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

Chapter Seventeen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

Chapter Eighteen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My word, is she still alive?”

“Oh, yes.” No thanks to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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


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

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

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Welcome to the future!  You’ve been with us since the dawn of time, at least in the world of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and now here it is again, another couple of chapters in the exquisite novel Memory, a transition point in the story of Miles Vorkosigan, as Miles achieves what he might not have realized was one of his lifelong ambitions…

Chapter Fifteen

A week passes, and Miles gets ever more impatient at the glacial progress of the Illyan situation, complaining to Gregor about it at their daily updates.  All they’ve managed to do is rule out some possible causes of the problem, such as stroke, and confirm that the chip itself is damaged somehow.  They haven’t ruled out psychological issues caused by the chip, but Miles says that he doesn’t buy it, since everyone else who succumbed to that did it much earlier in the process.  Gregor points out that Illyan is the only person in existence who’s had a memory chip this long, so there’s no data to compare him to.  Miles ponders that he’s getting third-hand information, from the ImpSec physicians via Haroche via Gregor, and wishes he had more raw data to work with, to find small details that the others may be dismissing.

When Lady Alys returns from Komarr, she calls Miles, mostly to complain about the situation with Simon Illyan, and the fact that none of them “young louts” had seen fit to inform her.  Miles pointed out that she was already en route to Komarr at the time, but admits that he hadn’t realized she’d want to know.  He asks about her Komarr trip, and she says that Laisa’s parents are very anxious about the situation, and she tried to soothe their fears.  Countess Vorkosigan, on her way home from Sergyar, will stop in and talk to the Toscanes as well; Miles isn’t sure that his mother’s bluntness will be quite appropriate, but Alys assures him that Cordelia has a way of talking people into things despite themselves.  The wedding is officially on, but Lady Alys hopes to have any potential tensions defused long before the event.

She complains that when she tried to stop in to see Illyan, General Haroche wouldn’t let her in, and asks Miles if he can do anything about it.  He protests that he’s out of the ImpSec loop right now, and reflects that for years he’s considered himself an ImpSec representative, but no longer.  He asks her to talk to Gregor, and she says even he was no help.

“Maybe he didn’t want to distress you. I gather Illyan is in a pretty disturbing mental state right now, not recognizing people and so on.”

“Well, how can he, if no one he knows is allowed to see him?”

“Um. Good point. Look, I have no intention of defending Haroche to you. I’m pretty annoyed at him myself.”

“Not annoyed enough,” snapped Lady Alys. “Haroche actually had the nerve to tell me — me! — that it was no sight for a lady. I asked him what he had been doing during the War of Vordarian’s Pretendership.” Her voice trailed off in a hiss — Miles’s ear was not quite sure, but he thought it detected suppressed barracks language.

She said that Gregor seems to be concerned with not antagonizing Haroche right away, since they’ll be working together for years, and Haroche may have convinced him that it’ll undermine his position if there’s too much interference right off the bat from people like Lady Alys.  Illyan never had a problem with Alys’s unofficial position–he’d considered her part of Gregor’s support team.  Miles says that Haroche is basically in control of the information that reaches Gregor right now, and finds that more concerning than he had when it was Illyan in that position.  He jokes that Alys could go on strike–no more wedding planning until Gregor deals with Haroche–and she says she’s seriously considering it.

The next morning Martin wakes Miles early to announce the arrival of “another ImpSec stick”–this time, Lieutenant Vorberg.  Miles tells him to arrange some coffee and some pastries and bring them, then throws on some clothes and goes to find out what Vorberg wants.  Vorberg says he’s just coming off shift–he’s been running the night security for the ImpSec clinic; this instantly gets Miles’s attention, since this means Vorberg is one of Illyan’s guards.  This must be ideal, since Vorberg is cleared, the job isn’t physically demanding, and Vorberg’s ties to anyone at HQ are looser, since he was a courier.

Vorberg’s voice went tight, almost angry. “I do think it’s bad form of you, Vorkosigan. Almost petty, under the circumstances. Illyan was your father’s man for years, passed the message on at least four times. Why haven’t you come?”

Miles sat very still. “Excuse me. I think I’ve missed the first half of something. What, ah . . . could you please tell me exactly what’s been going on in there?”

Vorberg says Illyan has been kept restrained almost all the time, and he babbles when he’s not sedated, and mumbles when he is.  He keeps flashing through various time periods in his memories, but when he seems most clearly aware of the present, he asks for Miles.

“At first I thought it was the Count your father he wanted, but it’s definitely you. Miles, he says, and Get that idiot boy in here, and Haven’t you found him yet, Vorberg? It’s not like you can mistake the hyperactive little shit. Sorry,” Vorberg added as an afterthought, “that’s just what he said.”

Miles says that sounds like Illyan, but this is the first he’s heard of it; this puzzles Vorberg, since he says he’s put it in his nightly report for days now.  Miles knows that it must be Haroche who’s not passing it on, since Gregor wouldn’t have failed to convey that.  He asks if there’s any medical testing going on, but Vorberg says he hasn’t seen any, so it must be during the day shift.
Martin brings in the coffee and pastries.  After he leaves, Vorberg says he’s heard some interesting things from Illyan’s maunderings during the late hours, before they sedate him again, and he’s figured out that Miles was never a courier; Miles confirms that he was high-level covert ops.  Vorberg says he doesn’t know why Illyan terminated him, but that even when Illyan seems to remember Miles was fired, he still asks for him.  He’s told Haroche that twice, and Haroche has remained noncommittal.  Miles finds this interesting, and tells Vorberg that they better not have had this conversation, and encourages him to substitute their earlier conversation instead.  Vorberg says he’s not sure what Miles is up to, but he’s encouraged that Miles seems to still be willing to do his Vor duty, which so few seem to be these days.

An hour later, Miles is heading once more to ImpSec HQ.  He thinks about how Haroche is more concerned with guarding Illyan, making sure his secrets don’t leak out, than making sure he gets the best medical treatment, which makes him little more than a prisoner.  He wonders if Haroche is paranoid and stupid, or just overwhelmed.  Up to now, in Domestic Affairs, Haroche has mostly dealing with subordinates, with Illyan dealing with the Emperor and the Vor.  Illyan treated Alys Vorpatril as a valuable resource, whereas Haroche dismisses her as someone with no apparent power.  Miles agrees that Haroche should be cautious with Illyan’s head full of secrets, but he should be tempering that with some human concern and respect.

Miles marches into the foyer, trailed by Martin, and asks to see Simon Illyan.  The clerk says he’s not on the list, but Miles says he’s on the doorstep, and will stay there until he’s allowed in.  Once again Miles works his way up the chain of command to Haroche, who once again refuses Miles’s request, saying Illyan is “in no condition to socialize”.  Deciding to try a blunt approach, Miles asks what Haroche’s problem is, and says he’s trying to help; Haroche tells him to remove himself.  Miles says he won’t leave; Haroche says he can have Miles removed, and Miles says he will return.  Haroche admits he can’t have Miles shot if he persists, but he can arrest him for illegal trespass, or resisting arrest, and can have him stunned at any time.

He wouldn’t dare. “How many times?”

“How many times do you propose to make it necessary?”

Miles said through his teeth, “You can’t count past twenty-two even with your boots off, Haroche.” It was serious insult to imply extra digits, on this mutation-scarred planet. Both Martin and the listening clerk watched the rising temperature of this exchange with increasing alarm.

Haroche tells Miles again to get out, and follows it up with armed guards who manhandle Miles out the door and out to the sidewalk.  They tell the gate guards that Haroche has ordered them to stun him the next time he tries to enter the building.  Miles sits down on a nearby bench, humiliated and angry, and briefly considers leading a covert-ops-style raid to free Illyan, but decides that it would end up getting him killed.  He realizes that he’s been so intent on proving that he could succeed on his own merits that he’s been neglecting the Lord Vorkosigan side of himself.

Naismith was obsessed with winning at all costs, and being seen to have won.

But Vorkosigan . . . Vorkosigan couldn’t surrender.

It wasn’t quite the same thing, was it?

Vorkosigans throughout history have failed to surrender, preferring to die instead, and he’s just the latest; he just happened to get brought back to life.  The joke is that the Vorkosigans are too stupid to know that surrender’s even been offered, so they just keep fighting.  Admiral Naismith stole most of Lord Vorkosigan’s life, but he can’t take away the dumb hillman at the core–the owner of radioactive Vorkosigan Vashnoi.

Miles threw back his head and laughed, tasting the metallic tang of the misting rain sifting into his open mouth.

“My lord?” said Martin uneasily.

Miles cleared his throat, and tried to rub the weird smile back off his face. “Sorry. I just figured out why it was I hadn’t gone to get my head fixed yet.” And he’d thought Naismith was the sly one. Vorkosigan’s Last Stand, eh? “It struck me as funny.” Hilarious, in fact. He stood up, stifling another giggle.

He tells Martin to take him home, showers, and changes into his Vorkosigan House uniform; he’s avoided it for years, preferring military dress uniforms instead.

Counts and their heirs, honorably retired from more active Imperial service, were permitted by ancient custom to wear their military decorations on their House uniforms, in recognition of the Vor’s official and historical status as — what was that dippy phrase? “The Sinews of the Imperium, the Emperor’s Right Arm.” Nobody’d ever called them the Brains of the Imperium, Miles noted dryly. So how come no one had ever claimed to be, say, the Gall Bladder of the Imperium, or the Emperor’s Pancreas? Some metaphors were best left unexamined.

