Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Canaba’

The popcorn is almost eaten, the lights are going down, and up on the screen…no, it’s not commercials, or trailers, or cartoons–it’s the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  Two more chapters in Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, a central book in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan, and we’re almost to the end.  In the mystery plotline, we have finally arrived at the scenes where the cunning detective lures the culprit into incriminating himself, and then we have the big confession…

Chapter Twenty-Six

Not long before the end of the ImpSec day shift, Miles arrives in the big groundcar with his hastily-mustered and -briefed troops: Ivan, Illyan, Dr. Weddell, and Delia Koudelka.  Miles orders the guard at the front desk to not report his arrival to Haroche; Illyan reassures him that it’s all right.  Next, they go to the detention centre, where Miles leaves Delia to keep an eye on Duv Galeni, as well as orders to not admit anyone else to the cell block until he comes back.  He hopes that this will keep Galeni from being “suicided” by Haroche.

Next he goes to Janitorial, collecting the department head, and Forensics to acquire a tech, before going to the Evidence Rooms.  They fetch down the prokaryote, still with Miles’s seal on it, and Miles breaks one of the capsules open.  They wait a few minutes, until Dr. Weddell says it should have dissipated sufficiently.  He opens a box and takes out an atomizer of clear fluid, which he managed to whip up on short notice, designed to find traces of the prokaryotes’ discarded “shells”.  The Janitorial head leads them to the room’s air filter and extracts it; Dr. Weddell sprays the filter, then shines UV light on it, showing how the traces fluoresce.  The forensics tech bags it up, and they head back upstairs.

Miles takes them to the Komarran Affairs department, where General Allegre joins them; Miles asks Illyan if he ever came to Galeni’s office, and Illyan says he came down once a week or so.  They extract the air filter for Galeni’s office, and Weddell sprays it; Miles hopes that Haroche hadn’t thought of using his spare capsule to contaminate this one as well.  Luckily, it comes up clean, no traces of the prokaryote.  Miles confirms that the filter wouldn’t have been scheduled to be changed since Midsummer, and that it doesn’t look like it has been replaced recently.

“Your old office is next, Simon. Would you care to lead the way?”

Illyan shook his head, politely declining. “There isn’t much joy for me in this, Miles. Either way your results come out, I lose a trusted subordinate.”

“But wouldn’t you rather lose the one who’s actually guilty?”

“Yes.” Illyan’s snort was not wholly ironic. “Carry on, my Lord Auditor.”

Haroche reacts with aplomb to their arrival en masse, though Miles imagines that maybe he’s a little uncomfortable being faced with Illyan’s presence.  He asks what they’re doing there, and Miles explains about the air filters, something Haroche might not have thought of, never having been on space duty.  Haroche doesn’t seem too uncomfortable yet; Miles knows that anyone could have used the prokaryotes in Illyan’s office, so it wouldn’t point directly at him.  Weddell doesn’t find any traces in the filter, though, which doesn’t surprise Miles too much.  Miles acts disappointed, and says there’s nothing for it but to systematically spray every filter in the building, hoping Haroche doesn’t notice that he doesn’t have nearly enough spray for that.  Haroche asks if they checked Galeni’s office, and then suggests they try a briefing room.

“If you want to save steps,” put in Ivan, on cue, “you ought to start with the places Illyan went most, and work out from there. Rather than from the top down.”

“Good thinking,” said Miles. “Shall we start with the outer office? Then — excuse me, General Allegre, but I must be complete — the offices of the department heads. Then the briefing rooms, then all the affairs analysts’ offices. We should probably have done the whole of Komarran Affairs while we were first down there. After that we’ll see.”

They begin working on extracting the filter in the outer office, studiously not noticing when Haroche excuses himself.  Miles counts to a hundred, then tells them to follow him once more, quietly this time, to Domestic Affairs, and Haroche’s old office.  They encounter Haroche’s replacement in the halls, sent to look for Miles; Miles continues to the Domestic Affairs office and overrides the door lock with his Auditor’s Seal.

Haroche was crouched to the left of his old comconsole desk, just levering the vent grille out of the wall. In the opened flimsy-folder on the floor by his side lay another fiber filter. Miles laid a small bet with himself that they would find a disemboweled grille awaiting Haroche’s return in one of the briefing rooms on a direct line between Illyan’s old office and this one. A quick switch, very cool. You think fast, General. But this time I had a head start.

“Timing,” said Miles, “is everything.”

Haroche jerked upright, on his knees. “My Lord Auditor,” he began quickly, and stopped. His eye took in the small army of ImpSec men crowding into the doorway behind Miles. Even then, Miles thought, Haroche might have been capable of some brilliantly extemporized explanation, to Miles, to the whole damned mob, but then Illyan shouldered forward. Miles fancied he could almost see the glib lies turning to clotted ashes on Haroche’s tongue, though the only outward sign was a little twitch at the corner of his mouth.

Miles realizes that Haroche had avoided facing his victims–staying away from Illyan in the ImpSec clinic, avoiding Miles after that while setting up the frame for him, and keeping out of the way of Galeni’s arrest.  He’s just an man of ordinary morality who gave in to temptation and then had to try to avoid the consequences.  Haroche avoids Illyan’s and Miles’s gaze while the techs extract the filter and do the spraying.  Red fluorescence is indeed revealed by the UV light.  Miles appoints General Allegre acting chief of ImpSec, and instructs him to arrest General Haroche, by his Imperial Auditor’s authority, on the charge of treason.

“Not treason,” Haroche whispered hoarsely. “Never treason.”

Miles opened his hand. “But . . . if he is willing to confess and cooperate, possibly a lesser charge of assault on a superior officer. A court-martial, a year in prison, a simple dishonorable discharge. I think . . . I will let the Service court sort that one out.”

By the looks on their faces, both Haroche and Allegre caught the nuances of that speech.

Miles suggests that they take him down to the cells and release Galeni at the same time.  Allegre drafts Ivan and two other nearby ImpSec staff to escort Haroche, who says he’s not athletic enough to try any fancy escapes.  Miles finds the briefing room that Haroche had taken the filter from, and after the evidence there is collected, seals it up and sends it down to the Evidence Rooms.  This, and the final report to Gregor, is the end of his Auditor’s responsibilities, and he’s glad he doesn’t have to deal with the court martial to come.

Miles and Illyan discuss what Haroche is likely to do next; Miles wonders if he’ll try to tough it out with a good lawyer, perhaps claiming evidence was planted.  Illyan says he doesn’t think Haroche is likely to kill himself in his cell either, and he’d prefer him to live with the consequences anyway.

When they arrive at the detention centre, Galeni is being discharged, and Haroche seems to have already been processed in.  Galeni is angry at Miles for leaving him in the cell so long, having thought he’d have come to extract him hours ago.  He vows to quit this paranoid organization, though Delia takes his hand and he calms down.  Miles apologized for having to take an entire day to muster the exonerating evidence, and Ivan points out it’s only taken him five days to solve the sabotage case in the first place, and it’ll probably take him longer just to write the report.  Miles says that after Galeni’s public arrest, which must have been done on purpose, he couldn’t just declare Galeni innocent, he actually had to prove it.

