Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapter 4

I don’t usually blog about the process of blogging—it’s way too meta for me—but I feel I should acknowledge that this post is coming to you from Tuesday night, in a sort of “what the hell, I’m not sleeping anyway” frame of mind. I’m on the iPad, the cat (who still has four legs for now, thank you for asking) is snoring, and I would rather be thinking of the body in the drain than anything else in the world.

We’re very close to the last iteration of this spoiler warning. When Jole walks onto the page, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen becomes fair game. It’s not this week, but it’s either next week or the one after.

At some point in the recent past, a man left the barracks alone, headed towards the training field. His mission was an entirely personal one; He was retrieving a package of pastries he had, for his own reasons, concealed in a drain. In the darkness, he lost his way. He entered the wrong drain, became wedged, and drowned. Now it is morning, and Miles Vorkosigan is leading his punishment detail to unclog the drain. As the smallest member of this crew of sinners, Miles has gone into the drain, and found the boots with the serviceman attached to them. He has called for assistance and a body bag. The surgeon will diagnose death by misadventure. The dead man’s cookies were not in this drain; Miles finds them later.

Why has Miles found the corpse of an errant pastry-hoarder in a drain? It seems cruel to drown a soldier we didn’t even know. This is not a murder mystery; We don’t need a corpse to move forward with the story. Alas, poor Redshirt. Miles is not Hamlet—he’s too far away from girls, for one thing—but he is not doing well these days. Ivan calls to remind him how well he’s not doing. Ivan would never do that to Miles intentionally. He does it to show off his new apartment, and brag about his new girlfriend—Tatya, no last name given. Let’s speculate about whether this is the Tatya who marries Rene Vorbretten! The flowers reflect a sentimental nature combined with excellent taste, so I think it’s her. A first apartment is a milestone, and Tatya is a lovely person—Ivan seems to be doing well for himself.

The polar opposite of “check out my new apartment while I brag about my romantic partner” is being a corpse in a drain. And the second degree of misery is finding one. Miles is miserable enough to go down more drains in his off-duty hours to find the cookies, which I think might approach a death wish, although apparently not a particularly intractable one. Our wandering soldier didn’t have a death wish either, just a craving and some really bad luck. He’s what passes for local color on Lazkowski Base—it’s so depressing a guy drowned himself for stale baked goods.

This incident will stay with Miles for a long time. He mentions it to his gate guard in Memory, and refers to his past experience in plumbing when Enrique clogs the Vorkosigan House drains with bug butter in A Civil Campaign. In those contexts, the incident will sound vaguely glamorous—as though there was an exciting mystery, or finding the corpse required some kind of skill. In this context, there’s none of that because Kyril Island doesn’t rise to that level. It’s the other way around—Miles elevates his surroundings. Which is a little ironic, because he’s short.

But if I may play with the height metaphor a little more, Miles doesn’t see eye-to-eye with others—he makes them look at things they would otherwise have not seen. We don’t know if Olney and Pattas change their view of the Vor as a result of the Great Drain Discovery, but they do adjust their view of Miles. Metzov is reluctant to look down—either at Miles, or at views that challenge his position of authority. Miles forces him to. Perhaps this is why Miles tends to treat his commanding officers like cattle; it’s the result of a lifetime of having to counter people’s assumptions. In Barrayaran culture, almost everyone makes assumptions about Miles, and consequently, he almost always has important information that others lack. Miles’s life experience is not conducive to putting one’s full faith in a superior and obeying their orders without question.

Miles will carry the investigative bent he displayed in this incident to some digging on General Metzov. This is Lt. Ahn’s fault. Ahn and Metzov have a great deal of history together, in the service. As Ahn leaves the base (for someplace on the equator), he warns Miles not to cross Metzov, and hints at a past incident. Miles must know, so he calls Ivan. Three important things happen in this phone call. The first is Ivan’s casual mention of a conflict over a ship that is suspected of being a Barrayaran agent. Ivan says it’s not. Miles doesn’t follow up. I think possibly Miles assumes that Ivan can identify the Dendarii when they intrude upon his work life. Nonetheless, I assume this is a Dendarii ship and that it will make another appearance in the plot. I have not read ahead to check. The ship is definitely on my mind as a future plot point.

Important thing two is the accidental espionage. In his quest for Metzov’s sealed records, Miles skirts some expensive security protocols by having Ivan turn a desk to face the comm viewer in Ops. That’s not a good junior officer move. It’s creative though! And I don’t know that Miles would have behaved differently with less information about Metzov. The third important thing is Ivan’s decision to set some boundaries. He tells Miles never to darken his comm plate again. And then, in a sign of Ivan’s loyalty and affectionate nature, he clarifies that this restriction only applies at work. Ivan is really growing on me, ya’ll.

Miles does a slightly better job being a junior officer in the officers’ fire safety meeting following the fart-flares incident. I know that his suggestion about bean stew is not appreciated at the highest level. I, however, would like to request that Miles attend my next faculty meeting; I think he would make meaningful contributions to our ongoing conversations about disciplinary issues. Also, I have two yellow armbands, and I would like Miles’s input on our survival drills.

Exploring Metzov’s records in Ops is Miles’s first misuse of his Vor privilege so far. Ahn told Miles that Metzov was dangerous. Miles didn’t really need to know anything more, but he wanted to, so he exploited his personal connections to look at the records. Miles didn’t use his connection to his dad, he used his relatively obscure, similarly-aged cousin. This will create complications for Ivan later, and Miles will be very sorry. He will also feel that he and Ivan may have done the Empire a service by finding the security vulnerability before it was found by someone else. It’s not Ivan whose last words will be “What did I say?” It’s Miles.

Next week, Miles gets closer to an opportunity to deliver those last words, and his shot at ship duty get farther away.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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