Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Brothers in Arms, Chapters 13-16

We’re approaching the end of Brothers in Arms here, which means it’s time for the dramatic rescue sequence! Miles rescues Mark from the Komarran Underground, the Barrayarans, the Cetagandans, and the London police, then rescues Ivan from the high tide and Elli from a closet (actually a closet, not a metaphorical closet).

On an aesthetic level, I feel like two planetary governments, one resistance movement, a police force, and a mercenary company is a lot of moving parts to involve in a single rescue mission. In defense of Bujold’s work (though it doesn’t need defending), it’s a single night’s work, but not a single rescue. We’ve got four rescuees, three of whom are partially self-rescuing or who make major contributions to the rescue of others.

This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

Before I delve deeply into the rescue mission, we need to take a minute for a unicorn update: Earth is working on catching up to Cetagandan unicorn technology with the Unicorn Park (a division of Galactech Biotechnologies, the same company that made Miles’s cat blanket) in Wooten, Surrey. I know, from the tyramine discussion, that some of you live in the British Isles. If you stay there for 5-600 years, you’ll be able to take a train to the Unicorn Park! The Unicorn Park also has lions, which you will be able to feed. My first thought was that the park was feeding unicorns to the lions. Miles’s reaction was that he might be able to feed Ivan to the lions as a martyr. In fact, the lions eat protein cubes. Miles describes the unicorns as looking like a cross between a deer and a horse. He doesn’t mention whether their horns are shiny, which I think shows that he’s capable of overlooking the really important details.

My initial plan was to compare this rescue to Cordelia’s rescue of Miles, back in Barrayar. The critical elements in THAT mission involved:

  • A target: Miles
  • A team: Cordelia, Bothari, Drou, and Kou (stunned and dragged along)
  • A side-mission: Alys Vorpatril and Ivan
  • An agent on the inside: Kareen
  • An enemy: Vordarian
  • A decapitation
  • Lots of revelations about everyone’s character
  • Setting the Imperial Palace on fire

As his mother was before him, Miles is forbidden this mission; Destang sends him into orbit. Even his friends don’t understand why he wants to rescue Mark—he can easily have another clone made, and Ivan and Elli don’t care for Mark. Miles never considers leaving Mark behind—the most desperate option he considers is rescuing Mark without Ivan and Elli’s help. His hand is forced when Ivan is kidnapped from a horticultural fair—remember kids, civic events are dangerous! You might be there for light duty guarding the ambassador’s wife, or even just to pick up some galactic cultural polish, but assassins and kidnappers LOVE those shindigs. They’re target rich environments because they’re full of people like you. STAY HOME! Or go to the Unicorn Park. ANYWAY—Ivan, kidnapped.

We learn about Ivan’s abduction from Ser Galen, who says Miles has to come to the Thames Tidal Barrier to meet him or Ivan dies at 2:07. Miles negotiates to bring a second. Galen assumes he will bring Elli. Every time Galen says the words “pretty bodyguard” I want to punch him—He’s just so slimy about it.

Miles uses a comm link he failed to return when he left the embassy to contact Galeni, who Ivan turned his half of the link over to. Ivan wasn’t an entirely willing participant in Miles’s plan to keep a covert inside line to the embassy. He pointed out that his effort to get Miles back into the embassy incognito a few chapters ago is already a black mark on his record. It’s a black mark that has some company, from the time Ivan turned his desk around in Ops so Miles could read his secured comm console screen, and the time he held onto a souvenir nerve disruptor he picked up in a seemingly random encounter with the Ba Lura.

At this point, Ivan is technically the target of the rescue, with Mark as the side-mission and Galen as the enemy. Miles likes to mix things up, and he knows Galeni has some skin in the game, so he brings Duv to the rendezvous instead of Elli. Not having his mother’s disadvantages in re. political optics, Miles also arranges back-up on the ground from the Dendarii. And then, what with one thing and another, Mark kills Ser Galen, Miles gives Mark a credit chit for half a million Barrayaran Marks, Ivan is rescued from being drowned in a pumping station at high tide, and the Cetagandans try to kill everyone. Elli gets stunned and shoved in a closet, somehow, even though she wasn’t initially on the scene (she rappelled in), and Galeni has a berserker moment and takes down Lieutenant Tabor of the Cetagandan Embassy and a Cetagandan assassin in blue and yellow face paint. The effectiveness of Cetagandan covert ops would be dramatically increased if they ditched the face paint. Not all the time—just for special occasions.

My personal feelings about the complexity of this rescue mission are validated by Miles’s efforts to explain to his Dendarii backup how to contact the London Police, what to say, and what tones of voice to use while saying it. Usually, Miles seems to trust his troops’ initiative on issues like how to play-act to the cops over the phone (and also how to raise eighteen million marks, and what crucial pieces of evidence or other items to drop in the mail to a friend). His unwillingness to let them manage the relatively simple task of alerting local authorities to a firefight in their tidal barrier suggests that the situation is particularly critical.

How is my comparison doing? Water stands in for fire—that’s really what attracted me to the idea that the rescues might be parallel; It’s very poetic. There are some other similarities; Mark has a Drou moment when he realizes he’s capable of killing, combined with a Kareen moment when he kills Ser Galen. Galeni has a Bothari moment, although he doesn’t kill anyone, when he takes on the Cetagandans. Ivan becomes a side-quest. Cordelia’s rescue of Miles was about keeping her family (and her sanity) together. The immediate outcome here has Mark pursuing a life of doing whatever he wants because Miles feels strongly about Mark’s need to make some independent choices. Miles also recognizes that Mark hates him, which is very mature of Miles, really. I think it’s interesting to keep the idea of both of Cordelia’s sons being rescued in mind, even though efforts at direct comparison quickly become tortured.

Mark doesn’t get to leave until Miles has orchestrated a little meeting with the Cetagandans with both Lt. Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith present. I wish Miles had waited just a little longer to let the Cetas explain what they thought was going on before pushing the clone story. He’s so invested in this rare opportunity to perpetuate his cover that he doesn’t know what his enemy thinks he’s covering up. Also, I suspect the Cetagandans of doing a lot of things, and I want to know what all the things are.

Bizarrely, everyone else gets to return to their status quo. The Ambassador requests that Galeni stay at his post. Destang goes back to Sector Headquarters and devoutly hopes he’s retired before the Dendarii come his way again. Miles and the Dendarii go off on a rescue mission in aid of Barrayaran interests. Ivan is still Ivan. I wish the ending acknowledged Ivan’s newly aggravated claustrophobia here, but it does not. Poor, neglected Ivan.

Next week, we move on to Mark’s fate in Mirror Dance! I will be tacking book covers, and possibly early chapters.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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