Delia complains about Galeni’s cell; Illyan says they’re better than the old cells.  After the incident with Miles and his alleged private army, when Illyan was thrown into his own prison, he had the old prison turned into evidence storage and built new cells; it was a most salutary experience, which he highly recommends.  Galeni asks who was guilty, then, and Miles tells him it was Haroche.  Once Haroche knew the prokaryotes had been discovered, he’d targeted Miles, who he disliked, and Galeni, who fit the profile, to try to take one or both of them down as plausible culprits.  Arresting the chief of ImpSec in the middle of ImpSec HQ seemed tricky enough that Miles hadn’t wanted to get Galeni’s hopes up prematurely.

Allegre urges Galeni not to resign, and Miles says that all the crap he’s had to put up with will make things easier for all the Komarran officers that come after him.  He says that Galeni has the type of perspective that ImpSec needs to be able to give to the Imperium, and notes that there will likely be an opening for the head of the Komarran Affairs department, since Allegre will probably have to take over as chief, albeit under protest.  Allegre, beginning to realize what he’s in for, excuses himself to begin trying to get ImpSec in order; Illyan tells him he’ll do fine.  Allegre tells Galeni to go home and get some sleep before he makes any big decisions, and Galeni agrees.  Ivan finally begins to notice Delia and Galeni’s inseparability and put two and two together.  Miles says he’ll break the news to Gregor right then; Galeni asks him to make sure that Laisa knows he’s innocent.

Miles calls Gregor and lets him know that Haroche was the culprit, and how they used the air filters to pin him down, and passes on Galeni’s message.  Gregor, disturbed, asks if they know why he did it, and Miles says that motive is often the hardest question.  They can’t fast-penta Haroche, of course, and if they want to get anything from him, they’ll have to do it before he recovers his equilibrium and starts fighting back.  Miles thinks that Haroche probably hates him too much, for whatever reason, to cooperate, and asks Simon if he wants to question him.  Gregor says he has a better idea.

Comments

See, the janitors come to the rescue!  If it weren’t for those air filters–which were mentioned several chapters ago, to establish that ImpSec air was scrubbed regularly–Haroche might have gotten away with it.  Of course, even if they hadn’t come up with something that actually worked, Miles might have been able to pull off a bluff to make him confess…and, in fact, at this point Haroche has no way of knowing if it’s legitimate or not.  In fact, I think the first time through the book I may have been convinced that Miles was just pulling a fast one to get him to incriminate himself.

So Guy Allegre becomes a new ImpSec head.  I think he still is in the latest book, but I’m not sure.  Now I’m picturing Duv Galeni as the head of ImpSec.  That would be interesting.  I’d actually love to see the whole universe taken forward an entire generation.  Cryoburn may have been a step in that direction, so who knows what Lois has planned?  Maybe it’s just all my time playing Sims 2, but I could totally see the Vorkosigan and Koudelka descendants populating the next batch of books.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Ivan complains about being dragooned to accompany the party that goes to Haroche’s cell half an hour later.  Miles tells Ivan that he still has one more role to play as the Auditor’s official witness, and he can also serve as a guard without inhibiting Haroche the way a former subordinate might.  He assures Ivan he’s only there to listen.

Miles is the first into Haroche’s cell; Haroche is still in his uniform, not yet in prison garb, but his ImpSec eyes have been removed.  Ivan follows Miles in, then Illyan, whose presence makes Haroche uncomfortable, but nothing compared to the next visitor, Emperor Gregor.

Shock and dismay gave way to a flash of open anguish. Haroche took a breath, and tried to look cold and stern, but only succeeded in looking congealed. He scrambled to his feet — Ivan tensed — but only said, “Sire,” in a cracked voice. He had either not enough nerve, or better sense, than to salute his commander-in-chief under these circumstances. Gregor did not look likely to return it.

Gregor leaves his Armsmen outside the cell, causing Miles to mentally work out scenarios where, if Haroche attacked, he could sacrifice his life to give Gregor time to call for reinforcements.  He and Ivan take up positions on either side of the cell door, but Haroche only has eyes for Gregor.  Gregor tells Haroche sit down, which he does, clumsily, and then asks for his last report–how and why he did what he did.  Miles takes in something he’s never seen before–Gregor being quietly angry.

Haroche tells about how he found out about the Komarran prokaryotes back when they were first retrieved.  He ascended to head of Domestic Affairs, but it was widely rumoured that Miles was being groomed as Illyan’s successor…but then Miles was killed on Jackson’s Whole.  At that point, Illyan appointed Haroche as his second-in-command and definite successor.  After Miles came back to life, though, Illyan began asking Haroche if he could mentor Miles in Domestic Affairs.  It was clear that Illyan was still planning on promoting Miles up over Haroche’s head.  He didn’t like it, but he still went along.

After Miles faked up his report and ended his own career, Haroche got to thinking that Illyan could still hang on for another five or ten years in office, and some other young hotshot might come up with Illyan liked just as well as Miles.  He thought that Illyan was getting tired, and stale, but wasn’t likely to step down, and he wanted his own chance to serve the Empire.  The very day that Miles was cashiered, he went down to the Evidence Rooms on another matter, and found himself stopping by to grab a couple of capsules of the prokaryotes.  Nobody noticed, and he was pretty sure he could gimmick the monitors later if necessary.  A few days later, he deployed the first capsule in his office, and then the second one a week later when nothing seemed to be happening.  It was almost an impulse, but once acted on, he had to follow through.

Gregor asks him when he decided to frame Galeni.  Haroche said he’d really planned on framing Miles, if he had to cast the blame on anyone, especially after he practically got away with slicing up Lieutenant Vorberg.

“Then he turned up on my front doorstep with that damned Auditor’s chain around his neck, and I realized he wasn’t just Illyan’s pet.” Haroche’s eyes, meeting Gregor’s at last, were accusing.

Gregor’s eyes were very, very cool. “Go on,” he said, utterly neutral.

If it hadn’t been for Vorkosigan pushing, Haroche says, he might not have needed the frame at all, but now he realized that he couldn’t make it stick to Miles after all.  Galeni seemed almost a better choice–disposable, not to mention Komarran, in a position to know about the prokaryotes as well.

Gregor had grown so neutral as to seem almost gray. So, that’s what rage looks like on him. Miles wondered if Haroche realized what Gregor’s extreme lack of expression meant. The general seemed caught up in his own words, indignant, speaking faster now.

He’d planned on it taking months to find the capsules, but it only took Miles three days; he couldn’t convince Miles to go off to Jackson’s Whole, or get out of his hair, so he rushed the Galeni frame and arrest as quickly as he could.  He even tried offering him a juicy bribe, and he thought Miles was going for it, but then he came back with Weddell, and that was it.

