Time flows inexorably on, like an ever-flowing river, and so another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread washes up on the shores of the Internet. Or something. Our journey through Lois McMaster Bujold’s books of Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends and family, has reached the book with the deceptively simple and bland title of Memory, which marks a major transition in Miles’s life, which hinges upon the events of Chapters Five and Six.
Miles and Delia Koudelka emerge from Duv Galeni’s groundcar at the Imperial Residence. She’s much taller than Miles, and is a little dubious about escorting him; Miles promises she’ll only need to give him the first two dances. Galeni basks in the glow of his companion, Laisa Toscane, a shapely, zaftig woman whose skin Miles finds almost seems to glow. She seems excited, but not overwhelmed, to be there.
The guards let them inside, where they meet Lady Alys Vorpatril, who greets Miles and Delia; Miles introduces her to Galeni and Laisa, and Alys tells them they’ll be seated at Gregor’s table, mixed in with the galactics. Miles spots Simon Illyan off to one side, and asks Delia to take the other two to the dinner hall. Alys speaks approvingly of Laisa, heir of the rich Komarran Toscane family, though she can’t bring herself to wholeheartedly approve of a Komarran nonetheless.
Illyan, armed and earbud-equipped to handle the event’s security, doesn’t seem happy to see Miles. He tells Miles he has seen his report, but nothing more; Miles asks to speak with him, but Illyan puts him off, saying he’s waiting for further information. As Miles turns to leave, Illyan asks if he drove there, and Miles says he came with Duv Galeni, who Illyan approves of.
Miles catches up with his companions outside the hall; Galeni and Delia are chatting, and Laisa is looking around at the décor. She discusses some of the antiques and wooden furniture with Miles, pointing out that some of them are younger than the oldest domes on Komarr, and yet seem to have more history. Komarr is still centuries of terraforming away from a breathable atmosphere, hence the domed cities. They have long exploited their strategic position in the jump nexus, but their decision to let Cetaganda through to attack newly-discovered Barrayar led Barrayar to attack them in turn, as their only outbound route, hence their current status as a Barrayaran possession. Miles suggests that Laisa get Duv to take her horseback riding, to experience the outdoors that Komarr lacks; if he doesn’t know how, Miles thinks, he can give Galeni a crash course. Laisa says Duv has a tendency to exaggerate the unromantic side of history, though admittedly she herself needs to be a practical businesswoman, since Komarr relies so heavily on its commerce.
They enter the Glass Hall–lines with windows on one side, and mirrors on the other–where Gregor is playing the role of host. Laisa observes that he’s not wearing the military uniform they see in vid broadcasts, and Miles explains that Gregor only wear the military uniform on special occasions, since he doesn’t feel he’s truly earned the right to wear it. That lets the rest of them dress more formally for many occasions, which Miles is okay with, especially the part where he doesn’t have to wear ceremonial swords.
They reach the Emperor, who tells Galeni he’s heard good things about him. His attention is somewhat arrested by Laisa, but he lets her go with some polite words about hope for Komarr’s future. Delia leads them off in search of Ivan and Martya; Laisa wonders at Gregor’s words, which she construes as an apology for conquering Komarr in the first place.
They are forced to halt for an old General moving slowly with his cane and full dress uniform; Laisa asks about him, and Miles explains that he’s an Imperial Auditor, General Vorparadijs, the last one appointed by Emperor Ezar. The Imperial Auditors are the supreme overseers over the Counts, with the Emperor’s Voice and authority behind them; Galeni adds that there are supposed to be nine, though at the moment there are only seven living. Laisa asks if they are lifetime appointments, and Miles says sometimes, but sometimes they’re just appointed on a temporary basis. His father, as Regent, had only appointed acting Auditors, until Gregor was able to confirm them upon his accession. Laisa wonders if they should talk to the General, and Miles says that Vorparadijs himself is incredibly dull, considering everything to have gone downhill since Ezar’s day; most Auditors are retired military types, to give them more authority over regular military types.
They are seated near the Escobaran embassy, where Miles and Laisa endeavour to make conversation with the galactics, while Gregor and Galeni politely discuss Komarr. Laisa interjects in response to a leading statement by Galeni, pointing out the interest her employers, the Komarr Shippers’ Syndicate, have in the issue in question. Miles applauds her spunk, and she and Gregor discuss the issue; she provides a farming metaphor that Gregor thinks will be effective in explaining the issue to the more rural Counts in the Council.
Laisa smiled. Gregor smiled. Galeni looked downright smug. Laisa, having made her point, had the good sense to back off and turn the conversation immediately to lighter matters, or at least, to Escobaran policies on jump technologies, less potentially volatile than Barrayaran-Komarran taxation issues.