Miles has never bothered to get out all of his medals at one time, mostly because the vast majority of them are for Naismith’s classified achivements.  He lays them out now–more than one row of wound badges, a medal from the Vervani, one from the Marilacans, five Barrayaran Imperial Stars of varying metals, and even the Cetagandan Order of Merit.  When he gets them all out, it looks ridiculous, and he’s surprised at how much he’s actually accumulated.  Nonetheless, he fastens them to his house uniform and dons it ceremoniously, including his grandfather’s dagger.

“If you expect to open a can of worms,” he spoke aloud for the first time, “you’d best trouble to pack a can-opener.”

Martin does a double-take when he sees Miles; Miles says they’re going to the Imperial Residence.

Comments

Once again resisting the urge to overquote (not by much); go read the medal scene, I love it.  Miles is mustering the resources he has left to him, and is preparing to remind the Emperor what exactly he has managed to accomplish.  When I read these books originally, in publication order, it struck me that the previous book was Cetaganda, so this was the first time Miles could actually have taken out the Order of Merit.  (I suppose it would have been more mysterious if Miles had referred to it in an earlier book and it wasn’t until Cetaganda that we found out how he earned it.)  Anyway, it struck me when I was first reading it.  It is, as Miles recalls, one of the few medals that Lord Vorkosigan earned, not Admiral Naismith.

I’m still not quite sure I follow how Vorkosigan stubbornness explains why Miles hasn’t gotten his brain examined yet.  Is it just that he refuses to surrender to the seizures, to his body’s debility?  Well, I suppose that would be in character, for Lord “Who Cares If My Bones Are Brittle As Fine China, I Want To Be A Soldier” Miles Vorkosigan.

I’m not sure what Miles expects to accomplish with his second attempt to see Illyan.  Did he think that Haroche would change his mind, when he’d already dismissed Lady Alys so summarily?  Miles hadn’t added any new cards to his deck, no new backup, no new persuasions, just stubbornness.  Haroche was easily able to muster resources to dismiss him.  I guess he was just hoping that Haroche would not prove to be as unreasonable as he was.  He keeps excusing Haroche’s behaviour, finding it explicable, even as he deplores it, so I guess he just needed to convince himself that he had to make an end run around Haroche if he wanted to accomplish anything on the Illyan front.

And both Alys and Vorberg seem to think that it’s his responsibility to do it.  Alys lacks the access, and Vorberg wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything with it if he had it, because he’s not one of the people Illyan wants to see.  (I wonder if Vorberg, who by now has figured out that Miles was part of the Dendarii Mercenaries, has figured out Miles’s responsibility in his bisection.  If so, he doesn’t seem to hold it against Miles, at least.)

Chapter Sixteen

Gregor received Miles in the serene privacy of his office in the Residence’s north wing. He was seated behind his comconsole desk, perusing some visual display, and didn’t look up till after the majordomo had announced Miles and withdrawn. He tapped a control and the holovid vanished, revealing the small, smoldering, brown-uniformed man standing across from him.

“All right, Miles, what’s this all ab — good God.” Gregor sat up, startled; his brows climbed as he began to take in the details. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you come the Vor lord with intent.”

Miles says that he’s willing to bet that Haroche is concealing from him how bad things really are with Illyan.  Gregor admits that Haroche has to summarize, but Miles says that he’s failed to mention that Illyan has requested Miles’s presence specifically, which he found out from a reliable anonymous source.  Gregor says he’s heard that Illyan’s grip of current reality is tenuous, and Miles says they don’t know how bad it is, because they can’t actually see him–Lady Alys has been turned away, and Miles himself has been threatened with stunning if he returns.  Gregor asks how much of a pest Miles was being, and Miles says he can surely requisition the recording if he wants to, but he points out that he has a Vorish obligation to Illyan which takes an end run around ImpSec’s chain of command.

Gregor asks Miles if he thinks something’s fishy, and Miles says it may just be stupidity and incompetence.  He recalls his bout with cryo-amnesia, and bets that Illyan’s suffering something just as bad, if not worse.  Either Haroche is just mishandling the matter and needs to be corrected, or else there’s some kind of deliberate sabotage going on.  Gregor admits that Haroche has asked him to restrict how much information he passes on to Miles.  Miles says he wants in–not just to see Illyan, but to see all the raw data.  To give him the requisite authority, he asks Gregor to assign him an Imperial Auditor.  He doesn’t know what he’s looking for, but he wants to be able to get any information he needs.

Gregor asks which one he’d want, but says that Vorhovis in en route to Komarr to use his diplomatic skills to facilitate the wedding.  Vorlaisner, Valentine and Vorkalloner are a bit too conservative to Miles’s tastes, and he’s afraid they’d take Haroche’s side, and General Vorparadijs is of course mostly senile.  Gregor says that he doesn’t think Miles would be satisfied with whatever Auditor he picks anyway, if they didn’t do just what he wanted all the time.

“An Auditor,” said Gregor, “is not just my Voice. He’s my eyes and ears, as well, very much in the original sense of the word. My listener. A probe, though most surely not a robot, to go places I can’t, and report back with an absolutely independent angle of view. You” — Gregor’s lip twisted up — “have the most independent angle of view of any man I’ve ever met.”

Miles’s heart seemed to stop. Surely Gregor couldn’t be thinking of —

“I think,” said Gregor, “it will save ever so many steps if I simply appoint you as an acting Imperial Auditor. With the usual broad limits on a Ninth Auditor’s powers of course; whatever you do has to be at least dimly related to the event you are assigned to evaluate, in this case, Illyan’s breakdown.”

Miles says that Haroche will know it’s a scam, and Gregor says that he will be wrong.  He’s also been worried about events at ImpSec, but wasn’t sure what he could do about it, until now.  Miles gushes about how awesome it will be to finally not have to deal with the chain of command getting in his way all the time.  He gratefully accepts Gregor’s proposal, and Gregor has an Auditor’s chain of office fetched for him, as well as the electronic seal that grants him full systems access.

Miles says that traditionally Imperial Auditors make their first visit unannounced, but he wonders if it’ll really work at ImpSec if he gets stunned before he can make himself known.  He asks Gregor if they should call ahead, and Gregor says they should try it without, and “see what happens”.  He says that apart from the Simon Illyan matter, Haroche seems to be doing a decent job as acting head of ImpSec, but Gregor would like to test him a little further before deciding whether or not to confirm his appointment, to see if he screws things up on Miles’s visit.

Gregor notes that if what happened to Illyan’s chip was sabotage, he’d have expected some kind of followup attack to take place shortly after, or before, his indisposition, and nothing like that has occurred.  Unless, Miles suggests, the motive was just personal revenge on Illyan himself.  Gregor asks if Miles has any suspects, and Miles says the list is huge–anybody who was, or felt, victimized by ImpSec during Illyan’s tenure; it’ll be easier to start with the chip and work backwards.

He cleared his throat. “There’s still the problem of not getting stunned at the door. I hadn’t intended to take on ImpSec single-handed. I’d assumed I’d have a real Auditor to hide behind, one of those portly retired admirals, say — and I still think I would like to have a witness. An assistant, to be sure, but really, a witness. Someone I can trust, and you can trust, someone with the requisite amount of security clearance but who is not himself in ImpSec’s hierarchy.”

“Do you have someone in mind?” asked Gregor.

“My God,” said Ivan, unconsciously echoing Gregor, as he gaped at Miles. “Is that real?” His finger reached out to tick the heavy gold chain of the Imperial Auditor’s rank and office now hanging around Miles’s neck.

Ivan says he thought it had been some sort of emergency to yank him off work like this, and asks if this is a joke.  Gregor says it’s far from a joke, and that Lord Auditor Vorkosigan’s first request was for an assistant.  Ivan says he just wanted a donkey to carry for him, and Miles says that the problems at ImpSec could leave him carrying a load of explosives–he wants someone he could rely on.  Ivan settles down, glad that somebody’s finally going to be doing something about Illyan’s problems, which should please his mother, at any rate.

Miles arrives at ImpSec’s front gate with two Imperial Guardsmen as well as Ivan, and tells the gate guards that the Imperial Auditor requests and requires his presence at the front gate.

“Aren’t you the same fellow we threw out of here this morning?” asked the sergeant in worry.

Miles smiled thinly. “Not exactly, no.” I’ve been through a few changes since then. He held out his empty hands. “Note, please, that I am not trying to enter your premises. I have no intention of throwing you into the dilemma of trying to choose whether to disobey a direct order, or else commit an act of treason. But I do know it takes approximately four minutes to physically get from the Chief’s office to the front gate. At that point, your troubles will be over.”

It takes four and a half minutes for Haroche, accompanied by Illyan’s secretary, to arrive at the gate.  Miles takes a second to enjoy Haroche’s consternation as he takes in the details.  Haroche exclaims in disbelief at the Auditor’s chain, but Miles points out that it’s a capital offense to impersonate an Auditor, and Haroche grudgingly acknowledges him.  Miles informs him that he has been tasked with auditing ImpSec’s handling of the situation, and asks to repair to Haroche’s office to continue the discussion; Haroche agrees.

Haroche, Miles and Ivan head into Illyan’s former office, currently Haroche’s, and admonishes himself to remember not to reassume the reflexes of obedience that he was used to.  Miles says that Gregor is displeased with ImpSec’s handling of Illyan’s breakdown, and so he demands to see Illyan, to talk to his medical staff, and have access to all of their information, and after that he’ll see what’s next.

