You may have felt it coming–the quiet building of pressure, the electricity in the air, the stifling heat and humidity. And then, suddenly, with a crash of thunder, it’s here–this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. Like a funnel cloud, it sucks you in, and you’ll be lucky to escape intact. Because here’s where it starts to get real. As much as it can in a work of fiction, of course. This week we cover chapters Thirteen and Fourteen in Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, where a somewhat respirited Miles Vorkosigan emerges from his cocoon (not literally) and begins to notice things further outside of himself again…and something is rotten in the state of Vorbarr Sultana.
Ivan ends up getting recruited to help his mother get ready for her trip to Komarr. Lady Alys also gives Miles a voluminous amount of historical material about Imperial weddings to study up on. Miles hopes that they don’t try to resuscitate some of these ancient rituals, though it has been forty years since the last such wedding–Prince Serg and Princess Kareen’s. Miles supposed that they may want to try assert their Vorness to help protect them from the upcoming infusion of Komarranness. While he realizes his position as Gregor’s Second is important, he doesn’t think it’ll be the most useful thing he’s ever done, but it also won’t be the strangest.
During Lady Alys’s absence, her role as Gregor’s chaperone is taken by “Drou” Koudelka, who requires Miles to attend one of Gregor’s courting events. On his way there, he runs into a crowd of military men just leaving some other ceremony. Trailing the group, moving with some difficulty, Miles recognizes the ill-fated Lieutenant Vorberg, just having received a new medal for being wounded in Imperial Service.
Miles had half a jar full of similar ones at home in a drawer; at some point Illyan had stopped issuing them to him anymore, perhaps fearing that Miles’s threat to don them all at once sometime was not facetious.
Miles is unable to resist engaging Vorberg in conversation, since he knows that Vorberg will not recognize him as “Admiral Naismith”. He asks Vorberg about his medal, and Vorberg tells him about getting kidnapped by hijackers, and gripes about the incompetent and cut-rate Dendarii Mercenaries who sliced his legs off with friendly fire. Miles points out that they must have some Barrayaran links to name themselves after a feature from Vorkosigan District; Vorberg says the commander is some kind of Betan maniac who escaped from therapy, though he did meet a Barrayaran expatriate. Miles restrains his urge to defend his former fleet, and says he’s on medical discharge himself, courtesy of a needle grenade. Vorberg asks about his plans, and Miles admits he’s not sure, though he has social commitments to keep him in Vorbarr Sultana for a while–Gregor’s engagement is not yet common knowledge, so Miles can’t be more specific than that. They part and Miles heads to Gregor’s garden party.
The event is mostly for Gregor to introduce Laisa to more of his acquaintances, including Count Henry Vorvolk, as well as Drou herself, who was of course his old childhood bodyguard. Drou gets along fine with Laisa, as a fellow observer of Vor society from the outside. Gregor and Laisa do grab some time alone, and Miles chats with Delia Koudelka. Miles says he’ll have to go visit her father, who Delia says was sorry to hear about his medical discharge. Delia asks after Galeni, wondering if he’s broken up over Laisa and Gregor. Miles says that he’s been better, but he’ll get over it. Delia says that bring courted too slowly would be a change from what she usually experiences.
Delia says that her mother is excited about the wedding, and hoping that matrimony will rub off on some of her daughters. She herself hopes for dancing, and interesting men, as opposed to overgrown boys like Ivan, who just want to get laid; Miles points out that men want to get laid too, but Delia says at least it’s not all they think about. Miles says that everyone ends up getting married in the end, except possibly on Beta Colony. He wonders why the Koudelka sisters are still single, and Delia says it may be that the four of them together are too daunting.
After the party, Miles goes back home. Later that evening, Martin announces a visitor, who turns out to be Duv Galeni–luckily, not armed, and not seeming too edgy, so Miles decides he’s probably safe. Galeni refuses a drink and settles down stiffly, and starts by apologizing to Miles for his earlier actions. Miles says it was understandable, and just hopes that nobody else got the benefit of that kind of earful. Galeni says that wasn’t really what he was here for, though–more or a professional issue.
Galeni frowned more deeply. “Tell me . . . have you ever caught Simon Illyan in a mistake?”
“Well, he fired me,” said Miles wryly.
Galeni’s hand twitched, rejecting the joke. “No. I mean an error.”
