You’re standing at a fork in the road; a man stands before each fork, one of which always tells the truth, the other of which always lies. Also, you’re not wearing any pants. Suddenly you wake up and discover that it’s time, once again, for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread! It’s like a dream come true! Yes, before your eyes is a skillful summation and insightful commentary of two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, as Lord Miles Vorkosigan works on solving the mystery of what happened to Simon Illyan’s memory chip. And just think, all you need to do is read it…
Miles hangs around in Haroche’s office all day, mostly kibitzing, which Haroche endures patiently. They won’t hear anything back from their galactic enquiries for weeks, but Miles doesn’t want any possible lead overlooked. When they exhaust all their leads, Miles and Haroche wonder if Miles should go to Jackson’s Whole himself, with all of his experience dealing with Jacksonian Houses. Miles briefly entertains the possibility of commandeering a fleet with his Auditor’s credentials, but decides against it. He thinks there’s still something to be found somewhere in ImpSec. He leaves the office and wanders around ImpSec, poking his head into all sorts of crannies he’s never needed to know about, and this turns into a systematic top-to-bottom survey of the entire building.
He left behind a trail of disruption and dismay, as every department head frantically searched his conscience for a reason why the Imperial Auditor might be visiting him. Ha. Guilty, every one of ’em, Miles thought dryly. Several made a point of explaining their budgetary expenditures in what Miles felt was excessive detail, though one blurted out a wholly unasked-for defense of his recent galactic vacation. Watching these normally closemouthed men babble in panic was highly entertaining, Miles had to admit. He led them on with lots of well-timed neutral noises, like “Um,” and “Hm?”, but it seemed to bring him no closer to formulating his right question.
He could have kept it up around the clock, but he decides to err on the side of thoroughness, and goes home to sleep instead. The presence of so much household staff at Vorkosigan Staff inspires him to return to work early, starting by meeting with Gregor. Gregor has already been brought up to speed about Avakli’s report and Haroche’s inquiries; he expresses concern over Illyan’s condition. Miles says it seems to him like Illyan is mostly just out of practice at paying attention. He tells Gregor that he is happier with Haroche now; he seems to be on the ball, and learns from his mistakes. Miles just wishes he had some handle to grasp at this problem with; he asks Gregor if he’s sure he doesn’t want a real Auditor on the case. Gregor asks if Miles wishes to be relieved; Miles thinks about it, and says he just wants to offer Gregor the option, but Gregor doesn’t take it.
Alys and Laisa arrive, brightening up Gregor’s morning, and Miles says he doesn’t have anything else to report. Laisa expresses ambiguous sympathies for Illyan–as a Komarran, he had a legendary reputation, but turns out to be just a man after all. Laisa says she really came to invite Miles to a reception for her and Gregor’s friends next week, and asks Miles if he has a “young lady” to bring. When he says he doesn’t, he senses that she’s hoping to share her happiness by trying to match him up, but she seems content to leave that until later, to consult with Lady Alys. Gregor asks Alys to bring Illyan with her to a lunch they’re having with her and Cordelia, and Alys agrees, saying that she finds Simon’s conversations rather interesting now that they’re not principally reports.
Miles returns to his inspection of ImpSec, somewhat baffled by Cryptography, overwhelmed by Finance, and fascinated by Housekeeping and Physical Plant, where they are all too eager to show him the intricacies of the building once they learn he’s genuinely interested. He’s impressed at the security and attention to detail, each room having a private filtration system, sufficient to keep microbes or poison gases from spreading throughout the building; the janitorial staff are all soldiers, well-paid and proud of their work. Miles crawls through a few ducts, noting that they’re even video-monitored, basking in the camaraderie until it begins to remind him of the loss of the Dendarii.
He knocks off early, has dinner with his mother and Illyan, and chats about Sergyar; the next day, he pesters Haroche until Haroche suggests sending him to Jackson’s Whole again, and then resumes his tour. He spends time in Analysis, talking with Galeni and the other analysts, including those working on other problems, and discussing the impending wedding with Guy Allegre. Finally, as Miles had planned, he arrives at the Evidence Rooms last thing in the afternoon–a converted dungeon from Mad Emperor Yuri’s days, now filled with documentation, weapons, drugs, biological samples, and more bizarre items. He plans to browse the weapons room, perhaps spend some time with the crossbow and soltoxin gas canisters responsible for his physical deformities.