Haroche says that he will of course comply, but he’s in a bit of a dilemma–his list of potential saboteurs of Illyan’s chip had Miles on it, near the top.  Suddenly Miles realizes why Haroche may have been blocking him.  Haroche says that now, unfortunately, Miles has made himself untouchable, so he can no longer keep Illyan safe from any further reprisals from him.  Miles sees Haroche’s dilemma, but decides it’s too bad; Haroche formally registers a protest.  Miles asks about motive, and Haroche says that Illyan’s termination would be considered sufficient, especially considering his falsification of reports.  Miles protests that it was one report, one time, and that Gregor is aware of it; he realizes that he’s been underestimating Haroche, who has managed to undermine his momentum by bringing this up.  Haroche says flat out that he doesn’t trust Miles, and Miles says he doubts Haroche can muster the political resources to have him impeached, and Gregor is unlikely to sympathize with his suspicions.  Though he admits that, in Haroche’s position, having to deal with untouchable but likely guilty adversary, he’d try his damnedest to nail him to the wall.  Haroche says that he hopes the whole thing is academic, that there was no sabotage, and Miles agrees, thinking that maybe he can work with Haroche after all.

Haroche’s study of Miles hung up on the magpie collection of military baubles on his tunic. His voice went unexpectedly plaintive. “Vorkosigan, tell me — is that really a Cetagandan Order of Merit?”

“Yeah.”

“And the rest of it?”

“I didn’t clean out my father’s desk drawer, if that’s what you’re asking. Everything here is accounted for, in my classified files. You may be one of the few men on the planet who doesn’t have to take my word for it.”

In the corridor on their way downstairs to the HQ clinic, Ivan murmured, “I’ve never seen a general tap-dance sitting down, before.”

He points out that Miles was practically pulling an Admiral Naismith on the General, except without the Betan accent, which Miles hadn’t thought of at the time.

Miles doesn’t enjoy the medical odours of the ImpSec clinic, which remind him too much of the times he’s been laid up there.  Right now, there are no other patients besides Simon Illyan.  A Dr. Ruibal appears to take Miles to Illyan.  Illyan is restrained, eyes glazed, unshaven, and naked; Dr. Ruibal explains that Illyan is too unruly to deal with them having to dress and undress him all the time, and Miles sees the doctor and guards all show signs of violence.

Miles addresses Simon, who is glad to see him, asking about the success of a mission from five years ago, and a moment later is asking to be released so he can supervise the Emperor’s Birthday ceremony.  Miles tells him that his memory chip is malfunctioning…over and over again, and Illyan keeps coming back from different memories.  Dr. Ruibal says the speed has increased–six times on the first day, six an hour the day before, and seems to be twice that now.  Next time Illyan insists that Miles Vorkosigan is five years old, and advises him to be careful around his grandfather the Count.

Finally Illyan references Vorberg, and Miles realizes he’s actually in the present.  Illyan grabs Miles’s hand and asks him to swear as a Vorkosigan that Miles’ll kill him if they can’t fix it.  He then time-shifts again, and after five more times Miles has to leave the room, nauseous.  Miles insists that Ruibal have Illyan washed, shaved, and dressed in some of his own clothes.  Ruibal says that Illyan seems to behave better in Miles’s presence, and asks him to stay around to give them a better chance of accomplishing it without getting pummeled.  Miles does, and Illyan is soon clothed and eating peacefully.

Afterwards, Ruibal says the briefing is ready for him, and asks if he can return afterwards to keep Illyan behaving.  Miles agrees, and in the meantime…he turns to Ivan.

“I would rather,” stated Ivan quietly, “charge a laser-cannon site naked than be in here by myself.”

“I’ll keep it in mind,” said Miles. “In the meanwhile — stay with him till I get back.”

“Yeah.” Ivan took over the chair at Illyan’s elbow as Miles vacated it.

As Miles followed Ruibal out the door, he heard Illyan’s voice, for a change more amiable than stressed: “Ivan, you idiot. What are you doing here?”

Comments

And so Miles becomes a temporary, acting, Imperial Auditor.  Craftily introduced in this book as a venerable Barrayaran institution, explained to offworlder Laisa Toscane earlier, and only alluded to once since then (by Tsipis), and now Miles’s option of last resort.  Gregor is probably correct that just having an Auditor to work with, and one he probably couldn’t order around with impunity, wouldn’t be a viable option.  Miles would be constantly trying to justify to his Auditor why the Auditor should request this or that bit of information, or order someone to do this or that thing.  Luckily Gregor sees through this and comes up with the solution that Miles didn’t dare conceive, though one wonders if he had ever one day fantasized about it.  Perhaps not–he was too busy fantasizing about being Admiral Naismith (while being Admiral Naismith), where he was very near the top of his chain of command, to have to come up with another way to be near the top of the chain of command.  And if they’re mostly retired, conservatives bores of Admirals and Generals, it might not have been the kind of thing to appeal to a younger, pre-Naismith Miles Vorkosigan, who would probably have been satisfied with just being a regular Admiral or General.

Ivan’s comment about Miles “coming the little Admiral at him” was quite perceptive.  Maybe it’s just that Miles already knows what to do when he’s in absolute charge, from his Naismithing experience, and so automatically reverts to that behaviour when he’s Auditor…or maybe, if Naismith was already some kind of dissociated personality (which I’m not as convinced of as Mark and Cordelia were), it’s a sign that he’s being reintegrated into Lord Vorkosigan.  At least he didn’t slip into Betan accent or anything.

It suddenly occurs to me how much Illyan’s memory disorder is like a horrific version of Alzheimer’s Disease.  One wonders if Alzheimer’s has been dealt with in galactic medicine–though Auditor Vorparadijs is described as “senile”, so it may still be an issue on Barrayar.  …Not much more to say about that.  Hey, I’m glad to see that the ImpSec doctor actually has a name!  Not just another anonymous physician like so many utilitarian medical non-characters in this series…

Ivan’s return to the plot is quite welcome, too.  While he’s right to protest that he’s just there to serve as Miles’s “donkey”, Gregor and Miles are right to hold him in high enough estimation to think he might be useful.  He is trustworthy and loyal (if lazy and work-averse), so he’ll make a good assistant for Miles.  But the best part is how it turns out Miles isn’t the only person that Simon Illyan will always recognize.  I gotta laugh every time I read that “Ivan, you idiot!” line at the end of the chapter.  One supposes that the Count or Countess Vorkosigan would serve as well too, which may be one reason why the author has them both on Sergyar right now.  One wonders if Aral would have been able to cut through the ImpSec issues by now, too, if he were there.  Perhaps not–he’d have more political concerns tying his hands, like Gregor, and be just as willing to send Miles in.


So now that Haroche is out of the way as an obstacle, it’s time for Lord Auditor Vorkosigan to really cut loose, and find out what’s actually going on!  Whoever’s behind Simon’s problems, though, they seem to be pretty canny.  It’ll take some time for Miles to run them to ground…  We’re past the halfway point now, in chapters and in pages, but there’s still quite a few left.  (And after last week, I managed to persuade myself not to read further ahead, so I’m now caught up with blogging the chapters I’ve read; now I’ll have to see if I can hold myself back to two chapters this week.)  Until next week…

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You may have felt it coming–the quiet building of pressure, the electricity in the air, the stifling heat and humidity.  And then, suddenly, with a crash of thunder, it’s here–this week’s installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  Like a funnel cloud, it sucks you in, and you’ll be lucky to escape intact.  Because here’s where it starts to get real.  As much as it can in a work of fiction, of course.  This week we cover chapters Thirteen and Fourteen in Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, where a somewhat respirited Miles Vorkosigan emerges from his cocoon (not literally) and begins to notice things further outside of himself again…and something is rotten in the state of Vorbarr Sultana.

Chapter Thirteen

Ivan ends up getting recruited to help his mother get ready for her trip to Komarr.  Lady Alys also gives Miles a voluminous amount of historical material about Imperial weddings to study up on.  Miles hopes that they don’t try to resuscitate some of these ancient rituals, though it has been forty years since the last such wedding–Prince Serg and Princess Kareen’s.  Miles supposed that they may want to try assert their Vorness to help protect them from the upcoming infusion of Komarranness.  While he realizes his position as Gregor’s Second is important, he doesn’t think it’ll be the most useful thing he’s ever done, but it also won’t be the strangest.

During Lady Alys’s absence, her role as Gregor’s chaperone is taken by “Drou” Koudelka, who requires Miles to attend one of Gregor’s courting events.  On his way there, he runs into a crowd of military men just leaving some other ceremony.  Trailing the group, moving with some difficulty, Miles recognizes the ill-fated Lieutenant Vorberg, just having received a new medal for being wounded in Imperial Service.

Miles had half a jar full of similar ones at home in a drawer; at some point Illyan had stopped issuing them to him anymore, perhaps fearing that Miles’s threat to don them all at once sometime was not facetious.

Miles is unable to resist engaging Vorberg in conversation, since he knows that Vorberg will not recognize him as “Admiral Naismith”.  He asks Vorberg about his medal, and Vorberg tells him about getting kidnapped by hijackers, and gripes about the incompetent and cut-rate Dendarii Mercenaries who sliced his legs off with friendly fire.  Miles points out that they must have some Barrayaran links to name themselves after a feature from Vorkosigan District; Vorberg says the commander is some kind of Betan maniac who escaped from therapy, though he did meet a Barrayaran expatriate.  Miles restrains his urge to defend his former fleet, and says he’s on medical discharge himself, courtesy of a needle grenade.  Vorberg asks about his plans, and Miles admits he’s not sure, though he has social commitments to keep him in Vorbarr Sultana for a while–Gregor’s engagement is not yet common knowledge, so Miles can’t be more specific than that.  They part and Miles heads to Gregor’s garden party.

