When we left off last week, Elena Bothari-Jesek was in the process of rescuing her childhood friends, Miles and Gregor, from the Oserans. She’s cut her hair! My attempt to interpret the description of her new ‘do puts it somewhere between Princess Diana and Mr. Spock. Very functional, very military, and a great look for a woman with Elena’s bone structure. I approve. Elena smuggles Miles and Greg onto a shuttle with Tung, and they make a plan to hand Gregor (with Miles) off to a Barrayaran embassy in local space that will handle their repatriation. I forget which embassy it was, and I think I should be forgiven for that (and I have not gone and looked it up) because they never get there.
This week, The Vor Game increases the level of peril that Gregor and Miles are facing by introducing us to Randall’s Rangers. Sans Randall. He’s dead. These things must happen to mercenary commanders sometimes, which is why I think it’s probably a poor choice to name your mercenary company after yourself. The Rangers are now commanded by Cavilo, who killed Randall. We last saw her working undercover as Livia Nu. Her recently hired second-in-command is Stannis Metzov. So the Rangers are basically evil in mercenary form. Bujold is particularly liberal with the evidence of Cavilo’s homicidal mania. To be fair, we already know a lot about Metzov—it’s not like we needed more information on that front.
Metzov is very, very careful with Gregor. Metzov may have lost his pension and fled the Empire, but he’s not blind to either the risks or the opportunities Gregor represents. Metzov is also excited about having Miles in his custody, although he and Cavilo find reasons not to carry out Metzov’s dream of murdering Miles brutally. They also hold off on fast penta interrogation. In fact, fast penta interrogation is passed over as an option for handling Miles so often that it becomes conspicuous. Since The Vor Game was published, Miles’s fast penta interrogation has been shifted a couple books away from it in the reading order. There are a few non-pharmaceutical interrogations though. Cavilo wants to know all about Miles’s mother. Metzov wants someone to talk to. Vast quantities of information exchange hands in Miles’s cell in Cavilo’s brig.
This would be a great place to have Gregor’s perspective, and it’s a little annoying that we don’t. As a reader, I want to know more about Gregor. I understand WHY we don’t get that here—Miles has to work things out on his own, and the story isn’t fun if we know that he happens to be guessing right a lot of the time. As he should; Miles and Gregor have known each other for a long time, even if they were five years separated in age and, apparently, not exactly kindred spirits in their childhoods. Being instantly reassured that Miles and Gregor have made all the right guesses about each other in this version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma they are working out would remove a lot of the suspense. (And the thanks of a grateful blogger go out to Cavilo, who explicitly mentioned the Prisoner’s Dilemma, for anyone who might have failed to notice it.)
Cavilo’s personal ambitions center around acquiring as much power as possible. Empress of Barrayar is sounding both interesting and plausible in her conversations with Gregor. She decides that she needs Miles back with the Oserans. I think she mainly wants him separated from Gregor, so that she can more effectively present herself as Gregor’s rescuer. She can see uses for both his taking command of the former-Dendarii, and for his dying in the attempt. Longtime fans will remember their conversation about this matter both for Cavilo’s advice on strategy, and for Miles’s allergic reaction to her perfume. This starts the process of moving the pieces around the giant space chessboard that’s being set up in the vicinity of Vervain, Pol, Aslund Station, and Jackson’s Hole.
Everything that happens in the next few chapters is an effort to put all the players on the stage for the final showdown. One of the highlights is Miles’s return to the Oserans. Miles has been warned against attempting to contact Barrayar, so he settles for a very public tour of Oseran operations. It’s reminiscent of Patton’s visits with FUSAG during Operation Fortitude South. His main goal is to make it easy for Ungari to find him, but Miles also flushes out General Metzov, who’s been sent along to assassinate him. By the end of chapter 15, Metzov, Oser, Ungari and Overholt are in Miles’s custody and Gregor is in Cavilo’s. And the Cetagandans are invading. Just to keep the stakes high.
How will we be dealing with the Cetagandans? Miles has had some helpful thoughts on recent changes in weapons technology for us to peruse. Interstellar travel will have to involve mass shielding if it’s going to be carried out at any reasonable speed, so projectile weapons have long been obsolete for ship-to-ship combat in this particular universe. Laser weapons have also been rendered obsolete by Betan technology, and the plasma mirrors we saw back in Shards of Honor are in the process of doing the same thing to plasma weapons. What’s left? The gravitic imploder lance. I’m a little unclear on exactly how it works, but it involves a modification of tractor beam technology, it has a short range, it uses a lot of energy, and it does bad things. It sounds very impressive. I don’t think the Oserans have one.
Miles thinks the shifting technology could make combat tight and intimate again, which is funny because the other major threat he has to deal with in this quadrant is Cavilo. For this, he embraces the mad mutant stereotype and puts his faith in his Emperor. Gregor is equally useful to Miles’s personal ambitions alive or dead. Miraculously, Gregor picks up all the cues and paints a picture for Cavilo of Miles as a dangerous but valuable ally in the complex world of Barrayaran Vor politics. This scene (especially Elena Bothari-Jesek stuffing her shirt in her mouth to contain her laughter) is a lovely payoff for the necessary-but-tedious process of moving all the ships around the wormhole nexus. Once again, I want to see multiple versions.
Tune in next week for several dramatic stand-offs!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.