Miles says that Illyan has been misled, from time to time, but Galeni says he’s talking about simple errors. Miles says he can’t recall any such thing, and Galeni says he’s run across four of them in the last three days. The first was Illyan calling down for a report that Galeni had already delivered, which was easily corrected; the second was a memo delivered with the wrong date. The third, that morning, was another wrong-dated memo, addressed to Galeni’s predecessor, about a trade fleet which had been back for six months; when Galeni called to ask about it, Illyan denied sending the message, until Galeni forward it to him.
Finally, that afternoon’s weekly briefing had been disjointed, with many pauses from Illyan, bewildering jumps of topic, and early dismissal. Miles suggested that if the meeting was about Gregor’s betrothal, he might have been trying to spare Galeni’s feelings, but Galeni says that doesn’t feel right. Galeni’s not sure what to infer, but he’s an ImpSec analyst and he’s noticing a change in patterns. As an outsider, and a Komarran, he wants to get some corroboration before he takes it up further; he asks Miles if he knows of any stress in Illyan’s personal life right now.
“I don’t think Illyan has a personal life. Never married . . . lived in the same little apartment six blocks from work for fifteen years, till they tore the building down. He moved into one of the witness apartments on the lower level of HQ as a temporary stopgap two years ago, and still hasn’t bothered to move out. I don’t know about his early life, but there haven’t been any women lately. Nor men, either. Nor sheep. Though I suppose I could see sheep. They can’t talk, even under fast-penta. That’s a joke,” he added, as Galeni failed to smile. “Illyan’s life is regular as a clock. He likes music . . . never dances . . . notices perfumes, and flowers with a lot of scent, and odors generally. It’s a form of sensory input that isn’t routed through his chip. I don’t think it does somatic stuff either, no touch, just audio and visual.”
Galeni asks if it could be something wrong with the chip; Miles says that most of the people who went crazy because of the chip did so much earlier, so Illyan should be safe from that. He says that Illyan was planning to retire in a few years, and he might just be getting tired; he doesn’t really like the job, he’s just very good at it. Galeni says that ImpSec without Illyan will be much different, because Illyan has a very Vorish way of running the organization in a very personalized manner. Miles wonders if Illyan’s unique, and sometimes almost colourless, personality, is part of what kept him saner than other chip-bearers. Galeni asks for advice, and Miles says he doesn’t even have a theory or a problem yet, just some data, so he should wait and watch for more. He agrees that Galeni is probably not the best person to bring this to light–in fact, only Miles himself would be worse. Galeni says that Miles is the person besides Haroche who has the longest baseline of experience with Illyan, and he was hesitant to approach Haroche directly.
Two days later, Miles is going through his closets, with Illyan calls on the comconsole. He asks Miles why he’s at home, and not in his office for the 0900 briefing, as per his orders. Miles asks for more details, and Illyan begins to tell him about a breakout mission, rescuing a certain Colonel Tremont from a Cetagandan prison camp on Dagoola IV, to help bolster the Marilacan resistance. Miles tells Illyan that he did that mission five years ago, the Cetagandans haven’t been on Marilac for a year, and that he hasn’t worked for ImpSec in over a month. Illyan asks what he’s talking about, then stops, excuses himself, and signs off.
Miles just sat, staring at the empty vid plate. He’d never before felt his heart pound like this while sitting perfectly still in an empty room. Galeni’s report had worried him.
Now he was terrified.
So, yeah, there does seem to be something a little bit wrong with Simon Illyan right now. Possibly something to do with his memory chip. (See what I did there?) Maybe Galeni’s anecdotes weren’t particularly persuasive…but the call to Miles at the end of the chapter doesn’t leave a lot of room for ambiguity. Something is wrong with Illyan’s brain, or its prosthetic memory. And here, like I said, is where the story really starts.
On another note, I’m struck again, on this read-through, about the subtle hints of some interest growing between Delia Koudelka and Duv Galeni. Maybe not reciprocated, yet, but Delia seems to like him, at least. Ivan is not even on the table, dismissed as a “boy” emotionally despite being several years older than her. And the reappearance of Ludmilla Droushnakovi “Drou” Koudelka! Well, she doesn’t actually get much screen time, but she’s mentioned, at least. I sometimes forget how little we see of the Koudelka family for so many books, what with Miles spending so little time on Barrayar. Their part in Barrayar is so memorable that their presence seems to linger. The daughters, at least, have been popping up more frequently, Kareen in Mirror Dance, Delia here, and even Olivia and Martya in A Civil Campaign.
