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Posts Tagged ‘Gregor Vorbarra’

Welcome back, one mo’ time, to the good ol’, down-home, fresh-baked, fat-free, low-cholesterol Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  It’s always a pleasure to see so many bright and smiling faces comin’ by here to see what I’ve managed to whip up out of nothin’ more than a couple of chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, as we find out what the rascally Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends, have been up to this week.  And speakin’ of this week, that’s right now!  So why don’t you set yourself down and dig in to a helping of Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen of A Civil Campaign, where things actually get kinda physically excitin’ for our heroes…

Chapter Seventeen

Pym admits Ekaterin to Vorkosigan House; he pages Miles, who says he’s up in the attic of the north wing, and tells Pym to send Ekaterin up, he has something she’d like to see.  He escorts her to the lift tube and up to the fifth floor, into an enormous attic.  Some of the attic contents are the usual–shabby furniture, empty picture frames, and other detritus–but past then it gets into old weapons, horse gear, and uniforms.

Miles is digging through a few tunks of flimsies, apparently sorting them; Ekaterin says he wasn’t exaggerating when he told her the attics were worth seeing.  Miles says that when Duv Galeni came up here, he turned back into a history professor, gibbering over how little of this was catalogued.  Ekaterin lets him ramble on, unwilling to destroy his mood with her news.  He shows her a bag of what he says are Cetagandan scalps–given to his grandfather, he says, by his guerrillas, so of course he couldn’t just dispose of them.  Ekaterin asks what they could possible do with them; Miles muses that Gregor could send them back to the Cetagandans, with elaborate apologies, as a subtle diplomatic insult.

Then he gets out what he really wanted to show her–an old lady’s saddle, which he said originally belonged to General Piotr’s wife, Olivia Vorbarra Vorkosigan.  He said the riding tradition has kind of lapsed in their family–his parents weren’t that interested, and he hasn’t time himself in years; Ekaterin says she rode as a child, a pony that her great-aunt kept, but not much since.  Miles says he’s thinking of reconditioning the saddle and putting it back into use, but Ekaterin protests that it should be in a museum.

“Ah—I had this same argument with Duv. It wasn’t just hand-made, it was custom-made, especially for the Princess. Probably a gift from my grandfather. Imagine the fellow, not just a worker but an artist, selecting the leather, piecing and stitching and carving. I picture him hand-rubbing in the oil, thinking of his work used by his Countess, envied and admired by her friends, being part of this—this whole work of art that was her life.” His finger traced the leaves around the initials.

Her guess of its value kept ratcheting up in time to his words. “For heaven’s sake get it appraised first!”

“Why? To loan to a museum? Don’t need to set a price on my grandmother for that. To sell to some collector to hoard like money? Let him hoard money, that’s all that sort wants anyway. The only collector who’d be worthy of it would be someone who was personally obsessed with the Princess-and-Countess, one of those men who fall hopelessly in love across time. No. I owe it to its maker to put it to its proper use, the use he intended.”

The weary straitened housewife in her—Tien’s pinchmark spouse—was horrified. The secret soul of her rang like a bell in resonance to Miles’s words. Yes. That was how it should be. This saddle belonged under a fine lady, not under a glass cover. Gardens were meant to be seen, smelled, walked through, grubbed in. A hundred objective measurements didn’t sum the worth of a garden; only the delight of its users did that. Only the use made it mean something. How had Miles learned that? For this alone I could love you . . .

He says he should get back into riding, for exercise if nothing else, and invites her to join him.  Ekaterin says she can’t, and ruthlessly, before he can try to persuade her, before she loses her will entirely, tells him the story of her family visit.  She expresses her exasperation at how they wouldn’t listen to her, taking Alexi Vormoncrief’s word over her own, along with their own perceptions of the “decadence” of the capital.  She said she had to go along, or lose custody of Nikki.  It occurred to her later to wonder if ImpSec would step in rather than let Vassily take Nikki away, but Miles said that they’d probably think Nikki safer on a military base in any case.  If they did do anything to stop it, they’d probably do it in a way that just enhanced the murder “cover story”.

Ekaterin wonders if somebody convinced Alexi to send the letter, hoping to have just that result.  Miles suggests that it would be better if her uncle could deal with the issue inside the family, but he’s not due back until the wedding, assuming that his technical matters on Komarr don’t take too long.  Miles says that if it does come to court, it’ll be in Vorbretten’s District, and he can try to get René to help, assuming he’s still Count at that point; Ekaterin says she’d rather avoid it entirely.  Miles reassures her that, after the Council of Counts vote in two days, the slander should die down with its political motivation…or so he hopes.

“I shouldn’t have suggested putting you in quarantine till my mourning year was over. I should have tried Vassily on Winterfair first. I thought of that too late. But I can’t risk Nikki, I just can’t. Not when we’ve come so far, survived so much.”

“Sh, now. I think your instincts are right. My grandfather had an old cavalry saying: `You should get over heavy ground as lightly as you can.’ We’ll just lie low for a little while here so as not to rile poor Vassily. And when your uncle gets back, he’ll straighten the fellow out.” He glanced up at her, sideways. “Or, of course, you could simply not see me for a year, eh?”

“I should dislike that exceedingly,” she admitted.

“Ah.” One corner of his mouth curled up. After a little pause, he said, “Well, we can’t have that, then.”

“But Miles, I gave my word. I didn’t want to, but I did.”

“Stampeded into it. A tactical retreat is not a bad response to a surprise assault, you know. First you survive. Then you choose your own ground. Then you counterattack.”

Ekaterin fights an urge to give in to his physical closeness.  Miles admits he’d forgotten about Vassily on his list of people whose opinions mattered.  He explains to her what his father said about reputation and honour.  Ekaterin talks about how she became an oathbreaker, inside, after she made the decision to leave Tien, but she still has to go on somehow; most people, even her aunt, tell her that it was okay because Tien was an ass.  Miles says he knows exactly how she feels, though.

“In my experience,” he said, “the trouble with oaths of the form, death before dishonor, is that eventually, given enough time and abrasion, they separate the world into just two sorts of people: the dead, and the forsworn. It’s a survivor’s problem, this one.”

“Yes,” she agreed quietly. He knows. He knows it all, right down to that bitter muck of regret at the bottom of the soul’s well. How does he know?

He tells her the truth about his discharge from ImpSec, for falsifying reports, rather than for medical reasons.  He’d been so desperate to hold onto Admiral Naismith, and he’d gotten into a habit of “lie now, fix it later”.  Which didn’t work with his seizures, and it didn’t work with her either.  Ekaterin gives him a single squeeze, and agrees with him about the difficulty of overcoming old habits.  Miles tells her then how he killed his grandfather, failing out of his entrance exams.

“Of course,” she said dryly, “you were the cause. It couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with his being nearly a hundred years old.”

“Yeah, sure, I know.” Miles shrugged, and gave her a sharp look up from under his dark brows. “The same way you know Tien’s death was an accident.”

“Miles,” she said, after a long, thoughtful pause, “are you trying to one-up my dead?”

Taken aback, his lips began to form an indignant denial, which weakened to an, “Oh.” He gently thumped his forehead on her shoulder as if beating his head against a wall. When he spoke again, his ragging tone did not quite muffle real anguish. “How can you stand me? I can’t even stand me!”

I think that was the true confession. We are surely come to the end of one another.

Ekaterin notes that she has, as Kareen would say, a “Thing” about oaths.  She asks how, forsworn as he was, he could bring himself to take oath again, as an Imperial Auditor.  Miles says that his honour came with a reset button, and she is startled into laughter, which feels like it’s bringing light into her soul.  He tells her that a wise woman told him once “You just go on”, which in his opinion is what all the rest of the advice boils down to.

He’s taken her hand in his, and she is almost overwhelmed by his physical proximity, but she is determined not to start any physical intimacy with him, when she’s supposed to be giving him up.  Deliberately pulling a little apart, she asks him if he thinks Alexi’s ploy is a trap.  Miles tells her about what happened with Richars, how he’d attempted to blackmail Miles into going along, and instead Miles threw all his weight behind Dono.  As a result, if Richars does become Count, he’ll be obliged to follow through on his threat to press charges, although he may wait until after the Imperial wedding.  If it does go to court, Richars will probably be unable to prove anything, but Miles won’t be able to produce proof on his side either–but before the charge is eventually dismissed, things could get ugly, for Ekaterin as well as himself.

Miles notes that another way to avert the problem would be to not vote against Richars–maybe even abstaining wouldn’t be enough, he might have to actively vote for Richars.  He admits that Gregor and ImpSec have not asked him to do that, but he thought he’d offer it to her; after some thought, she says they’d both have to reset their honour after that one.  Miles says it doesn’t look like Dono has enough votes, just so she knows; she says she’s satisfied that he has Miles’s.

Ekaterin asks him the last time he used his seizure stimulator, and Miles admits it’s been a while.  Ekaterin sternly admonishes him to use it that night, so he doesn’t get struck down in the middle of the vote, and he humbly accedes.  He offers her a ride home, and ends up accompanying her; they keep scrupulously to small talk.

Ivan is serving at a reception for Komarran guests at Vorhartung Castle, squiring around Laisa’s aunt.  It’s meant as a celebration of the soletta array repairs as much as for the arrival of Laisa’s guests.  Once he manages to get rid of Aunt Anna, he manages to withdraw.  He bumps into Cassia Vorgorov, recently engaged to Count Vortashpula’s heir; Count Falco Vorpatril, nearby, twits Ivan about having missed his chance yet again, since Cassia apparently used to have a crush on him.  Ivan asserts that he chooses to play the field, and bows politely to Count Vorhalas, who is wooing the notoriously fence-sitting Count Vorpatril’s vote.

Miles arrives, looking a little tired, and, to Ivan’s relief, doesn’t seem to be seeking volunteers for some hare-brained scheme.  He greets the two Counts; Falco asks if he’s going to the reception at Vorsmyth House, and Miles says he’ll be with Gregor’s party…unless they want to discuss Lord Dono’s suit again.  Falco says the Progressives will just have to give up on that one, and be satisfied with the soletta repairs bill.  Miles says he can’t wait for this vote to be over, before departing.

Vorhalas notes that Miles’s looks unwell; Falco says it’s probably due to his old troubles, but Ivan says it’s probably due to his more recent injuries on duty–one of his seizures, he expects.  Vorhalas asks about the rumour about Miles and Ekaterin, and Ivan stoutly denies it, and Falco says that Lady Alys did as well.  Vorhalas will only say that he supposes they’ll never know the truth.  Ivan is getting a bit annoyed at all the people asking him, and wonders if Miles is getting as bad, or if more people are asking Ivan because they don’t want to bother him about it.  Falco invites Vorhalas back to Vorpatril House to talk about a potential project, and Vorhalas agrees.

Ivan spots Olivia Koudelka, and consider that while Delia, Kareen and Martya have rejected him, there’s still one who hasn’t.  He starts to chat her up, trying to figure out if she’s with someone; she does seem happy to see someone, but all Ivan sees are Lord Dono and Countess Vormuir, who seem to be sharing a private joke.  Olivia says they’re heading for Vorsmythe House, and Ivan proposes to come along; Olivia offers him a ride, which he accepts.  Lord Dono joins them, proving to be the one offering the ride, which Ivan doesn’t particularly like, but he’s forced to live with it.  Byerly Vorrutyer stops by, refusing the offer of a ride to Vorsmythe’s, but asking for one home from there.
Dono says he’s talked to several of the Counts, but few of them were helpful.  Vorhalas and Vorpatril hadn’t listened to his pitch, and Vorfolse hadn’t even answered his door.  The vote tally is running close, but Dono says it’s still short.  Olivia and By reassure him, and By says that something might still happen.

Ivan ends up sitting between two Armsmen in Dono’s car, with Olivia next to Dono and Szabo.  On the way to Vorsmythe House, Donno suddenly decides to give Vorfolse one more try first.  Vorfolse’s family has had horrible luck in the last century, making bad choices like collaborating with the Cetagandans, and siding with Vordarian during the Pretendership; as a result, they’re quite impoverished, and Vorfolse lives in a small apartment, renting Vorfolse House to an ambitious, rich merchant.  The current Count Vorfolse, as a result, refuses to commit to much of anything, which, Ivan supposes, at least means he’s not a certain vote for Richars…

There’s no parking available for the groundcar, so Dono’s driver drops them off, Ivan perforce getting out too when Olivia does.  Szabo sets up a couple of Armsmen as a guard, and the rest of them enter the building lobby.  Dono buzz Vorfolse’s apartment, and at least gets a response this time.  Dono introduces himself and his companions, and asks to talk about the vote.  Vorfolse refuses, saying that Vorrutyers are all crazy, and he doesn’t care which of them is Count.  Dono points out that if the vote falls short, it’ll have to be redone, and that will doubtless be inconvenient for Vorfolse, and that Richars would also be much less “restful” as a count.  Olivia puts in her own word, and Vorfolse notes that the Vorkosigans must be supporting it, and Miles seems to be very unrestful just now.  He refuses to commit to a vote, but Dono thanks him, noting as they leave that that’s better than some of the responses he’s gotten.  He also gives Vorfolse credit for, at least, not milking his District for funds to support a more lavish lifestyle.

Outside, the car is nowhere to be found; Olivia wonders if somebody else wanted to come in, forcing the driver to leave and come back.  Just then, Ivan hears a familiar sound, as Szabo drops to a stunner beam.  Ivan ducks behind a pillar, Olivia and Dono ducking another way, as the two other Armsmen with him also drop to stunners.  Ivan peers into the darkness, trying to spot their enemies, and wishing he had a stunner of his own.  He overhears two men talking about a third, and tries to make his way out of his refuge before they come after him.  It must be a kidnapping, he thinks, or they wouldn’t be using stunners.

He catches a glimpse of Olivia, and hears a thunk as she takes out an enemy; he is reminded that her mother used to be a bodyguard.  Dono makes a break for it, and the enemies go after him, grabbing him and dragging him towards a liftvan; Ivan manages to snatch one of the felled Armsmen’s stunners.  They want to “do the job” on Dono and dump him as soon as they can, if they can take out the girl and “the big officer”.  Ivan, watching, can’t tell what they’re going to do, but it’s not a kidnapping…  One man bends over Dono with a vibra knife, and Ivan, taking a chance, stuns one of the others and sends the others fleeing behind the van, leaving Dono on the pavement.

Olivia stuns the other two and emerges from cover; they to go to check on Dono.  Olivia exclaims to find him soaked in blood, but Dono says they only cut his leg.  She improvises a bandage torn from her party dress to try to stop the bleeding, while Ivan drags their stunned foes into a heap.

Olivia now had Dono half sitting up, his head cradled between her breasts as she anxiously stroked his dark hair. Dono was pale and shaking, his breathing disrupted.

“Take a punch in the solar plexus, did you?” Ivan inquired.