The event is mostly for Gregor to introduce Laisa to more of his acquaintances, including Count Henry Vorvolk, as well as Drou herself, who was of course his old childhood bodyguard.  Drou gets along fine with Laisa, as a fellow observer of Vor society from the outside.  Gregor and Laisa do grab some time alone, and Miles chats with Delia Koudelka.  Miles says he’ll have to go visit her father, who Delia says was sorry to hear about his medical discharge.  Delia asks after Galeni, wondering if he’s broken up over Laisa and Gregor.  Miles says that he’s been better, but he’ll get over it.  Delia says that bring courted too slowly would be a change from what she usually experiences.

Delia says that her mother is excited about the wedding, and hoping that matrimony will rub off on some of her daughters. She herself hopes for dancing, and interesting men, as opposed to overgrown boys like Ivan, who just want to get laid; Miles points out that men want to get laid too, but Delia says at least it’s not all they think about.  Miles says that everyone ends up getting married in the end, except possibly on Beta Colony.  He wonders why the Koudelka sisters are still single, and Delia says it may be that the four of them together are too daunting.

After the party, Miles goes back home.  Later that evening, Martin announces a visitor, who turns out to be Duv Galeni–luckily, not armed, and not seeming too edgy, so Miles decides he’s probably safe.  Galeni refuses a drink and settles down stiffly, and starts by apologizing to Miles for his earlier actions.  Miles says it was understandable, and just hopes that nobody else got the benefit of that kind of earful.  Galeni says that wasn’t really what he was here for, though–more or a professional issue.

Galeni frowned more deeply. “Tell me . . . have you ever caught Simon Illyan in a mistake?”

“Well, he fired me,” said Miles wryly.

Galeni’s hand twitched, rejecting the joke. “No. I mean an error.”

Miles says that Illyan has been misled, from time to time, but Galeni says he’s talking about simple errors.  Miles says he can’t recall any such thing, and Galeni says he’s run across four of them in the last three days.  The first was Illyan calling down for a report that Galeni had already delivered, which was easily corrected; the second was a memo delivered with the wrong date.  The third, that morning, was another wrong-dated memo, addressed to Galeni’s predecessor, about a trade fleet which had been back for six months; when Galeni called to ask about it, Illyan denied sending the message, until Galeni forward it to him.

Finally, that afternoon’s weekly briefing had been disjointed, with many pauses from Illyan, bewildering jumps of topic, and early dismissal.  Miles suggested that if the meeting was about Gregor’s betrothal, he might have been trying to spare Galeni’s feelings, but Galeni says that doesn’t feel right.  Galeni’s not sure what to infer, but he’s an ImpSec analyst and he’s noticing a change in patterns.  As an outsider, and a Komarran, he wants to get some corroboration before he takes it up further; he asks Miles if he knows of any stress in Illyan’s personal life right now.

“I don’t think Illyan has a personal life. Never married . . . lived in the same little apartment six blocks from work for fifteen years, till they tore the building down. He moved into one of the witness apartments on the lower level of HQ as a temporary stopgap two years ago, and still hasn’t bothered to move out. I don’t know about his early life, but there haven’t been any women lately. Nor men, either. Nor sheep. Though I suppose I could see sheep. They can’t talk, even under fast-penta. That’s a joke,” he added, as Galeni failed to smile. “Illyan’s life is regular as a clock. He likes music . . . never dances . . . notices perfumes, and flowers with a lot of scent, and odors generally. It’s a form of sensory input that isn’t routed through his chip. I don’t think it does somatic stuff either, no touch, just audio and visual.”

Galeni asks if it could be something wrong with the chip; Miles says that most of the people who went crazy because of the chip did so much earlier, so Illyan should be safe from that.  He says that Illyan was planning to retire in a few years, and he might just be getting tired; he doesn’t really like the job, he’s just very good at it.  Galeni says that ImpSec without Illyan will be much different, because Illyan has a very Vorish way of running the organization in a very personalized manner.  Miles wonders if Illyan’s unique, and sometimes almost colourless, personality, is part of what kept him saner than other chip-bearers.  Galeni asks for advice, and Miles says he doesn’t even have a theory or a problem yet, just some data, so he should wait and watch for more.  He agrees that Galeni is probably not the best person to bring this to light–in fact, only Miles himself would be worse.  Galeni says that Miles is the person besides Haroche who has the longest baseline of experience with Illyan, and he was hesitant to approach Haroche directly.

Two days later, Miles is going through his closets, with Illyan calls on the comconsole.  He asks Miles why he’s at home, and not in his office for the 0900 briefing, as per his orders.  Miles asks for more details, and Illyan begins to tell him about a breakout mission, rescuing a certain Colonel Tremont from a Cetagandan prison camp on Dagoola IV, to help bolster the Marilacan resistance.  Miles tells Illyan that he did that mission five years ago, the Cetagandans haven’t been on Marilac for a year, and that he hasn’t worked for ImpSec in over a month.  Illyan asks what he’s talking about, then stops, excuses himself, and signs off.

Miles just sat, staring at the empty vid plate. He’d never before felt his heart pound like this while sitting perfectly still in an empty room. Galeni’s report had worried him.

Now he was terrified.

Comments

So, yeah, there does seem to be something a little bit wrong with Simon Illyan right now.  Possibly something to do with his memory chip.  (See what I did there?)  Maybe Galeni’s anecdotes weren’t particularly persuasive…but the call to Miles at the end of the chapter doesn’t leave a lot of room for ambiguity.  Something is wrong with Illyan’s brain, or its prosthetic memory.  And here, like I said, is where the story really starts.

On another note, I’m struck again, on this read-through, about the subtle hints of some interest growing between Delia Koudelka and Duv Galeni.  Maybe not reciprocated, yet, but Delia seems to like him, at least.  Ivan is not even on the table, dismissed as a “boy” emotionally despite being several years older than her.  And the reappearance of Ludmilla Droushnakovi “Drou” Koudelka!  Well, she doesn’t actually get much screen time, but she’s mentioned, at least.  I sometimes forget how little we see of the Koudelka family for so many books, what with Miles spending so little time on Barrayar.  Their part in Barrayar is so memorable that their presence seems to linger.  The daughters, at least, have been popping up more frequently, Kareen in Mirror Dance, Delia here, and even Olivia and Martya in A Civil Campaign.

Chapter Fourteen

Miles realizes that Illyan’s worse than Galeni had thought–he’s not just forgetting things, he’s flashing back to old memories somehow.  After sitting there stunned for several minutes, he tries to think of what he can do about it.  The problem is that he can’t, himself, publicly find fault with Illyan’s behaviour, because it will be dismissed as spite, or worse.  But he can’t just do nothing.  Illyan could easily start issuing orders based on, say, the Komarr Revolt, and people would go along with him for far too long before realizing something was up.  He may already have been issuing spurious orders for some time, and nobody’s noticed yet.  Is the problem with Illyan’s chip, Miles wonders, or with his brain, or some combination of the two?

In the end, all Miles can think to do is pass the information on to someone else who can do something about it.  He calls up General Haroche at ImpSec, who is not there, and leaves a message for him.  Haroche doesn’t call back, but Miles eventually tracks him down.  All he tells Haroche is to check the last call that Illyan made to him, not wanting to seem to be trying to lead Haroche to any conclusion.  Haroche is impatient and dubious, but he allows that he might check out the call.

After signing off, Miles wonders if he should do more, perhaps try to call Gregor, but decides to leave it in Haroche’s lap.  Haroche will doubtless put Illyan in medical care, take over as acting ImpSec chief, and then be obliged to notify Gregor himself, before the end of the day.  Maybe it’ll be a simple malfunction in the chip, easily replaced.  Miles occupies himself with busywork, but doesn’t hear anything, so he gives in and tries calling Haroche and Gregor, but is unable to reach either.

The next evening, Miles is near to climbing the walls.  Galeni turns up, fresh from work, and tells Miles that it’s over.  Illyan had a complete breakdown in the all-departments briefing that afternoon; Miles is surprised that Haroche hadn’t already acted.

“The briefing started out almost normally. The department heads gave their weekly precis reports, and listed all the red flag items they want the other departments to watch out for. Illyan seemed nervous, more restless than usual, fiddling with objects on the table . . . he snapped a data card in half, then muttered some apology. He stood up to give his usual list of chores for everyone, and it came out . . . one line never tracked another. He was all over the map. Not as if he thought it were the wrong day, but as if it were the wrong twenty days. Every sentence was grammatically correct and completely incoherent. And he didn’t even seem to be aware of it, till he began looking at all of us staring at him with our jaws hanging open, and ran down.

Haroche stood up and asked Illyan to submit himself for medical evaluation, but Illyan refused, though he seemed as much confused as angry; he didn’t want to leave in the middle of the crisis caused by the Cetagandan invasion of Vervain.  Haroche tried to remove him by force, but Illyan, a dirty fighter, injured him and two others before the medic arrived, sedating Illyan and tying him down.