After dinner the dancing begins in a downstairs ballroom; Gregor starts with Lady Alys, and then various female guests in rank order. Miles dances twice with Delia, then, feeling that he’s made his point, he sits down to watch the rest of the guests. Galeni dances methodically; aiming for a political career in the future, he devotes himself to acquiring social skills as well. Gregor requests a mirror dance with Laisa, who even manages to make him laugh.
She returned to Galeni, temporarily holding up the wall along with Miles, with her eyes shining. “He’s more intelligent than I imagined,” she said breathlessly. “He listens . . . very intently. You feel as though he’s taking it all in. Or is that an act?”
“No act,” said Miles. “He’s processing everything. But Gregor has to watch what he says very closely, given that his word can be literally law. He’d be shy if he could, but he’s not allowed.”
“Not allowed? How odd that sounds,” said Laisa.
Laisa and Gregor dance three more times before the end of the evening, continuing to make each other laugh. Miles finds the opportunity for a private word with the Emperor; Gregor’s first comment is that Vorberg is home, though not quite the worse for wear. Miles give him the noncommittal explanation of the “plasma arc accident”, deferring the full story for a later time which he hopes he can avoid for a while.
“Where did you find that extraordinary young Komarran woman?” Gregor added, gazing off into the middle distance.
“Dr. Toscane? Impressive, isn’t she? I admired her courage as much as her cleavage. What all did you find to talk about out there?”
“Komarr, mostly . . . Do you have her, um, the Shippers’ Syndicates address? Oh, never mind, Simon can get it for me. Along with a complete Security report, whether I want it or not, no doubt.”
Miles invites the two Komarrans back to Vorkosigan House for a drink; Galeni is about to demur, but Laisa says she’d love to see the house, so Galeni perforce joins them. Miles leads them to an upstairs parlour, where he removes the furniture covers, then goes to fetch wine and glasses. Upon his return, Galeni has not pressed his suit on Laisa; Miles wonders if he knows of Laisa’s yen for a little “romantic idiocy”, and thinks that there doesn’t seem to be a spark of playfulness of humour between the two of them. But then, what does he know?
The conversation turns again to Barrayar-Komarr relations, including a discussion of those Komarrans who cooperated with the Barrayarans after the conquest, like the Toscanes, and whether they can be called collaborators or not. Galeni forebears to introduce the topic of his terrorist father and his views on the subject. Miles can hardly bear to let his guests go, but in the wee hours of the morning reluctantly escorts them out. He wonders if Galeni will be able to win Laisa over, and doesn’t think Galeni has managed to advance his cause much with the evening’s efforts.
Still no message from Illyan, and Miles wonders if it’ll take long enough for him to have had time for the medical trip fo Escobar after all. He considers tempting fate by getting really drunk, perversely encouraging Illyan to call, but he thinks it will slow down his time sense too much. Illyan can’t have forgotten, of course, because of the memory chip Ezar had implanted in his head; those chips tended to make their wearers schizophrenic, but Illyan had been one of the lucky few, and after Ezar’s death, had more or less entered Aral Vorkosigan’s service. Miles wondered how horrible it would be to have every memory fresh and available at your beck and call. He’d hate it, himself; Galeni might be able to handle it, but even he might have things he wanted to forget.
Miles stares at the comconsole, willing Illyan to call, and in the end gets another bottle of wine.
This chapter sees the first introduction of the Imperial Auditor, though it’s done deftly enough that it was a few rereads through the series that I realized they were invented just for this book. They seemed like a logical enough development, and the way that Miles and Galeni explain it to Laisa, as something that they already know, is a great way to sneak it in. Enough of the other information in the chapter–like the history of relations with Komarr–is done in the usual internal-monologue info-dump style, so it’s good to have a little variety there.
The most interesting part of this chapter is seeing what happens with Laisa Toscane at the dinner party. She spends some time chatting with Miles, more than she seems to with Duv Galeni himself; she asks after Gregor a lot, and dances with him, and talks with him, and they make each other laugh. And Gregor resolves to get her…employer’s number. It all goes right over Miles’s head, let alone Galeni’s, since they’re too busy focusing on Galeni’s chances with her to notice that her attention has turned in a completely different direction. We’ll find out the results of that in just a few chapters, I believe.
Miles, though, is still frustrated. He actually gets to talk to Illyan, but Illyan puts him off, telling him to keep waiting. And Illyan asks if he drove there…which also goes right over Miles’s head. Seriously, Miles, how badly did the cryo-freeze affect your brain? Illyan knows about the seizures, or at least suspects, and what he’s waiting for is confirmation. I suspect that Gregor doesn’t know at this point, but I could be wrong. He didn’t seem to have quite enough reserve with Miles to have that hanging over him, but maybe it was just Laisa’s influence…
Miles doesn’t get another comconsole call for two more days, and when it does, it turns out to be only his cousin Ivan, just off work. Miles’s eyes are instantly drawn to the captain’s rank tabs on his collar. Ivan has obviously called fishing for congratulations on his promotion, but Miles is incredulous that Ivan got promoted before he did, and is barely able to muster a polite appreciation. Ivan points out that Miles has spent a lot more time on medical leave than he has.
