Sometimes good things come to those who wait…and sometimes they even appear early, without you have to wait quite as long after all, like this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I cover what may be one of the best chapters in this book, or maybe even the entire series…and the one before it, too.
Why early? Well, it’s like this…one of the great things about having moved the weekly Reread posts to Wednesdays is that, after inevitably done absolutely nothing on it for the entire weekend, I can do one chapter on Monday, take a night off, then do the other chapter on Wednesday. Whereas before I’d have to do Monday and Tuesday, two nights straight, which felt like more work somehow. But what do I do when I have plans on Wednesday night? Like this week? That’s right, Monday and Tuesday. Not that I’m bitter or anything. Although I am wishing I hadn’t already squandered my single chapter…
Miles gives Gregor an update before the party, which makes them both late. As they arrive, Gregor admonishes Miles to not appear too grim, or people will wonder what’s wrong; Miles echoes the sentiment, and manages to improve Gregor’s mood by reminding him of Laisa. They find Laisa with Cordelia and Alys; once Gregor and Laisa are reunited, Cordelia urges Alys to go off and enjoy herself with Simon Illyan. Gregor notes Illyan’s improvement with approval, which Cordelia credits to Alys as much as Miles. Miles notices something different about Illyan’s clothing–apparently Alys has finally gotten him to go a tailor.
Miles spots Ivan, who’s squiring Martya Koudelka, but Ivan keeps being distracted by Delia, who’s sitting cozily on a couch hobnobbing with Duv Galeni. Martya mutters that she’ll be glad when Delia finally picks someone, and she can stop living off her sister’s castoffs. Miles asks Martya how long Duv & Delia has been going on, and she says Delia told her Duv was going to be the one a month ago.
“Um . . . and when did old Duv find out?”
“Delia’s working on it. Some fellows you have to hit with a brick to get their attention. Some you have to hit with a big brick.”
The dancing starts, and the couples head off to the ballroom; Miles manages a few dances with ladies who don’t mind his height, none of them available, then retreats to be a wallflower. Ivan joins him briefly, and they see Illyan dance past with Lady Alys, astounding both of them with his skill.
A wisp of hair escaped Lady Alys’s elaborate beflowered coiffure, and she brushed it back from her forehead. The image of her en deshabille at breakfast burst in Miles’s memory, and he had the sudden sensation of being hit with a big brick. He choked on his own wine.
Good God. Illyan’s sleeping with my aunt.
Ivan asks him if he’s all right, and Miles says he’s fine, deciding he’ll let Ivan figure this one out by himself. He heads for the buffet, where he encounters Galeni. He mentions that he had been going to ask Delia; Galeni says that he had first checked whether Delia thought Miles was serious about her. Miles asks Galeni if he’s serious, and Galeni says, “Deathly.” She has the background, the connections, the brains, and the beauty. Miles offers to put in a good word with Delia’s father, Commodore Koudelka, and Galeni asks Miles politely to not try to do him any more favours. He’s learned from his earlier mistakes, and plans to propose to Delia on the ride home.
Miles heads back into the ballroom, leaning against the wall and going over the case in his head, until he realizes he’s starting to glower, and snags a dance with Laisa. While mirror-dancing with her, he sees Galeni being accosted by an ImpSec colonel and two guards. He moves to keep them out of Laisa’s view; Galeni seems quite angry, and Delia looks worried. Then the colonel grabs Galeni’s arm, and when Galeni pulls free, one of the guards pulls out a stunner. Miles excuses himself hastily from Laisa, telling her to go see Gregor, and goes to investigate.
Miles asks the colonel what’s going on, and the colonel tells him that Haroche has ordered Galeni’s arrest, and removing him immediately from the Imperial Residence. Miles assures Galeni he has nothing to do with this, and wonders if it can be related to his case. Martya and Ivan come over, and the guards begin to get more nervous; the colonel says that Haroche is on his way over, and Miles advises Galeni to go quietly. Galeni asks Ivan to get Delia home, before she does anything foolish, and accompanies the guards down the corridor.
Around the corner, they throw Galeni against the wall and start frisking him; Miles forestalls Galeni’s response by admonishing them and telling them to treat him like a fellow officer. Miles asks what the real charge is, and the colonel tells him it’s treason, which flabbergasts Miles and Galeni. Miles tells Galeni to go along, and he’ll clear it all up with Haroche; Galeni accedes.