Miles decides that that couldn’t have been a worse or more humiliating way for Illyan’s problem to come out.  Galeni says he wasn’t supposed to tell Miles about this, so the information didn’t come from him.  Miles again wonders why Haroche hadn’t taken care of this the night before, but decides he wasn’t the man on the ground, so he shouldn’t second-guess Haroche’s decision.  He also wonders if the stress of the wedding helped bring it on, but decides Illyan has probably faced worse crises; still, the timing is less than optimal.  Galeni asks if Miles’s firing could have been a symptom as well, but Miles is forced to admit that Illyan was unfortunately quite right to do it.

Miles goes to ImpSec HQ the next day to visit Illyan, but the security clerk won’t let him in.  He asks the clerk to call his superior, Major Jarlais, who Miles knows personally, but Jarlais doesn’t think he can let Miles in either.  Miles decides to cut to the chase, pull Vor rank and go straight to Haroche.  Haroche tells Miles that it’s impossible to let him in, and Miles asks why.  Haroche asks Miles to take the message privately, and then asks Miles how he heard; Miles just says he called Gregor, letting Haroche conclude that’s how he found out.  Haroche says that Illyan is babbling, all sorts of high-security info, but Miles points out he’s still cleared for all of it.  Haroche is surprised to find that Miles’s clearance is still on file even after his dismissal, so he revokes it right then and there.

You can’t do that! Miles bit back the outraged scream. Haroche most certainly could. Miles stared at him, frustrated. So what was he going to do? Flounce out of ImpSec with an angry cry of, We’ll just see about that! I’m going to tell my big brother on you! No. Gregor was a card he dared only play once, and only in the direst emergency. He let out his breath, and his anger, in a carefully controlled sigh. “General. Prudence is one thing. Paranoia that can’t tell friend from foe is quite another.”

“Lord Vorkosigan,” said Haroche, equally tightly. “We don’t yet know what we have here. I don’t have time to spend entertaining idly curious civilians this morning, friendly or not. Please do not pester my staff any more. Whatever the Emperor chooses to pass on to you is his business. My only duty is to report to him. Good day.”

Upon returning home, Miles tries to get through to Gregor, eventually succeeding, and asks him point-blank what’s up with Illyan.  With Gregor, he pretends only to know what Gregor told him two days ago, and his own call, and asks for news.  Gregor gives the summary of Galeni’s staff meeting, and says Illyan is in the ImpSec clinic.  Miles tells Gregor that Haroche wouldn’t let him see Illyan, and Gregor says that Haroche’s hands are full. and he needs some time to get ImpSec organized; he advise Miles to give Haroche a few days to relax.

“You have to admit, Simon would be the first to approve a cautious approach to such an emergency.”

“True. Simon would prefer to be in the hands of people who really cared about security. But I’m beginning to think I would prefer it if there were any signs he was in the hands of people who really cared about Simon Illyan.”

Miles remembers his own cryo-amnesia, the sense of having lost himself, and wonders if what Illyan’s experiencing is similar, or even worse.  Miles says he’ll give Haroche some time, but pleads with Gregor to keep him updated.  Illyan was a mentor to him, and his “Uncle Simon” until he went into the Academy; he’s never had any family of his own, so Miles feels like he’s part of his family, maybe even like a family retainer, a Vor responsibility.  Gregor says it’s nice to see Miles remembering he’s Vor once in a while, loyal as a Vorkosigan, and promises to give him daily updates.

Miles signs off, partly satisfied, telling himself that it’s too early to conclude that there’s something funny going on, but feeling it nonetheless.  Still, he doesn’t want to make a fool of himself in public again just yet.

Comments

It is tempting, at this point, to think of Haroche as the bad guy, because he just wants to thwart our hero’s aims.  Just like Miles’s superiors always used to do, like whatsisname in Cetaganda, or in The Vor Game, or Brothers in Arms…Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan always chafed at his limitations, until he finally got the freedom to act as Admiral Naismith with much fewer brakes on his actions.  So maybe he’s not really so bad, he’s just trying to deal with a crisis, and tired of being pestered by someone who’s no longer authorized to be directly involved.  Haroche isn’t Vor, he’s from the supposedly egalitarian military, at least the ImpSec branch of it, and he does show some evidence of not truly understanding the Vor way of doing things–which is an odd failing for someone tasked with running security on Barrayar itself.  Maybe it’s that very task that shows him that Vor are no better than anyone else, and gives him some contempt for the values they espouse, because he gets to see them when they’re at their most hypocritical, or at least wrongheaded.

So Galeni was not supposed to tell Miles, and Miles pretends that he heard about it from someone else.  But Galeni visits Vorkosigan House right after work that day, Vorkosigan House has ImpSec guards (maybe it’s just Kosti, but he must trade off with others, and, in any case, Kosti has to obey orders), and after Galeni’s visit, Miles knows that something’s going on with Illyan.  He offers alternative explanations, true, but I’d think that it wouldn’t be too hard to surmise that Miles found out from Galeni.  They might even have access to the angry call that Galeni made to Miles, and find it odd that Galeni came to visit him not once but twice after that.  Okay, apology and rapprochement is not an impossible explanation either, but…it’s a theory.  I guess it’s just that nobody really cares enough to spend time digging into those two.  Or maybe they’ve already assumed that Miles and Galeni were the ones who were conspiring to bring Illyan down, and are just waiting to let them incriminate themselves before pouncing.


This is a bad chapter to stop on, frankly.  Like Miles, we’re pretty sure that something is wrong, and we have to keep reading long enough to find out what that is.  I’ve been generally trying to keep myself to reading two chapters a week–after my week’s blog post, I read the next two chapters before I start writing the next week’s summary.  A few weeks ago I found myself unable to stop, and went on for a third chapter.  This week, I read three more chapters, so I’m now two full chapters ahead.  Will I be able to keep myself from reading two chapters further ahead this week?  I guess I can try.  But Chapter Sixteen is just such a great chapter…  Next week.

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Are you still shell-shocked from watching this season’s Game of Thrones?  Full of schadenfreude from having known what was going to happen for years?  Trying to avoid spoilers (good luck with that!), or just not caring about the whole thing?  Why not come visit a story where weddings are, in general, less fraught–Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga?  Admittedly, there are no actual weddings in Memory, though some people are certainly thinking matrimonial thoughts.  So let’s cover another couple of chapters, picking up Miles during his visit to the Dendarii Mountains and following him to where the real plot of the book…doesn’t quite start yet.  But Miles is almost recovered enough to be able to deal with it when it does.

Chapter Eleven

Miles points out a clearing in front of a nearby cabin–Speaker Karal’s, last time he visited, and Martin lands the lightflyer there.  A man comes out of the cabin–not Speaker Karal, though, but a younger man with a proprietary air.  Miles gets out of the lightflyer uncertainly, briefly wishing for an actual bodyguard, but the stranger recognizes him and comes to greet him.  Miles says it’s merely a social visit; the man asks if Miles recognizes him, then introduces him as Zed Karal, who was just a boy for Miles’s last visit.  Miles asks after his parents, uncertain, and Zed says they stay with his brother and sister-in-law for the winter.

“Is . . . Karal not the Speaker of Silvy Vale anymore, then?”

“No, we have a new Speaker, as of about two years ago. A young hotshot full of Progressive ideas he picked up living in Hassadar, just your type. I think you’ll remember him all right. Name’s Lem Csurik.” Zed’s smile broadened.

Miles smiles for the first time that day and says he’d like to see Lem.  Zed offers to guide them to the new clinic, where Lem will be working, and hops into the lightflyer to guide Martin and a bemused Miles.  Over the next ridge they set down in front of the frame of a six-room building under construction.  Lem recognizes Miles instantly (of course), and greets him happily.  He tells Miles about the new clinic, which they hope to have finished before winter, after which they’ll have an actual doctor, one of the Countess’s scholarship students from Hassadar.

Miles asks about the dam, and Lem says they built it themselves, after giving up waiting for the District giving them a receiver for satellite power.  They looked over a dam from another village, figured out how they could make one themselves, subcontracting the tricky parts to an engineer from Hassadar in exchange for a summer cabin.  Lem says that this was the best site for the dam, and has made it possible for the village to improve, so they can have power for the clinic.

“You didn’t let anything stop you, did you?”

“Well, m’lord, you know who I learned that from.”

Harra, his wife, of course. Raina’s mother.

Miles asks after Harra, who he’s now starting to want to talk to as much as he had Raina; Lem says she’s teaching at the school, along with another girl Harra’s training.  Lem says Harra will doubtless want to see Miles as well, and get in the lightflyer for his own turn as guide.  They arrive at the log cabin labelled as the Raina Csurik School.  Harra is teaching a class of teenagers, their wooden desks nonetheless holding comconsole links, but she interrupts the class to greet Miles, hugging him warmly.  He did attend her graduation from teacher’s college in Hassadar, but hasn’t seen her since then.  Harra introduces her to his class, who view him with interest more than revulsion; in fact, at the front of the class are three pictures–the Emperor and their Count, by regulation, but Miles as well.  Miles feels a little self-conscious about his shabby clothes, but he gives an impromptu rah-rah speech before Harra shows him to the younger class as well.

Miles tells Harra that he’d really come to burn an offering on Raina’s grave, but he wouldn’t be able to do that now without setting his boat on fire, unless they moved her grave somewhere else.  Harra says they did move most of the graves to a ridge above the lake–not her mother, of course, dishonoured by Raina’s murder, and not Raina, because they couldn’t find her tiny body and makeshift coffin.  Instead, she considers the school Raina’s memorial, and teaching like burning an offering.  She asks after his health, and he says he’s recovering from illness.  Harra invites him for lunch to meet their own children, after dismissing the classes early.