“No. Further down,” Dono wheezed. “Ivan . . . do you remember, whenever one of you fellows got kicked in the nuts and went over, doing sports or whatever, how I laughed? I’m sorry. I never knew. I’m sorry . . .”

The bleeding seems to be slowing.  Ivan finds a bottle of liquid bandage nearby, and says that they must have been trying to undo Dono’s sex change operation, hoping to disqualify him before the vote.  Without anesthetic, but with the intention of leaving him alive.  Dono says it’s probably Richars.  Ivan says that however he feels about what Dono did, this is just wrong.  Dono says he hasn’t even used his new genitalia yet, wanting to be a “virgin” on his wedding night.  Ivan goes to check on the others–the one Olivia downed doesn’t look to be in good shape, but Szabo and the others seem like they’ll be okay.  He goes down the street and finds Dono’s groundcar, the driver stunned; he backs it carefully up to where Dono and Olivia are.

He asks Dono if he recognizes any of the goons, which he doesn’t.  Ivan and Olivia load them into their own van, and Dono’s Armsmen into the groundcar.  Olivia and Dono take the groundcar, and Ivan the lift van; Ivan tells them to head for Vorpatril House.

Comments

Not much to say about the Miles and Ekaterin scene, except that the increased honesty between them does seem to be drawing them together.  As well as shared adversity, placing them back to back against a common enemy, as it were.

Ivan the oblivious once again fails to clue in that the girl he’s latched onto is not into him at all.  We don’t get nearly as much screen time with Olivia as we do with her sisters, but it’s apparent that she’s become attached to Dono already.  Still, it’s lucky for Dono that Ivan came along–without him, it would have ended up just Olivia against Dono’s assailants.  It took me a second to recognize Ivan when the thugs were referring to “that big officer”–I guess Ivan is supposed to kind of big, at that.

The book, being mostly about relationships and such, is a little short on actual action scenes, but near the end, they start to show up a bit.  The attempted assault on Dono is probably the biggest one, but the next chapter has a couple more, as I recall…

Chapter Eighteen

Miles arrives early at the Counts’ Chamber, but finds René Vorbretten is there even before him.  René is not optimistic, saying that they’re close, but don’t have quite enough votes.  Miles tries to reassure him, telling him that anyone could change their mind at the last minute, but René points out that that works both ways.  Miles wishes for a little more redundancy in future, and almost wishes for a good honest shootout.  Miles says he thinks he secured Vorgarin’s vote for René, if not necessarily for Dono.  René said that Dono never showed up at Vorsmythe’s; Byerly had been looking for him, and eventually left to try to find him.  Miles wonders if Dono had been assassinated, but reassures himself that he would have heard by now, if so.

As more people start to arrive, René asks what they’ll do if Dono doesn’t show up.  Miles assures him that the Conservatives will also want to wait for all their Counts to show up, and since some of them will be delayed indefinitely, they’ll be forced to filibuster as long as they can, though Miles will willingly stretch it out too, if he needs to.  Miles hopes that Dono is not just reverting to Lady Donna’s habit of arriving fashionable late.  Eventually he calls Pym and asks him to try to find Dono, and do anything he can to help get him to the vote on time.  Richars shows up, dressed as Count Vorrutyer already, and pays Miles a visit.

“They say,” Richars growled to him in an undervoice, not concealing rage quite so well, Miles fancied, “that an honest politician is one who stays bought. It seems you don’t qualify, Vorkosigan.”

“You should choose your enemies more wisely,” Miles breathed back.

Richars grunted. “So should you. I don’t bluff. As you’ll find out before this day is over.” He stalked away to confer with the group of men now clustered around Vormoncrief’s desk.

More Counts arrive, and Miles makes a few last-minute visits to canvass for Dono and René again.  Gregor arrives with a minute to spare, and the session officially begins.  As Miles had predicted, Conservative Counts start exercising their two-minute speaking rights, drawing it out as long as they can get away with; everyone starts settling in for a long wait.

Ekaterin is dismayed to answer her door and find Vassily and Hugo there again.  She stops herself from protesting that she’s been following their rules, and merely asks what they want.  They ask to come in, on an urgent matter, and, grudgingly, Ekaterin lets them in.  Vassily tells her that he wants to get Nikki out of the capital as soon as possible.  He says it’s nothing to do with what Ekaterin has or hasn’t done, but he has new information, this time confirmed by Lord Richars Vorrutyer himself.  Once Richars is voted in as Count, he’ll lay a murder charge against Miles, and then, he predicts, the capital will doubtless erupt into open fighting.  Aunt Vorthys and Nikki come in to see what’s going on, greeting the visitors uncertainly.

Hugo gave her a respectful nod of greeting, and continued heavily, “I have to agree with Ekaterin, but it only supports Vassily’s worries. I can’t imagine what has possessed Vorrutyer to make such a move while Aral Vorkosigan himself is in town. You’d think he’d at least have the sense wait till the Viceroy returned to Sergyar before attacking his heir.”

“Aral Vorkosigan!” cried Ekaterin. “Do you really think Gregor will blithely accept this assault on one of his chosen Voices? Not to mention look forgivingly on someone trying to start a huge public scandal two weeks before his wedding . . . ! Richars isn’t a fool, he’s mad.” Or acting in some kind of blind panic, but what did Richars have to be panicked about?

Vassily reminds her what happened during Vordarian’s Pretendership, and says he wants to get Nikki safe before it’s impossible to leave Vorbarr Sultana.  Ekaterin tries to convince him that even during the Pretendership it wasn’t that violent everywhere, but Vassily insists they have to go, and urges Ekaterin and Madame Vorthys to evacuate as well, especially since Ekaterin has already drawn Miles’s attention.  Ekaterin says that he’s making a big deal over nothing–Richars might not even win the Countship–but they can’t conceive that Dono’s suit could possibly succeed, and in any case Vassily is unwilling to risk it.

Nikki tries to reassure his relatives that Miles didn’t kill Tien, but Vassily says that there’s no way to know for sure, and Nikki is obviously unsure how much of what the Emperor told him he’s allowed to share.  Ekaterin says that ImpSec is surely on top of any activity in the capital, this close to the wedding, and will stop any unrest before it starts.

Vassily tells Nikki to get his things and get ready to go.  Nikki looks to his mother, and she decides that she has no obligation to make things any easier for Vassily, so she says nothing.

Vassily reached for Nikki’s hand. Nikki dodged around Ekaterin, and cried, “Mama, I don’t have to go, do I? I was supposed to go to Arthur’s tonight! I don’t want to go with Vassily!” His voice was edged with sharp distress.

Vassily inhaled, and attempted to recover his balance and his dignity. “Madame, control your child!”

She stared at him for a long moment. “Why, Vassily,” she said at last, her voice silky, “I thought you were revoking my authority over Nikki. You certainly don’t seem to trust my judgment for his safety and well-being. How shall I control him, then?”

Aunt Vorthys, catching the nuance, winced; Hugo, father of three, also got it. She had just given Nikki tacit permission to go to his limit. Bachelor Vassily missed the curve.

Vassily tells Nikki they have to catch the train, and threatens to carry him; Nikki says that he’ll scream, and tell everyone this man isn’t his father, and is kidnapping him.  Vassily tries to grab Nikki, but he dodges out of the way.  Hugo tries to convince Nikki to come with him and visit his cousins instead; Nikki hesitates, but Vassily makes another try then, grabbing Nikki’s arm.  Nikki yells out in pretended pain and Vassily relaxes his grip, allowing Nikki to make his way up the stairs.  He shouts back at them that he doesn’t want to go, and they’ll be sorry they made his mama unhappy.

Vassily chases him up the stairs, Hugo following more slowly.  Nikki locks himself in his uncle’s study and Vassily tells at him to open the door.  He asks Ekaterin for help, and Ekaterin says that the only man she ever knew who could talk Nikki out of a locked room doesn’t happen to be there.  Hugo suggests waiting for him to get hungry, but Madame Vorthys says Nikki knows where his uncle keeps his store of cookies.  Ekaterin refuses to let Vassily break down the door, or help him take apart the hinges, and neither she nor her aunt point out that there is a back door through a bathroom off the next room.

“I hear two voices. Who in the world could he be calling on the comconsole?” asked Vassily, in a dismissive tone that didn’t invite an answer.

Suddenly, Ekaterin thought she knew. Her breath caught. “Oh,” she said faintly, “dear.” Aunt Vorthys stared at her.

For a hysterical moment, Ekaterin considered dashing around and diving through the alternate doors, to shut down the comconsole before it was too late. But the echo of a laughing voice drifted through her mind . . . Let’s see what happens.

Yes. Let’s.

Back at the Council of Counts, Miles waits while more Conservatives drone on.  Gregor’s Armsman comes out and speaks to the Emperor; Gregor them summons the Lord Guardian of the Speaker’s Circle to have a quick word, and then disappears behind the dais.  Miles wonders what’s going on, but supposes that Gregor just needs a bathroom break.  He calls Pym again, who tells him that Lord Dono had only arrived at Vorrutyer House about an hour ago, but Captain Vorpatril is escorting him to the vote as they speak.

Gregor returns after a couple of minutes, and gives Miles an odd, exasperated look, before returning to impassively watching the speakers.  Miles checks for missing Counts–Vortugalov, as Lady Alys had promised, but also Counts Vormuir, Vorpatril, Vorfolse, and Vorhalas.  Most or all of those were expected to be Conservative votes, so Miles wouldn’t miss them much.

In Vorkosigan House, Enrique is inventorying the returned Vorkosigan butter bugs, and announces that only nine are missing, which is acceptable, especially since the queen had been returned by Jankowski’s daughter the night before.  He takes the queen out and offers to let Martya pet her; the queen hisses in what Enrique insists is a sound of happiness.

Privately, Kareen thought any man whose idea of a good time was to feed, pet, and care for a creature that mainly responded to his worship with hostile noises was going to get along great with Martya.

Kareen is trying to figure out what to call their various proposed butter bug food products.  The house is very quiet, most of its inhabitants either with Miles, or with his parents at a political breakfast.  Even Ma Kosti has gone with Mark to look at a prospective packaging plant.  Kareen had spent his first night at Vorkosigan House with Mark, and everyone was perfectly civilized about it, and she’s quite happy about that.

A maidservant knocks on the door, telling them that they have visitors.  Two rumpled-looking men in Escobaran suits–one of them quite large–enter and greet Enrique, delighted to have finally found him.  The thin man, Parole Officer Oscar Gustioz, tells Enrique he’s under arrest for fraud, grand theft, and bond jumping.  Enrique protests that they can’t arrest him on Barrayar, and Gustioz brandishes a file folder, showing him all of the manifold permissions he has managed to get signed, including for all eighteen intervening jump points, which has taken him a month to get.  He tells Enrique to pack one bag, because he means to be offplanet within the hour.

Kareen says, in confusion, that they paid Enrique’s bond, but Gustioz explains that that didn’t mean that they could take him offplanet with them.  Martya asks why they’re not arrest Mark, and Gustioz said he’d love to, but he has diplomatic immunity, and merely mentioning the name ‘Vorkosigan’ results in stonewalling from every bureaucrat he encountered.  Kareen protests that they can’t just take Enrique away, they need him for their new company–it’ll all collapse without his genius.  Gustioz, unconcerned, says he can and will, and he hopes that he goes to jail on Escobar for a very long time. He though it would only take a couple of weeks, and it’s been two months instead…  It even took him forty minutes to get past the ImpSec guard at the gate, showing him every page.

Martya asks if any of the Armsmen are around, but Pym and Jankowski are out, and Roic was on night shift, and is still asleep.  She sends the maid to wake him up anyway and get him down here.  Gustioz tells the big man, Muno, to grab Enrique; Martya grabs him too, in a tug of war.  Kareen trips Muno with a meter stick, and as he falls he knocks the Barrayaran butter bugs loose again.

The stainless steel box flipped into the air. One-hundred-ninety-two astonished brown-and-silver butter bugs were launched in a vast chittering madly fluttering trajectory out over the lab. Since butter bugs had the aerodynamic capacity of tiny bricks, they rained down upon the struggling humans, and crunch-squished underfoot. The hutch clanged to the floor, along with Muno. Gustioz, attempting to shield himself from this unexpected air assault, lost his grip on his folder; colorfully-stamped documents joined butter bugs in fluttering flight. Enrique howled like a man possessed. Muno just screamed, frantically batted bugs off himself, and tried to climb up on the lab stool.

“Now see what you’ve done!” Kareen yelled at the Escobaran officers. “Vandalism! Assault! Destruction of property! Destruction of a Vor lord’s property, on Barrayar itself! Are you in trouble now!”

Martya tells the Escobarans that the bugs are poisonous, though Enrique spoils her ploy by hotly denying it.  Muno grabs Enrique again, more successfully this time, and he and Gustioz drag him out of the lab, not even giving him time to pack his one bag.  Kareen and Martya, desperate to keep them from getting away, notice the teetering stacks of bug butter tubs, grab one each, and prepare to fling them.

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More action scenes!  Vassily Vorsoisson chasing Nikki around the house!  Escobaran bail bondsmen managing, against insurmountable odds, to track down Enrique, with all of the necessary paperwork in hand, and then fending off his outraged Barrayaran defenders!  It’s all very exciting, and after all these pages of, well, much less action, it’s a delightful change.  In fact, Miles, who aches to doing something more active than sitting and waiting in the Council of Counts, is the one who’s left sitting on his hands.  Probably because, after what happened to Vorwhatsisname at the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice, bringing a weapon into the council chamber, nobody wants to try that again.

The intercutting between Miles and Ekaterin is quite well done, because, by this point, you should have enough information to guess just who Nikki might be calling for help on that comconsole, and seeing Gregor duck into his private chamber is just confirmation for it.  Actually, Miles is not only sitting on his hands, he’s also out of the loop.  He doesn’t know what’s going on with Ekaterin and Nikki, he doesn’t know what’s going on with Enrique and the Escobarans, and he doesn’t even really know what’s going on with Ivan and Lord Dono.  I guess he’s adjusted to his new sedentary life as an Imperial Auditor, not having to rush about and do things all the time; he can just let other people do things for him now.  Well, no, it’s more just an artifact of this book’s ensemble cast, giving them all something to do–but it is true that Miles has been less active than usual this book.  Next book should more than make up for it, I’d think.


Looks like I miscounted last time, or rather was misled by looking at the table of contents for Miles In Love rather than A Civil Campaign itself, which of course has “Winterfair Gifts” wedged in at the end.  So, rather than there being three more chapters after this, there is, in fact, only one more chapter and an epilogue.  So, one more week to finish this book off!  I haven’t decided if I’ll take a week before and after “Winterfair Gifts”, but I wouldn’t rule it out at this point.