Gregor asks about the bribe, and when Haroche doesn’t answer, Miles tells him about the offer–being reinstated, as a Captain, and back with the Dendarii.  Gregor, Illyan, and Ivan are all astonished; Illyan asked him why he turned it down.  Miles said he wouldn’t have been able to stand throwing Galeni to the wolves, and leaving a weasel like Haroche in charge of ImpSec.  With what he’d already done, he’d have probably been capable of finessing Gregor’s reports to try to manipulate him, though Haroche insists that he wouldn’t have.  Miles asks if they’re done now, and Gregor says they are.  As they leave, Haroche insists that it wasn’t murder, or even treason, that Illyan wasn’t even hurt, really.  Gregor turns his back, and even Illyan can’t muster a retort scathing enough.

Illyan says he’d though Miles had been joking about wrestling with temptation.  Gregor offers to charge Haroche with bribing an Auditor, which is another capital offense, but Miles doesn’t want the whole thing brought up in a military court.

“If you wish. My Lord Auditor.” Gregor had a strange look on his face, staring down at Miles; Miles shifted uncomfortably. It wasn’t surprise or amazement, which would have unraveled to an insult, after all. Awe? Surely not. “What stopped you? I too want to know why, you know. You owe me that much.”

“I don’t . . . quite know how to put it.” He searched for, and rather to his surprise found, that odd calm place inside, still there. It helped. “Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can’t trade for your heart’s desire is your heart.”

All that’s left is for Miles to write up the report, which, it turns out, takes longer than the actual investigation had.  He spends a week compiling what he has, then keeps having to go collect information from various ImpSec departments, or Allegre himself, or Admiral Avakli; he’s determined to make it as complete as possible.  Ivan barges in to interrupt him, having finally managed to figure out what’s going on with his mother and Simon Illyan.

“Simon Illyan is sleeping with my mother, and it’s your fault!”

“I . . . don’t think it is, somehow.”

“It’s happening in your house, anyway. You’ve got some kind of responsibility for the consequences.”

“What consequences?”

“I don’t know what consequences! I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do about it. Should I start calling Illyan Da, or challenge him to a duel?”

“Well . . . you might start by considering the possibility that it’s none of your business. They are grown-ups, last I checked.”

“They’re old, Miles! It’s, it’s, it’s . . . undignified. Or something. Scandalous. She’s high Vor, and he’s, he’s . . . Illyan.”

Ivan is also scandalized by the fact that the two of them are planning on vacationing together, down to some little resort that Illyan’s never heard of–and if ImpSec never heard about it, it must be good.  They’re taking off after the betrothal, when Lady Alys is sure she’ll need some time to sit in the sun during the day, and at night…  Miles offers to talk to his mother, and Ivan said he already has, and Cordelia seems to think that it’s healthy for both of them.  Miles says that it could be a good thing–she’ll be busy enough with her own love-life to stop worrying about Ivan’s.  Ivan admits that she has stopped nagging him and commenting on everyone else’s marriages and babies, but…

Miles makes an appointment with Dr. Chenko to calibrate his seizure-control device.  He’s heading out for that appointment when he bumps into Illyan, coming in from having a walk, all by himself.  Cordelia has given him a portable map-cube which he can use to find his way around, and an auto-indexing audionote-taker which he can use to keep track of information.

The man hadn’t had to even think about taking notes for the past thirty-five years, after all. What was he going to discover next, fire? Writing? Agriculture? “All you have to remember is where you put it down.”

“I’m thinking of chaining it to my belt. Or possibly around my neck.”

At dinner, the Countess is beginning to wonder aloud if she can convince Ma Kosti to emigrate to Sergyar…possibly by having her son transferred there.  Miles asks when the Count is going to arrive; Cordelia says it’ll be the day before the betrothal, and they’ll leave afterwards, so they can get back to the Sergyar colony, and also keep Aral from getting waylaid by old colleagues with other ideas for what he can do with his nonexistent spare time.  She invites Miles to come visit them on Sergyar, where they have a much better treatment for the worm plague now, and lots of work to do.  Miles admits he’s not sure what he’ll be doing after he finishes the investigation.

Illyan tells them that he’ll be moving into his own flat soon–close to Alys’s, but not in the same building, in case anyone gets any ideas about taking vengeance on him.  He’s hoping to put it about that he’s more brain-damaged than he actually is, in hopes of discouraging that.  When Miles asks, he says he’s not planning on doing any more work for ImpSec, that forty-five years was long enough.

Miles finished his Auditor’s report late the following afternoon, including the table of contents and the cross-referenced index, and sat back in his comconsole chair, and stretched. It was as complete as he could make it, and as straightforward as his indignation with the central crime would allow. He only now realized, looking over the finished product, just how much subtle spin he used to put on even his most truthful Dendarii field reports, making the Dendarii and Admiral Naismith look good to assure the continued flow of funding and assignments. There was a dry serenity in not having to give a damn what Lord Auditor Vorkosigan looked like, that he quite enjoyed.

He was determined that anyone after Gregor who looks at the report will have all the information they needed to make sense of it, because he’s been at the other end of inadequate reports often enough.  He makes an appointment with Gregor the next morning to deliver the report and return the Auditor’s Chain, and he hopes to have his seizure-control device implanted shortly after that; then maybe he can finally release Martin to apply to the Imperial Service.  He wanders into the apartments recently vacated by Illyan, looks them over speculatively, and shortly is organizing the household staff into moving his possessions into them.  Cordelia notes this with approval, thinking it high time, since his previous room was only where it was because it was the hardest to shoot things through the window.

His possessions spread fairly thin over the larger area, and he thinks that he’ll have to send for the rest of his stuff, still with the Dendarii, and reminds himself that he needs to settle things with Elli Quinn, who’s gotten somewhat neglected in recent weeks.  He dashes off a cheerful and reassuring message to her, thinking that it’s much easier than it was before.

Comments

Yeah, Haroche dug himself in pretty deep with that one.  His resistance must have been way down, or else he might not have come quite so clean with Gregor…but in his own mind, at least, he had always been a loyal servant of the Empire.  He’d only wanted to remove some deadwood that was keeping him from serving the Empire as well as he was sure he could.  One wonders how long he’d have been content to serve under ImpSec chief Vorkosigan if that had come about.  Though Illyan had that convenient vulnerability, in that he could be taken out more easily than anyone else.  (Though a seizure-prone Chief Vorkosigan might have also been vulnerable…)

After that, we are well and truly into the denouement.  Miles begins to settle his home life, as does Illyan, expanding into spaces that they can call their own, and becoming more comfortable with their new situations.  There’s still his future career to deal with, but that’s for the next chapter, and Elli Quinn, for the chapter after that.  Oh, yeah, and there’s still the betrothal to come, I guess.


Two more chapters, one more week, as the book winds down, but I promise you, one of the best scenes in the book is coming in the next chapter, so there’s no reason to leave the theatre yet…

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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…

Chapter Twenty-Two

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.”