Blood and bone. Every bit of that unwelcome leave had been bought with blood and bone and endless pain, laid down willingly enough in the Emperor’s service. Blood and bone and they promote Ivan? Before me . . . ?! Something like rage choked him, clotting words in his throat like cotton.
Ivan’s face, watching his, fell. Yes, of course, Ivan had expected to be applauded, in some suitably backhanded way, expected Miles to share his pride and pleasure in his achievement, which truly made a sad dish when eaten alone.
Miles pulls himself together and makes a half-hearted jab about how Ivan’s mother will surely push him to get married now. They go over a list of single Vor women of their generation, and Ivan tells him who each of them has gotten married to, but says he can always go for someone younger. Miles manages to offer a heartfelt congratulation for Ivan, who laments that it’ll be difficult to get further promotion without some ship duty, which the ongoing peace is making a scarce commodity. Ivan points out that Miles has had more ship experience than most people he knows, even if it is classified.
“I never let anything stop me. That’s how you get what you want, Ivan. No one’s just going to hand it to you.” Well . . . no one was going to just hand it to Miles. Things fell out of the sky onto Ivan, and had done so all his charmed life. “If you can’t win, change the game.”
Ivan twitched a brow upward. “If there’s no game, isn’t winning a pretty meaningless concept?”
Miles hesitated. “Out of the mouths of . . . Ivans. I’ll . . . have to think about that one.”
Both of them dislike the turn of the conversation, they sign off. Miles vents his frustration in curses against the bedroom ceiling. He tries to decide what it is he wants–to win, or to be seen to win? ImpSec is not a good posting for anyone who wants public recognition, though everyone who matters to him knows the truth of what he’s accomplished. Except his grandfather, long dead; Miles wonders when he’d stopped carrying around the old man’s dagger like a talisman. He feels out of balance, as he increasingly does when he’s not on a mission as Naismith. Will being Count be this bad, all day long?
Being Naismith is an expensive hobby, which he needs ImpSec to underwrite, and which thus requires him to make them frequent proofs that they’re getting their money worth. Accountants are just as bad as enemy missiles…or not quite, he thinks, tracing his scars, and wondering if there’s something wrong with his new heart, which feels like a stranger’s. He wants his mission from Illyan–maybe he’s become an excitement junkie, but his occasional attempts at extreme sports don’t seem to scratch the itch.
He barely sleeps that night, and so Illyan’s summons wakes him from an afternoon doze. Miles promises eagerly to be there as soon as possible, but Illyan’s secretary says they’ll send a car in an hour. He bathes (again) and puts on his undress green uniform, including his battered lieutenant’s tabs and his unduplicable Horus-eye ImpSec pins. He’s still waiting impatiently when the car arrives.
The door to Illyan’s office is open this time, but, unusually, Illyan closes it as soon as Miles is in the room, which Miles hopes portends something special. Illyan seems in a grim, tense mood, but at least he hasn’t had the visitor chairs removed. Illyan asks Miles about the addendum he’d mentioned to his previous report, but Miles, reluctant to derail his next mission assignment, demurs. Illyan says he received a disturbing report from Jackson’s Whole, related to Miles’s last misadventure on the planet. They’d finally managed to acquire Miles’s complete medical records from his cryo-revival under the Duronas, and determined what they meant.
The bottom drops out of Miles’s stomach as Illyan says the worst part is how Miles concealed the seizures from the ImpSec physicians. Miles claims he thought they’d gone away, but Illyan produces the report he’d been waiting for, from one of his Dendarii agents–one that Miles didn’t know about–which includes his fleet surgeon’s reports.
“Do you want to try to play any more little guessing games about this?” Illyan added dryly.
“No, sir,” Miles whispered. He hadn’t meant it to come out a whisper. “No more games.”
“Good.” Illyan rocked slightly in his station chair, and tossed the card back to the desktop. His face looked like death itself. Miles wondered what his own face looked like. As wide-eyed as an animal in the headlights, as viewed from a groundcar traveling toward it at a hundred kilometers an hour, he suspected.
Illyan calls Miles’s actions a betrayal of his subordinates, and those who depended on him–like Vorberg. Miles goes on the offensive, reminding Illyan of how much he’s done for him and ImpSec, for the Marilacans, for nine years, how he’s bled for them. Illyan agrees that Miles’s accomplishments mean a lot–which is why he’s offering Miles a medical discharge, rather than a court-martial. He says he’s gone over it in his mind for weeks, and this is the best for Miles and the Vorkosigans. Miles realizes that this is exactly why Illyan summoned him back.