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Hello, and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where again the Muse of Witty Blog Post Openings has forsaken me for the night.  (Tries to come up with a clever name for such a muse–Scalziope? Nah…)  Anyway, for those who are arriving in the middle, this is where I go through the chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s outstandingly awesome Vorkosigan Saga, reread them, summarize them, and then try to make erudite-sounding comments on them.  (If you are arriving in the middle, and you haven’t actually read Bujold’s books, then for heaven’s sake go and do that.  What are you waiting for?)  This week I cover two more chapters (which would seem more heroic if I didn’t do it so often, but some weeks it feels heroic), Chapter Fifteen and Chapter Sixteen, of A Civil Campaign, in which Nikki has an important chat with Miles’s friend Gregor, Ekaterin isn’t particularly happy to receive a visit from some relatives, and Cordelia tries to straighten out the Koudelkas with the aid of some old furniture.

Chapter Fifteen

Lord Auditor Vorthys bids farewell to his wife, while Ekaterin and Nikki wait; after he accompanies them to the palace, he’s heading directly to Komarr to work on some matters to do with the earlier investigation.  She had been unprepared, last night, for when he told her that Miles’s friend with authority to talk about the matter was actually Emperor Gregor himself, who could understand Nikki’s loss of a father because of what happened to Prince Serg in the ill-fated Escobar invasion.  She’s almost glad she hadn’t known before, or she probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with it.

They drive off in the groundcar–which Ekaterin now realizes is heavily armoured, and driven by an ImpSec chauffeur, because her uncle also moves in those rarefied levels.  Uncle Vorthys reassures Nikki that he’ll be fine, and Gregor is a good fellow; he reassures Ekaterin as well.  It’s not long before they’re at the Imperial Residence, where they are swiftly admitted and led through to the north wing.

Uncle Vorthys seemed indifferent to the museum-quality décor; he’d trod this corridor dozens of times to deliver his personal reports to the ruler of three worlds. Miles had lived here till he was six, he’d said. Had he been oppressed by the somber weight of this history, or had he regarded it all as his personal play set? One guess.

They are ushered into a large office where Miles and the Emperor are waiting for them.  Miles cuts off what he was saying as Ekaterin and the others enter, and greets them stiffly.  The Professor presents his relatives, and Gregor greets Ekaterin with a firm handshake, and Nikki the same, apologizing for the circumstances of the meeting, and hoping that they will have happier ones later.  Ekaterin notes that Gregor seems to look at and really see her, which is both heartening and unnerving.  Gregor invites them to sit down, and they do, Ekaterin and Nikki across him, Vorthys between them, Miles off to one side, seemingly at ease, though Ekaterin somehow guesses he’s more tense than he seems.

Gregor tells Nikki that Miles asked him to talk to Nikki about the rumours surrounding his father’s death.  Vorthys grumbled that if it hadn’t been for those “gabbling fools” talking about it, they wouldn’t have had to drag him into it at all.  Gregor starts out with a caution–Vorthys, by dint of his job, has a high level of security monitoring, and an alert caused by an unauthorized intruder could bring ImpSec there in less than two minutes.  Ekaterin mutters about Vormoncrief, and Gregor says that he was, unfortunately, a known visitor.  He tells Nikki that, after this conversation, he will himself be monitored more closely by ImpSec–not much different than what would happen in the Vorthys household, or Lord Vorkosigan’s.  Any travel onplanet or off would have to be cleared with security, and he will have to go to a more exclusive school.  They will, of course, be more protected from casual criminals, which means any that they do encounter are likely to be much more professional and dangerous.

Ekaterin caught her breath. “Miles didn’t mention that part.”

“I daresay Miles didn’t even think about it. He’s lived under exactly this sort of security screen most of his life. Does a fish think about water?”

Ekaterin darted a glance at Miles. He had a very odd look on his face, as though he’d just bounced off a force wall he hadn’t known was there.

“Off-planet travel.” Nikki seized on the one item in this intimidating list of importance to him. “But . . . I want to be a jump pilot.”

“By the time you are old enough to study for a jump pilot, I expect the situation will have changed,” said Gregor. “This applies mainly to the next few years. Do you still want to go on?”

They wait for Nikki’s response; he says he wants to know.  Gregor says that his questions will be answered, but warns him that he will leave with more questions, and these ones they will be unable to answer for him, for his own safety.  Finally he asks Nikki to swear, by his name’s word, to hold this conversation in confidence.  Nikki, earnestly, swears the oath, he and Ekaterin both mesmerized by Gregor’s quiet intensity.

Gregor starts with the plain explanation of his father’s death.  He tells Nikki that Miles and Tien met some thieves at the experiment station, who stunned the two men and chained them up outside the station.  The thieves didn’t know that Tien’s reservoirs were low, and so didn’t intend his death–it was an accident, manslaughter, not murder.  Nikki says that, then, Miles couldn’t share his breath mask because they were tied up; Miles confirms this, showing how far apart they were, and revealing the scars on his wrists.

Gregor says there’s more, and Ekaterin silently pleads with him to stop here.  His mother wouldn’t tell Nikki this, he says, but his father had been taking bribes from the thieves.  He’d wanted to become an Imperial Witness, which is why they’d gone out there; the thieves had been angry at his betrayal, which is why they’d chained them up, leaving data proving his guilt taped to his back.  They’d called Ekaterin to pick them up, but too late.  Gregor says that there’s other things about the thieves which make all of this a state secret, and tells Nikki the official cover story, which is that the two men got separated and Miles didn’t find Tien until after he’d suffocated.

“If anyone thinks Lord Vorkosigan had something to do with your da’s death, we are not going to argue with them. You may state that it’s not true and that you don’t wish to discuss it. But don’t let yourself be drawn into disputes.”

“But . . .” said Nikki, “but that’s not fair!”

“It’s hard,” said Gregor, “but it’s necessary. Fair has nothing to do with it. To spare you the hardest part, your mama and uncle and Lord Vorkosigan told you the cover story, and not the real one. I can’t say they were wrong to do so.”

His eye and Miles’s caught each other in a steady gaze; Miles’s eyebrows inched up in a quizzical look, to which Gregor returned a tiny ironic nod. The Emperor’s lips thinned in something that was not quite a smile.

Gregor says the thieves are in prison, and jsutice has been done.  If Tien had been alive, he’d be in prison now too, but death cancels all debts.  Ekaterin thinks that this a hard thing to tell Nikki, to destroy his father’s honour in his eyes, but then thinks that it could be worse, if he’d known how cowardly and venal Tien had been, scrambling to escape the consequences of his choices.  But it doesn’t change the fact that he lost his father.

Nikki asks Miles what his two mistakes were.  Miles said he’d neglected to call his security backup when he left the dome, and then he was a second too late in drawing his stunner.  Nikki examines Miles’s wrists again, asks him about his own breath-mask, then sits back.  Gregor asks him if he has any more questions, and Nikki shakes his head.  Gregor then goes to his desk and gives Nikki a code card, which he says will give him access to talk to Gregor if he’s available, in case he has further questions or needs to talk the matter over.

Before the others can get up, Miles says that he’d offered Gregor his resignation, but Gregor had refused it.  Vorthys is surprised, but Miles said that he’d always thought Imperial Auditors should appear honest above all else.  Gregor says that that’s just an ideal–he inherited a couple of “shifty old sticks” from his grandfather, and he doesn’t think that Dorca the Just’s were any better, given the type of people they’d have to be able to stand up to.  Gregor says that if his Counts and Ministers see fit to deal with Miles’s supposed crimes, they’re welcome to, but he won’t do their work for them.  Miles is gratified at the support, but makes one last try, asking if Gregor thinks that he will still want Miles to stand in his wedding circle.  Gregor says that he’ll be there if “General Alys” says he will, and otherwise he won’t get out of his duties that easily–and tells Miles to refer anyone who objects to Lady Alys herself.

Miles could not quite keep the malicious smile off his lips, though he tried valiantly. Fairly valiantly. Some. “I would pay money to watch.” His smile faded again. “But it’s going to keep coming up as long as—”

“Miles.” Gregor’s raised hand interrupted him. His eyes were alight with something between amusement and exasperation. “You have, in-house, possibly the greatest living source of Barrayaran political expertise in this century. Your father’s been dealing with uglier Party in-fighting than this, with and without weapons, since before you were born. Go tell him your troubles. Tell him I said to give you that lecture on honor versus reputation he gave me that time. In fact . . . tell him I request and require it.” His hand-wave, as he rose from his armchair, put an emphatic end to the topic. Everyone rustled to their feet.

Gregor shakes Ekaterin’s hand again, and says that he looks forward to seeing her again when he is less busy.  He says that though they can’t give her more public recognition, he is well aware of the great debt the Imperium owes to her, and says she “may draw upon it at need and at will”.  Ekaterin is taken aback, but thanks him for taking time for them, and Nikki awkwardly follows suit.  Vorthys stays behind to talk to Gregor, and Miles offers to escort them out.  On the way out, Ekaterin says that that was more than she had expected; Miles says he agrees, but he trusts Gregor’s judgement more than anyone else’s.  Gregor also doesn’t think about the water he swims in, and endures great pressures on a daily basis; he overestimates others, and they, in turn, try not to disappoint them.  Nikki says he’s just glad that the Emperor told him the truth.

Back at Vorkosigan House, Miles goes in search of his father, finding him in the library.  He tells his father about the meeting with Gregor; they discuss whether Gregor was right to tell Nikki so much.  Miles admits that anyone questioning Nikki would likely already know as much as him, and the rest is still closely held.  He says he’d thought that Gregor would know, because of his own experiences with learning the truth about Prince Serg, how much to tell about his father’s crimes.  Aral agrees that Prince Serg was a criminal and a madman, and talks about the “lucky shot” that spared Barrayar from him ever becoming Emperor; he’s glad to hear about Gregor’s good judgement about Tien, considering how badly they muffed it with Gregor himself.

“I think he handled Nikki . . . well. At any rate, Nikki won’t experience that sort of late shock to his world. Of course, compared to Serg, Tien wasn’t much worse than foolish and venal. But it was hard to watch. No nine-year-old should have to deal with something this vile, this close to his heart. What will it make him?”

“Eventually . . . ten,” the Count said. “You do what you have to do. You grow or go under. You have to believe he will grow.”

Miles drummed his fingers on the sofa’s padded arm. “Gregor’s subtlety is still dawning on me. By admitting Tien’s peculation, he’s pulled Nikki to the inside with us. Nikki too now has a vested interest in maintaining the cover story, to protect his late da’s reputation. Strange. Which is what brings me to you, by the way. Gregor asks—requests and requires, no less!—you give me the lecture you gave him on honor versus reputation. It must have been memorable.”

Aral, pleased that it stuck with Gregor–you never know if it’s going to, he says–describes it as less of a speech and more of a useful distinction.  “Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.”  The problem comes when the two are not the same.  Miles says that, apart from a few impure thoughts about Ekaterin, and regrets over ineptitude on his part, his honour is fairly clear, so the problem is mostly in the realm of reputation, which feels like he’s being nibbled at by rats.  Aral tells him that it’s worse–soul-destroying–when it’s the other way around, when your reputation soars while your honour lies in pieces.  By comparison, this is mere annoyance, and he offers Miles some consolation.

“First, this too shall pass. Despite the undoubted charms of sex, murder, conspiracy, and more sex, people will eventually grow bored with the tale, and some other poor fellow will make some other ghastly public mistake, and their attention will go haring off after the new game.”

What sex?” Miles muttered in exasperation. “There hasn’t been any sex. Dammit. Or this would all seem a great deal more worthwhile. I haven’t even gotten to kiss the woman yet!”

Aral adds that, after this, no lesser charge will raise eyebrows, so he’ll be able to get away with a lot more, if he wants to.  Also, you can’t control what other people think anyway, so it’s futile to try with every stranger on the street.  He should decide whose opinions matter, and concentrate on those; Miles immediately lists Ekaterin, Nikki, Gregor, and that’s it.  Aral protests at being excluded from the list; Miles says that they’re not sinned against, so he’s not as much in need of their forgiveness.  Aral says that, in the political arena of Vorbarr Sultana, Miles might find an reputation for ruthlessness useful; Miles asks if his father has found the “Butcher of Komarr” sobriquet useful, and Aral admits he made use of it from time to time, since he paid enough for it.  Illyan, he says, has also made use of the reputation he inherited from Captain Negri, and Miles agrees that he can be unnerving, and not just because of Negri’s ghost.

Miles protests that the worst part is that his enemies think him so incompetent that he wouldn’t have done a better job of murder than that.  Aral asks if he ever had to do anything of the sort for ImpSec, and Miles admits that there was one mission, which he doesn’t want to talk about, though more complicated than a simple assassination.  He frets that his father is telling him the same as Galeni, that he just has to suck it up; Aral says he should worry about his honour, not his reputation, and outlast his enemies.

Miles asks about how his father dealt with things like this in his own past, and Aral recalls the way he was suspected of having killed his first wife for infidelity, the faint memory of which, he admits, may not be helping Miles any.  She had killed herself, but after a gigantic blowup between the two of them–he’d been twenty-two, and hadn’t dealt with it very well.  He admits that it was possible his own father had arranged her death, but he never asked.  He dealt with it somewhat poorly, by diving deeper into depravity, trying to outdo the stories, until he became sick of himself and shaped up.  Miles says the strategy doesn’t appeal to him, he has too much to lose.

“So, ah . . . when are we going to be permitted to meet this woman who has had such an invigorating effect on you? Her and her Nikki. Perhaps you might invite them to dinner here soon?”

Miles cringed. “Not . . . not another dinner. Not soon.”

“My glimpse of her was so frustratingly brief. What little I could see was very attractive, I thought. Not too thin. She squished well, bouncing off me.” Count Vorkosigan grinned briefly, at this memory. Miles’s father shared an archaic Barrayaran ideal of feminine beauty that included the capacity to survive minor famines; Miles admitted a susceptibility to that style himself. “Reasonably athletic, too. Clearly, she could outrun you. I would therefore suggest blandishments, rather than direct pursuit, next time.”

“I’ve been trying,” sighed Miles.

The Count regarded his son, half amused, half serious. “This parade of females of yours is very confusing to your mother and me, you know. We can’t tell whether we’re supposed to start bonding to them, or not.”

What parade?” said Miles indignantly. “I brought home one galactic girlfriend. One. It wasn’t my fault things didn’t work out.”

Aral mentions the ones from Illyan’s reports, and Miles is temporarily speechless, not having realized that Illyan had been quite so thorough in those reports.  He says he has told Ekaterin about them all, at least, out of sheer honesty.

“Honesty is the only way with anyone, when you’ll be so close as to be living inside each other’s skins. So . . . is this Ekaterin another passing fancy?” The Count hesitated, his eyes crinkling. “Or is she the one who will love my son forever and fiercely—hold his household and estates with integrity—stand beside him through danger, and dearth, and death—and guide my grandchildren’s hands when they light my funeral offering?”

Miles paused in momentary admiration of his father’s ability to deliver lines like that. It put him in mind of the way a combat drop shuttle delivered pinpoint incendiaries. “That would be . . . that would be Column B, sir. All of the above.” He swallowed. “I hope. If I don’t fumble it again.”