Comments

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.

Chapter Twenty-Three

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.

Comments

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Chapter Twenty

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.

Comments

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.

Chapter Twenty-One

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.”

“Where else?”

She hesitated, then admitted wryly, “I bet Aral that you would choose the little Admiral.”

Comments

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…

Read Full Post »

Once upon a time, there was a young Vor lord named Miles Vorkosigan, who was born without a decent skeleton.  Thirty years later, he found himself back on his home planet of Barrayar, in the book Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Will he live happily ever after?  Not quite yet, unless Ms. Bujold decides to stop writing books about him…  In any event, this week I’ll be covering chapters Seventeen and Eighteen of Memory, where temporary Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan finally gets to figure out what to do about Simon Illyan’s decaying memory chip.

Chapter Seventeen

Ruibal brings Miles to a conference room with three other men–apart from Miles, nobody under the rank of colonel.  Miles reminds himself that he’s an Imperial Auditor, outside of the military hierarchy, and most of them haven’t dealt with an Imperial Auditor since ImpSec’s finances were audited a few years ago (while he was in the hospital, after the Dagoola rescue).  The next most important man in the room, Admiral Dr. Avakli, is a biocyberneticist, part of the group who install neural implants for jump pilots, which are vaguely close to Illyan’s chip in nature.

Ruibal begins listing the tests they performed, until Miles tells them to skip the negative results.  Ruibal summarizes them by saying that the problem definitely seems to be with the chip, rather than with anything in Illyan’s brain.  Avakli shows him the information they have on the chip itself and its complex array of connections to the brain, but points out that the chip was largely self-wiring once it was installed in the brain, so their information on that is limited.  It’s a mix of organic and inorganic, and it’s the organic portions which are deteriorating.  Avakli says there’s no provision for being able to download the chip’s contents, which doesn’t surprise Miles, considering that Emperor Ezar wouldn’t have wanted that information easily retrievable.

Avakli confirms Miles’s understanding that the chip supplemented, rather than replaced, Illyan’s natural memory, pointing out that that was a major reason why many of the test subjects developed schizophrenia, because of the doubling of memories.  Avakli describes some complicated and jerry-rigged possibilities for extracting the data; Miles interrupts to ask what happens if they take the chip out, and Avakli says that in that circumstance the chip is designed to “die”.  If it’s not taken out, the proteins will continue to degenerate–“turning to snot”, as Illyan had quoted one of Avakli’s techs.

Miles asks Avakli for his theories on why this happened; Avakli says it could be natural senescence, which he considers more likely than deliberate sabotage, but he’d have to examine it to rule out the latter theory.  Miles summarizes by saying that they can’t remove the chip, fix it, and put it back, they can’t find out why it’s breaking down without removing it, and they can’t try to repair it in place without finding out why it’s breaking down.  Avakli says he’s been focusing on data extraction rather than repairing the chip.

Miles asks what happens to Illyan if the chip is removed.  Avakli defers to Ruibal, who says it’s difficult to tell.  He won’t instantly revert to what he was like before the chip, but much of his brain will have adapted to the chip’s capabilities, and will be thrown out of balance by its loss.  Ruibal says they haven’t managed to find any galactic experts in this technology, which is considered obsolete, and it might take months to do so; Miles says that Illyan isn’t likely to have months.  Miles asks why they haven’t just removed the chip, and Avakli says they were ordered to save the chip, or as much of its data as possible, presumably because the data on the chip is vital.

“Is it?” Miles leaned forward, staring into the brightly colored, biocybernetic nightmare chip-map hanging before his eyes above the table’s central vid plate. “The chip was never installed to make Illyan into a superman. It was just a toy for Emperor Ezar, who fancied owning a vid recorder with legs. I admit, it’s been handy for Illyan. Gives him a nice aura of infallibility that scares hell out of people, but that’s a crock and he knows it even if they don’t.

“The chip has nothing to do with running ImpSec, really. He was promoted to the job because he was standing at my father’s right hand the day Vordarian’s forces murdered his predecessor, and my father liked and trusted him. There was no time for a talent search, in the middle of a raging civil war. Of all the qualities that made Illyan the best chief in ImpSec s history . . . the chip is surely the most trivial.” His voice had fallen to nearly a whisper. Avakli and Ruibal were leaning forward to hear him. He cleared his throat, and sat up.

Miles says that information on the chip is either obsolete, personal, current and thus known elsewhere, and maybe only a dozen or so real secrets, some of which probably shouldn’t even be preserved.  Miles tells them to prepare for removing the chip, with the best surgical personnel available, while he talks to one more person–Gregor.  Miles brings Gregor up to speed, that the chip is flooding Illyan’s mind with memories every few minutes, and the only practical thing they can do with the chip is remove it.  He notes that Illyan is in little condition to actually consent to the operation, and they don’t know what effect losing the chip will have on him.  He asks if Gregor knows of any old secrets that should be preserved, but Gregor says that only Count Vorkosigan would know for sure.  Gregor asks if Miles advises pulling the chip, and at his assent gives him the authorization.

Miles goes to see Haroche, who asks ironically if his subordinates’ cooperation was satisfactory.  He’s been reading up on Miles’s record, and now has a better picture of why Illyan thought so much of him, and has revised his earlier estimation.  Miles informs him that the chip has to be removed.

Haroche sighed. “I’d hoped that could be avoided. It seems so permanent. And so crippling.”

“Not nearly as crippling as what’s going on right now. Incidentally, Illyan definitely should have had someone familiar by him from the start, for his comfort. It seems to make a tremendous difference in his level of combativeness. He could possibly have avoided most of the sedation. And the humiliating restraints. Not to mention the wear and tear on the corpsmen.”

Haroche says he didn’t know what they were dealing with, and admits he couldn’t face Illyan after the first day.  Miles says that he and Ivan have done a lot with their mere presence, and argues for bringing in Lady Alys Vorpatril as well.  Haroche protests that she’s a civilian, and unable, as a woman, to swear the appropriate oaths in any case.  Miles says he can order Haroche to admit her, but he gives Haroche the chance to make amends on his own.  He will need to deal with her until the wedding, at least, and while the military tries to pretend that Vor doesn’t matter, Lady Alys represents a large class to whom it does, and Haroche will have to deal with both of them too.

“So how did Illyan get along so well with you all? He was no more Vor than I.”

“Actually, I think he rather enjoyed the spectacle. I don’t know what he thought when he was younger, but by the time I really came to know him, in the last ten years or so . . . I think he’d come to feel that the Imperium was a creation he helped to maintain. He seemed to have a vested interest in it. An almost Cetagandan attitude, in a weird way; more of an artist to his medium than a servant to his master. Illyan played Gregor’s servant with great panache, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a less servile human being.”