The sergeant at the front desk is a little nervous at Miles’s presence, and Miles assures him he just wants to sign in and take a tour. The sergeant is puzzled to find that Miles is listed as not cleared to enter, which turns out to be Haroche’s revocation of his access from earlier. Miles encourages him to call Haroche and clear the matter up, which he does. Miles is idly browsing the history of the times he’s visited the Evidence Rooms before, reminiscing, when he notices the last date is listed as twelve weeks ago–the day he’d returned to the planet, finding Illyan out of town, and the time being while he was walking home.
His eyes widened, and his teeth snapped shut. “How . . . interesting,” he hissed.
“Yes, my lord?” said the sergeant.
“Were you on duty that day?”
“I don’t remember, my lord. I’d have to check the roster. Um . . . why do you ask, sir?”
“Because I didn’t come down here that day. Or any other day since year before last.”
This is the loose end he’s been looking for, Miles suspects. He tells the sergeant to summon Ivan Vorpatril, who arrives with alacrity from the other side of Vorbarr Sultana. Ivan tells Miles he’s looking gleeful and manic, and Miles says that somebody has hacked ImpSec internal security records to lie about him. Not only was the entry to the Evidence Rooms recorded, but Miles’s departure time from the building has been altered to match, and the video records of the day have gone missing. He supposes that this could be unconnected with the memory chip sabotage, but he wouldn’t bet on it. He tells Ivan to cancel their dinner plans, and puts him in charge of the Evidence Rooms, which he’s declaring sealed to anyone that he doesn’t personally authorize.
He asks the lieutenant in charge of the rooms about their inventory procedures, and is told that they do physical inventory once a month, and nothing has come up missing in the last year. Miles tells Ivan to requisition some security-cleared men from Ops, unconnected with ImpSec in any way, to come in and help him inventory the Evidence Rooms. Miles himself will stay out of it, in case there’s any suspicion that he tampered with anything, and he has witnesses that he hasn’t entered it that day. He then takes the Evidence Room staffers with him and heads to Haroche’s office.
Haroche is unhappy to find out about the tampering, but asks Miles if he has witnesses to his walk home; Miles says he’s tolerably noticeable, and he’s sure that the police could find a witness if they tried, but also points out that, as an Imperial Auditor, he doesn’t need to alibi himself. Miles sends the Evidence staffers outside, with strict instructions to stay put, then asks Haroche how he wants to deal with the evident mole in ImpSec. They could shut down the whole facility until it’s been audited by outsiders, but he admits that would be a major inconvenience, but having it checked by staffers risks having the mole able to cover his own trail. Haroche suggests assembling teams of three or more, chosen at random, to minimize chances that they’d all be moles, to check things a section at a time. Miles supports the idea.
Haroche says he hates internal investigations, because they always turn out ugly. Miles is still puzzled at the evidence room tampering, though–it seems like an attempt to frame him, but backwards. It may have even been planted before Miles became an Auditor, when, as a recently-fired junior officer, he might have seemed the ideal target.
Haroche shook his head in wonder. “You confound me, Lord Vorkosigan. I believe I’m finally beginning to understand why Illyan always . . .”
“Why Illyan what?” Miles prodded after a long moment.
A lopsided smile lightened Haroche’s heavy face. “Came out of your debriefings swearing under his breath. And then promptly turned around and sent you out again on the stickiest assignments he had.”
I’m always amused when Miles’s plumbing experience is alluded to, even indirectly, as it is here. I suspect the whole thing about the video recordings of the ducts is significant, but I can’t remember how just now; I know that the air-filtering system is, and I remember how.
Finding the extra log entry is a stroke of luck for Miles, or perhaps just a reward for being thorough. Would he have noticed it if it hadn’t been for the delay caused by Haroche’s having locked him out earlier? Possibly not, and who knows when it would have surfaced then?
The little scene with Gregor and Laisa seems to interrupt the flow of the chapter somehow, and doesn’t seem to come to much–I don’t remember the dance being that significant, or Laisa’s matchmaking impulses, or anything much except a little more of the growing Alys & Illyan relationship. But I guess it is a reminder that Laisa and Gregor and Alys are still out there, while the action shifts to the heart of ImpSec HQ.
Ivan and his team check the Weapons rooms first, scheduling the Biologicals rooms for last in hopes they won’t have to do them at all. In the wee hours of the morning, Ivan finds something in Weapons IV.