“So when do we get to meet her?” the Count repeated reasonably.

Miles puts him off again, for a little while.  Aral doesn’t pursue the matter, just notes that it’s lucky for Miles that he met Ekaterin when he was old enough to know what he wanted; Miles agrees heartily.

Comments

The scene with Gregor is one of my favourites, but then Gregor is usually good for a good scene.  Well, maybe not in the middle of The Vor Game, when he’s being a little petulant, wrestling with the Prince Serg thing, but by the end of that he’s much worthier.  Obviously Gregor has gotten past it now.  But I note that even in the conversation between Miles and Aral, Aral doesn’t own up to the fact that he helped engineer Prince Serg’s death in the Escobar invasion.  That is still an explosive secret, too closely held to leak out.  Who ever knew that one?  Aral, Cordelia, Illyan…anyone else surviving?

I believe that we haven’t actually seen the story of this assassination that Miles pulled off for ImpSec.  With the Dendarii, one presumes.  Any inkling, even, of what that might be?  It doesn’t sound like it quite fits with Jackson’s Whole, either.  Oh, well, I guess we never did get the whole story on how Miles got his arms broken between Brothers in Arms and the Borders of Infinity framing story.

When was the last time we had a father-son conversation with Aral and Miles?  Closest would be at the end of The Vor Game, I guess, though I think Illyan and/or Gregor were there too?  Too lazy to look it up.  Anyway, it’s a good talk, lots of practical advice being exchanged, and, unlike the earlier ones, they’re talking more like equals now.

Chapter Sixteen

Ekaterin is trying to make up a resumé that hides her near-total lack of experience, unwilling to include Miles as a reference, for a job with a nearby plant nursery.  She is interrupted by the doorchime, and has a momentary vision of being kidnapped by enemy spies, but her visitors turn out to be her brother Hugo Vorvayne, and Tien’s cousin Vassily Vorsoisson, who she’d only met before at Tien’s funeral, when he’d officially signed over Nikki’s guardianship to her.  She invites them inside and offers them refreshments, which they decline.

At the serious expression on Hugo’s face, she asks if everything’s all right with them, or her father; Hugo says that it’s her who’s the source of concern right now.  He asks if her uncle is there; Ekaterin says he’s gone to Komarr and won’t be back until closer to Gregor’s wedding (absent-mindedly using his name, before she remembers to use his title instead).  They discuss the wedding briefly, Hugo saying that Rosalie and her friends have gone crazy about it.

Vassily asks after Nikki, who Ekaterin says is off watching a regatta on the river with a friend.  Vassily says that they’ve come because of some disturbing information about her and Lord Auditor Vorkosigan; Ekaterin realizes that the rumour has penetrated outside of the capital.  He adds that he came to Hugo, and Rosalie seemed to corroborate the story; that it’s “common knowledge” among the Vor that Miles sabotaged Tien’s breath mask on Komarr.  Ekaterin immediately responds that that’s just a lie made up by Miles’s political opponents, and they won’t be able to charge him with it, but Vassily interprets this as a statement about Miles’s political invulnerability due to his powerful connections.

Hugo says that they also heard that Miles attempted to force Ekaterin to marry him; Ekaterin admits that he did ask, very awkwardly, and is also forced to admit that she didn’t technically refuse him.  Ekaterin asks where this information came from, and Vassily said it was “a friend”.  Ekaterin can’t imagine any of her friends doing this, though.  She admits that she finds Miles attractive, which the men, who saw him at Tien’s funeral, find incomprehensible.

“Kat,” said Hugo in a disconcerted tone, “the man’s a mutie. He barely comes up to your shoulder. He’s distinctly hunched—I don’t know why that wasn’t surgically corrected. He’s just odd.”

“Oh, he’s had dozens of surgeries. His original damage was far, far more severe. You can still see these faint old scars running all over his body from the corrections.”

Hugo stared at her. “All over his body?”

“Um. I assume so. As much of it as I’ve seen, anyway.” She stopped her tongue barely short of adding, The top half. A perfectly unnecessary vision of Miles entirely naked, gift-wrapped in sheets and blankets in bed, and her with him, slowly exploring his intricacies all the way down, distracted her imagination momentarily. She blinked it away, hoping her eyes weren’t crossing. “You have to concede, he has a good face. His eyes are . . . very alive.”

Hugo says that he and her family are there to help, if she’s in some kind of trouble with Miles, like blackmail or something.  Ekaterin asks if he thinks that their uncle, the Lord Auditor, would be helpless to protect her.  Hugo says that Uncle Vorthys and his wife are a little unworldly, and Ekaterin points out that her aunt is an expert on bloody political history, and her uncle’s discipline includes intimate knowledge of sabotage, not a particularly unworldly topic.  They tell her that the capital seems to be full of unsavoury and dubious characters, including a woman in a man’s body; Ekaterin admits to having actually met Lord Dono, and dismays her visitors by listing his potential virtues as a Count.

Hugo tells her he’s concerned with her safety, and with Nikki’s, in the environment of the capital; Ekaterin thinks that having overcome armed terrorists, her definition of “safe” may be a little broader than his.  He says she needs to be married, mistress of a good Vor household, solid, honest and loyal; Ekaterin asks if he’s sure she should have a house, rather than a planet, and accuses his goals of lacking scope.  She realizes that her horizons have grown much wider than her brother’s.

Hugo said, “Damn, Kat. I thought that part of the letter was twaddle at first, but this mutie lord has turned your head around in some strange way.”

“And if it’s true . . . he has frightening allies,” said Vassily. “The letter claimed that Vorkosigan had Simon Illyan himself riding point for him, herding you into his trap.” His lips twisted dubiously. “That was the part that most made me wonder if I was being made a game of, to tell you the truth.”

“I’ve met Simon,” Ekaterin conceded. “I found him rather . . . sweet.”

A dazed silence greeted this declaration.

Ekaterin suddenly puzzles out who had sent them this letter, and realizes it must have been Alexi Vormoncrief.  She tells Vassily that Vormoncrief is mostly just upset because Ekaterin refused his own proposal.  Hugo says that he certainly wouldn’t force her to marry Vormoncrief, but he seemed genuinely concerned for her, and in love; Ekaterin says Vormoncrief didn’t even see her, just an available Vor widow, and he might not have noticed were she replaced by a straw woman.

Vassily says that he’s not concerned with Ekaterin and her marriage prospects; he’s more concerned with Nikki’s safety.  Ekaterin recalls that Vassily has, ludicrously, the power to take Nikki away from her at a whim, and she would have to prove him an actively incompetent guardian to regain her son; Vassily may be a bachelor, but an unobjectionable one, and she wouldn’t have a chance.  Ekaterin points out that Nikki would be a burden to him, and Vassily says that Tien’s mother could easily look after him as well.

She asks Vassily to define precisely what kind of lifestyle will be satisfactory for his wishes, so she knows what she should be trying to do.  Vassily says that, obviously, betrothal to Miles is out of the question; Ekaterin repeats that the case against Miles is pure slander, and asks Vassily if he thinks she’s “lying, or just stupid” before reining in her temper.  Vassily has a horrible power over her, with his ability to take Nikki away, and she reminds herself to try not to push him that far.

She chose her words with utmost caution. “So what do you mean by straightened out?”

Hugo and Vassily looked at each other uncertainly. Vassily ventured, “I beg your pardon?”

“I cannot know if I have toed your line unless you show me where you’ve drawn it.”

Hugo protested, “That’s not very kindly put, Kat. We have your interests at heart.”

“You don’t even know what my interests are.” Not true, Vassily had his thumb right down on the most mortal one. Nikki. Eat rage, woman. She had used to be expert at swallowing herself, during her marriage. Somehow she’d lost the taste for it.

Vassily asks that Nikki not be exposed to unsavoury characters; Ekaterin says she’ll be happy to keep him away from Alexi Vormoncrief, but Vassily insists he means Miles, who has been accused of murdering his cousin Tien.  Ekaterin asks how, if Miles is never officially charged with this murder, Vassily could be satisfied that he’s not guilty of it; Vassily can’t answer, and decides to defer to Hugo on how best to keep his sister in check.  Hugo flatly tells her to keep away from Miles until the rumour is settled.  Ekaterin, not wanting to have Nikki’s life uprooted again, insists that they specify exactly how this would be “settled”.  Hugo says she should at least avoid him for a while…Ekaterin eventually pins him down to “until the end of her mourning year”; when they agree to it, she wishes she’d tried for Winterfair instead.  She insists that she will have to deliver this news to him in person, which they eventually agree to.

With this settled, they fall into uncomfortable silence, Ekaterin resolved not to offer them hospitality if she can avoid it, and they soon take the hint and mumble about having to go.  She curls up by herself, wishing her aunt were there to vent to.  She does give Hugo some small credit for not being swayed by the prospect of his sister becoming a Countess.  She draws a disquieting parallel in her mind with a toy that Nikki never seemed to want until she tried to give it away; is she only so upset about Miles because she’s being forbidden to see him?  She does have to see him sometime to tell him about the interdict, but she wants to put it off, if she can, because after that she might not get to see him for a long time…

Cordelia sends a luxurious groundcar to fetch Kareen and her parents, and her father is still muttering about how this is a bad idea, how the Countess will have their heads twisted around before they know it.  Drou says she hopes things will be arranged sensibly, which Kareen heartily agrees with; Kou grumbles that “sensible” is one of her words.  Drou says she wants to mend things with the Vorkosigans; Kou says he just doesn’t like the idea of a “fat, weird, half-mad clone” with Kareen.  Kareen manages to keep her mouth shut.

At Vorkosigan House, Pym escorts them to the library.  Furniture has been rearranged; Cordelia has a large, throne-like chair, with armchairs on either side, one for Kareen, and one already occupied by Mark.  Across from Cordelia is an old, shabby couch that Kareen recognizes from hide-and-seek games in the attic; the Countess insists that Kou and Drou sit there.  Kou accuses her of fighting dirty, but Drou stops him from leaving, and Cordelia outright orders him to sit, in what Kareen realizes must be her Ship’s Captain voice.

A long silence followed. Kareen could hear the old-fashioned mechanical clock ticking on the wall in the antechamber next door. Mark gave her a beseeching stare, Do you know what the hell is going on here? She returned it in kind, No, don’t you?

Her father rearranged the position of his swordstick three times, dropped it on the carpet, and finally scooted it back toward himself with the heel of his boot and left it there. She could see the muscle jump in his jaw as he gritted his teeth. Her mother crossed and uncrossed her legs, frowned, stared down the room out the glass doors, and then back at her hands twisting in her lap. They looked like nothing so much as two guilty teenagers caught . . . hm. Like two guilty teenagers caught screwing on the living room couch, actually. Clues seemed to float soundlessly down like feathers, in Kareen’s mind, falling all around. You don’t suppose . . .

“But Cordelia,” Mama burst out suddenly, for all the world as though continuing aloud a conversation just now going on telepathically, “we want our children to do better than we did. To not make the same mistakes!”

Ooh. Ooh. Oooh! Check, and did she ever want the story behind this one . . . ! Her father had underestimated the Countess, Kareen realized. That hadn’t taken any more than three minutes.

Cordelia says that, in her opinion, Kareen is doing much better, and hasn’t made any mistakes at all, that she’s noticed.  Kou calls Mark a mistake, and Cordelia says they’ll get to him later.  She says that Kareen is doing much better than they were at that age, partly because of the bright future they’d won for her.  She then has Kareen tell her parents about getting her contraceptive implant on Beta Colony, and her hymen cut, and then being introduced to sex by a Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapist (a hermaphrodite, as it turned out); Cordelia contrasts this with awkward, uninformed fumble in the dark, and Kareen says that Barrayar’s approach seems awful.  Cordelia reminds her that both cultures are trying to solve the basic problem of making sure that children will be cared for.  Beta handles it by regulating female reproductive systems; Barrayar, which couldn’t, had to regulate the entire woman.

Kou grumbles that they should never have sent Kareen to Beta; Cordelia reminds him that Kareen’s trip to Beta was planned before meeting Mark, and reminds them that she might have ended up with a Betan native (of whatever gender).  If she ends up with Mark, at least they’ll both have ties to Barrayar, and be likely to visit more frequently, which Drou finds a compelling argument.  Kou says he wants Kareen to be safe, well, happy and financially secure.  Cordelia says that the first few are things that it’s almost impossible to give your children, no matter how you try.  Then she asks Kou what he thinks Mark’s financial situation is.

Da shook his head. “I thought he was broke. I assumed the family made him an allowance, like any other Vor scion. And that he ran through it—like any other Vor scion.”

“I’m not broke,” Mark objected strenuously. “It’s a temporary cash-flow problem. When I budgeted for this period, I wasn’t expecting to be starting up a new business in the middle of it.”

“In other words, you’re broke,” said Da.

“Actually,” Tante Cordelia said, “Mark is completely self-supporting. He made his first million on Jackson’s Whole.”

She explains how Mark is busily investing his money in a number of schemes, some of them less speculative than others, some of which she supports herself.  Mark explains how he’s paying Kareen in _shares_ so he won’t have to withdraw money and lose all that interest…  He says he’d willingly pay a dowry for Kareen if that’s what’s expected; Kareen says that he’s got it the wrong way around, and anyway she doesn’t want to be bought like a Jacksonian slave.  Kou stoutly claims that he doesn’t care about the money, whether in marks or Betan dollars–he wants what’s best for his daughter.

Cordelia asks what exactly he wants from Mark, then–should he offer to marry Kareen?  Kou would probably be happier if Mark were to just go away, but he stops short of actually saying it.  Mark says he will, if she wants to, but he didn’t think she did; Kareen says she doesn’t, since she’s still trying to find out who she is, and still growing as a person.  Cordelia asks if she thinks marriage wil stop that, and Kareen says that the stories always seem to end with marriage, and she doesn’t want an ending.  Her parents try to reassure her that marriage isn’t really like that, though they sound a little uncertain themselves.

Mark reiterates that he’ll do whatever Kareen wants, whether that be to marry her, or not, or go away (which she emphatically does not want), or whatever.  Cordelia asks Kareen if betrothal will do, but she says that’s giving an oath which locks you into marriage anyway, and she takes her oaths seriously.  Cordelia asks Kareen what she wants.  She struggles to put it into words, and finally declares that she wants an option on Mark.  Her parents aren’t certain about this, if it’s some weird offplanet custom, but Kareen says she just made it up.

Cordelia asks her to specify the terms of the option.  Mark willingly agrees for it to be a mutual option, and Kareen wants a year for her to see what happens between them, with nobody else interfering.  Kou expresses concern about whether Mark is safe for his daughter to be around.  Cordelia agrees that Mark has been through some Betan therapy, but paints him, to Koudelka, as a soldier, conscripted young and unwillingly, who has been fighting his own wars, and needs time to heal; this gets through to Kou at last.