Haroche thinks it over for a minute, which Miles considers a promising sign, then calls Lady Alys, formally apologizes, and grants her request for admittance to the clinic.  Alys merely accepts it as her due, promising to be at the clinic in fifteen minutes–a major concession, for a Vor lady–and thanks Haroche and Miles, whose hand she obviously perceived in Haroche’s change of heart.  Miles praises Haroche’s apology, and Haroche says that, no matter what Miles may think, he wants to do a good job, even if he lacks Illyan’s suavity.

Miles returns to the clinic, where Ivan is relieved to be relieved, calling Illyan’s situation a nightmare.  Miles says he’s called Ivan’s mother, and Ivan is pleased to hear it; he says she’ll do better at this duty than he does.  Ivan leaves as soon as Miles lets him, and Miles sits through another grueling succession of Simon Illyans from various time periods, telling each one about the problem with the chip, until finally the present-day Illyan manifests again.  Miles tells Illyan he won’t kill him, but that they’re going to remove his chip, as soon as possible.  Illyan is dubious, not sure what will happen to his memories, but before long is swept away again.

When Lady Alys enters, Illyan offers his condolences on the death of her husband (which happened around the time Ivan was born, of course).  Miles briefs Illyan, Lady Alys watching carefully, then leaves her holding Illyan’s hand and briefing him herself.  Ruibal notes that Illyan’s blood pressure has dropped in her presence.  Miles gets Ruibal and Avakli and they discuss the surgeon–one of Avakli’s best neural implant surgeons, who’s done most of the fast courier pilots in recent years, including the Emperor’s personal pilot.  Avakli prefers to give him one more good night’s sleep, and let him have a day to study up on the problem, pushing the surgery itself a day longer than Miles would have preferred, but he acquiesces.  He also tells Avakli that his team will be the chip’s “coroners”, doing an autopsy on it to determine what happened to it.  He suggests that they bring in Dr. Vaughn Weddell (formerly known as Dr. Hugh Canaba of Jackson’s Whole, Taura’s creator) as an outside source, and Avakli takes the Auditor’s suggestion as a command.

Miles stays at the clinic that night, he and Alys trading off shifts, as Illyan’s transition periods get closer and closer together.

Comments

So, of course, the previous Imperial Audit that Miles refers to was the one in the Borders of Infinity framing story, though I don’t recall actual “Imperial Auditors” being mentioned at the time, at least not capitalized ones.  Another nice piece of retconning, though.  I can’t help but think that among those secrets which are going to disappear with the chip (except for Miles’s parents, of course) would be Ezar and Aral’s plan to dispose of Prince Serg, from back in Shards of Honour, though of course Miles doesn’t know that.  Finally, of course, the reference to Dr. Canaba, from back in “Labyrinth”, who of course has been on Barrayar this whole time.  Not really a retconning so much as a “conservation of characters” situation.

Haroche does seem, in some ways, to be willing to learn from Miles, now that he has no choice but to listen to him, mending fences with Lady Alys.  It’s possible he still doesn’t truly “get” how a woman can be of any importance to ImpSec, and I’m sure Cordelia would love to slap him silly over it.  It’s tempting to think of Haroche as stupid, with such willfully wrong-headed sexist ideas, but it’s a common Barrayaran failing, as Elena would attest.

Chapter Eighteen

It takes three days, not two, to prepare for the surgery, by which point Simon Illyan’s memory flashes are coming too swiftly for him to even have time to speak in between.  Alys’s stamina flags, leaving Miles to pick up the slack.  Illyan’s motions aren’t hostile, but they are unpredictable, so they give up on the possibility of leaving him conscious for the surgery, which would enable them to monitor his higher brain functions as they operate, and just anesthetize him.

Nobody tries to keep Miles out of the operating room, where he feels duty-bound to watch, as Gregor’s observer.

Where does the forty kilo Imperial Auditor sit? Anywhere he wants to.

They put him into sterile clothing and give him a good view of the monitors, which Miles prefers to watching the actual surgery.  They cut a tiny slot in Illyan’s skull, then they send in the microwaldoes to cut the chip’s connections, and finally they delicately pull it out and deliver it to Dr. Avakli, who hustles it off to be autopsied.  Miles elects not to follow Avakli, but to wait as Illyan’s skull is closed back up, and the surgeon relinquishes him back into Dr. Ruibal’s care.  Miles comments that the surgery seems to have been less complicated than he expected; the surgeon agrees, saying that he just left the severed ends of the neural connections in place, where they will be harmless, rather than trying to dig them all out individually.  Ruibal authorizes them to wake Illyan back up.

Illyan’s first words seem like a replay of the questions he’s asked over the last several days, but he’s tracking better, and seems to absorb Miles’s response this time.  Illyan doesn’t remember much about the last few days except vague nightmare images.  Miles tells him that he and Gregor decided on the surgery, and that Haroche is in charge of ImpSec, which seems to reassure him.  Illyan seems, a few times, to be trying to call up memories from his chip, which of course fails.  Ruibal administers a few tests, which don’t show any immediate effects, and they put Illyan back to bed.

Ruibal says that they’ll need to do some tests on him, but they might release Illyan to go home in as little as two days, though with daily followups.  Miles tells Alys the surgery is over, and she goes back in to sit at Illyan’s bedside, while Miles goes to see how Avakli is doing with the chip.  Dr. Weddell/Canaba is in attendance, and Miles takes him aside to speak to.  Canaba/Weddell quickly realizes that it’s Lord Auditor Vorkosigan’s fault that he’s been pulled away from his research, but Miles reminds him that it’s a condition of his rescue from Jackson’s Whole.

“At least,” sighed Weddell, “your climate is an improvement.”

Over Jackson’s Whole, indeed. And Weddell was not referring only to the weather. “I’m very pleased things have worked out satisfactorily for you,” said Miles. “If I had realized I was going to be seeing you, I’d have brought greetings from Sergeant Taura.”

“My word, is she still alive?”

“Oh, yes.” No thanks to you.

Miles tells Weddell that he hopes he’ll be able to spot any galactic connections in the chip’s deterioration; Weddell says he’ll start presuming sabotage, and only settle for “natural causes” when he’s ruled out everything else.  Miles tells Weddell that he should not report to ImpSec, but to Miles directly.  Miles calls Gregor to report on the surgery, then goes back to check on Illyan one more time.  Illyan is awake and dressed, and even mildly cheerful.

Illyan too studied his House uniform and its assorted ornaments. He reached out to lightly tick the gold Auditor’s chain across Miles’s shoulders. It rang with a faint, pure note. “Now that’s . . . rather unexpected.”

“General Haroche didn’t want to let me in. Gregor decided this would save argument.”

“How creative of Gregor.” Illyan vented a brief surprised laugh, which Miles was not quite sure how to interpret. “I would never have thought of it. But waste not, want not.”

Alys volunteers to stay for a while, so Miles can take a break and go home.  She tells Miles he did well, and he says he didn’t do much more than get the techs to work on the problem.