Miles returns to find Gregor, Laisa, Delia and Cordelia gathered to try to find out what’s going on. Miles says he should have been informed, but all he knows is that ImpSec has arrest Galeni, though he doesn’t mention the charge in Laisa and Delia’s presence. Haroche himself arrives then, and Gregor asks him to explain himself. Haroche says he’s only just found out about a possible security risk in one of the guests in the Imperial Residence, and it was his first priority to assure the Emperor’s safety.
“Oh.” Gregor turned to Countess Vorkosigan, and made a vague frustrated gesture at Delia and Laisa. “Cordelia, would you . . . ?”
Countess Vorkosigan smiled very dryly. “Come, ladies. The gentlemen need to go talk.”
“But I want to know what’s going on!” protested Laisa.
“We can get it later. I’ll explain the system to you. It’s really stupid, but it can be made to work. Which, come to think of it, could also sum up a great many other Vor customs. In the meantime, we need to keep the show going out there” — she nodded toward the reception rooms — “and repair what damages we can from this, ah” — a sharp glance at Haroche, which should have made him wince — “unfortunate exercise in caution.”
Haroche, Miles and Gregor move to Gregor’s office; Haroche says he has copies of the report for both of them. Haroche leads them to the main point of the security report, where they found that the retina scan on Miles’s faked visit was an older copy, from before his cryo-revival, which made some perceptible changes. It could only have been done physically on the actual machine itself. The changes to the admittance log, though, were done over the network, through Guy Allegre’s comconsole, and it originated from Galeni’s machine.
Miles points out that Galeni’s machine doesn’t mean the man himself; Haroche says that they can’t fast-penta Galeni, so they may have to settle for circumstantial evidence. He reminds Miles that Galeni’s father was involved with the original Komarran plot, and Miles’s own clone-brother killed Galeni’s father. He also mentions the resentment from Miles’s recent interference in Galeni’s courting of Laisa, quoting Galeni’s exact description of Miles on his first call. Miles says it was to his face, not to his back, and asks how Haroche got that message; Haroche admits that the public Vorkosigan House comconsoles have been routinely monitored for decades.
Miles insists that he can’t believe in Galeni’s guilt, that he’d through away all his hard work like that. Haroche encourages him to look over the reports, saying he’s not happy to find disloyalty among ImpSec personnel. Haroche leaves, and Miles heads home as well, not wanting to have to answer questions right now. In the groundcar, he is struck with another seizure, and comes to to find a panicked Martin leaning over him, and blood in his mouth from bitten tongue and lip. He tells Martin to take him home, since he’s going to need some time to recover and then to look over the report before he can be of any help to Galeni. The doctors are right–the seizures being triggered by stress will make him unfit for any sort of active duty.
So now the Duv and Delia relationship is established, as well as the Alys and Simon Illyan one–at least Miles has figured them out, even if Ivan is still a little slow on the uptake. Not sure why Simon and Alys are being so coy about theirs, but I guess they’re worried about people’s reactions…particularly Ivan’s, I’d imagine. I don’t think Duv and Delia are a Great Romance or anything, but they seem to have compatible goals, at least, so they’ll make a good partnership.
So Duv Galeni was the traitor all the time, eh? Who’d have thought it? I guess he just snapped or something. …Yeah, I didn’t buy it either. Don’t worry, next chapter will lead us to the real culprit.
Also…liked Martya’s “big brick” reference…followed by the big brick hitting Miles when he finally figures out what’s going on with Alys and Simon.
Miles wakes up the next morning with a postseizure hangover, and wonders if the symptoms are getting worse as time goes on, or if it’s just that the rest of his life is improving. He spends the morning going over Haroche’s report, whose data is scanty but almost more convincing because of it. He finds little to help Galeni, who’s being held at ImpSec “on suspicion”, a disturbingly indefinite state. He does go to ImpSec to meet with Dr. Weddell, who is anxious to go home; he confirms that the sample the exact same prokaryote used against Illyan. Now he also knows that it was never intended to be swallowed; it was packaged into sporelike capsules designed to be dispersed into the air and dissolve on moist mucous membranes. They would only briefly be visible into the air, and would be odourless, but would hang around in the air for several minutes.