Miles realizes that Illyan’s worse than Galeni had thought–he’s not just forgetting things, he’s flashing back to old memories somehow. After sitting there stunned for several minutes, he tries to think of what he can do about it. The problem is that he can’t, himself, publicly find fault with Illyan’s behaviour, because it will be dismissed as spite, or worse. But he can’t just do nothing. Illyan could easily start issuing orders based on, say, the Komarr Revolt, and people would go along with him for far too long before realizing something was up. He may already have been issuing spurious orders for some time, and nobody’s noticed yet. Is the problem with Illyan’s chip, Miles wonders, or with his brain, or some combination of the two?
In the end, all Miles can think to do is pass the information on to someone else who can do something about it. He calls up General Haroche at ImpSec, who is not there, and leaves a message for him. Haroche doesn’t call back, but Miles eventually tracks him down. All he tells Haroche is to check the last call that Illyan made to him, not wanting to seem to be trying to lead Haroche to any conclusion. Haroche is impatient and dubious, but he allows that he might check out the call.
After signing off, Miles wonders if he should do more, perhaps try to call Gregor, but decides to leave it in Haroche’s lap. Haroche will doubtless put Illyan in medical care, take over as acting ImpSec chief, and then be obliged to notify Gregor himself, before the end of the day. Maybe it’ll be a simple malfunction in the chip, easily replaced. Miles occupies himself with busywork, but doesn’t hear anything, so he gives in and tries calling Haroche and Gregor, but is unable to reach either.
The next evening, Miles is near to climbing the walls. Galeni turns up, fresh from work, and tells Miles that it’s over. Illyan had a complete breakdown in the all-departments briefing that afternoon; Miles is surprised that Haroche hadn’t already acted.
“The briefing started out almost normally. The department heads gave their weekly precis reports, and listed all the red flag items they want the other departments to watch out for. Illyan seemed nervous, more restless than usual, fiddling with objects on the table . . . he snapped a data card in half, then muttered some apology. He stood up to give his usual list of chores for everyone, and it came out . . . one line never tracked another. He was all over the map. Not as if he thought it were the wrong day, but as if it were the wrong twenty days. Every sentence was grammatically correct and completely incoherent. And he didn’t even seem to be aware of it, till he began looking at all of us staring at him with our jaws hanging open, and ran down.
Haroche stood up and asked Illyan to submit himself for medical evaluation, but Illyan refused, though he seemed as much confused as angry; he didn’t want to leave in the middle of the crisis caused by the Cetagandan invasion of Vervain. Haroche tried to remove him by force, but Illyan, a dirty fighter, injured him and two others before the medic arrived, sedating Illyan and tying him down.
Miles decides that that couldn’t have been a worse or more humiliating way for Illyan’s problem to come out. Galeni says he wasn’t supposed to tell Miles about this, so the information didn’t come from him. Miles again wonders why Haroche hadn’t taken care of this the night before, but decides he wasn’t the man on the ground, so he shouldn’t second-guess Haroche’s decision. He also wonders if the stress of the wedding helped bring it on, but decides Illyan has probably faced worse crises; still, the timing is less than optimal. Galeni asks if Miles’s firing could have been a symptom as well, but Miles is forced to admit that Illyan was unfortunately quite right to do it.
Miles goes to ImpSec HQ the next day to visit Illyan, but the security clerk won’t let him in. He asks the clerk to call his superior, Major Jarlais, who Miles knows personally, but Jarlais doesn’t think he can let Miles in either. Miles decides to cut to the chase, pull Vor rank and go straight to Haroche. Haroche tells Miles that it’s impossible to let him in, and Miles asks why. Haroche asks Miles to take the message privately, and then asks Miles how he heard; Miles just says he called Gregor, letting Haroche conclude that’s how he found out. Haroche says that Illyan is babbling, all sorts of high-security info, but Miles points out he’s still cleared for all of it. Haroche is surprised to find that Miles’s clearance is still on file even after his dismissal, so he revokes it right then and there.