At home, Miles puts away his decorations and his House uniform, then considers the Auditor’s chain; that was fun, he thought, but it’s almost time to put it away again.  Still, he needs to write the reports, and get the rest of the actual data from the chip, so he supposes he’ll need to hold on it until then.

Comments

The actual surgery is a bit of an anticlimax, I guess.  I’m not quite as sanguine as the (nameless) surgeon about leaving loose nerve cells just lying around loose in the brain, but perhaps Bujold did her research here and this is actually right.  I’m just picturing some kind of weird short circuit happening if two of the loose ends that used to meet at the chip happen to get connected to each other.  But I guess nerve cells probably don’t actually work like electrical wires, so it’s probably more like leaving two electrical cords sitting next to each other after unplugging them.

Ivan isn’t mentioned here, so I guess he didn’t get dragged in for more Illyan-soothing, despite what must be very wearing shifts split between Alys and Miles.  Or maybe he was, and it’s just not mentioned.  It sounds like near the end he may not have even had time to register who was with him anyway, so it might not have made much of a difference.  It still squicks me out a little, to think of brain surgery with a conscious patient–it’s just…wrong.  I know there’s no pain nerves in the brain, but still…ugh.

Miles seems a little too ready to get rid of his Auditor’s chain.  I guess he’d love to hold onto it, but he knows that it’s just temporary, for the duration of the Illyan issue, and that seems to be almost wrapped up.  Except for the pesky question of who might have sabotaged the chip, if someone actually did.  But who could have done it, and how?  Illyan’s “Waste not, want not” comment makes me wonder if he thinks that Miles’s appointment as Auditor is permanent, since it might seem like a good way to make use of Miles’s skills, now that he’s prevented actually using them for ImpSec any more…  I’m sure somebody will disabuse Illyan of that silly notion soon enough.


Looks like we’ve wrapped up the Simon Illyan plotline, then!  Or have we?  I guess there’s still the question of what happened to the chip in the first place–was it natural causes, or sabotage?  After all this, which do you think would be more likely?  Well, anyway, now that we’ve dealt with Simon Illyan’s brain, Miles is now finally ready to start looking at what’s up with his own brain…next week, on the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!

(Almost forgot to mention, but, as WordPress reminded me, this is my 100th post in this blog!  I’ve already passed the two-year mark, what with the weeks off between books, and those I skipped during the move earlier in the year, but it’s still a milestone.  I wonder if there’s enough left in the series for me to reach 200?)

Read Full Post »

Welcome back, somewhat belatedly, to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  I had, of course, planned a week off after finishing Ethan of Athos, but the extra day was due to a deadline that I didn’t plan ahead for quite well enough.  That’s out of the way now, so without further ado, let’s return to the reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga with the novella “Labyrinth”.

Written, with two other novellas (“The Mountains of Mourning”, already covered, and “Borders of Infinity”, still to come), between the novels Brothers In Arms and The Vor Game, “Labyrinth” was first collected with those two stories into Borders of Infinity, but the more recent omnibuses have split them up; this one comes after Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos in Miles, Mystery and Mayhem.  (Apparently it’s also collected in Miles, Mutants and Microbes for some benighted reason.)  It does come chronologically after Ethan of Athos, and before “Borders of Infinity”, as part of what I think of as the Dendarii Adventures era of Miles’s life.  Since it doesn’t have chapters, I divided it, somewhat arbitrarily, into three parts, approximately the same length as two chapters, so let’s get started with the first bit.

Labyrinth

Miles looks at a globe of Jackson’s Whole, the planet they are approaching–a cold planet, only temperate at the equator–and wishes he didn’t have to go there.  He admits to himself that if it wasn’t Jackson’s Whole, it would be somewhere else; they wouldn’t have been so successful if there hadn’t been a demand for what they sold.  The crime families are getting sufficiently established, though, that Miles thinks that it can’t be long until they start becoming actively staid.

House Dyne, detergent banking—launder your money on Jackson’s Whole. House Fell, weapons deals with no questions asked. House Bharaputra, illegal genetics. Worse, House Ryoval, whose motto was “Dreams Made Flesh,” surely the damndest—Miles used the adjective precisely—procurer in history. House Hargraves, the galactic fence, prim-faced middlemen for ransom deals—you had to give them credit, hostages exchanged through their good offices came back alive, mostly. And a dozen smaller syndicates, variously and shiftingly allied.

Even he, unfortunately, has to deal with them; he has a list of weaponry to buy.  Bel Thorne comes into the cabin to tell him that Ariel is close to docking at Fell Station.  Miles has been noticing that the hermaphrodite has been emphasizing its female side in his presence on this trip, which disturbs him slightly.  He asks Bel if it had ever been to Jackson’s Whole; Bel says it was there once, with Oser to buy from a different Baron Fell.  Bel asks Miles if he’s giving planet leave for the crew, and offers to book a room for two near the docks…  Miles says day passes only, and tries to reject Bel’s offer politely.  They’ve been around this subject more than once already, and Miles wishes he could bring himself to be firm enough to settle it once and for all.  He isn’t even sure what Bel sees in him, for that matter.  Miles asks Bel why it doesn’t go back to Beta Colony and settle down with another hermaphrodite.  Bel says Beta Colony is too boring, that’s why it left.

“Mind you, a great place to raise kids.” One corner of Miles’s mouth twisted up.

Thorne grinned. “You got it. You’re an almost perfect Betan, y’know? Almost. You have the accent, the in-jokes . . .”

Miles went a little still. “Where do I fail?”

Thorne touched Miles’s cheek; Miles flinched.

“Reflexes,” said Thorne.

Bel says it won’t give him away, and offers to help him.  Miles says they have a mission, and tells Bel that buying weapons is only the cover for it.  Bel isn’t surprised; the Ariel is the fastest ship in the fleet, not the biggest cargo carrier, and Miles is overseeing it himself rather than leaving it to the quartermaster.  Miles says he does want to make contact with the new Baron Fell, but adds that at some point a certain middle-aged man is going to appear and sign up as a Dendarii medtech, at which point they’ll be leaving the planet at all speed.  The man is a defector from Bharaputra Laboratories, their top geneticist, and their secret employer (Barrayar, of course) will grant him asylum after that; all the Dendarii need to do is play dumb about his identity and feign outrage when he disappears on Escobar.  Should be pretty straightforward…

After they dock at Fell Station, they go to purchase their arms, but soon receive an invitation from the Baron himself.  After going back to change into more formal uniforms, they arrive at Baron Fell’s private quarters.  Miles notes that the private sector of the station seems to run completely independently from the rest of the station, able to separate if necessary, and probably has its own engine and weapons too.  The reception chamber inside is large, open and yet with numerous private nooks.  The exits are all guarded, and one wall is a large viewport overlooking the docks and the planet below.  The various groups of people inside are dressed in a variety of fashions, but Baron Fell’s customers don’t mingle with each other.  When a serving woman offers them drinks, Miles allows Bel to take some, though Miles, with poor alcohol tolerance, doesn’t drink much of his.