“I’m in a Weapons Room, right?” Ivan demanded, waving his inventory sheaf of plastic flimsies.
Miles tore his attention away from the chemical description of the nine-hundred-and-ninth item in alphabetical order in the Poisons Room: Ophidian Scrapings, Polian, Three Grams. “If you say so.”
“Right. So what’s a little box labeled ‘Komarran virus’ doing on Aisle Five, Shelf Nine, Bin Twenty-Seven? What the hell is it, and shouldn’t it be in Biologicals? Did somebody misclassify it? I’m not unsealing the damned thing till you find out what it is. It might make me break out in green fungus, or bloat up like those poor suckers with the Sergyaran worm plague. Or worse.”
It is on the Weapons Room list, but Miles agrees that it’s suspicious. He pulls up its record, using his Auditor’s seal to satisfy its requirement for top-level security clearance, and begins to read it. He quickly realizes that this isn’t actually a “weapon”, per se, nor a virus; it’s a “bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote”–the same microbes used against Illyan’s memory chip. He and Ivan read the record together, which tells that it has been sitting on the shelf for five years, taken from Komarran terrorists in Vorbarr Sultana–terrorists associated with Ser Galen, Mark’s creator and Duv Galeni’s father. Ivan asks if Mark could be involved with this, but Miles says Mark has been on Beta Colony for months, and the odds that he would have tried to pretend to be Miles are very slim, considering how much weight he’d have to lose, and how little Mark wants to be mistaken for his brother any more. But he’ll have ImpSec double-check to reassure themselves, since they’re watching Mark on Beta anyway.
The microbes were created on Jackson’s Whole all right, and were intended to target Illyan as part of the overall plot which also included Count Aral Vorkosigan’s assassination at Mark’s hands. ImpSec has already traced the prokaryotes to their creators, and Miles wonders how long it’ll take for them to realize that they’re trying to track down the same substance again. He says that the fame was supposed to work the other way around–the prokaryotes were supposed to lead the investigators to the Evidence Rooms, which would lead to finding Miles’s fabricated visit, and making him a suspect.
Miles tries calling Dr. Weddell, but he’s not answering his comconsole, so Miles send the Imperial Guards to drag him down to ImpSec HQ instead. By dawn Miles has assembled his team to enter the rooms. A forensics expert examines the prokaryote container for fingerprints, but reports that it’s been moved a few times, and none of the prints are fresh; its sensors indicate it hasn’t been removed from the room, and there’s no hairs or fibers. Ivan unlocks the box and opens it. According the records there were six small capsules in the container originally, with one taken out and destroyed in testing five years ago. But there are only three capsules in the box now.
“You mean,” moaned Weddell, “I racked my brains for a week reassembling that damned crap, and a whole undamaged sample was sitting downstairs all that time?”
“Yep.” Miles grinned. “I hope you like irony.”
“Not at this hour of the morning.”
The forensics man notes that the box’s lock was not forced open; Miles tells him to give it a full examination, and sends Ivan along with instructions to never let it out of his sight. He tells Weddell to take one more capsule and confirm that it’s the same stuff that did for Illyan’s chip; no one but he is to touch the sample, and he will report to nobody but Miles himself; the other two go back on the shelf, locked under Auditor’s seal.
Haroche has actually gone home for the night, so Miles has to wait for his return to bring him up to speed on the events of the night. Haroche says there’s no more chance it’s anything but an inside job. They make a list of people who might have known about the sample–those who retrieved it, the Evidence Rooms staff, and their friends, plus the Komarrans and their friends…still a long list, but shorter than the entire population of the Empire. Haroche also asks about Mark, and Miles gives him the same answer. Miles says they can limit the list to those who knew about the weapon and also had recent access to ImpSec’s systems, but Haroche points out that there could be more than one working together.
Miles wonders about the motivations, why they tried to frame him–was he the only disgruntled employee in the right time-frame? Haroche says speculating on motivations is too slippery, and best left for the post-mortem. Miles says that whoever did this had to provide a scapegoat, a guilty party, because otherwise the search would continue until it found him.
“Three days.” Haroche smiled crookedly. “You went through all of ImpSec in just three days.”
“Not all of ImpSec, just the headquarters building. And it was more like four days. Still . . . somebody must be squirming. I hope. If they meant to hook ex-Lieutenant Vorkosigan, and instead got Lord Auditor Vorkosigan . . . it must have felt like putting in your line for a trout, and pulling up a shark. I may have arrived just in time downstairs after all. Given the several more weeks of lead time he was expecting, our assassin might well have thought to yank his plant in the evidence room and try something else. God, I’d love to know.”