Haroche calls and asks Miles to stop in, and Miles releases Weddell to go home. He tells Haroche he hasn’t changed his mind, and gives him a copy of Weddell’s report. Haroche says that of the other Komarran Affairs analysts, two had no knowledge of the sample, and the other two had no perceptible motivation. Miles points out it’s still circumstantial, and Haroche agrees; he asks if it’s possible Miles could somehow elicit a confession from Galeni, and Miles says he still doubts Galeni is guilty. Haroche says it will then inevitably have to proceed to a court-martial. Miles says he doesn’t want some military court guessing about the verdict; he wants to keep looking for other possible culprits. Haroche protests that that amounts to a witch-hunt, tearing ImpSec apart.
“If you have nothing more concrete to offer, I’m ready to lay the charges and let the court-martial sort it out.”
You can lay the charges, but I’ll not light the fuse. . . “I could decline to close my Auditor’s case.”
“If the court-martial convicts, you’ll have to close it, my lord.”
No, I won’t. The realization made him blink. He could keep his Auditor’s inquiry open forever if he so chose, and there wasn’t a damned thing Haroche could do about it. No wonder Haroche was being so exquisitely polite today. Miles could even veto the court-martial. . . .
But he realizes that the greatest qualification for being an Auditor must be probity, so he should refrain from mucking around too much with his powers. Haroche recognizes Miles’s reluctance, and offers to downgrade the charge from treason to assaulting a superior officer–a short prison term and a dishonourable discharge rather than the death sentence. Miles still isn’t sure, since this will wreck Galeni’s future career, not to mention not doing Komarran relations any good.
Haroche then changes the subject, saying that he had another reason for calling Miles up. He’s been looking at Miles’s medical records, and thinks the controller-seizure device treatment sounds promising. He tells Miles how he’s been impressed at how he worked with Illyan over the years, and the records he’s been reading about Miles’s career, and he thinks Miles’s discharge was a mistake. He’d like to work with the Dendarii Mercenaries again, and rather than work with an offworlder like Elli Quinn, he’d prefer to reinstate Miles.
He had to swallow, in order to breathe. “Everything . . . to be as it was before? Take up where I left off?” The Dendarii . . . Admiral Naismith . . .
“Not exactly where you left off, no. By my calculations you were about two years overdue for your promotion to captain, for one thing. But I think you and I could be a team just as you and Illyan were.” A small twinkle lit Haroche’s eye. “You will perhaps forgive me my touch of ambition if I say, maybe even better? I’d be proud to have you on board, Vorkosigan.”
Miles sat stunned. For a moment, all he could think, idiotically, was I’m sure glad I had that seizure last night, or I’d be rolling on this carpet again right now. “I . . . I . . .” His hands were shaking, his head exploding with joy. Yes! Yes! Yes! “I’d . . . have to close this case first. Give Gregor back his choke-chain. But then . . . sure!” His injured lip split again as it stretched, painfully, into an unstoppable grin. He sucked salt blood from it.
“Yes,” said Haroche patiently, “that’s exactly what I’ve been saying.”
Miles, despite the joyous visions in his mind, is suddenly uncertain, and he asks Haroche for some time to think about it. Haroche agrees, but asks him not to take too long, since he already has a potential mission in mind. He heads back to Vorkosigan House, somehow feeling like he’s retreating, and ends up fleeing to the small room on the fourth floor. He realizes that he was kidding himself about how much he’d gotten over the loss of Admiral Naismith. The Naismith part of him wants to accept the offer, to be reunited with Elli and Taura and the others, but the other part of him whispers that the price seems to be sacrificing Galeni, and letting Haroche get back to running ImpSec without Auditorial interference.
What if Galeni’s really guilty? Can he really doubt his own character judgement that much? He remembers the jump-pilot that he’d ordered Bothari to interrogate, back at the beginning of Naismith’s career, and who’d ended up dying; does he need to sacrifice another life now to go back to the Dendarii? He suddenly remembers Haroche’s expression after he made the offer, and realizes that Haroche knew exactly what he was doing–he was, essentially, offering Miles a bribe. He begins to realize how much he’s been underestimating Haroche, despite the knowledge that Illyan had appointed him to such a high ImpSec post. Haroche must have felt sure that Miles would bite, especially with the captaincy thrown in.