They hear music from nearby, and move towards it, but are caught off-guard by the musician, who Miles takes for one of House Ryoval’s wilder experiments.  A woman floats in a null-gee bubble, playing a double-sided stringed instrument with hammers held in all four of her hands, her lower arms emerging from where her legs would have been.  Thorne identifies her as a quaddie, from a genetic experiment dating back two hundred years, to about the time of the first hermaphrodites.  They’d been planned as ideal zero-gravity dwellers, until the advent of artificial gravity made them obsolete, but they fled and set up their own null-gee world far away from Earth.  Thorne is surprised to see one so far from home.  They listen to the piece until its end, and Miles encourages Bel to go talk to her.

Bel is momentarily tongue-tied, then asks her about her instrument, which she calls a double-sided hammer dulcimer.  Bel asks her how she got there, and she said she was working her way back home from Earth and took employment with Baron Fell on the way.  She is pleased to be recognizes as a quaddie, not a genetic freak, and Bel commiserates, as a hermaphrodite himself.  She introduces herself as Nicol, no last name, and Bel asks her what she’s doing later.

At that point they are interrupted by Georish Stauber, a.k.a. Baron Fell, a jovial-looking man, older than Miles had pictured.  Miles bows expertly, then castigates himself for not bowing awkwardly like Bel, to help preserve his Betan cover.  The Baron tells Miles he’s glad to meet Admiral Naismith at last, after his rapid rise and mysterious origins; Miles finds his gaze almost too avid, and wonders if Fell knows about his dual identity.  The Baron compliments him for his success at Vervain, and his disposal of the fleet’s previous commander.

“You interest me exceedingly,” continued the baron. “For example, there’s the puzzle of your apparent age. And your prior military career.”

If Miles had kept his drink, he’d have knocked it back in one gulp right then. He clasped his hands convulsively behind his back instead. Dammit, the pain lines just didn’t age his face enough. If the baron was indeed seeing right through the pseudo-mercenary to the twenty-three-year-old Security lieutenant—and yet, he usually carried it off—

The baron lowered his voice. “Do the rumors run equally true about your Betan rejuvenation treatment?”

Miles is relieved to know the reason for the Baron’s interest, and asks him why he doesn’t just do the usual Jacksonian thing and have himself transplanted into a clone-body.  Baron Fell says that he’s had some trouble in that area, with the body donors dying inconveniently, and he doesn’t want to risk having his own brain die in the process.  Miles “admits” that he did partake in an experimental procedure, but claims it wasn’t successful, leaving his bones overly brittle, and his expected life-span not good.  Baron Fell is disappointed, while Bel conceals his amusement at Miles’s fabrication, the rejuvenation treatment being 100% mythical.

A newcomer approaches them, with a bodyguard–heightened metabolism and callus-ridged hand marking him as a strong fighter even unarmed; the man himself appeared young, but there was likely an older brain inside the body.  Baron Fell introduces him as Baron Ryoval; Miles makes sure to bow awkwardly this time.  The quaddie, Nicol, recoiled when Ryoval approached, and is now pretending to tune her dulcimer, keeping it between her and Ryoval, who appraises her openly.  Ryoval is about to request a song when he receives a page on his wrist com.

“This is Manager Deem in Sales and Demonstrations. We have a problem. That creature House Bharaputra sold us has savaged a customer.”

Ryoval’s greek-statue lips rippled in a silent snarl. “I told you to chain it with duralloy.”

“We did, my lord. The chains held, but it tore the bolts right out of the wall.”

Ryoval tells them to stun it, which they already have, then tells them to starve it into submission.  The “client” is injured, so Ryoval assigns his personal physician to look at him, but is annoyed at their incompetence.  He returns to his song request, but doesn’t let Nicol play very long before interrupting her and saying she’s just what he’s looking for.  Nicol and Bel are both annoyed at the song’s interruption.  Fell says that she’s still not for sale, but Ryoval says Fell hasn’t heard his offer yet.  Fell and Ryoval debate whether she can be duplicated, particularly her musical skills and creativity; Miles realizes that Fell is really just lording his possession of Nicol over his rival.

Ryoval offers to buy a tissue sample instead; Fell says it will disrupt her uniqueness, but Ryoval points out that it takes ten years to grow a mature clone, as Fell well knows.  Bel interjects that Fell can’t sell any part of her, because she’s a free citizen; the barons are unimpressed with his interruption.  Ryoval tells Bel condescendingly that Fell owns her contract, and on Jackson’s Whole that’s sufficient, not like the laws from Beta Colony, which don’t apply here.  Bel asks if that means he could kill Ryoval with impunity, and Ryoval says that the practical matter of being killed by his bodyguard will make that unlikely.

Miles tells Bel it’s time to move on.  Ryoval invites Miles to visit his establishment downside, where he might find something to his taste, but Miles says Fell already has his credit chit.  Bel won’t drop the subject of Nicol, though; Ryoval responds by saying that, as a hermaphrodite, Bel could get a job with him for a substantially higher pay than a mercenary, with “group rates”.  Miles restrains Bel from taking too much offense, and Ryoval says he’d buy a tissue sample from him as well.

Bel’s breath exploded. “My clone-siblings, to be—be—some sort of sex-slaves into the next century! Over my dead body—or yours—you—”

Bel was so mad it was stuttering, a phenomenon Miles had never seen in seven years’ acquaintance including combat.

“So Betan,” smirked Ryoval.

“Stop it, Ry,” growled Fell.

Ryoval sighed. “Oh, very well. But it’s so easy.”

Miles bids them farewell.  Ryoval reiterates his invitation, as a more cosmopolitan sort than his friend.  Miles declines again, and Ryoval says it’s a shame to miss their fascinating dog-and-dwarf act…  Miles and Bel retreat, and one of Fell’s guards escorts them out.

Back on the Ariel, Bel apologizes for losing his temper; Miles says that Ryoval, who’s much older than that body, was just toying with them.  Bel goes on to castigate himself for his poor showing with Nicol.  Miles commiserates, but thinks that they don’t have the manpower to really do anything to help the quaddie, if Fell is really that committed to keeping her.  He then begins to wonder where the scientist they’re supposed to pick up has gotten to.

The intercom bleeps, and Bel answers is; Nicol is at the docking hatch asking to see it.  She is escorted inside, traveling in a float chair, which seems to have been customized just for her.  Bel greets her affably, but Nicol is all business, asking Bel to confirm that he is a mercenary, and sympathetic to her plight.  Miles points out she got herself into the situation, and Nicol says she intends to get herself out.  She says that while Baron Fell is formidable protector, he’s dying, or convinced that he is.  He had a clone-body prepared, but it was assassinated two months ago by parties unknown, though his half-brother Baron Ryoval, is a prime suspect.

