This week begins as a screwball adventure and Miles and his variably-intrepid crew reach Tau Verde IV and encounter the Oseran Mercenaries. Miles is no longer high on green liquor, but he still has forward momentum, and he’s hoping to resolve the financial issues he created for himself when he mortgaged that radioactive land and then, I imagine, go back to Beta Colony with a thrilling story to tell. And for a little while, it looks like he might!
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.
Bothari tortures and kills a jump pilot.
Let me be the first to admit that my summary is unfair. Quite a bit happens in chapters 8 and 9 of The Warrior’s Apprentice, and the action covers significant character development. The Oserans guarding the wormhole jump to Tau Verde IV are taking hostages—jump pilots, which Miles acknowledges is a handy way to make sure that visitors to local space behave themselves. Miles is still hoping to sell a cargo of “agricultural equipment” and he wants to maximize his profits so he can clear his mortgage, since Calhoun seems to have discovered some information detrimental to any realistic assessment of its value. I am so thrilled by the radioactive land mortgage.
The Oserans searching the RG freighter are a suspiciously rag-tag band, operating somewhat below peak military efficiency. They do not turn up Miles’s illegal cargo. They do confiscate the knife he inherited from his grandfather and all of the foreign currency on board. And then they try to confiscate Elena. That doesn’t go well for them. Of the Oserans aboard, one is drunk, one is holding Elena by the arm, and there were some others, but I lost count. Miles takes the drunk guy, Elena takes the merc captain who is manhandling her, and Bothari takes the rest in a fight scene that is a masterpiece of the genre. Bothari begins the fight armed only with a deck chair that he somehow unbolted from the floor without anyone noticing. He quickly acquires a defunct stunner and a nerve disruptor, takes on multiple assailants, and offers instruction to Arde Mayhew on how to effectively blackjack an opponent with the butt of the stunner while sailing across the room. Whatever his shortcomings as a parent, Bothari has clearly not neglected Elena’s self-defense training—he doesn’t even offer to help her with the Oseran Captain, she clearly does not require any assistance. He calls her off, preparatory to killing the guy with a nerve disruptor, and then Miles has to call him off—like his father before him, Miles prefers not to kill prisoners.
At this point, we start to get pragmatic. Bothari suggests that it may be preferable to kill soldiers in battle rather than prisoners after. I’m intrigued by this, which I see as a reaction to Aral’s “thing” about prisoners. It certainly highlights Bothari’s moral flexibility. And it is that flexibility that has given my summary such tunnel vision, because in my reading, this is what these chapters are really about. For the first seven chapters of The Warrior’s Apprentice, Bothari has been Miles’s faithful retainer. He can be grim, but he’s also a person who you can imagine loving parents trusting with their only child. He helped Miles train for those exams that he bombed. He complains about Miles’s grandmother’s couch. But he is there for Miles. We read about that time that Miles attempted suicide and Bothari stopped him and still didn’t share Miles’s secrets with anyone. To go forward in the story, we need to see that Bothari is many things, and many of them are unpleasant. Readers who started with Shards and Barrayar will not be surprised. I didn’t start with those books the first time I read the series, though. I started with Warrior’s Apprentice, and this was shocking. Miles’s parents didn’t just give him a bodyguard; They gave him this murderer. Bothari has always been what he is, this man who would dig out a pilot’s jump implant to get the access codes, and then go calmly about his other duties. This is the first time Miles has confronted this aspect of the man his mother called a monster.
And he does confront it. Before the pilot dies, he takes personal responsibility for what he ordered his liegeman to do. That’s one piece of what it means to be a sworn armsman and to have one. After the pilot dies, he ponders his responsibility in more depth. I’m struck by his reflection about knowing where the impulse comes from to massacre the witnesses. He badly wants to deny this. He wishes it hadn’t happened. The codes the pilot provided saved lives, and that is some comfort. But it’s balanced against the knowledge that Miles’s presence in this conflict was completely unnecessary. Miles didn’t trip and fall through the wormhole into a war zone. He went there on purpose, and he went because of a series of entirely preventable events. He didn’t need to rescue Arde Mayhew. It was nice that he did, a nice closing of the loop to that family history he doesn’t know, but he didn’t need to.
He didn’t need to buy the RG freighter or mortgage his land, and having done that, he didn’t need to take a sketchy gun-running job to redeem the deed. He could have called home (or written or sent a vid, I suppose, given the complications of communication through the wormhole system) and explained to his parents that he had screwed up and he needed them to fish him out of this little problem. That would have been contrary to his nature, and unlikely for a teenager in this moment; Miles made an adult mistake while trying a little too hard to act like an adult, and like any kid in this position, he wants to adult his way out of it. He thinks that means solving it without any help at all from authorities off-site. He won’t make his father proud by calling him to say he accidentally mortgaged Vorkosigan Vashnoi and an angry Betan is calling in the note. But if he had, the pilot would still be alive. He’s only standing in the under-equipped sick bay washing a corpse’s face because he didn’t want to tell his parents he screwed up.
This novel is serious, but it’s not that heavy. Bujold tempers this moment with Miles’s first combat experience—he and his crew take over the Oseran shuttle. They all yell going through the hatches. OK, I assume Sgt. Bothari and Major Daum don’t, but everyone else does. Miles stuns two sleeping women and one combat-ready hermaphrodite. Baz and Elena take engineering. Baz fights bravely and saves Elena’s life. This is one of the outcomes of Miles’s heroic moment—his crew is outnumbered, he can’t afford to let Baz sit out the fight, he needs to take this deserter and make him brave. Up to this point, Baz has just been an engineer. Miles swears him as an armsman now. He also puts Elena behind Baz going through the hatch to the shuttle, to keep him moving. I suspect this might have had more of an impact than the thing with the oaths, but Baz is drawn in by Miles’s Vor theatrics. And also quite smitten with Elena. Something worked! Who cares what it was?
Next week, Miles needs to make it keep working as he takes on the rest of the Oseran fleet.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.