The night was hot. Hot and humid. The night was…sultry. From the cool depths of the basement, a torrent of bashing keys finally subsided, signaling that another week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread was about to burst forth onto the Internet. Two more chapters of Memory, from Lois McMaster Bujold’s saga of Miles Vorkosigan, were going to be laid bare, dissected and displayed for all to see, like a dead butterfly, or maybe a prokaryote under a microscope. On the other hand, maybe it won’t be that bad.
Days pass, and still no sign of any deliberate sabotage on the chip. Haroche seems to be relaxing, and Miles can’t blame him, when nobody seems to have been trying to take advantage of Illyan’s absence, and the transition of power has gone smoothly.
Not ready to face his mother’s return quite yet, Miles proposes an outing to Vorkosigan Surleau with Illyan, so he can work up his courage, and Illyan can be far from potential urban threats. Bringing Martin with him allows him to lure Ma Kosti to cook for them as well. Illyan allows himself to be talked into it, to see how it holds up to his memories.
That afternoon they sit on the porch, well fed by Ma Kosti.
If this went on, Miles thought, he was going to have to take up an exercise program, or end up looking like his clone-brother Mark, which would rather defeat Mark’s purposes. He made a mental note to keep Mark and Ma Kosti separated for as long as possible.
Illyan conjures up a few memories of Vordarian’s coup–he wasn’t at Vorkosigan Surleau when Negri arrived with young Gregor, but he can reconstruct a few images from events in the capital, including the gut-wrenching turmoil he was feeling. His recorded memories didn’t include emotions, but he was usually able to reconstruct them. Investigating his predecessor’s death was his first job as ImpSec chief, sort of like Negri’s first job before him, so it’s kind of a tradition now. Illyan somehow managed to get out alive, more or less, as did Miles’s father on his recent retirement. Miles asks if that was when Illyan started thinking of him as a successor, and Illyan admits he’d been thinking that for much longer. Miles asks if he thinks the chip failed naturally, rather than being sabotaged, and Illyan points out that nothing lasts forever.
Illyan asks what two retired officers can do out in the country. Miles suggests sleeping in, horseback riding, hiking, and swimming, but Illyan says they’ve already done the first, he never cared for the second, and it’s too cold for the last. Miles suggests fishing, which Illyan thinks sounds better.
“Tradition is, you take the local beer from the village — there’s a woman there who home-brews it, extraordinary stuff — and hang the bottles over the side of the boat to stay cold. When the beer gets too warm to drink, it’s too hot to fish.”
“What season is that?”
“Never, as far as I could tell.”
“Let us by all means observe tradition,” said Illyan gravely.
The next afternoon the two of them are out on the lake in a boat, fishing with protein cubes for bait, and the beer hanging over the side, with an ImpSec guard watching from the shore. Illyan compares this to a stakeout, except that fish don’t shoot back, and they speculate on what bait fish would use to catch men. Illyan recounts the story of a Polian ambassador, on the verge of signing a wormhole treaty, who asked for an elephant…which Illyan himself passed down to a poor ImpSec agent. Who dutifully delivered a small elephant to the Polian embassy, without letting on to ten-year-old Gregor, who would have likely wanted to keep it.
Miles ruminates on his own motivations. He’s never really wanted for money, except on behalf of the Dendarii; he never really wanted power, except to be free from others having power over him, which was more like fear. Like the fear of being killed as a useless mutant if he didn’t constantly prove his worth. What he’s really after, he decides, is his identity, to want to be.
After a while, Illyan asks if Miles is sure there are fish in the lake. Miles assures him there are, that it was terraformed by dumping organic waste into it generations ago, and it’s been well stocked with fish. Illyan checks, and his bait-cube is gone. Illyan notes that this is inefficient, and Miles says he believes it’s a way for men to look productive while really not doing any work. Illyan says that he’s tired of doing nothing; Miles points out that his card playing has been improving slightly.