“Kou, I wouldn’t have encouraged this relationship if I thought it was unsafe for either of our children.”

He looked back. “You? I know you! You trust beyond reason.”

She met his eyes steadily. “Yes. It’s how I get results beyond hope. As you may recall.”

He pursed his lips, unhappily, and toed his swordstick a little. He had no reply for this one. But a funny little smile turned Mama’s mouth, as she watched him.

Cordelia declares the matter settled with the option, until next year, when they can re-evaluate and consider an extension.  Kou isn’t pleased that the two of them will be “carrying on”, but Drou reminds him of their own carrying on, which they mostly felt safe doing because their relatives lived outside the city.  One by one, they all agree, Kou most reluctantly, with a “codicil” that he’ll hunt Mark down if Mark hurts his daughter.  Kareen can sense Mark’s Black Gang exulting inside his head; she pulls out her Betan earrings and puts them on, as a declaration of herself.

Comments

Obviously one of the scenes in this chapter is more pleasant than the other–can you guess which?  Yes, that’s right–now that Mark has marshaled Cordelia to his side, his and Kareen’s problems–with her parents, at least–are dealt with handily.  Mostly what Cordelia has to do is make them realize how hypocritical they’re being, given their own history.  The point about Mark’s finances is also well taken–I guess that Kou just leapt from the fact that Mark didn’t seem to have any _real_ money to throw around to him probably being broke.  But it took Cordelia recasting Mark as a wounded soldier to really get Kou starting to come over to his side, since of course Kou himself required a fair bit of healing after his own wars.  Anyway, this scene ties up Kareen‘s plotline, pretty much, though not Mark’s, quite, because there are still issues with butter bugs to come…

Ekaterin’s scene, on the other hand, is much less pleasant.  Her brother, and Tien’s cousin, are still fairly provincial Vor–maybe not quite Conservatives, but probably more on that side than the Progressives, considering the sources they consider authoritative for the rumours about Miles.  It would be funnier if it weren’t for that little thing about Vassily Vorsoisson being able to rescind her guardianship of Nikki.  (I believe I mentioned, probably in the last book, how ludicrous a rule that is, for a man’s cousin to have more rights to the man’s son than his own wife does.  But I guess that’s Barrayar for you.)  So she has to, unfortunately, take them at least a little seriously, though I’m sure even they could tell that she was doing it quite reluctantly.  (Just noticed the parallel–Ekaterin and Kareen both negotiating with unwilling relatives to keep from losing a loved one…  The difference being that Kareen’s parents are, in the end, swayed by logic.)

I was beginning to think, before Ekaterin did, that the very fact of being told she had to stay away from Miles was making her appreciate him more.  But I don’t really think it’s as much that she only wants him more the more she’s told she can’t have him, though.  It’s more that she’s starting to contrast “what life would be like with him” with “what life would be like without him” the more she experiences the latter and is deprived of the former.

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Not that many chapters left, just five, I think, so, with any luck, three more weeks.  We must be getting close to the climax now.  Which I think I recall fairely well, with the Council of Counts vote and the events leading up to, and during, it.  Should be a hoot.

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Do you think I should change that tagline at the top?  “A few chapters at a time”?  I never really managed more than two, and now that I seem to be down to one, it’s even less fitting…  Maybe I should use “pages” instead of “chapters”, or “scenes”…  Oh, well.  Anyway, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the premier reread for the works of Lois McMaster Bujold from her Vorkosigan Saga.  This week we cover another chapter of A Civil Campaign, her romantic science fiction novel set entirely on the planet of Barrayar, as a proposal is received and rejected, and another one is allowed to proceed.

Chapter Eight

Ekaterin goes over the Barrayaran garden, trying to determine what the various odours will be throughout the seasons, and making changes accordingly.  Her uncle and Nikki are not up yet, so she has a little while yet to concentrate on these aesthetic considerations before things get noisy again, though only a couple of hours before she has to be at the garden site to supervise the crew starting to get the “creek” set up.  Then she can put her Dendarii rocks into it and tune the water flow around them.  She’s already put up walls and terraces to block up city noise, quite satisfactorily.

By tonight, the bones of the thing would be complete. Tomorrow, the flesh, in the form of trucked-in, unterraformed native soils from remote corners of the Vorkosigan’s District, would arrive. And tomorrow evening before Lord Vorkosigan’s dinner party, just for promise, she would put the first plant into the soil: a certain spare rootling from an ancient South Continent skellytum tree. It would be fifteen years or more before it would grow to fill the space allotted for it, but what of that? Vorkosigans had held this ground for two hundred years. Chances were good Vorkosigans would still be there to see it in its maturity. Continuity. With continuity like that, you could grow a real garden. Or a real family . . .

The front door chimes, and Ekaterin realizes that she’s only in pajamas.  She’s prepared to duck upstairs in case it’s a formal visitor, but then she recognizes the voice as her sister-in-law Rosalie Vorvayne.  Rosalie greets her, sending her daughter Edie to play with Nikki, and says she has to talk with Ekaterin.  She says she’s taken the monorail up from Vordarian’s District, where Ekaterin’s brother Hugo has a civil service post; Aunt Vorthys offers her breakfast, and Rosalie settles for tea.  After updating them on her family’s news, Rosalie says she’s really there for Ekaterin; Ekaterin can’t imagine why.

Rosalie stretches it out for a little while, before saying that Ekaterin’s father received a visitor–a Baba, bringing a marriage offer from a proper Vor gentleman in Vorbarr Sultana.  They decided that someone should be dispatched to bring Ekaterin the good news in person.

A Vor gentleman from the capital, old-fashioned and highly conscious of etiquette, Da bowled over, who else could it be but—Ekaterin’s heart seemed to stop, then explode. Lord Vorkosigan? Miles, you rat, how could you do this without asking me first! Her lips parted in a dizzying mixture of fury and elation.

The arrogant little—! But . . . he to pick her, to be his Lady Vorkosigan, chatelaine of that magnificent house and of his ancestral District—there was so much to be done in that beautiful District, so daunting and exciting—and Miles himself, oh, my. That fascinating scarred short body, that burning intensity, to come to her bed? His hands had touched her perhaps twice; they might as well have left scorch marks on her skin, so clearly did her body remember those brief pressures. She had not, had not dared, let herself think about him in that way, but now her carnal consciousness of him wrenched loose from its careful suppression and soared. Those humorous gray eyes, that alert, mobile, kissable mouth with its extraordinary range of expression . . . could be hers, all hers. But how dare he ambush her like this, in front of all her relatives?

Rosalie says she seems to be pleased, and not entirely surprised; Ekaterin agrees that she isn’t, completely, though privately thinks that she hadn’t dared to believe it, because it would ruin everything.  Rosalie mentions that he has good career prospects and family connections, which Ekaterin says is, if anything, an understatement; not as rich as some families, but well enough.  Ekaterin wonders if Miles sending the Baba to her father instead of asking her directly was shyness, or arrogance…  Then she realizes that this may mean he’d only asked her to do his garden to stay close to her, instead of actually admiring her work or wanting the garden at all.  She knows she’s vulnerable to flattery like that, and wonders if she’s falling into another trap…

She’s barely listening to Rosalie, until she asks Ekaterin how she wants to convey her acceptance to Lieutenant Vormoncrief.  Ekaterin realizes, in dismay, that it was Alexi Vormoncrief that Rosalie’s been talking about all this time, and even says out loud that she’d thought the proposal was from Miles Vorkosigan.  Rosalie is puzzled for a moment, and then realizes she’s talking about that odd, grotesque little Imperial Auditor who came to Tien’s funeral.  Ekaterin is relieved to think that Miles hasn’t been courting her after all, and Rosalie points out that the family would never match her with a mutie, no matter how rich.  Unless, of course, Ekaterin really wants to be a Countess, in which case they can use a uterine replicator and have the children gene-cleaned, but Rosalie doesn’t think Ekaterin is that desperate.

“No,” Ekaterin agreed hollowly. Just desperately distracted. She was furious with the man; why should the notion of never ever having to have any physical contact with him make her suddenly want to burst into tears? Wait, no—if Vorkosigan wasn’t the man who’d sent the Baba, her whole case against him, which had bloomed so violently in her mind just now, collapsed like a house of cards. He was innocent. She was crazy, or headed that way fast.

Ekaterin firmly rejects Vormoncrief’s suit, calling him a “twittering idiot” and asking her aunt to back her up; Aunt Vorthys says that Ekaterin has lots of time yet, and can surely do better.  Rosalie wonders how they’ll break the news to Vormoncrief, and Ekaterin points out that that’s the Baba’s job.  Rosalie says that Ekaterin knows her own mind, but urges her not to be too picky, or wait too long, or she’ll end up living in her relatives’ attics.

Ekaterin excuses herself to get dressed; Rosalie said she’d hoped to spend the day shopping with Ekaterin, and they still can, even if not for wedding clothes.  Ekaterin, thinking of shopping with Miles, refuses, but she relents and agrees to have lunch with them.  She tells Rosalie about the garden she’s working on for Miles, and Rosalie asks if Miles has been acting improperly, offering her husband’s help, or her own, if necessary; Ekaterin says she’ll keep it in mind, privately vowing to keep her as far away from Miles as possible.

In the shower–a cold one–she wrestles with her physical attraction to Miles.  She wonders if her tastes are becoming too strange, but she refuses to outright suppress her libido, since she doesn’t have Tien to worry about any more.  She’s not sure why Miles seems to like her, but she resolves to keep things businesslike, and not spend too much time with him after she finished the garden.  Turning the heat back up, she wonders if she can make him a dream lover; it’s somewhat reprehensible, but she doesn’t find the prospect of Miles doing the same with her to be too horrifying.  She considers actually taking a lover, but wonders how she could dare, and doesn’t want to risk getting sucked into another bog like her marriage to Tien.  She turns down the temperature again, telling herself sternly that Miles is not Tien, and he only wants her to make a garden.  She tells herself these thoughts are crazy, and hopes it’s just a spike in her hormones.

She might not even see him that day, or at least not have to talk to him before the dinner party, which promises to be crowded enough that there will be plenty of other people to talk to.  She should be able to handle it by then.

Ivan is working in his mother’s office at the Imperial Residence, full of Vor women–but mostly middle-aged ones, alas, and luckily he hadn’t had any bad relationships with any of their daughters…  Dono and By Vorrutyer stop in to visit with him before their audience with the Emperor, escorted by Gregor’s major-domo.  Dono asks after Ivan’s mother, but she’s out dealing with florists; Dono says he will have to meet with her, but Ivan privately hopes he’s not around when that happens.

“Ready, gentlemen?” said the major-domo.

“Good luck, Dono,” said Ivan, and prepared to retreat.

“Yes,” said By, “good luck. I’ll just stay here and chat with Ivan till you’re done, shall I?”

“My list,” said the major-domo, “has all of you on it. Vorrutyer, Lord Vorrutyer, Lord Vorpatril, Armsman Szabo.”

“Oh, that’s an error,” said Ivan helpfully. “Only Lord Dono actually needs to see Gregor.” By nodded confirmation.

“The list,” said the major-domo, “is in the Emperor’s own hand. This way, please.”

The major-domo doesn’t seem surprised by Lord Dono’s identity, so Ivan surmises that Gregor is already up to speed on that issue, alas.  He leads the group down to Gregor’s office and Gregor summons them inside.  Lord Dono thanks him for seeing them on short notice; Gregor gives By an odd look, and asks them to be seated, even Armsman Szabo.

Gregor asks whose idea the scheme was; Dono says it was his, adding that his brother had expressed many times, in hearing of the household, how little he wanted Richars to inherit, and so he’s carrying out Pierre’s posthumous will.  Gregor asks what help he secured for himself before he left, and Dono said he brought Pierre’s Armsmen into the scheme–not taking their Armsmans’ oaths himself, which would be a serious crime, but just their personal word.  Apart from them, he’d only informed Byerly, and, of necessity, his lawyer.  By was to keep an eye on Richars while Dono was offplanet and out of commission.  Gregor compliments By on his loyalty and discretion; By said that it seemed to be a personal matter.

Dono asks if ImpSec had passed on his medical files from Beta Colony yet, and Gregor says they had; Dono said he had told the Betans not to give them to ImpSec, but he had no doubt that, even after Simon Illyan’s retirement, ImpSec was up to the challenge.  He asks Gregor to note that he is a fully functional male, capable of carrying on the line, and claims the right to the Countship of Vorrutyer’s District, with the stated approval of the prior Count; he also asserts the proof of his skill in running the District for Pierre.  Gregor asks if he’s bringing any other charges against Richars; Dono says they don’t have enough proof in the one serious matter, the lightflyer accident, and Gregor says that ImpSec agrees.  Dono says he won’t be pushing for Richars to be declared unfit, merely for he himself to be seen as more fit.  He hopes for votes from Richars’s enemies, if no one else, but notes that he would plan to join the Progressive party–unlike the Vorrutyers’ traditional stance–which Gregor approves of.

Gregor says that he doesn’t have much leverage with the Council of Counts right now, since he’s trying to convince them to fund the Komarran soletta repairs; Dono says all he expects of Gregor is to let the case proceed, with a public debate and vote.  Gregor says he’s not keen on the precedent that Dono is trying to set; Dono points out that anyone could have done it for some time now, but he expects that it won’t become that popular, except in extreme cases like his.  He adds that it’s time that the Counts realized they have to take galactic technology into account in their legal system.

Gregor looked Lord Dono over, and pressed his hand to the bridge of his nose, briefly. After a moment he said ironically, “And will you be wanting a wedding invitation too?”

Dono’s brows flicked up. “If I am Count Vorrutyer by then, my attendance will be both my right and my duty. If I’m not—well, then.” After a slight silence, he added wistfully, “Though I always did like a good wedding. I had three. Two were disasters. It’s so much nicer to watch, saying over and over to yourself, It’s not me! It’s not me! One can be happy all day afterward on that alone.”

Gregor said dryly, “Perhaps your next one will be different.”

Dono’s chin lifted. “Almost certainly, Sire.”

Gregor is quiet for a minute, then asks Dono what it’s like.  Dono says that his energy and libido are up, and he feels better than he did ten years ago.  Also, starting on Komarr, and most noticeably on Barrayar itself, he gets more personal space and faster responses from others.  Gregor asks if he’s likely to change back, if this doesn’t work, and Dono says he’s enjoying being top of the food chain.  Eventually–and to Ivan’s dismay–Gregor says “Let’s see what happens,” and dismisses them.

By said that went better than he had expected, explaining that he was feeling out of his depth.  Dono thanks Ivan for his help, but Ivan denies having really done anything.  In fact, Gregor hadn’t even asked him anything at the meeting.
Dono asks again after Ivan’s mother; Ivan says she’s very, very busy at work, but Dono says he’d rather see her in a more social setting.  Ivan mentions the dinner party, explaining that he had been intending to bring Lady Donna as his guest; Dono says that he accepts.  Ivan protests that this will mess up Miles’s seating arrangements, though Dono says he doubts that, with all the Koudelka sisters attending.  Ivan explains that the real purpose is to introduce people to his gardener, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who he seems to have fallen in love with.