Haroche certainly had no trouble figuring out where my on-switch was located. But Haroche was a loyal weasel, Miles would swear, loyal to Gregor and the Imperium, a true brother in arms. If money meant anything to the man, Miles had seen no hint of it. His passion was his ImpSec service, like Illyan himself, like Miles too. The work he had taken over from Illyan.
Miles’s breath stopped; for a moment, he felt as frozen as any cryo-corpse.
No. The work Haroche had taken away from Illyan.
He suddenly realizes the motive, to get Illyan out of the picture, was just to allow Haroche to move into his job. Haroche could easily have planted all of the evidence in the computer systems–who better? Despite his conviction, though, he has no proof. He could just accuse him out of the blue, but if he tipped his hand too soon, Haroche doubtless had other resources to marshall to get him out of the picture. Even if he refused Haroche’s bribe, that might be enough to make him suspicious. So he could take the bribe, and bide his time…but, he realizes, Haroche is probably not as enamoured of Admiral Naismith as he pretends, and he would be just waiting for the opportunity to bump Miles off untraceably.
His mother knocks on the door, and she and Illyan ask if he’s all right, because they’d heard him thumping around, and wondered if he was having a seizure.
He fought to keep his words even. “Just . . . wrestling with temptation.”
Illyan’s voice came back, amused. “Who’s winning?”
Miles’s eye followed the cracks in the plaster, overhead. His voice came out high and light, on a sigh: “I think . . . I’m going for the best two falls out of three.”
Even if he could trust Haroche, he thinks after they’ve left him alone, Haroche has only tempered his offer for Miles Naismith–he doesn’t know Lord Vorkosigan, which isn’t surprising since Miles hardly does, either. Miles realizes he’s sick of trying to figure out what Haroche expects him to do. What else can he do, though?
Who are you, boy?
. . . Who are you who asks?
On the thought a blessed silence came, an empty clarity. He took it at first for utter desolation, but desolation was a kind of free fall, perpetual and without ground below. This was stillness: balanced, solid, weirdly serene. No momentum to it at all, forward or backwards or sideways.
I am who I choose to be. I always have been what I chose . . . though not always what I pleased.
He lingers in his newfound serenity, choosing to be himself, and Haroche’s spectre dwindles. He realizes that Haroche is likely to balk at actually having him killed, just yet, because that would draw the wrong kind of attention. Galeni, on the other hand, is at high risk of a staged Vorish suicide, a supposed confession of guilt.
As soon as Haroche knew Miles knew, it would be a race against time. And all Miles had was a trail of mirrors and smoke.
Miles’s eyes widened.
This is the chapter. This.
The detective realizes who the criminal is…but has no proof. Nonetheless, he can now construct the entire chain of events, and everything fits together. In case there was any doubt that at least one plotline in the book is a mystery–not quite a murder, but close to–that should be gone by now.
And yet, integrated with this scene is Miles wrestling with his own identity. He realizes that he’s no longer the person that Haroche is trying to bribe, the one at the beginning of the book, who would have leapt at the chance to be reinstated. Admiral Naismith is not completely gone, but he’s losing ground to Lord Vorkosigan, who can’t sacrifice a probably-innocent man, Duv Galeni, even to regain his heart’s desire. So that’s Miles’s advantage, that Haroche doesn’t have his measure anymore, because he doesn’t realize how Miles has changed. Of course, if Miles had been more willing to throw Galeni to the wolves, I’d be willing to bet that Haroche wouldn’t even have broached the subject of reinstatement…he only needed it as the bribe.
Miles’s epiphany, or revelation, or satori, or whatever he does, seems to hinge on a realization that he doesn’t have to choose to be a particular thing, and then try to shoehorn himself into it. Which is good, because he’s rarely done that. Was it just since the cryo-revival, when he had to try harder to be Admiral Naismith because it was slipping away from him? Well, I’m sure he’ll fall back into that trap from time to time, because unless you live on a mountaintop somewhere you keep having to deal with a world that wants to put you in a box.
Sounds like a perfect qualification to being an Imperial Auditor, doesn’t it?
Tune in next week for…the Final Confrontation! Good vs. Evil! And something about air filters!