"Labyrinth", written by Lois McMaster Bujold and published in 1989 by Baen Books in the collection Borders of Infinity, is a novella within the Vorkosigan Saga set chronologically between Ethan of Athos and "The Borders of Infinity". First published in August 1989 by Analog, it can also be found in the two omnibus editions Miles, Mystery and Mayhem and Miles, Mutants and Microbes. It has also been published by Roc outside the Vorkosigan Saga in the story collection Intergalactic Mercenaries in 1996.
"Labyrinth" came in third place for a Locus Award for best novella and won the Analytical Laboratory (Analog reader's poll), both in 1990.
Plot Summary[edit | edit source]
Lord Miles Vorkosigan, aka Admiral Naismith, traveled with Captain Bel Thorne in the Dendarii cruiser Ariel on a mission to Jackson's Whole. Bel Thorne, a Betan hermaphrodite and one of the very first Dendarii mercenaries, let Miles know that it knew that he was not a Betan. It also let him know that it was very much in love with Miles; unfortunately for it, Miles did not return the affection due to his solely heterosexual preferences.
- "And who was he to judge another, Miles reflected ruefully, whose own body brought him so little joy? What did Bel, straight and healthy and of normal height, if unusual genital arrangements, find so attractive in a little half-crippled part-time crazy man?"
- ―Miles, reflecting on Bel's crush/love for him[src]
They were ostensibly at Jackson's Whole to buy weapons, but the actual purpose of the mission was to smuggle House Bharaputra's top geneticist, Dr. Hugh Canaba, away from his employer and into Barrayaran hands.
Upon their arrival and making of purchases, Miles and Bel received an invitation to a party given by Baron Fell. There they met the Baron himself, who was startlingly interested in life extension techniques and wanted to know if Admiral Naismith's Betan rejuvenation treatments were real. Miles allowed him to believe they were. Next they met an extraordinary quaddie musician Nicol; Bel promptly fell in love with her, which led to complications when Baron Ryoval showed up attempting to purchase her (or her contract); both Nicol and Bel were openly horrified at the prospect.
- "Bel's breath exploded. 'My clone-siblings, to be—be—some sort of sex-slaves into the next century! Over my dead body—or yours—you—'"
- ―In response to Ryoval's request for a tissue sample[src]
Afterwards, Nicol paid Miles and Bel a visit; she wished to pay them to smuggle her out of Jacksonian space before her contract became even more unfavorable than it already was. Miles allowed Bel to do the negotiating; it charged her one Betan dollar on the grounds that in that way, they would have an official contract.
Somewhat later, and somewhat late, the geneticist made contact with Miles. He let it be known that he was not going to come aboard unless Miles helped him with an important task, namely to collect certain genetic sample which he had injected into the leg of a monster he had created some years back as part of a "super-soldier" project; also, please kill the monster, which had just been sold to the paranoid and sadistic Baron Ryoval as a curiosity. Miles agreed, but when he tried to purchase this monster, Baron Ryoval stepped into the conversation and set undesirable terms of purchase - namely, Miles would have to provide tissue samples from himself, Bel, and Nicol for the Baron's collection.
Rather than allow his (and Bel's and Nicol's) clone siblings to become slaves for Ryoval's bordellos, Miles decided to sneak into Ryoval's complex to perform the task in secret. He purchased a schematic of the complex, determined that he'd be able to sneak in through the ducts, and led a group of Dendarii onto the site. However, while he was in a duct, his companions were arrested and thrown out of the building. He decided to at least find out where the monster was located before returning to his group to plan an alternate attack. The attempt went badly; he was captured and thrown into the sub-basement with the aforementioned monster, who was called "Nine". "Nine" turned out to be an eight-foot tall werewolf complete with fangs, claws, superhuman strength and speed, and a ravenous appetite. Miles was shocked to find that the creature was female, and that, despite her fearsome appearance, she was an intelligent and emotionally vulnerable young woman. She challenged him to prove that he believed she was human - by making love to her. Miles got to indulge his weakness for tall strong women... He offered her a new life with the Dendarii, and a name: Taura. They then spent several hours trying to escape and in the process committed one supreme act of sabotage and revenge before Captain Thorne managed to negotiate a ransom.
- "He resisted the urge to scrawl something like The Dwarf Strikes Back across the front of the freezer with a flow pen."
- ―Miles didn't like Ryoval's dwarf jokes[src]
Miles found several aspects of that Deal unacceptable and the exchange turned into a minor battle with Ryoval's security. Despite her lack of combat training, Taura demonstrated spectacular raw ability and contributed mightily to her own rescue. Nicol, who was to be part of the Deal, also contributed to the battle. They escaped and were pursued, but managed to reach the Ariel and depart the Jackson system. Miles created confusion and avoided pursuit by telling different lies (and a couple of vital truths) to Ryoval and his rival half-brother, weapons dealer Baron Fell.
Bel and Nicol spent the journey out together; so did Miles and Taura.
- "Then don't wish to be normal," said Miles passionately, rising to pace. "You'll only waste your precious time in futile frustration. Wish to be great! That at least you have a fighting chance for. Great at whatever you are. A great trooper, a great sergeant. A great quartermaster, for God's sake, if that's what comes with ease. A great musician like Nicol—only think how horrible if she were wasting her talents trying to be merely normal."
- ―In response to Taura's wish that she could be normal.[src]