Ivan mentions that the Vorbrettens will be there, and Dono is interested in René as an in with the Progressives, though Ivan tells him that since the Cetagandan connection came up he hasn’t been very popular.  Dono dismisses this, and says they definitely need to compare notes.  Ivan isn’t sure that Miles will be too happy with him for bringing Dono to the party…but supposes that Dono might make a nice target to protect Ivan from Miles’s wrath on other matters, like Vormoncrief and Zamori.  Not to mention that Miles would undoubtedly also make a great resource, in Lord Dono’s eyes, so maybe they’ll take care of each other and Ivan will be able to get out from between them.  Pretending reluctance, he agrees to take Lord Dono to the party.

Comments

I often think of the scene with Rosalie conveying the marriage proposal–and Ekaterin immediately leaping to the conclusion that it’s from Miles–to be almost the first time that she begins to seriously consider Miles.  There were a few moments before, I suppose–the flirtation at the end of Komarr, and the surge of sensuality that struck her at the odour of his closet–but she’s mostly been denying them.  She does have seriously mixed feelings at the prospect of a proposal from Miles, though, not least because she begins to see his actual plan, to hire her for the garden at least partly as a pretext.  So if Miles had actually been sending a proposal, the thought that he’d been deceiving her might have led her to refuse him.  But now, both the concept of Miles as a suitor, and the idea that the garden plan is a subterfuge on his part, are in her mind.

The shower scene is quite interesting, as she wrestles with her sexuality.  In Komarr we already knew that her sexual fantasies were getting a bit weird, mostly out of a desire to deal with her growing repulsion for Tien; does this, in any way, explain her physical interest in Miles?  I mean, not all women find him repulsive, but many (like Rosalie) seem to, though admittedly not all of those have actually met him.  Nonetheless, she doesn’t seem to conceive that Miles may also feel attracted to her–though that may just be because she’s trying to keep herself from thinking about the possible garden scam.  She does briefly consider taking a lover–it’s not clear if she’s considering Miles for the role or not, but she doesn’t have any other immediate prospects, so probably–but she’s still too gun-shy to risk even the chance of relinquishing her heart and getting trapped again.  So she determines to keep it inside, though she reserves the right to perhaps incorporate Miles into her personal fantasies from here on.

I don’t normally get too explicit with the spoilers here, especially with things are intentionally being kept as surprises, but I do want to discuss the implications of the the Vorrutyers’ meeting with Gregor in the light of the fact that Byerly Vorrutyer is later revealed to actually be working for ImpSec.  Obviously he’s the pipeline for Gregor being informed about what happened to Lady Donna…but when?  In this scene, I’m getting the impression that he may have actually kept that little fact to himself, until his hand was forced by Ivan scheduling the meeting with Gregor.  Gregor and By’s interactions in the meeting imply that Gregor is aware that By is working for ImpSec, and is asking him to account for his unwonted closed-mouthedness on the matter.  And By claims it was “a personal matter”.  I’m not sure that Gregor buys that one; some family loyalty is laudable, I suppose, but an ImpSec agent shouldn’t let that sway him.  After all, what if Dono/Donna were plotting against the Emperor?  Would By have forebore to mention that?  Of course, I guess that By’s loyalty is a little more selective, since he’s all too willing to betray Richars, so maybe the Emperor (and By’s boss–who is in charge of Domestic Affairs at ImpSec these days?) will judge things to have turned out okay.


No blog next Wednesday, but hopefully one sometime between than and New Year’s.  It is, of course, time for the dinner party.  The infamous dinner party.  I still remember, first time through, how much I was looking forward to it, all these characters getting together in one place.  Such interesting conversations and meetings we would have!  Yeah, I still remember that.  But now, I know better.  Sometime before the end of the year, then, with any luck…

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Diane, it’s 9:00 PM, and I’m holding in my hand a small package of chocolate bunnies.  Also, it is now time, once again, for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, as we draw to a close our examination of the novel Memory, with Miles Vorkosigan completing his transition from his former career into his new one, and tying off some personal loose ends.  Have a slice of pie, by all means, while you consider these last two chapters…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Miles prepares carefully for his visit to Gregor to return the Auditor’s paraphenalia, putting on his house uniform and medals again, because he’s planning to ask Gregor for a favour when he does.  He’s not quite certain about his asking, since it seems such a little thing, but it matters to him, at least.  Martin takes him to the Residence, with less damage to the gate this time; Miles finds Gregor also dressed up, probably for some later ceremony.

He and Gregor greet each other cordially, and then he gives Gregor the data card with his report on it as well as the chain.  Before Miles can make his request, Gregor is sitting down at his comconsole; he makes a copy of the report, then gives the data card to his majordomo to take to the next room.  Miles waits, perforce, while Gregor reads the report, making a few mild exclamations, then goes back over selected portions of it.

Gregor picks up the chains, saying thoughtfully that this was one of his better snap decisions.  Miles says that it was just luck that he could do some good; Gregor points out how few people would have been suited for the job, knowing ImpSec well without being part of it.  Miles decides just to thank him.  Gregor says he’s thinking about an appropriate reward for a job well done, which is, traditionally, another job.  He offers Miles the post of Chief of ImpSec, even if he’s not technically in the military anymore.  Miles refuses, saying it’s too much of a tedious desk job, in between periods of complete insanity, and would tie him down too much to Barrayar and Vorbarr Sultana.  He acknowledges that he could do it, but he asks if Gregor is ordering him to take the job; Gregor said he was genuinely curious.  Miles says that Guy Allegre will do a better job, is the right age, has more of the appropriate experience, and is familiar to the Komarrans.  Gregor says he thought Miles would say that, but wanted to give him first refusal.

He asks Miles if he wants anything to eat ot drink, but Miles says that with his surgery scheduled for that afternoon, he’s been told to keep an empty stomach.  Gregor says he must be happy to have the chance to do his own driving now, though Miles admits Martin had grown on him a little.  Miles is just gathering his courage to ask for his favour when the room door slides open and the majordomo returns, then ushers four men into the room–Imperial Auditors all.  Miles reflexively begins wondering what he’s done to warrant their attention, then calms down and greets them politely as they take their seats.

The four Auditors are Lord Vorhovis, back from Komarr, a mere sexagenarian, a former ambassador and Minister of Finance; Dr. Vorthys, an academic appointee of Gregor’s, specializing in engineering failure analysis; Lord Vorgustafson, a retired industrialist so rich as to be virtually unbribable; and Admiral Vorkalloner, a retired officer with no strong political ties.  Vorkalloner greets Miles as “Aral Vorkosigan’s boy” and says that now he knows why he hasn’t seen Miles much in the last ten years.  Miles is struck again by the oddness of the Auditors, taken as a group–all accomplished and/or wealthy, and all more or less eccentric.

Gregor asks them what they thought of Miles’s report.  Vorhovis says it was extraordinary, and Vorthys praises it for being “concise, coherent, and complete”.  Miles tells how Illyan used to send back his reports for correction until he learned how to do it right the first time.

Vorkalloner smiled. “Old Vorsmythe,” he noted, “used to turn in handwritten plastic flimsys. Never more than two pages. He insisted anything important could always be said in two pages.”

“Illegibly handwritten,” muttered Gregor.

“We used to have to go and squeeze the footnotes out of him in person. It became somewhat irritating,” added Vorkalloner.

Vorhovis says he hasn’t left much for the prosecutor to do; Gregor says that Haroche is officially going to plead guilty anyway, which is good, considering how he confessed to the Emperor and all.  Vorhovis says he doubts he would have been able to unravel the case, particularly since Dr. Weddell’s expertise proved critical, and he had never heard of the man.  Vorhovis says the Auditors rarely work together, but they do consult with each other and share resources.  There are really only five effective Auditors at the moment, General Vorparadijs and Admiral Valentine being sort of Emeriti, and General Vorsmythe’s position hadn’t yet been filled since his death two years earlier; the other active Auditor, Vorlaisner, was tied up on the South Continent, but the four of them constitute a quorum.

“That being so, my lords,” said Gregor, “how do you advise Us?”

Vorhovis glanced around at his colleagues, who gave him nods, and pursed his lips judiciously. “He’ll do, Gregor.”

“Thank you.” Gregor turned to Miles. “We were discussing job openings, a bit ago. It happens I also have a place this week for the position of eighth Auditor. Do you want it?”

Miles, shocked, asks if Gregor realizes what he’s saying, offering Miles an appointment for life, and at his age.  Vorhovis agrees that Miles will be the youngest Auditor since the Time of Isolation.  Miles says that Vorparadijs will doubtless disapprove of him based on his youth and physical appearance; Vorhovis says Vorparadijs thought he was too young too, at fifty-eight.  He says that Miles’s galactic experience and unique ImpSec training makes him a valuable resource in his own right.  Miles asks if they’ve read his personnel files, and then reiterates the near-fatal accident and falsified report that led to the end of his ImpSec career.

Vorhovis says that the four of them had discussed it with Gregor and Illyan the day before.  He asks how, in light of Miles’s earlier actions, he was able to refuse Haroche’s bribe of the Dendarii, which would almost certainly never have been recognized as such.

“Haroche would have known. Galeni would have known. And I would have known. Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead. Not three.”

“You would certainly have outlived Captain Galeni, and you might have outlived Haroche. What then?”

Miles blew out his breath, and answered slowly. “Someone might have survived, with my name, in my body. It wouldn’t have been me, anymore. It would have been a man I didn’t much . . . like.”

Gregor points out that, as the junior Auditor, he’ll get the worst jobs, the jobs will probably be totally unrelated to each other, and he’ll be left to succeed or fail on his own; Vorthys says he will get some help now and then.

Miles says this wasn’t the reward he’d been planning to ask for; he’s been hankering after a retroactive promotion to Captain.  He doesn’t need the extra pay grade or anything, just the title; he’d wanted it freely given, but he’ll take it as he gets it.  He doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life as a Lieutenant.  It occurs to him that Gregor and the Auditors have put a lot of effort into considering him for this position–it’s more than just a courtesy to offer it to him, this time.  So he may have a little bit of bargaining power this time.  He mentions that most of the other Auditors are retired senior officers; Gregor points out that he’s the former Admiral Naismith, but Miles says that hardly counts.  For the dignity of the office, he should be at least a captain.

“Persistent,” murmured Vorhovis, “isn’t he?”

“Relentlessly,” Gregor agreed. “Just as advertised. Very well, Miles. Allow me to cure you of this distraction.”

His magic Imperial finger — index, not middle, thank you Gregor — flipped down to point at Miles. “Congratulations. You’re a captain. My secretary will see that your records are updated. Does that satisfy you?”

“Entirely, Sire.” Miles suppressed a grin. So, it was a touch anticlimactic, compared to the thousand ways he’d dreamed this promotion over the years. He was not moved to complain.

Gregor and the Auditors emphasize that the Auditors are never assigned routine tasks–they’re only sent in when other means have failed.  They get complex, disturbing, and occasionally bizarre cases–and often, extremely important ones, like tracking down the traitor at the heart of ImpSec.  Gregor offers Miles the position again, and Miles says yes.

When Miles goes for his surgery that afternoon, he’s allowed to stay under local anesthesia and watch it on a monitor, and go home the next day.  Two days later, he goes in so they can do the first test.  Miles agrees to do it himself, since he may need to do so in the future; Dr. Chenko cautions him that he should usually do it with someone to spot for him.  Miles puts in a mouth-guard and presses the activator; the seizure duly comes, and after Miles regains consciousness they keep him there to do some tests.  Miles asks for reassurances that no other signal is likely to activate his implant, and that it’s not going to get switched permanently by any head trauma; Chenko says that the signal is encoded, and any trauma that could affect the implant will have damaged enough of his brain to give him bigger worries.

Chenko tells him that the seizure was shorter and less intense than his uncontrolled ones, and the hangover effects should also be reduced.  He encourages Miles to check his neurotransmitter levels once a day, so he can schedule his seizures before the levels get too high.  Miles asks if he can fly yet, and Chenko says they’ll do some more tests tomorrow and then let him know.

Gregor has managed to convince Lady Alys to schedule the betrothal ceremony for the beginning of the Winterfair season.  The day before the ceremony, an enormous blizzard hits Vorbarr Sultana and the surrounding Districts, closing the shuttleports and stranding Viceroy Aral Vorkosigan in orbit.  He decides to stay in orbit and come directly to the Imperial Residence the next day.  Miles decides not to fly, but to accompany the Countess in her groundcar.  Their departure is delayed by Zap the Cat having kittens on his House uniform, forcing Miles to painfully extricate them and have them hastily cleaned before they can leave.

The Countess, delighted as ever to find her biological empire increasing, came in thoughtfully bearing a cat-gourmet tray prepared by Ma Kosti that Miles would have had no hesitation in eating for his own breakfast. In the general chaos of the morning, however, he had to go down to the kitchen and scrounge his meal. The Countess sat on the floor and cooed into his closet for a good half-hour, and not only escaped laceration, but managed to pick up, sex, and name the whole batch of little squirming furballs before tearing herself away to hurry and dress.

They eventually manage to leave and make their way through and around the snowdrifts to the Residence, where they are far from the last arrivals, though the snow and wind do seem to be letting up somewhat.  Luckily, most of the Komarran guests have already been staying in the Residence guest quarters.  Lady Alys seems calm, but may be merely in a stage beyond panic, though she is visibly relieved when Miles and Cordelia arrive, and even more so when Aral finally shows up.  Aral opines that Gregor’s weatherman is probably due for a posting on Kyril Island; Miles points out that he may have been pressured to produce an optimistic forecast.  Aral tells Miles that they should have a talk soon, but Lady Alys has first claim on him.

A mere hour late, the ceremony starts, with Aral and Cordelia standing as Gregor’s foster parents, and Miles as Gregor’s Second.  His role mostly consists of conveying ceremonial gifts between the two sides–these days, hardly anyone expects the Second to marry the bride if the groom dies untimely.  Some of the gifts, like a bridle without a horse, a somewhat baffling, but at least they’ve left out the blunted scalpel which was supposed to represent the bride’s genetic cleanliness.  Then he gives the Admonishments to the Bride (there are no Admishments to the Groom, he notes), also somewhat modified to exclude such things as obligation to produce heirs in one’s own womb as opposed to a uterine replicator.  Laisa still isn’t quite sure about all of them, but Cordelia signals her silently to not take them too seriously, while Miles pictures Elli Quinn’s highly unprintable reaction to the Admonishments.