They descended by lightflyer unannounced upon Lem’s sister, who rose to the challenge smoothly. The lunch she provided was, thank God, light. Miles dutifully met and admired Csurik children, nieces, and nephews. He was hijacked by them and taken on a stroll through the woods, and viewed a favorite swimming hole. He waded gravely along with them on the smooth stones with his boots off, till his feet were numb with the chill, and in a voice of Vorish authority pronounced it a most excellent swimming hole, perhaps the finest in his District. He was obviously an anomaly of some fascination, an adult almost their own size.

They return to the school in later afternoon, where a gathering is already well underway, a celebration of his presence, and he realizes he’s getting a party that day after all.  They’re not getting out that night, and, given the maple mead being pased around, probably not until the next afternoon.  By the time the bonfire’s blazing and he’s had a few sips of mead himself, Miles finds himself actually beginning to relax.  Martin is teaching city dances to eager teenagers, and perhaps not taking it easy enough on the mead, but Miles decides to let him learn about that himself.  Miles dances with Harra and a number of other women, feeling glad to be an excuse for their celebration.

As the party begins to die down, though, he feels a lack of closure, that he hasn’t accomplished what he came up here to do.  He still needed that talk with Raina, somehow, possibly with a jug of mead, but he’s afraid to get too close to the reservoir and break his oath to Ivan by throwing himself in.  Instead he goes with Lem and Harra.

It was not the dead Miles needed to talk to, in the dark, he realized. It was the living. Useless to confess to the dead; absolution was not in their power. But I’ll trust your Speaking, Harra, as you once trusted mine.

He says he wants to talk to them about something; Harra asks if he’s sick or dying, and Miles says he kind of did it backward.  He explains about his death and revival, and the seizures, and how he screwed things up for himself by trying to hide them.  Now he feels like he’s thrown a big chunk of his life away.  Harra says it’ll do some good if it means he spends more time in the district; she knows all about shame, and waste.

Harra was silent for long enough for Lem to pass around the stone jug one last time, in the dim moonlight and shadows. Then she said, “You go on. You just go on. There’s nothing more to it, and there’s no trick to make it easier. You just go on.”

“What do you find on the other side? When you go on?”

She shrugged. “Your life again. What else?”

“Is that a promise?”

She picked up a pebble, fingered it, and tossed it into the water. The moon-lines bloomed and danced. “It’s an inevitability. No trick. No choice. You just go on.”

Noon the next day a very hung-over Martin pilots the lightflyer, very delicately back to Vorkosigan Surleau.  He asks Miles if he found what he was looking for; Miles says it wasn’t there anymore.  Lem and Harra are the kind of heroes the Dendarii Mountains need, not Admiral Naismith.  He asks Martin how old “middle age” is, and Martin answers thirty; Miles thinks that his mother always considered it “ten years older than you are”.

“I had a professor at the Imperial Service Academy once,” Miles went on, as the hills grew more gentle beneath them, “who taught the introduction to tactical engineering course. He said he never bothered changing his tests from term to
term to prevent cheating, because while the questions were always the same, the answers changed. I’d thought he was joking.”

“Unh?” said Martin dutifully.

“Never mind, Martin,” Miles sighed. “Just go on.”

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In case I thought I was past the parts of the book that made me cry…Harra Csurik’s “You just go on” speech there does it for me.  I’m not sure why, but I guess it’s just that the two of them, each having known loss, connect on a deep level, and Harra’s lesson (which I’ve heard from survivors in my own life) is just: “You just go on”.  Well, in reality there’s two choices–to stop, or to go on–but if you have the strength to avoid the first choice, then the second is all you’re left with.

And the Csuriks, and Silvy Vale, have gone on.  They refused to stay the thing he remembered from his past, the isolated village and the baby’s grave.  Miles apparently attended Harra’s graduation in Hassadar, at what point I’m not sure, but apparently he happened to be onplanet for that one.  And Lem went from suspected murderer to respected community leader; they took action and built a dam, moving their graves out of the way, choosing the future over the past.  He doesn’t need to just mourn the loss of the future he expected; he can take action and find a different future for himself.

How would the Csuriks’ lives have been different if Harra’s mother hadn’t killed Raina, if Raina hadn’t had a harelip and grown up as a normal girl?  Would they have become the same community leaders that they are in this timeline, or is it only because of their adversity, and perhaps Miles’s example, that they managed to achieve so much?  (Hint: Lem wasn’t talking about Harra when he was talking about how he learned not to let anything stop him.)  It’s hard to prove counterfactuals, especially fictional counterfactuals, so let’s pretend that Miles played a crucial part, that this is like his “It’s A Wonderful Life” moment, showing him how much he improved things, just when his life has been at its darkest ebb.  (Barrayarans, not being particularly religious, don’t believe in angels, though, I’d imagine, except perhaps Father Frost.)

Chapter Twelve

Back at the lake house, Miles makes himself face the video birthday greetings forwarded from Vorbarr Sultana.  Gregor’s is serious, Ivan’s is cautiously mocking; Mark’s, sent from Beta Colony, is somewhat stilted, and possibly oft-revised, but Miles allows that this may be Mark’s first chance to send a birthday greeting ever.  Miles realizes that now he’ll have to send Mark a reply, and somehow tell him what’s happened without seeming to blame him for it.

Last is the message from his parents, which was sent through the government comm relays from Sergyar and would be little more than a day old; they’d be reacting to the most recent news to reach them.  Even before they speak, Miles can tell from their expressions that they don’t know about his change of circumstance, though they seem to know that he is back on Barrayar.  They congratulate him on reaching thirty alive, and try blaming their gray hairs on him, and ask him to route his next mission via Sergyar so he can come visit.  They also ask why they haven’t heard from him yet–Lady Alys hasn’t passed on anything about him yet either.  The subject turns to Gregor and Laisa, asking him for his opinions, and stating their support.

“Alys said she’ll do,” said the Countess, “and I trust Alys’s judgment. Though I don’t
know if the young lady quite realizes what she’s getting into. Please assure Dr. Toscane of my full support, Miles, whatever she decides to do.”

“Surely she’ll accept, if Gregor asks her,” said the Count.

“Only if she’s so head-over-heels in love as to have lost all sense of self-preservation,” said the Countess. “Believe me, you have to have lost your mind to marry a Barrayaran Vor. Let’s hope she has.” Miles’s parents exchanged peculiar smiles.

They reminisce about what they were doing at age thirty–Cordelia in the Betan Astronomical Survey, just missing promotion to captain, while Aral was already a captain, on ship duty.  They demand that he send them a reply, and sign off.  Miles promises himself he won’t put it off much longer.

They fly back to Vorbarr Sultana the next day, and Miles is just trying to compose the message when Ivan calls, happy to see him back in town.  He badgers Miles about making a medical appointment to get his head looked at, having been ordered by Gregor by Lady Alys.  Miles says it hasn’t seemed that urgent, since it wasn’t likely to get him back into ImpSec or the Dendarii if he gets them fixed.  Ivan says that if he doesn’t want to go to ImpMil, there’s plenty of other clinics around, and he offers Miles their names and locations, though Miles has already done his own search.  Ivan says he’s surprised that Miles isn’t up and running at this newest obstacle, determined to overcome it like usual.  He says he’d half expected Miles to go running back to the Dendarii, and to hell with the treason charge and breaking his oath to Gregor, if he never planned to come back to Barrayar.

Miles promises to make an appointment by the end of the week, and Ivan says he’ll hold him to that.  After the call, Miles wonders at his behaviour as well.  He thinks that he was delaying his appointment to buy time, but he’s not sure for what.  Facing reality perhaps, facing the possibility that his seizures can’t be cured, or facing the possibility that they can be, and the temptation to flee to the Dendarii will resurface.  Has being killed scared him so much that he’s arranged this whole situation to keep from having to take dangerous missions again?  He never had before, he’s proved his bravery over and over.  Does he really need to keep on proving it?

Suppose he got his head fixed, here or on Komarr or on Escobar, it didn’t matter where. And suppose he took off, and ImpSec declined to assassinate their renegade Vor, and they achieved some unspoken agreement to ignore each other forevermore. And he was all and only Naismith.

And then what?

I face fire. Climb that wall.

And then what?

I do it again.

And then what?

Again.

And then what?

It’s logically impossible to prove a negative.

I’m tired of playing wall.

He decides it’s not cowardice, but he’s still not sure why he’s delaying.  He turns to the message to his parents, and it comes out more stilted than Mark’s birthday message, but, refusing to put it off any longer, he sends it off…though by regular mail, so it’ll take a couple of weeks to get to Sergyar.  He makes a slightly modified version to send to Quinn, whose birthday message had been demure, guarded, and anxious.

Ivan comes around for the dinner the next night, where he seems less concerned with nagging Miles about his medical appointment and more with winning over Ma Kosti.  During dessert, Martin announces an “ImpSec stiff-rod” calling for Miles.  Miles wonders by Simon Illyan would be calling him, but it turns out to be Duv Galeni instead.

“You smarmy goddamn little pimp,” said Galeni, in a dead-level voice.

Miles’s own bright, innocent, panicked, “Hi, Duv, what’s up?” tripped over this and fell very flat, and just lay there, withering under Galeni’s glare. Galeni’s face was neither red nor pale, but livid, gray with rage. I should have stayed at Vorkosigan Surleau one more week, I think.