Illyan says that he doesn’t think he’ll regain his edge, though, well enough to go back to ImpSec. He’s done over forty years in the Emperor’s service, and he’d never planned on doing sixty, so maybe it’s time to stop. He’s done his part to bring Gregor safely to adulthood, though he would have liked to see the wedding through; Miles says there’d always be one more crisis, another reason to stick around…
He added after a time, “Do you suppose all the fish in your lake have been stolen?”
“They’d have to catch ’em first.”
“Ah. Good point.”
Illyan says he’s glad that Miles has survived the loss of the Dendarii, though Miles notices that he doesn’t actually apologize. Miles says that he seems to have gone past the urge to suicide–death will come for him whether he wants it or not, and in the meantime he should do something with the life he has. Illyan asks if he’ll be able to patch things up with Quinn, and Miles says that she never cared much for Lord Vorkosigan before, but he will give it one more try. He says he’s noticed himself slowing down, craving the frontline action less; he still liked winning, and always seemed to get away with it, until the seizures came along. He feels odd, now, to have lost without being killed.
Sensing that Illyan is getting bored with fishing, Miles offers to show him the trick of stunner-fishing. He says that hungry Dendarii hill-folk didn’t have to time to dangle strings into the water, so they turned their stunner-packs into bombs. Illyan has a stunner with him, which he donates to the cause. Miles hotwires it and tosses it over the side, both of them hoping that it goes deep enough before going off. There is a miniature explosion under the water half a minute later, causing a small swell in the water, momentarily alarming the ImpSec observer until Miles reassures him with a wave. A couple of minutes later, stunned fish begin bobbing up to the surface, four sizable ones which they haul aboard. They somewhat tipsily make their way back to the dock, then lug the fish ashore, Miles turning his burden in relief over to Martin to give to his mother.
The smallest fish, prepared delectably that evening, is enough to feed all of them. Illyan asks if Miles often fished for his family that way, and Miles says he used to, until he noticed his mother, uncomfortable with actual formerly-live meat, was having to force it down.
After the dinner, feeling completely relaxed, Miles is, of course, interrupted by Martin, who says there’s a call for him–Admiral Avakli. Avakli urges him to return as soon as possible so he can present his findings to Miles and Haroche, and adds that it’s not something to be discussed over a comconsole. Miles realizes this means they found something, and says he’ll be back and ready for a midnight meeting.
Another great, but talky, chapter, with Illyan and Miles probing the remains of their old lives under the influence of mild alcohol. Great conversation, horribly slashed to pieces by the requirement of summary, so, once again, go read it all yourself.
I always remember the stunner-fishing scene, though somehow I keep thinking that it’s Mark in the boat with Miles. I never really saw the point of fishing, myself, partly because I don’t like eating fish, or drinking beer, or, particularly, sitting in boats. I’m almost amazed that their ImpSec guards would let them do it, but I guess neither of them is indispensable at the moment–Miles is only a Count’s heir, not a Count, and he has a brother now, and Illyan is now retired.
Miles throws Avakli’s conference off balance, and short of seating, by bring Simon Illyan with him, though he does point out that Illyan has a perfect right to know, and this will save Miles from having to repeat it all from memory later. Miles is in his House uniform, minus the medals, but still with the Auditor’s chain. Haroche is startled to see Illyan there, but greets him warmly enough, though he asks Miles if he’s sure Illyan is up to this.
Avakli starts his briefing by announcing that, as they might have guessed, they have found that the damage to the memory chip was “artificially created”, though he stops short of calling it deliberate sabotage. He lets Dr. Weddell explain what they found.
“If you would like to look at the culprit — the immediate culprit, that is — here is its portrait.” Weddell fiddled with the holovid control; the plate projected a bright green, topologically complex blob, which turned slowly in air. “The color is a computer enhancement, of course — I took a little artistic license there — and the magnification several million times. That, gentlemen, is a bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote. Or so I have reconstructed it.”
“A what?” said Miles. “Simplify, please.”