After the ceremony is over, the snowed-in crew settle in to celebrate.  Aral goes off with Gregor, and Miles spots Ivan.  Ivan says people have been asking him about Miles’s Auditorial appointment, and Miles tells them to talk to Vorkalloner or Vorhovis.  He asks about Ivan’s date, and Ivan says he asked Delia Koudelka to marry him.  Miles begins heartily (and fakely) congratulating him, and Ivan says she turned him down for Duv Galeni.  Miles says he’d already figured that much out; he suggests Ivan tries Martya, but Martya has already turned him down, in favour of nearly anyone else.  Miles congratulates Ivan on the carefree bachelor life he can doubtless look forward to, and offers him a kitten to liven up his digs; Ivan tells him to get stuffed.

Miles wanders off and finds the Koudelkas, where Duv Galeni is talking seriously with Commodore Koudelka.  Galeni has elected not to resign from ImpSec, and according to Gregor is being seriously considered for head of Komarran Affairs.  Miles thinks that with three other sisters to marry off, Galeni has good odds of gaining some influential in-laws; Miles wonders if Galeni knows yet that his clone-brother Mark stands a good chance of becoming one of them.

Aral finally returns and congratulates Miles on his promotion–Captain as well as Auditor, though he thinks that the former was a little bit roundabout.  He’s glad that Miles has finally managed to “grow into himself”.  Miles points out that not only was Imperial Auditor not a post that Aral himself ever had, but no Vorkosigan ever has, making him entirely unprecedented.

The Count smiled. “This is not news, Miles.”

Comments

This chapter could almost stand to be the last, wrapping up almost everything, but there is still one more loose thread for the next chapter.  Though that one could almost have been an epilogue…  The betrothal is accomplished, Miles’s parents are both there with him, Miles has his seizure control device, and Miles has a new job.  The only thing he really needs now is a love life, or maybe a wife and children…

I don’t recall if I was surprised the first time I read this to find Miles offered an actual Auditorship, but I suspect I was.  But it is a great conclusion to the book, even if one points out that Imperial Auditor was practically invented for this book, and it may have been as much to give Miles a future career as it was to give him the leverage to run an investigation inside ImpSec.  From an authorial perspective, it gives tremendous leeway for future plots, though admittedly not (always) off-planet ones.  Diplomatic Immunity and Cryoburn notwithstanding.

Miles was thinking earlier that personal probity seemed to be an absolute requirement to be an Imperial Auditor, which is one reason they tend to be older men, whose personality has already been amply demonstrated over the course of decades.  It makes me think that it was Miles’s resistance to Haroche’s proffered bribe that was the final selling point for them, showing them, at least, that his willpower was up to the challenge.  Not sure whether his perceived probity is quite as stellar, but I guess he’ll get ample chance to demonstrate it.

Poor Ivan, though, striking out with both Delia and Martya.  It’s almost like neither of them thought he was serious about them as much as he was panicked and desperate.  Well, of course, Delia was already spoken for, but as I recall it takes a couple more books for Martya to find someone to interest her…though not a Vor, as I recall.  Or even a Barrayaran.  Kareen is, of course, already somewhat interested in Lord Mark, and Olivia…has she even been named yet?  Well, I guess not every sister gets to have her own plot…

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Miles waits outside Customs on a space station orbiting Komarr, contemplating how this interstellar transport hub is also part of the Barrayaran Empire, and wonders if Elli Quinn could be happy here.  It does have domed cities, almost like the space stations she grew up on , though his own life would likely keep him close to Vorbarr Sultana most of the time.

He’d hitched a ride out to Komarr with his parents, on their own way back to Sergyar, and finally felt like he had time enough to really talk to them.  He’d managd to secure Armsman Pym’s services for himself, without even having to trade her for Ma Kosti, and they promised to send him a couple more, those who have been least happy on Sergyar.

Miles has to wait for most of the crowd of arrivals to get through Customs before he spots Elli, and soon enough she spots him, too.  They embrace forcefully and she kisses him thoroughly.  Then she asks why he sent for all of his possessions–currently tied up in Customs, what with all the weapons among them.  Miles sends Pym to straighten things out and have them sent back to Vorkosigan House.  Then Miles takes Elli back to the suite he’d booked for them at the hostel.

Miles says he’d wanted to talk to her, in private, before she met with Allegre and the new ImpSec Galactic Affairs head.  Elli says she’s not sure what’s up with him–the first message, he looked like a zombie, then went incommunicado entirely before finally sending back a more cheerful message, and now an order to report to Komarr to meet with ImpSec, right away.  She asks if he’s back with ImpSec, and he says he’s not, but he’s there to help her transition to her new bosses.  He hadn’t wanted to say too much on his messages, knowing that ImpSec censors will be looking at them.

“But this time, it was frigging incomprehensible. What is going on with you?” Her voice was edged with the same suppressed fear Miles was feeling, Am I losing you? No, not fear. Knowledge.

“I tried to compose a message a couple of times, but it was . . . too complicated, and all the most important parts were things I didn’t want to send tight-beam. The edited version came out sounding like gibberish. I had to see you face-to-face anyway, for, for a lot of reasons. It’s a long story, and most of it is classified, a fact that I am going to completely ignore. I can, you know. Do you want to go down to the restaurant to eat, or order room service?”

Miles,” she said in exasperation. “Room service. And explanations.”

After they order their room-service meals, Miles explains about Illyan’s breakdown, Laisa and Galeni, the investigation which led him to Haroche, his seizure treatment, and his new job.  Elli doesn’t seem to quite understand all that he’s been through, and doesn’t respond much until after their food has arrived.  She says that “Auditor” sounds like an accountant, not like a job he’d enjoy; he tries to explain the actual job, but isn’t sure he can get it across.  She said he’d never mentioned it as one he was interested in; he says he didn’t consider it possible, as well as noting that ambition for the job is not a recommendation to get it.  Elli asks if that means he’s never coming back to the Dendarii, if she’s ever going to see him again.

“That’s . . . one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you tonight, personally, before tomorrow’s business overwhelms everything else.” Now it was his turn to pause for courage, to keep his voice in an even register. “You see, if you were . . . if you stayed here . . . if you were Lady Vorkosigan, you could be with me all the time.”

“No . . .” Her soup would have cooled, forgotten, if not for the stay-warm circuit in the bottom of die bowl. “I’d be with Lord Vorkosigan all the time. Not with you, Miles, not with Admiral Naismith.”

“Admiral Naismith was something I made up, Elli,” he said gently. “He was my own invention. I’m an egotistical enough artist, I suppose, I’m glad you liked my creation. I made him up out of me, after all. But not all of me.”

She says he’s asked her to be Lady Vorkosigan three times already, and each time claimed it was the last.  He says this time it really is the last; if she doesn’t accept the job of Lady Vorkosigan, he has another job offer for her–Admiral of the Dendarii, working for General Allegre.  Quinn says that she’s not ready for the job; Miles says she’s more than ready, and she’s been doing it already.  He says that it’s one or the other, and she has to choose.  She says she can’t bear to stuck on one planet, or even three, for the rest of her life, though Miles points out that there’s more to planets than she thinks.

She makes a counteroffer–he leaves Barrayar behind, comes back to the Dendarii with her, and while they may have to give up their lucrative ImpSec contracts, they’ll be free, and she’d happily marry Admiral Naismith.  Miles says he tried, but it’s just not him.  He’s not a mercenary at heart–not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course–he’s Miles Vorkosigan, not Miles Naismith.  Elli laments the part of him that she could never touch; he says he tried for years, but he can’t snuff Lord Vorkosigan out completely, and she has to accept him as he is, all of him.  He offers her one last time, to be “desperately unhappy” on Barrayar with him.  She says she couldn’t bear it, it would be sacrificing everything she is to be reborn as Lady Vorkosigan, and she’s not as good at resurrection as he is.

Elli wrestles with the decision, but when challenged, she admits that she wants to be Admiral Quinn.  She asks why he forced her to make this painful decision now, and he says he has to be able to move on, one way or the other, with her or without her.

They made love one last time, for old times’ sake, for good-bye, and, Miles realized halfway through, each in a desperate last-ditch effort to please and pleasure the other so much, they would change their mind. We’d have to change more than our minds. We’d have to change our whole selves.

With a sigh, he sat up in the suite’s vast bed, disentangling their limbs. “This isn’t working, Elli.”

“‘L make it work,” she mumbled. He captured her hand, and kissed the inside of her wrist. She took a deep breath, and sat up beside him. They were both silent for a long time.

Quinn says he should be a soldier, not a bureaucrat; Miles says that to be a great soldier, he needs a great war, and there’s a shortage of them around these days. Cetaganda is quiescent, Jackson’s Whole is too disorganized, and the Barrayarans themselves are mostly busy with the colonization of Sergyar.  Though if Barrayar does need him to be a soldier, they can always ask.  They embrace, and he feels the tension leaving them, the melancholy resignation that this is over.

He warns her that, as Admiral, she should stay safely in the command chair, not risk her neck on rescue missions; she calls him a hypocrite.  He then asks her for a favour, regarding Taura–he could see that she was starting to show signs of age, and it might not be long from there until her time finally runs out.  He asks her to send for him in time for him to be there at her side, at the end, as he promised himself years ago.

She settled back. “All right,” she said seriously. After a moment she added, “So . . . did you sleep with her?”

“Um . . .” He swallowed. “She was before your time, Elli.” After another minute he was compelled to add, “And after, from time to time. Very rarely.”

“Hah. I thought so.”

He asks if there was anyone else for her, and she points out that she, at least, was faithful.  He tells her that she’s free to pursue other attachments now, and she says she can free herself, thank you very much.  She wishes him luck finding his Lady Vorkosigan, whoever she is.  She kisses him, and asks if they can have flings, perhaps, from time to time, if their paths happen to cross, and Miles says they might.  Their lovemaking arises more naturally after that, and goes much better.

Afterwards, Elli asks him more about his new job, if he’s going to like it, if there’s much opportunity to advance…  Miles says that he’ll probably outlive most of the current crop, but that’s about it; they seem to be “post-ambitious”, not interested in jockeying for advantage, and he’s looking forward to getting to know them better.  He shares a few choice stories about them, and Elli admits that he just might fit in after all.

Miles returns quietly to Barrayar, spending his first evening back home eating in the kitchen with Pym, Ma Kosti, and her son the Corporal, who shares news of Martin from basic training.  Afterwards he goes to the wine cellar to get a bottle of his grandfather’s oldest wine; when it proves to have gone more than a little off, he pours it out and gets some from a newer, proven batch.  He sits with his wineglass and contemplates his reflection, and Admiral Naismith’s three deaths–once on Jackson’s Whole, once in Illyan’s office, and once at the hands of Haroche.  He prepares to wallow in self-pity.

Instead, he found himself leaning back in the warm chair, laughing softly. He swallowed the laugh, wondering if he’d lost his grip at last.

Just the opposite.

Haroche was no miracle-worker. He wasn’t even a stage magician. He’d had no power then or ever to give or withhold Naismith, though Miles felt a cryonic chill, thinking how close he’d come to delivering himself into Haroche’s hands.

No wonder he was laughing. He wasn’t mourning a death. He was celebrating an escape.

“I’m not dead. I’m here.” He touched his scarred chest in wonder.

Harra Csurik had been almost right. It wasn’t your life again you found, going on. It was your life anew. And it wasn’t at all what he’d been expecting. His slow smile deepened. He was beginning to be very curious about his future.

Comments

The last chapter is more of an epilogue, or a coda…tying off one last loose plot thread–Elli Quinn.  I agree that it would have been a mistake for Elli to come to Barrayar, or even, really, to Komarr; Elena might have been willing to settle for it, had things been different, but Elli is not even necessarily ready to settle down yet.  Plus she has those irrational anti-planet prejudices.  I don’t know that I remember her complaining that much when she was on Earth, but then I guess nobody was proposing that she stay there forever…

I think I may have spotted a symbolism thing, with the wine there…  When Miles finds the wine from his grandfather’s time not to his taste, he briefly considers drinking it anyway, but then decides to get rid of it and take something more modern instead, which he knows is better.  Though…what is that really about?  That he doesn’t have to stick to old Barrayaran ways of thinking just because they’re traditional, but he can indulge in more modern thinking instead?  Though it’s not like he’s drinking some weird offplanet liquor either, right?  It seems clear enough, but I’m not sure it’s entirely apposite for the ending of the book.  After all, Miles has never particularly been one to attach to old Barrayaran ways of thinking, exemplified by people like Count Piotr, Vordarian, Count Vorhalas, General Metzov, so why is it important for him to be able to reject it so easily now?  Okay, maybe I’m just reading too much into this.  Maybe I really don’t get symbolism after all, and maybe, sometimes, a wine bottle is just a wine bottle.


I have reached the end of Memory, and I’m a little sad, because it is perhaps my favourite Vorkosigan book, though Civil Campaign gives it a run for its money.  Next up we get Komarr, which is a little less cheerful and fun, but it does introduce the very important character of Ekaterin Vorsoisson, so there’s that.  My customary week off in between, of course.  So, until then, don’t take any unmapped wormhole jumps…

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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…

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Sometimes good things come to those who wait…and sometimes they even appear early, without you have to wait quite as long after all, like this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein I cover what may be one of the best chapters in this book, or maybe even the entire series…and the one before it, too.

Why early?  Well, it’s like this…one of the great things about having moved the weekly Reread posts to Wednesdays is that, after inevitably done absolutely nothing on it for the entire weekend, I can do one chapter on Monday, take a night off, then do the other chapter on Wednesday.  Whereas before I’d have to do Monday and Tuesday, two nights straight, which felt like more work somehow.  But what do I do when I have plans on Wednesday night?  Like this week?  That’s right, Monday and Tuesday.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.  Although I am wishing I hadn’t already squandered my single chapter…

Chapter Twenty-Four

Miles gives Gregor an update before the party, which makes them both late.  As they arrive, Gregor admonishes Miles to not appear too grim, or people will wonder what’s wrong; Miles echoes the sentiment, and manages to improve Gregor’s mood by reminding him of Laisa.  They find Laisa with Cordelia and Alys; once Gregor and Laisa are reunited, Cordelia urges Alys to go off and enjoy herself with Simon Illyan.  Gregor notes Illyan’s improvement with approval, which Cordelia credits to Alys as much as Miles.  Miles notices something different about Illyan’s clothing–apparently Alys has finally gotten him to go a tailor.
Miles spots Ivan, who’s squiring Martya Koudelka, but Ivan keeps being distracted by Delia, who’s sitting cozily on a couch hobnobbing with Duv Galeni.  Martya mutters that she’ll be glad when Delia finally picks someone, and she can stop living off her sister’s castoffs.  Miles asks Martya how long Duv & Delia has been going on, and she says Delia told her Duv was going to be the one a month ago.

“Um . . . and when did old Duv find out?”

“Delia’s working on it. Some fellows you have to hit with a brick to get their attention. Some you have to hit with a big brick.”

The dancing starts, and the couples head off to the ballroom; Miles manages a few dances with ladies who don’t mind his height, none of them available, then retreats to be a wallflower.  Ivan joins him briefly, and they see Illyan dance past with Lady Alys, astounding both of them with his skill.