Galeni outright accuses Miles of setting up the whole Laisa and Gregor thing, though Miles insists he couldn’t have known that Gregor would taken an interest.  Galeni rails against Vor thievery, his dialect slipping back into gutter Komarran, though Ivan interjects to ask if Galeni is sure he wants to have this conversation over the com.  Miles shushes Ivan, not sure he wants Galeni there in person when he’s this mad.  He asks how Galeni found out, and Galeni says that Gregor and Laisa just called him, her “best friend” on the planet, to announce their engagement.  He’d kept his cool then, congratulating them, saving his ire for Miles.  Ivan asks Galeni how he’d managed to court Laisa for five months without her seeming to realize it, and Galeni said he had to prove himself worthy of her, and he had a timetable in mind, proposal at six months.

Galeni’s mad is winding down; he asks Miles if there’s any chance he could intercede to change Gregor’s mind, though he realizes himself that it’s hopeless.  Miles says that he owes Gregor, and he really does want Gregor to get some heirs for his own peace of mind.  He reminds Galeni that it’s Laisa’s decision, not anybody else’s, no matter what Galeni’s timetable was, and Galeni signs off.  Ivan is relieved to get that over with, since he’s been avoiding Galeni for weeks, and accuses Miles of having done essentially the same in Vorkosigan District.  Ivan suggests returning to dessert, but Miles says that he’s probably high on Gregor and Laisa’s call list as well, so they might as well wait.

Sure enough, they call a few minutes later, glowing with happiness, and inform Miles–and Ivan, when they find him there–of their engagement.  Miles asks who else knows; Gregor says Lady Alys was the first, and informed Simon Illyan, and of course they called Duv Galeni.

“He agreed it might be good for planetary accord,” said Gregor, “which, considering his background, I find most heartening.”

In other words, you asked him point-blank, and he said, Yes, Sire. Poor, excellent Duv. No wonder he called me. It was that or explode. “Galeni . . . is a complex man.”

“Yes, I know you like him,” said Gregor.

They’d also sent a message to Aral and Cordelia, letting them know; Miles tells them that they already had an inkling from Alys, and passes on their expressions of support.  Laisa is terribly interested to meet Lady Vorkosigan.  Gregor asks Miles to be his Second, which he accepts.  He asks about the date, and Gregor says, sadly, that Lady Alys, is insisting in making this as elaborate as possible, possibly involving an actual wedding on each planet.  Alys is already en route to Komarr to contact Laisa’s parents, and she’s insisting on no formal betrothal for a month, and almost a year until the wedding.  Miles recommends that they listen to her, because she’ll win over the Old Vor before he knows it.  Gregor says he’d like to have Lady Cordelia there for the betrothal as well, and Miles assures him she’s not likely to miss it.

Gregor grinned. “Congratulations to you too, Miles. Your father before you needed a whole army to do it, but you’ve changed Barrayaran history just with a dinner invitation.”

Miles shrugged helplessly. God, is everybody going to blame me for this? And for everything that follows? “Let’s try to avoid making history on this one, eh? I think we should push for unalleviated domestic dullness.”

After they sign off, Ivan agrees that it’s Miles’s fault, because it was his idea to invite Duv Galeni along.  They compromise on blaming it all on Lady Alys for asking Ivan for more guests in the first place.  While searching for some booze to truly celebrate the affair, Ivan asks Miles if he thinks Galeni will do something stupid.  Miles thinks about it for a long time before saying he won’t.

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Duv Galeni calling Miles a smarmy little pimp is one of the scenes I always remember from this book.  Because it’s so unlike the usually reserved Galeni, and given what he proved himself capable of in Brothers In Arms, Miles is right to be cautious of him.  Poor guy–it can’t be easy for your girlfriend to fall for someone else, to not even realize that she was your girlfriend, and not just a friend…  Oh, well, he’ll get over it.

At least Miles finally managed to send messages to his parents, and to Quinn.  He’s learned that keeping secrets=bad, I guess.  Sending video messages seems to be the thing on Barrayar, which seems more plausible now than it did back then, really.  Now everybody’s got a netbook or smartphone with a camera, and sending video messages may not be routine yet, but it can’t be too far away.  Sending them offplanet means that you can precompose them, like an email, though of course if your performance or recitation falters, you’ll either have to edit them heavily or do several takes.

This chapter also includes some soul-searching on Miles’s part.  It’s interesting to consider that he might have been subconsciously sabotaging himself, out of fear or insecurity, trying to give himself a good excuse to bow out of the Dendarii.  But if that wasn’t the case, then we have to see him come up with a reason not to take the easy out back to the Dendarii, at least assuming he gets his head fixed and stops being a liability.  He begins to realize that it wouldn’t accomplish anything–if he disconnects the Dendarii from Barrayar, from service to something larger, then all it is is “playing wall”, showing that he can overcome challenges.  (That may, in fact, be part of the reason that I find some of the pure adventure stories to be a little dissastisfying.  We need what my wife calls “public stakes” and “personal stakes”, so that the central issues in the plot matter to the main character, as well as being important to others.)

So he’s at least ruled out one possible future, but we still don’t know what he is going to do with himself.  Become a Vor drone?  Go into politics?  Study accounting?  I guess we’ll find out…


It may not be fair to characterize what happens next as the beginning of the “real plot”.  Character stories are real stories too, and I thoroughly enjoy Miles’s personal journey in this book, as I may have indicated.  But there are public stakes showing up in this book as well, and we’ll see them shortly.  Plus, the title will soon begin to make a little more sense…

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Clever intros?  Yeah, I got nothin’.  I mean, what is there to say?  I’m posting summaries, quotes and comments from two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, from her Vorkosigan Saga–chapters Nine and Ten, this week.  I seem to be all out of that “further ado”, so here they are:

Chapter Nine

Count Vorkosigan’s armored groundcar sighed to the pavement under the east portico of the Imperial Residence. Martin looked nervously back over his shoulder toward the gates, and the gesturing guards clustered around them. “Are you sure that’s going to be all right, my lord?”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Miles, seated beside him in the drivers compartment. “They’ll have that little bit of wrought-iron straightened back up and repainted before I’m ready to be picked up again, I wager.”

Martin takes some hunting to find the controls to open the door.  Miles encourages him to take the car out while he’s with Gregor, somewhere with lots of room to practice, and to call Tsipis if he has any problems.  He warns Martin that the car is very heavy and has more momentum that it seems.  As Martin pulls out–the car being much less damaged than the gate–Miles wishes he’d had Martin practice the week before, but decides he’ll do better without his new employer in the back seat to kibitz.

Miles is escorted to Gregor’s private office, which is located in a newer portion of the palace–rebuilt after the fire started by Cordelia during the Pretendership, and generally filled with art by living artists, and no antiques.  After being announced, Miles sits and Gregor joins him.  They both agree that they wish Miles hadn’t done it, but they can’t undo it now.  Miles says that if he could magically undo anything, it might be Bothari’s death.  Gregor says that Miles was on the verge of great things; Miles says it was only a desk job at ImpSec, but Gregor says that he wants to get some people his own age in positions of power in his government, and Miles would have been the first.  Miles points out that they were mostly his age when they were appointed to their positions, they’ve just been there for a while.

Gregor asks Miles what he plans to do; Miles says he hasn’t decided yet, but he needs some time to get his head together.  Gregor requests that he stay away from the Dendarii.  He admits that they probably couldn’t stop Miles from getting to them if he really wanted to, but it would definitely be considered treason.  Miles says he wouldn’t do them any good with his seizures in any case.  He asks what will become of them, and Gregor says that will depend on Quinn.  Miles says Quinn will probably be savvy enough to want to keep the Empire’s retainer, and ImpSec should still be able to make use of them, if she can keep the same good record.  Miles says that if Quinn, who should be at the peak of her abilities, can’t manage the Dendarii, then he’s not the commander he thought.

Gregor acknowledges this, then changes the subject, cheering up visibly, and invites Miles to lunch.  Miles asks if he has to, and Gregor says he wants Miles’s opinion on somebody.  This reminds him to ask where Miles has told his parents yet, and they both admit they haven’t.  Gregor tells Miles to do so, and to get medical treatment as soon as he can.  As they are heading out to the garden for lunch, Miles apologizes to Gregor.  They find a table for four in the garden under an awning; Miles isn’t sure what this is in all about, until he sees Alys Vorpatril and Laisa Toscane.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Toscane,” Miles said, as greetings were exchanged all around. “We meet again. Is this your second trip to the Residence, then?”

“My fourth.” She smiled. “Gregor very kindly invited me to a luncheon meeting last week with Minister Racozy and some of his staff, where I had a chance to present some of my Trade Group’s views. And then there was a ceremonial reception for some retiring District officers, that was just fascinating.”

The conversation starts on Komarr, but veers off into Laisa and Gregor comparing their respective only-childhoods.  Miles has the impression that this is part of a dialogue between the two of them begun on one of the earlier visits.  Alys stays quiet, and Gregor digs information out of Laisa and she insists on tit-for-tat from him, making him surprisingly talkative.  After the dessert arrives, Gregor says he has a surprise for Laisa, and one of his liveried men brings a gorgeous white mare for Laisa to ride.  Laisa protests that she doesn’t know how, and Gregor insists that he’ll teach her; Miles notices that the horse is so placid as to be barely awake, so Laisa’s not likely to be in any danger.