Weddell flashed a pained smile, doubtless searching his mind for words of one syllable. Miles regretted his last four beers. “A little bug that eats things,” Weddell essayed, by way of further translation.
“Not that simplified,” said Miles dryly. The Barrayarans around the table, knowing the power of an Imperial Auditor, cringed at his tone; immigrant Weddell did not. Never argue with a pedant over nomenclature. It wastes your time and annoys the pedant. Miles let it go.
The prokaryote, tinier than most bacteria, is a simple creature whose aim is simply to eat proteins like those found in Illyan’s chip, and then self-destruct after a certain number of cell divisions, which made it hard but not impossible to track it down and reconstruct it, though after another week it would have become impossible in fact. Weddell says he was able to find a lot of information in its structure–it was based off of an organism designed to destroy neural plaque, with its galactic patent still visible, but this modified version was unsigned. The original patent was ten years old, so it can’t have been created earlier than that. The modification was probably a one-time creation, a commission for a single customer. Weddell says that it’s likely Jacksonian, but not something he’s familiar with, i.e. not Bharaputran. Miles asks about cost, and Weddell says at least 50,000 Betan dollars, more if it were to be kept secret.
Haroche asks if it could be Cetagandan, and Weddell says it’s not their style at all–too inelegant. Miles asks if they can pinpoint when it was administered; Weddell asks when the first gross symptoms appeared, and Miles says about a week before the fateful briefing, and Illyan doesn’t contradict him. Weddell says it could have been stored in a dry state for years, and would be activated by reaching moist mucous membranes; it could have been inhaled or injected, probably not ingested without expecting to lose most of it via digestion. His best guess is a range of one to ten weeks before symptoms appeared, and, when asked, Illyan doesn’t remember anything suspicious in that time. Miles asks them to check and see if anyone else on Barrayar suffered similar effects, though he’s not sure if there even is any similar tech on the planet; Avakli reassures him that jump-pilot neural implants are different enough to be unaffected, and Weddell adds that it’s not communicable.
Miles concludes that it is, in fact, sabotage, deliberate and subtle; they know the how, now, and have narrowed down the when, but still need the why, and the who. It could be any of ImpSec’s enemies; Miles asks Simon if he was carrying on any affairs that might have caused personal offense, but Simon says he wasn’t. Going on Weddell’s estimate of how long it would have taken to produce the bug, Miles concludes it must have taken at least six months to carry out the plot. Haroche, saying that it likely originated offplanet, offers to put Galactic Affairs to work on tracking it down, on Jackson’s Whole, or Escobar, or anywhere else that it could have been created. Miles agrees, thinking that a real Imperial Auditor would have a staff, so he wouldn’t have to rely on ImpSec manpower. Haroche also wants to prepare a list of any galactic visitors Illyan might have encountered during the window of opportunity.
Miles comments that it’s puzzling, aimed at Illyan’s chip, and not his life, though Ruibal points out that the stress may have worn Illyan down, or made him vulnerable to some sort of accident. Haroche commends his staff and dismisses them–Weddell is particularly anxious to return to his private lab–and then turns to Miles to formally adjourn the meeting. Illyan shares with Haroche the ImpSec tradition of each chief solving the murder of the previous one.
“You weren’t murdered, at least,” said Haroche.
“Ah.” Illyan’s smile thinned. “I . . . forgot.” He glanced at Haroche, and his voice fell to a murmur that Haroche had to bend his head to hear. “Get the bastards for me, will you, Lucas?”
“I’ll do my best, sir. We all will.” Gravely, and despite Illyan’s civilian garb, Haroche saluted him as they turned to leave.
That night, a sleepless Miles contemplates how his initial plan, to temporarily borrow an Auditor’s chain to get Illyan out of ImpSec, has turned into a real, and quite challenging investigation. He wishes he’d managed to organize a real staff, perhaps of imminent ImpSec retirees, and makes a note to find out from the other Auditors what kind of staff they do have. He considers what he can do next for the investigation–he would like to leave Jackson’s Whole to ImpSec, though he has to allow for the possibility that ImpSec itself is compromised, so he’ll have to double-check them. There are no real Jacksonian suspects, Houses Fell and Bharaputra being insufficiently motivated, and Ryoval have been destroyed by Mark. The crime itself had been committed on Barrayar, so he decides he’ll be most productive investigating here. As an Imperial Auditor, he’s one of the few people who can actually rummage around in ImpSec, so he makes that his goal.