A wisp of hair escaped Lady Alys’s elaborate beflowered coiffure, and she brushed it back from her forehead. The image of her en deshabille at breakfast burst in Miles’s memory, and he had the sudden sensation of being hit with a big brick. He choked on his own wine.

Good God. Illyan’s sleeping with my aunt.

Ivan asks him if he’s all right, and Miles says he’s fine, deciding he’ll let Ivan figure this one out by himself.  He heads for the buffet, where he encounters Galeni.  He mentions that he had been going to ask Delia; Galeni says that he had first checked whether Delia thought Miles was serious about her.  Miles asks Galeni if he’s serious, and Galeni says, “Deathly.”  She has the background, the connections, the brains, and the beauty.  Miles offers to put in a good word with Delia’s father, Commodore Koudelka, and Galeni asks Miles politely to not try to do him any more favours.  He’s learned from his earlier mistakes, and plans to propose to Delia on the ride home.

Miles heads back into the ballroom, leaning against the wall and going over the case in his head, until he realizes he’s starting to glower, and snags a dance with Laisa.  While mirror-dancing with her, he sees Galeni being accosted by an ImpSec colonel and two guards.  He moves to keep them out of Laisa’s view; Galeni seems quite angry, and Delia looks worried.  Then the colonel grabs Galeni’s arm, and when Galeni pulls free, one of the guards pulls out a stunner.  Miles excuses himself hastily from Laisa, telling her to go see Gregor, and goes to investigate.

Miles asks the colonel what’s going on, and the colonel tells him that Haroche has ordered Galeni’s arrest, and removing him immediately from the Imperial Residence.  Miles assures Galeni he has nothing to do with this, and wonders if it can be related to his case.  Martya and Ivan come over, and the guards begin to get more nervous; the colonel says that Haroche is on his way over, and Miles advises Galeni to go quietly.  Galeni asks Ivan to get Delia home, before she does anything foolish, and accompanies the guards down the corridor.

Around the corner, they throw Galeni against the wall and start frisking him; Miles forestalls Galeni’s response by admonishing them and telling them to treat him like a fellow officer.  Miles asks what the real charge is, and the colonel tells him it’s treason, which flabbergasts Miles and Galeni.  Miles tells Galeni to go along, and he’ll clear it all up with Haroche; Galeni accedes.
Miles returns to find Gregor, Laisa, Delia and Cordelia gathered to try to find out what’s going on.  Miles says he should have been informed, but all he knows is that ImpSec has arrest Galeni, though he doesn’t mention the charge in Laisa and Delia’s presence.  Haroche himself arrives then, and Gregor asks him to explain himself.  Haroche says he’s only just found out about a possible security risk in one of the guests in the Imperial Residence, and it was his first priority to assure the Emperor’s safety.

“Oh.” Gregor turned to Countess Vorkosigan, and made a vague frustrated gesture at Delia and Laisa. “Cordelia, would you . . . ?”

Countess Vorkosigan smiled very dryly. “Come, ladies. The gentlemen need to go talk.”

“But I want to know what’s going on!” protested Laisa.

“We can get it later. I’ll explain the system to you. It’s really stupid, but it can be made to work. Which, come to think of it, could also sum up a great many other Vor customs. In the meantime, we need to keep the show going out there” — she nodded toward the reception rooms — “and repair what damages we can from this, ah” — a sharp glance at Haroche, which should have made him wince — “unfortunate exercise in caution.”

Haroche, Miles and Gregor move to Gregor’s office; Haroche says he has copies of the report for both of them.  Haroche leads them to the main point of the security report, where they found that the retina scan on Miles’s faked visit was an older copy, from before his cryo-revival, which made some perceptible changes.  It could only have been done physically on the actual machine itself.  The changes to the admittance log, though, were done over the network, through Guy Allegre’s comconsole, and it originated from Galeni’s machine.

Miles points out that Galeni’s machine doesn’t mean the man himself; Haroche says that they can’t fast-penta Galeni, so they may have to settle for circumstantial evidence.  He reminds Miles that Galeni’s father was involved with the original Komarran plot, and Miles’s own clone-brother killed Galeni’s father.  He also mentions the resentment from Miles’s recent interference in Galeni’s courting of Laisa, quoting Galeni’s exact description of Miles on his first call.  Miles says it was to his face, not to his back, and asks how Haroche got that message; Haroche admits that the public Vorkosigan House comconsoles have been routinely monitored for decades.

Miles insists that he can’t believe in Galeni’s guilt, that he’d through away all his hard work like that.  Haroche encourages him to look over the reports, saying he’s not happy to find disloyalty among ImpSec personnel.  Haroche leaves, and Miles heads home as well, not wanting to have to answer questions right now.  In the groundcar, he is struck with another seizure, and comes to to find a panicked Martin leaning over him, and blood in his mouth from bitten tongue and lip.  He tells Martin to take him home, since he’s going to need some time to recover and then to look over the report before he can be of any help to Galeni.  The doctors are right–the seizures being triggered by stress will make him unfit for any sort of active duty.

Comments

So now the Duv and Delia relationship is established, as well as the Alys and Simon Illyan one–at least Miles has figured them out, even if Ivan is still a little slow on the uptake.  Not sure why Simon and Alys are being so coy about theirs, but I guess they’re worried about people’s reactions…particularly Ivan’s, I’d imagine.  I don’t think Duv and Delia are a Great Romance or anything, but they seem to have compatible goals, at least, so they’ll make a good partnership.

So Duv Galeni was the traitor all the time, eh?  Who’d have thought it?  I guess he just snapped or something.  …Yeah, I didn’t buy it either.  Don’t worry, next chapter will lead us to the real culprit.

Also…liked Martya’s “big brick” reference…followed by the big brick hitting Miles when he finally figures out what’s going on with Alys and Simon.

Chapter Twenty-Five

Miles wakes up the next morning with a postseizure hangover, and wonders if the symptoms are getting worse as time goes on, or if it’s just that the rest of his life is improving.  He spends the morning going over Haroche’s report, whose data is scanty but almost more convincing because of it.  He finds little to help Galeni, who’s being held at ImpSec “on suspicion”, a disturbingly indefinite state.  He does go to ImpSec to meet with Dr. Weddell, who is anxious to go home; he confirms that the sample the exact same prokaryote used against Illyan.  Now he also knows that it was never intended to be swallowed; it was packaged into sporelike capsules designed to be dispersed into the air and dissolve on moist mucous membranes.  They would only briefly be visible into the air, and would be odourless, but would hang around in the air for several minutes.

Haroche calls and asks Miles to stop in, and Miles releases Weddell to go home.  He tells Haroche he hasn’t changed his mind, and gives him a copy of Weddell’s report.  Haroche says that of the other Komarran Affairs analysts, two had no knowledge of the sample, and the other two had no perceptible motivation.  Miles points out it’s still circumstantial, and Haroche agrees; he asks if it’s possible Miles could somehow elicit a confession from Galeni, and Miles says he still doubts Galeni is guilty.  Haroche says it will then inevitably have to proceed to a court-martial.  Miles says he doesn’t want some military court guessing about the verdict; he wants to keep looking for other possible culprits.  Haroche protests that that amounts to a witch-hunt, tearing ImpSec apart.

“If you have nothing more concrete to offer, I’m ready to lay the charges and let the court-martial sort it out.”

You can lay the charges, but I’ll not light the fuse. . . “I could decline to close my Auditor’s case.”

“If the court-martial convicts, you’ll have to close it, my lord.”

No, I won’t. The realization made him blink. He could keep his Auditor’s inquiry open forever if he so chose, and there wasn’t a damned thing Haroche could do about it. No wonder Haroche was being so exquisitely polite today. Miles could even veto the court-martial. . . .

But he realizes that the greatest qualification for being an Auditor must be probity, so he should refrain from mucking around too much with his powers.  Haroche recognizes Miles’s reluctance, and offers to downgrade the charge from treason to assaulting a superior officer–a short prison term and a dishonourable discharge rather than the death sentence.  Miles still isn’t sure, since this will wreck Galeni’s future career, not to mention not doing Komarran relations any good.

Haroche then changes the subject, saying that he had another reason for calling Miles up.  He’s been looking at Miles’s medical records, and thinks the controller-seizure device treatment sounds promising.  He tells Miles how he’s been impressed at how he worked with Illyan over the years, and the records he’s been reading about Miles’s career, and he thinks Miles’s discharge was a mistake.  He’d like to work with the Dendarii Mercenaries again, and rather than work with an offworlder like Elli Quinn, he’d prefer to reinstate Miles.

He had to swallow, in order to breathe. “Everything . . . to be as it was before? Take up where I left off?” The Dendarii . . . Admiral Naismith . . .

“Not exactly where you left off, no. By my calculations you were about two years overdue for your promotion to captain, for one thing. But I think you and I could be a team just as you and Illyan were.” A small twinkle lit Haroche’s eye. “You will perhaps forgive me my touch of ambition if I say, maybe even better? I’d be proud to have you on board, Vorkosigan.”

Miles sat stunned. For a moment, all he could think, idiotically, was I’m sure glad I had that seizure last night, or I’d be rolling on this carpet again right now. “I . . . I . . .” His hands were shaking, his head exploding with joy. Yes! Yes! Yes! “I’d . . . have to close this case first. Give Gregor back his choke-chain. But then . . . sure!” His injured lip split again as it stretched, painfully, into an unstoppable grin. He sucked salt blood from it.

“Yes,” said Haroche patiently, “that’s exactly what I’ve been saying.”

Miles, despite the joyous visions in his mind, is suddenly uncertain, and he asks Haroche for some time to think about it.  Haroche agrees, but asks him not to take too long, since he already has a potential mission in mind.  He heads back to Vorkosigan House, somehow feeling like he’s retreating, and ends up fleeing to the small room on the fourth floor.  He realizes that he was kidding himself about how much he’d gotten over the loss of Admiral Naismith.  The Naismith part of him wants to accept the offer, to be reunited with Elli and Taura and the others, but the other part of him whispers that the price seems to be sacrificing Galeni, and letting Haroche get back to running ImpSec without Auditorial interference.

What if Galeni’s really guilty?  Can he really doubt his own character judgement that much?  He remembers the jump-pilot that he’d ordered Bothari to interrogate, back at the beginning of Naismith’s career, and who’d ended up dying; does he need to sacrifice another life now to go back to the Dendarii?  He suddenly remembers Haroche’s expression after he made the offer, and realizes that Haroche knew exactly what he was doing–he was, essentially, offering Miles a bribe.  He begins to realize how much he’s been underestimating Haroche, despite the knowledge that Illyan had appointed him to such a high ImpSec post.  Haroche must have felt sure that Miles would bite, especially with the captaincy thrown in.

Haroche certainly had no trouble figuring out where my on-switch was located. But Haroche was a loyal weasel, Miles would swear, loyal to Gregor and the Imperium, a true brother in arms. If money meant anything to the man, Miles had seen no hint of it. His passion was his ImpSec service, like Illyan himself, like Miles too. The work he had taken over from Illyan.

Miles’s breath stopped; for a moment, he felt as frozen as any cryo-corpse.

No. The work Haroche had taken away from Illyan.

Oh.

He suddenly realizes the motive, to get Illyan out of the picture, was just to allow Haroche to move into his job.  Haroche could easily have planted all of the evidence in the computer systems–who better?  Despite his conviction, though, he has no proof.  He could just accuse him out of the blue, but if he tipped his hand too soon, Haroche doubtless had other resources to marshall to get him out of the picture.  Even if he refused Haroche’s bribe, that might be enough to make him suspicious.  So he could take the bribe, and bide his time…but, he realizes, Haroche is probably not as enamoured of Admiral Naismith as he pretends, and he would be just waiting for the opportunity to bump Miles off untraceably.

His mother knocks on the door, and she and Illyan ask if he’s all right, because they’d heard him thumping around, and wondered if he was having a seizure.

He fought to keep his words even. “Just . . . wrestling with temptation.”

Illyan’s voice came back, amused. “Who’s winning?”

Miles’s eye followed the cracks in the plaster, overhead. His voice came out high and light, on a sigh: “I think . . . I’m going for the best two falls out of three.”

Even if he could trust Haroche, he thinks after they’ve left him alone, Haroche has only tempered his offer for Miles Naismith–he doesn’t know Lord Vorkosigan, which isn’t surprising since Miles hardly does, either.  Miles realizes he’s sick of trying to figure out what Haroche expects him to do.  What else can he do, though?

Who are you, boy?

. . . Who are you who asks?

On the thought a blessed silence came, an empty clarity. He took it at first for utter desolation, but desolation was a kind of free fall, perpetual and without ground below. This was stillness: balanced, solid, weirdly serene. No momentum to it at all, forward or backwards or sideways.

I am who I choose to be. I always have been what I chose . . . though not always what I pleased.

He lingers in his newfound serenity, choosing to be himself, and Haroche’s spectre dwindles.  He realizes that Haroche is likely to balk at actually having him killed, just yet, because that would draw the wrong kind of attention.  Galeni, on the other hand, is at high risk of a staged Vorish suicide, a supposed confession of guilt.

As soon as Haroche knew Miles knew, it would be a race against time. And all Miles had was a trail of mirrors and smoke.

Smoke.

Air filters.

Miles’s eyes widened.

Comments

This is the chapter.  This.

The detective realizes who the criminal is…but has no proof.  Nonetheless, he can now construct the entire chain of events, and everything fits together.  In case there was any doubt that at least one plotline in the book is a mystery–not quite a murder, but close to–that should be gone by now.

And yet, integrated with this scene is Miles wrestling with his own identity.  He realizes that he’s no longer the person that Haroche is trying to bribe, the one at the beginning of the book, who would have leapt at the chance to be reinstated.  Admiral Naismith is not completely gone, but he’s losing ground to Lord Vorkosigan, who can’t sacrifice a probably-innocent man, Duv Galeni, even to regain his heart’s desire.  So that’s Miles’s advantage, that Haroche doesn’t have his measure anymore, because he doesn’t realize how Miles has changed.  Of course, if Miles had been more willing to throw Galeni to the wolves, I’d be willing to bet that Haroche wouldn’t even have broached the subject of reinstatement…he only needed it as the bribe.

Miles’s epiphany, or revelation, or satori, or whatever he does, seems to hinge on a realization that he doesn’t have to choose to be a particular thing, and then try to shoehorn himself into it.  Which is good, because he’s rarely done that.  Was it just since the cryo-revival, when he had to try harder to be Admiral Naismith because it was slipping away from him?  Well, I’m sure he’ll fall back into that trap from time to time, because unless you live on a mountaintop somewhere you keep having to deal with a world that wants to put you in a box.

Sounds like a perfect qualification to being an Imperial Auditor, doesn’t it?


Tune in next week for…the Final Confrontation!  Good vs. Evil!  And something about air filters!

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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.

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