You can’t do that! Miles bit back the outraged scream. Haroche most certainly could. Miles stared at him, frustrated. So what was he going to do? Flounce out of ImpSec with an angry cry of, We’ll just see about that! I’m going to tell my big brother on you! No. Gregor was a card he dared only play once, and only in the direst emergency. He let out his breath, and his anger, in a carefully controlled sigh. “General. Prudence is one thing. Paranoia that can’t tell friend from foe is quite another.”
“Lord Vorkosigan,” said Haroche, equally tightly. “We don’t yet know what we have here. I don’t have time to spend entertaining idly curious civilians this morning, friendly or not. Please do not pester my staff any more. Whatever the Emperor chooses to pass on to you is his business. My only duty is to report to him. Good day.”
Upon returning home, Miles tries to get through to Gregor, eventually succeeding, and asks him point-blank what’s up with Illyan. With Gregor, he pretends only to know what Gregor told him two days ago, and his own call, and asks for news. Gregor gives the summary of Galeni’s staff meeting, and says Illyan is in the ImpSec clinic. Miles tells Gregor that Haroche wouldn’t let him see Illyan, and Gregor says that Haroche’s hands are full. and he needs some time to get ImpSec organized; he advise Miles to give Haroche a few days to relax.
“You have to admit, Simon would be the first to approve a cautious approach to such an emergency.”
“True. Simon would prefer to be in the hands of people who really cared about security. But I’m beginning to think I would prefer it if there were any signs he was in the hands of people who really cared about Simon Illyan.”
Miles remembers his own cryo-amnesia, the sense of having lost himself, and wonders if what Illyan’s experiencing is similar, or even worse. Miles says he’ll give Haroche some time, but pleads with Gregor to keep him updated. Illyan was a mentor to him, and his “Uncle Simon” until he went into the Academy; he’s never had any family of his own, so Miles feels like he’s part of his family, maybe even like a family retainer, a Vor responsibility. Gregor says it’s nice to see Miles remembering he’s Vor once in a while, loyal as a Vorkosigan, and promises to give him daily updates.
Miles signs off, partly satisfied, telling himself that it’s too early to conclude that there’s something funny going on, but feeling it nonetheless. Still, he doesn’t want to make a fool of himself in public again just yet.
It is tempting, at this point, to think of Haroche as the bad guy, because he just wants to thwart our hero’s aims. Just like Miles’s superiors always used to do, like whatsisname in Cetaganda, or in The Vor Game, or Brothers in Arms…Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan always chafed at his limitations, until he finally got the freedom to act as Admiral Naismith with much fewer brakes on his actions. So maybe he’s not really so bad, he’s just trying to deal with a crisis, and tired of being pestered by someone who’s no longer authorized to be directly involved. Haroche isn’t Vor, he’s from the supposedly egalitarian military, at least the ImpSec branch of it, and he does show some evidence of not truly understanding the Vor way of doing things–which is an odd failing for someone tasked with running security on Barrayar itself. Maybe it’s that very task that shows him that Vor are no better than anyone else, and gives him some contempt for the values they espouse, because he gets to see them when they’re at their most hypocritical, or at least wrongheaded.
So Galeni was not supposed to tell Miles, and Miles pretends that he heard about it from someone else. But Galeni visits Vorkosigan House right after work that day, Vorkosigan House has ImpSec guards (maybe it’s just Kosti, but he must trade off with others, and, in any case, Kosti has to obey orders), and after Galeni’s visit, Miles knows that something’s going on with Illyan. He offers alternative explanations, true, but I’d think that it wouldn’t be too hard to surmise that Miles found out from Galeni. They might even have access to the angry call that Galeni made to Miles, and find it odd that Galeni came to visit him not once but twice after that. Okay, apology and rapprochement is not an impossible explanation either, but…it’s a theory. I guess it’s just that nobody really cares enough to spend time digging into those two. Or maybe they’ve already assumed that Miles and Galeni were the ones who were conspiring to bring Illyan down, and are just waiting to let them incriminate themselves before pouncing.
This is a bad chapter to stop on, frankly. Like Miles, we’re pretty sure that something is wrong, and we have to keep reading long enough to find out what that is. I’ve been generally trying to keep myself to reading two chapters a week–after my week’s blog post, I read the next two chapters before I start writing the next week’s summary. A few weeks ago I found myself unable to stop, and went on for a third chapter. This week, I read three more chapters, so I’m now two full chapters ahead. Will I be able to keep myself from reading two chapters further ahead this week? I guess I can try. But Chapter Sixteen is just such a great chapter… Next week.