Miles wonders who at ImpSec might have cause to hate him; the only one he can think of is Vorberg, and imaging him taking down Simon Illyan to get at Miles seems too twisted. Haroche praises Miles for what he’s accomplished, calling it a good, solid lead. Haroche wishes they could just fast-penta ImpSec people, but too many of them have the induced allergy; Miles says it’s too early to contemplate old-fashioned torture. He says he’s going to get some sleep while they investigate the faked data and the forensic evidence.
Back at Vorkosigan House, he finds his mother, reading the Imperial Wedding history book, and asks where he can find Illyan. Cordelia says he’s just sent for breakfast, and Lady Alys is with him; Miles surmises that she came by to drop off the book. He goes up to Illyan’s quarters and knocks.
Pym had not lingered to serve the breakfast, it appeared, because instead of the retainer opening it, Illyan’s voice finally floated through the wood: “Who is it?”
“Miles. I have to talk to you.”
“Just a minute.”
The minute became two or three or four, as he leaned against the door frame and scuffed his boot on the patterned carpet. He knocked again. “C’mon, Simon, let me in.”
“Don’t be so impatient, Miles,” his aunt’s voice admonished him firmly. “It’s a bit rude.”
Eventually Lady Alys opens the door and greets him cheerfully; she’s wearing a dinner gown and her hair is loose, and Illyan is still getting dressed. He tries to send Lady Alys away before giving Illyan the news, but she refuses to leave, and Illyan insists she stay. So Miles briefs both of them on the night’s activities, Lady Alys approving her son’s achivements. He asks Illyan if he remembers anything about the Komarran plot; Illyan mostly remembers the events on Earth, but has no memory of the prokaryote’s existence being reported to him, presumably lost with the rest of the memory chip.
He asks if Duv Galeni has been asked about it, since his father was involved in the plot. Miles says he hasn’t brought Galeni up with Haroche yet, because he’s sure he’ll show up on the list eventually, but he doesn’t want to point Haroche in Galeni’s direction. Illyan wonders if he’s leaping to conclusions, but Miles says he knows Galeni better than that. Miles asks Illyan if he remembers taking a small brown capsule, and Illyan is positive that he doesn’t remember it, not even from his own doctor. Miles heads off to bed before he incapacitates himself any further. He awakens in midafternoon, checks on Weddell, who reports no progress. Ivan calls, saying the forensics examination is finished and asking to be relieved to go home now; Miles guiltily authorized him to take it back to Evidence and then get some sleep.
Later that day, Dr. Chenko calls him to say they’ve prepared the seizure-triggering device, and want to know when he can have it implanted. Miles says it’s not a good time right now, since there’s so much going on; Dr. Chenko warns him to avoid stress, as another seizure may be building up. After signing off from the call, Miles remembers that this is the night of Laisa’s party, and he should, luckily, be able to attend. He calls Delia Koudelka to ask if she’s free that night, but she says she’s busy…as, alas, are her sisters, leaving Miles obliged to attend on his own.
Oh, now I remember what’s happening with Laisa’s party. But the party itself will have to wait for the next chapter. Any guesses who Delia’s date is? Miles is clueless, of course, as he is to most of the romantic undercurrents in this book. For instance, Lady Alys is having breakfast with Illyan, wearing last night’s clothes, and they take a few minutes to answer the door, and it goes right over his head. I guess Lord Vorkosigan really is on the verge of sexlessness.
I’m not sure if the prokaryote sample was deliberately misfiled in Weapons, or if it was a mistake, or if it was somehow considered the right place to put it at the time. Either way, it’s an oddity, which is of course why Ivan eventually managed to notice it there. It can’t really have been planted there for the Illyan attack, though, if it hasn’t been taken out in five years…unless someone was canny enough to tamper with the records to backdate its movement to the Weapons room. And did Illyan really forget being briefed about it…or did it somehow get omitted from the briefing entirely? Did someone manage to hide its very existence from Illyan, and hence from anyone who could told him? It’s all highly suspicious…so things are going to have to come to a head soon. Possibly more than one.
Six chapters left, three weeks…with luck, that’ll leave my week off just in time for the weekend I’m gone for a convention. The plot’s gotta wrap up soon, as all good things must come to an end, and sometimes they even have a denouement.