Nicol says she wants to buy passage out with them.  She can’t leave openly, because of the contract she signed with Baron Fell back on Earth; she can’t buy it out without the Baron’s consent, and it won’t expire for five more years.  Her living expenses seem to be going up, so she’d rather try to buy her way out now than wait while her bankroll decreases.  She’d been promised help with her music career which has never materialized, and she doesn’t want to end up down on the planet.

She paused. “Are you afraid of Baron Fell?”

“No!” said Thorne, as Miles said, “Yes.” They exchanged a sardonic look.

“We are inclined to be careful of Baron Fell,” Miles suggested. Thorne shrugged agreement.

Nicol offers them a wad of money, probably a couple of thousand Betan dollars.  Miles remember all that he owes to Bel, and gives Bel permission to do the negotations.  Bel says that the price isn’t quite right, and picks only a single Betan dollar off the stack.  Miles says that he demands a veto if they can’t do this in secret.

Miles is awakened from sleep a few hours later to be notified of an urgent call from a man on the planet who says his name is Vaughn.  This is a code name which means he’s the man they’re supposed to pick up, a Dr. Canaba.  Miles finds out that he’s still on the surface, instead of on the space station, and says there’s a problem.  He’s reluctant to talk about it over an insecure channel, but he says he’s lost something which he needs to bring with him, some samples which he’s sure Miles’s employers will want.  Miles, who knows more about what his employers at ImpSec want than Canaba imagines, is skeptical, but Canaba insists, refusing to leave without them.  Miles agrees to meet him on the planet, though he objects to the extra risk.

Miles and Bel meet Canaba down on the planet in a cold, snowy little park, with two Dendarii guards; he leads them into an abandoned building which he thinks is unmonitored, which Bel confirms.  Miles asks Canaba about his motivations in leaving his comfortable job for House Bharaputra, insisting that he needs to know about what Canaba wants before he can commit to protecting Canaba with any confidence.

Canaba says that what appealed to him about Jackson’s Whole was the ability to work unfettered of inconvenient legalities, but he began to resent the work that the Bharaputrans kept requiring him to do, interrupting his own research.  No other first-rate scientists, just hacks, and many of Canaba’s discoveries languish in obscurity because House Bharaputra doesn’t think them profitable enough, and he can’t publish his work.

He stopped, lowered his head. “I doubtless sound like a megalomaniac to you.”

“Ah . . .” said Miles, “you sound quite frustrated.”

“The frustration,” said Canaba, “woke me from a long sleep. Wounded ego—it was only wounded ego. But in my pride, I rediscovered shame. And the weight of it stunned me, stunned me where I stood. Do you understand? Does it matter if you understand? Ah!” He paced away to the wall, and stood facing it, his back rigid.

“Uh,” Miles scratched the back of his head ruefully, “yeah. I’d be glad to spend many fascinating hours listening to you explain it to me—on my ship. Outbound.”

Canaba says he needs someone with Miles’s practical mind right now.  He had seven gene-complexes, for curing diseases, for improving oxygen generation in algae…and one that may be the only surviving sample, brought by a mysterious man to a Bharaputran lab which ended up destroyed by mysterious offworlders.  Miles realizes that this must be Terrence Cee’s telepathy gene complex, which of course Elli had already brought back a copy of, and so is already on Barrayar, but if the others are near the same potential, Miles’s boss Simon Illyan will not want Miles to let them slip through his fingers.

Canaba said he’d hidden the dormant samples inside a live organism where he didn’t think they’d be discovered.  Miles asks why he didn’t just put them in his own body, and Canaba realizes that would have been smarter, but too late now.  He says the organism was an attempt to create a super-soldier for a foreign government, given to House Bharaputra because House Ryoval tended to specialize in one-offs rather than armies.  They blended animal genes with humans to try to surpass human limitations, but what they ended up with were monsters.

“Tell me,” Miles choked, “were there any actual combat-experienced soldiers on the committee?”

“I assume the client had them. They supplied the parameters,” said Canaba.

Said Thorne in a suffused voice, “I see. They were trying to re-invent the enlisted man.”

They produced ten prototypes, then the clients lost their war.  Only one was still alive, which Ryoval meant to kill before he left, out of mercy, but a few days ago it was sold to House Ryoval, for its uniqueness.  He asks the mercenaries to kill it and retrieve the samples, before he’ll agree to go with them.  Miles agrees, and tells Canaba to report to his ship in 48 hours.  He asks how to recognize it, and Canaba says it’s eight feet tall with fangs (not _his_ idea).  The rest of the body should be destroyed as completely as possible.

“I . . . it might also be best if my future employer didn’t learn about this. They have intense military interests. It might excite them unduly.”

“Oh,” said Miles/Admiral Naismith/Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan of the Barrayaran Imperial Service, “I don’t think you have to worry about that.”

Miles assures Canaba that they’ll be able to handle it, and shoos him out.  He tells Bel that he’ll try to get it without a raid, if at all possible.

Comments

How many Bujold books/stories start with Miles approaching a planet and looking down on it from space?  This one, Cetaganda, possibly Brothers In Arms…not that many, but it seems a bit of a cliche nonetheless.  I guess it’s just like an establishing shot, but for some reason I recalled this one starting at Baron Fell’s reception.

The quaddies were, of course, introduced in Falling Free, which I’m not covering in this Reread for various reasons–it’s too far outside of the timeline, and I don’t like it that much compared to the rest of the series.  Between this story and Diplomatic Immunity, we learn enough about them, as far as I’m concerned.  Interesting to place them and the hermaphrodites as being part of the same uterine-replicator-spawned wave of genetic experimentation.

I’d also forgotten that Terrence Cee’s telepathy genes scored a mention here as well.  Which reminds me that Barrayar does have possession of the telepathy genes right now; does that mean that there’s some little telepaths growing up on Barrayar?  You know, Bujold could seriously start a major plotline involving the telepaths growing up on Barrayar, Athos, and possibly Cetaganda, but I suppose it may not really be her style.  She may just be inclined to quietly forget it.  Besides, she may not want to move forward in the timeline that far…

Baron Ryoval is a nasty piece of work, but then I get the impression that one does not rise to the top of a Jacksonian house by being the nicest.  Baron Fell is affable enough, but has a petty streak to him, and can doubtless be ruthless as well.  Fell, Bharaputra and Ryoval are the Houses I remember encountering the most, at least here and in Mirror Dance, which are where most of the Jackson’s Whole references occur (apart from the Bharaputrans who show up in Kline Station in Ethan of Athos, and whatever random Jacksonians we see in the Hegen Hub in The Vor Game).  Do we ever find out why it’s called Jackson’s Whole, by the way?  Who’s Jackson?  Why “Whole”?  It’d be nice to see some kind of canonical explanation for it sometime.


Approximately one-third of the way through, now, but we’re still just setting up the central plot of the story.  Nicol is just a subplot, though an important one nonetheless.  Next week I should, hopefully, be back on schedule, unless my long weekend throws me off, but I’ll try not to let  it.

Read Full Post »