spectrum, where the further we are from one end, the better off we are; They’re plotted on a grid where many points fall within the negative quadrants.
With her father held up in customs, Elena is free to be a charmed tourist. She’s an adorable fish out of water, and has to fend off admirers before she leaves the shuttleport. These chapters show Elena beginning to emerge as the hero of her own story. On the surface, she’s a sweet and uncomplicated girl. She’s on this trip because Miles wanted to show her the galaxy. She’s in awe of Mrs. Naismith. At this point in her trajectory, she is very Barrayaran; She defends her planet’s honor from a slanderous Betan holovid drama. She’s also more skilled than we had previously been allowed to realize. Miles puts her in charge of provisioning his scrappy little freighter for the trip into the war zone on Tau Verde IV. This is a book where a whole lot of things go wrong, but the RG freighter falling unexpectedly short of critically needed supplies is not one of them.
Miles and Bothari have trod Beta Colony’s sandy hills and uncomfortable couches before, but this time their relationship is undergoing a series of subtle shifts. Elena’s presence puts Bothari on edge. He’s guarding her as well as Miles and he doesn’t like having his attention split. Elena’s reaction to the holovid drama shows how close Bothari is to being exposed. Miles speculates that his mother probably did kill Vorrutyer, and asks Bothari about it. Bothari says he can’t remember Escobar, and Miles concludes he suffered a head wound. If Miles were less entertained by his own mythology, he might have made some interesting discoveries. Bothari removes himself from his lord’s scrutiny by going to patrol the hallway.
Miles’s distractibility might also be attributable to his manic state. This is not a kid who is reacting well to being at a loose end. His intervention on behalf of Arde Mayhew is an impulsive charitable act. From that point forward, a fair number of his decisions are attributable to Arde’s creme de meth. Unlike the green liquor you may be familiar with from the drinking habits of Hercule Poirot, this one is a stimulant. When Miles’s father was high on stimulants, his scope of action was limited to regaining command of the General Vorkraft. Beta Colony has a wider variety of available targets, and Miles has all the money he can borrow against the radioactive city he just inherited. He’s working out his dreams with the available equipment. Every cadet wants space duty—Miles buys a ship; He wanted to command men—he recruits Arde and Baz as his personal armsmen; He wanted to be a soldier—he “accidentally” disguises himself as a mercenary (the name of his imaginary outfit reflects his desire to serve Barrayar) and flies into a war zone.
Next week—what happens when he gets there?
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.