Miles asks if Illyan’s told his father, and Illyan says he leaves that job up to Miles. He points out that even Miles’s father alone would not be able to convince Illyan to be so lenient on Miles without his excellent track record; if he pushes it to a court-martial, then for the travesty of his last, truncated report he’d be lucky to get away with merely a dishonourable discharge. Illyan says he went over it with Gregor, all that morning, and everything’s ready for the discharge to become official. Miles just needs to scan his palm and retina, and he can keep his custom uniforms and rank tabs, but he has to return his ImpSec Horus-eyes. Miles begins one last round of frantic protests, interrupted by the visual aura which foretells another seizure.
He comes to on the ground, Illyan bending over him, a stylus in his mouth to keep him from biting his tongue; Illyan says he was out for about four minutes. His lip is swollen and his nose bleeding from the fall to the ground, but when Illyan offers to call a medic, Miles refuses and lurches to his feet on his own, borrowing a handkerchief for his nosebleed.
Illyan half-sat on the edge of his desk, watching him. Watching over him, always. “You knew,” said Illyan. “And you lied. To me. In writing. In that damned falsified report, you pissed away . . . everything. I’d have mistrusted my memory chip before I mistrusted you. Why, Miles? Were you that panicked?” The anguish leaked into that level voice like blood into a bruise.
Yes. I was that panicked. I didn’t want to lose Naismith. I didn’t want to lose . . . everything. “It doesn’t matter now.” He fumbled at his collar. One pin tore the green fabric, coming off in his shaking hands. He thrust the pins blindly at Illyan. “There. You win.”
Illyan’s hand closed over them. “God save me,” he said softly, “from another such victory.”
“Fine, good, give me the read-pad. Give me the retinal scan. Let’s get this the hell over with. I’m sick of ImpSec, and eating ImpSec shit. No more. Good.”
Illyan offers him a minute in his washroom to compose himself and clean up, before he’ll let Miles go out in public again. Miles accepts the offer; his face in the mirror looks like the one he saw after he lost Sergeant Beatrice above Dagoola. He washes his face, though there are still bloodstains in his shirt-collar. He returns to Illyan’s office and completes the formal resignation, then asks Illyan to let him go. Illyan is reluctant, considering that Miles is still shaking in reaction, and says he’ll at least escort Miles to a car, and that Miles should consider going directly to ImpMil. Miles says he’ll just go home, since it’ll probably take a while for another seizure to happen; he reminds Illyan that he no longer has any authority over Miles’s actions. Illyan wipes his eyes briefly and unlocks the door.
Outside Illyan’s office, Illyan’s secretary has been joined by Duv Galeni and General Haroche, all looking anxious, especially when they see Miles’s collar stripped of its insignia. Haroche wonders out loud what’s going on, but Illyan just excuses himself and leads Miles to the door.
Miles’s wishful thinking comes to an end here; Illyan’s seen through him, at least with the aid of the belated information from Jackson’s Whole. If anyone were to know about this, it would do wonders for tales of Illyan’s omniscience, to gather this information from several hyperspace jumps away, even about one of his own agents. I suppose he needs to keep a close eye on his ImpSec agents to make sure they’re not trying to pull something…as Miles did. And if Miles hadn’t sliced Vorberg’s legs in half, Illyan might have been more merciful–there would have been no faked report, just a matter of concealing his medical issues from his superiors. Maybe still a medical discharge, and maybe Miles wouldn’t have taken it any better, but maybe he would’ve just been reassigned to a desk job. But Miles burned that bridge.
The scene with Miles and Illyan is painful, in some ways, but it’s a great piece of drama. Illyan, traditionally so reserved and bland, is deeply torn by Miles’s actions, trying to balance his past accomplishments with his present misfeasance. He has deep connections to Miles, and to Miles’s father, almost familial, so it’s painful for him to have to make these kinds of decisions–and his hopes for Miles’s future, which we’ll find out more about in the next chapter, have been dashed.
As for the Ivan scene…obviously that’s mostly there to underscore the problems with Miles’s secret career, his lack of advancement compared to Ivan’s relative coasting along. There are certain assumptions about rank relative to age, or at least time of service, so Miles’s hopes for promotion are probably not that unreasonable, and maybe, if it hadn’t been for the events of the last book, it would’ve happened already. But it didn’t, and Miles really has to struggle to overcome his jealousy of Ivan. Though Ivan does lead him to wonder what he’s even trying to accomplish, and for whom, which is a highly useful train of thought for him to embark on right now, when his previous goal gets derailed, just like when he washed out of the obstacle course back in The Warrior’s Apprentice. And we all know how that turned out.
Tune in next week to see Miles slip, once again, into his depressive phase, and how Ivan knows exactly how to deal with it. And we start moving into my favourite part of the book–Miles trying to figure out what to do when he grows up.