Late the next morning, as Miles is waiting for Martin to bring the car around, there is a commotion outside, which he quickly determines is his mother and her staff arriving at the house. He forestalls a maternal embrace, telling her he has to go to work soon, and she promises to get the full story of that from him later. She asks how he is, and he says he’s fine, really. She says he looks better than in his recent messages, and he admits he had a few bad days, but is better.
“I might still have had my head up my ass,” he admitted ruefully, “but events intervened. You’ve heard about Simon.”
“Yes, but not all about Simon. Though Alys has been more helpful than either you or Gregor. How is he?”
“He’s fine. He’s here. Sleeping in. We had a late night last night. I think . . . I’d better let him tell you about it. As much as he can.” He added cautiously, “He’s physically recovered, but he’s a little . . . well, he’s a lot vaguer than the Simon you’re used to, I’m afraid. You’ll figure it out pretty quickly when you talk to him.”
Cordelia says she’s to meet Laisa soon; the Toscane parents have mixed feelings, though they are hopeful for possible advantages to come from being linked to the Imperial family. Miles says that Gregor will doubtless be careful to avoid showing any actual favouritism.
“So I gently let them know. They’re not without wit, I am happy to say. Their excitement was dampened by a genuine concern for their daughter’s safety and personal happiness, though they are certainly as puzzled how this is to be achieved as any other set of parents.” She smiled dryly at him.
Was that to his address? Unquestionably. “So . . . how is Father? How did he take . . . all this?” A shrug of Miles’s shoulder in no particular direction indicated his new civilian life.
She cleared her throat. “Mixed feelings, mixed reactions. He gave me all sorts of logically conflicting assurances for you, which I think I shall simply boil down to: you have his support. Always.”
Miles asks if he’s disappointed, and his mother evades the question, though she does say that Aral is more worried about what Miles will do with his life now; she says the Auditor idea was very clever, but Miles gripes about the case he’s now expected to solve. He says he gets to prod ImpSec into motion, though he can’t blame them for being cautious about leaping to conclusions; Cordelia says that that hasn’t always stopped them in the past.
She called after him, “I’m glad to find you here, anyway.”
She hesitated, then admitted wryly, “I bet Aral that you would choose the little Admiral.”
The sabotage is exposed! Or at least discovered…and Dr. Hugh Canaba shows how he earned his way off of Jackson’s Whole and into a new identity on Barrayar. Personally, I thought a prokaryote was a bacterium, but I guess that’s probably an oversimplification (especially given that I learned it via SimEarth and The Cartoon History of The Universe). Haroche certainly seemed to be disquieted by some of the revelations at the meeting, and perhaps a little eager to direct the investigation offplanet… If it’s not the Cetagandans, it seems like most of the suspects would be on Barrayar, so it’s probably a good thing that Miles is going to be focusing on that end of it.
It’s always nice to see Cordelia, of course, though Miles is understandably a little skittish about being put under her microscope right now. Actually, this may be the first book where Cordelia is being depicted as being, well, fallible. After all, she was mostly mistaken about what would happen when Miles was forcibly de-Admiraled. For a while she’s seemed a bit like the author’s mouthpiece, the one who really knows why everyone behaves the way they do and can cut through all the Barrayaran masculinist claptrap. Or maybe it’s just that everyone has to grow up and realize that their parents don’t know everything, because adulthood and parenthood don’t magically bestow omniscience.
Only eight chapters left now, apparently…so with any luck the plot will be moving along quickly, because I recall at least a little denouement in there somewhere. Four more weeks of the Memory reread, assuming I don’t fall behind over summer vacation or anything…