Laisa made doubtful, fascinated, please-talk-me-into-it noises. Miles leaned over to Lady Alys and whispered, “Where did Gregor ever find that horse?”

“Three Districts away,” she murmured back. “It was flown in to the Residence’s stables yesterday. Gregor has been driving his domestic staff to distraction for four days, planning every detail of this luncheon.”

Gregor offers to boost her into the saddle, which they eventually manage, and Gregor leads the horse around the garden with Laisa on its back.  Miles asks Alys if she’s playing Baba to the couple, and Alys says it certainly seems that way.  She’s not quite sure when it happened.  Miles asks if Barrayar–or Komarr–is ready for a Komarran Empress.  Alys says it may be controversial, but the Centrists will like it, at least.  She says that, on balance, she approves.  She’s been trying to find a bride for Gregor for ten years, and to no avail.  He’s seen every tall, slim Vor beauty on the planet; Miles says he’s not surprised that didn’t work out, since Gregor is too afraid of inbreeding bring out his ancestors’ insanity, and he’s related to too many of the Vors for comfort.

“So . . . what does he see in Dr. Toscane, d’you think? Besides brains, beauty, a nice personality, a good sense of humor, social grace, wealth, and non-Vor genetics, that is?”

Alys vented a small, ladylike snort. “I think it’s even simpler and more fundamental than that, though I doubt Gregor is conscious of it. Not to imitate one of your mother’s annoying Betan-style instant psychoanalyses, but . . . Gregor’s mother was murdered when he was five years old.” Her red lips crimped briefly in old pain; Lady Alys had known Princess Kareen, back then. “Look at Dr. Toscane’s figure. It’s . . . maternal. Not a bone in sight anywhere. All that time I wasted herding tall, slender beauties past him, when I should have been rounding up short, plump beauties. I could cry.”

Gregor, Laisa and the horse pass by, talking animatedly.  Alys asks where Duv Galeni fits into this.  Miles says that they’re not exactly friends, but he knows something about it.  Alys says that, according to ImpSec, Duv and Laisa weren’t actually in an intimate relationship; Miles says he was courting her nonetheless, but has to admit they were in no formal relationship.  Miles says he doesn’t know what stage they were actually at, since he doesn’t know Galeni that well–he was very private and deliberate, which may have been working against him with Laisa.  Alys asks if Galeni is likely to be problematic if Laisa starts seeing Gregor, and Miles says he doesn’t know, but it will probably hurt him.  He apologizes mentally to Galeni.

“How can poor Galeni compete with the Emperor?”

She gave him a slightly pitying look. “If she loves Galeni . . . there’s no contest. If she doesn’t . . . then there’s no problem. Right?”

Gregor and Laisa return to the table; he helps Laisa dismount, and they wash their hands (though Miles is certain the horse would have already been thoroughly cleaned).  Alys reminds Gregor about an impending meeting, and Laisa apologizes for interfering with Gregor’s work.  Gregor demurs, but kisses her palm, leading to a grinning match between the two of them before Alys breaks it up, leading Laisa away.

Gregor asks Miles’s opinion of her, though he gushes his own praise of her, her trade presentation, her eyes, her beauty, with Miles unable to do more than agree, until finally Gregor calls him on it.  Gregor then admits to being terrified–not of rejection, but of the danger he may be putting her into because of who he is.  Miles reminds him that non-Imperial people die every day too, and Gregor seems to find this reassuring.  Miles asks about the impending meeting, but it’s nothing relevant to the Vorkosigans; he wonders if he should spread the word that this would be a good week to ask Gregor for anything, since he’ll undoubtedly be in a fantastic mood, but decides that it’s better kept secret.

Miles asks if Illyan has been informed of the possible interplanetary incident this relationship, not to say wedding, would be, and Gregor says that he’ll send Alys to brief him on it, when things seem more certain.  Miles says that Lady Alys may be his best possible ally in this.  Gregor says that a marriage like this could be a good sign of unity for the Emperor, and Miles says that the Komarrans might not all agree with that.

Gregor shook his head. “At the last . . . none of that matters. I’ve finally found something for me. Really for me, not for the Imperium, not even for the Emperor. Just for me.”

“Then grab it with both hands. And don’t let the bastards take it away from you.”

“Thank you,” Gregor breathed.

Miles takes his leave, hoping the car is still right-side up, and planning to avoid Duv Galeni for as long as he can.

Comments

I don’t care what anyone else says, I think that there’s something going on between Gregor and Laisa.  Also, I noticed that Gregor was going to send Lady Alys to liaise with Simon Illyan…

Seriously, though, you gotta feel for poor Gregor.  The responsibility on his shoulders, and on other parts of him, particularly when it comes to perpetuating the Vorbarra line, must be formidable, and while he may have gotten over his brief fling of rebellion (see: The Vor Game), he can’t help but dig in his heels a little bit.  He may not have been able to hold out for a love match forever, but he managed long enough, apparently.  And even then, even though he has a feeling that any relationship with Laisa is something “for him”, he can’t help but think of the implications–he can’t think of it just as dating some pretty girl, but as a prospective marriage, because everyone else is, too.  It’s hard to say whether Laisa is already considering marriage or not at this point, of course, but she definitely seems smitten, at least.

Finally: “annoying Betan-style instant psychoanalyses”.  Heh.  In case anyone, like me, is tempted to take Cordelia’s pronouncements as Divine Writ, or Authorial Writ.  This book is, as I may have mentioned before, Miles trying to prove wrong his mother’s assessment (which, admittedly, he may not have ever heard) that he can find a balance in his life without the “Little Admiral”.  Not without a few stumbles, of course, but he is, apparently, more resilient (and more sane?) than she seemed to think in Mirror Dance, at least.

Chapter Ten

It takes a few days, but Miles finally manages to convince Ivan to let him go to Vorkosigan District on his own, or at least without Ivan along.  Ivan makes him pledge his word not to do anything suicidal, and he enlists Martin as a spotter just in case.  Miles hopes that a few days in Vorkosigan Surleau will be good for him.

When they reach the district, Martin piloting the lightflyer, Miles asks him to take an indirect route, quartering the district, passing by Hassadar.  Martin is no great shakes as a lightflyer pilot, but, all in all, will be better than someone having a five-minute seizure.  They make a wide pass around the city of Hassadar, which doesn’t impress Vorbarr Sultana native Martin, even when Miles points out that Hassadar is more modern, since most of it was built after the Cetagandan Invasion, when the previous district capital was nuked.  Martin says that there’s not much else to the district, and tries to make a hillman joke, which Miles does not appreciate.  He reminds Martin that the hillmen were staunch fighters against the Cetagandan invaders.

The Vorkosigan’s District had subsequently lagged behind others in development because it was among the most war-torn on Barrayar.

Well . . . that had been a good excuse two generations ago, even one generation ago. But now?

The Imperium plucks us Vorkosigans from our District, and uses us up, and never replaces what it borrows. And then makes jokes about our impoverishment. Odd . . . he’d never thought of his family’s ardent service as a hidden tax on the District before.

Next, Miles directs Martin to fly over the radioactive wastelands, most of which were left to Miles personally by his grandfather.  They observe the odd plants there, and Miles says that someday, after he’s had children, he plans to put on a radiation suit and actually set foot down there.  Martin asks if anyone lives there, and Miles says it’s mostly bandits and other desperate folk, who aren’t planning on children anyway.  By the time he’s old (Martin guesses ten years, and Miles says more like fifty), it’ll start being usable again.  Miles points out the old capital, Vorkosigan Vashnoi, and wonders if it still glows in the dark.

Martin asks if he can go a little faster, see what the lightflyer can do, and Miles says he’s in no hurry.  He toys with the idea of showing Martin how to fly the Dendarii Gorge, the way he and Ivan used to, but decides he’s not up to that level of challenge anymore.

Ivan had started the game. Each cousin took a turn at the lightflyer’s controls on runs through the deep winding gorge till the other either tapped out, martial arts-fashion, by banging on the dash, or else lost their last meal. For a proper run one had to disable several of the lightflyer’s fail-safe circuits first, a trick Miles would just as soon Martin not learn about. Miles had pulled ahead of Ivan in the score early by the simple precaution of not eating first, till Ivan twigged to it and insisted they eat breakfast together, to assure fairness.

Miles won the final round by challenging Ivan to a night run. Ivan took the first turn, and brought them through alive, though he was white and sweating when they popped up over the last rim and leveled out.

Miles lined up for his run, and turned off the flyer’s lights. All credit to Ivan’s nerve, he didn’t break and claw, screaming, for the (disabled) emergency-eject button till he realized his cousin was also flying the speed-pattern through the gorge with his eyes closed.

Miles, of course, didn’t bother to mention he’d flown the identical pattern over sixty times in daylight during the prior three days, gradually darkening the canopy until fully opaqued.

They go to check on the Vorkosigan forests, which Miles thinks are probably about ten years away from selective harvesting of hardwoods.  He’s briefly alarmed at a plume of smoke, but it’s just some terraformers burning off native vegetation, so he gets Martin to waggle their wings at them.  Finally they head for Vorkosigan Surleau.  There are more cottages on the lakeshore, more boats on the lake, and more houses in the village.

Miles decides to visit the stables before going to the house.  Martin’s attention is caught by the teenaged village girl who looks after the horses, while Miles goes to visit his horse, Fat Ninny, who is definitely getting on in years.  He wonders if riding is safe for him, with his seizures, and concludes that short rides might be possible, with a spotter.  More possible than swimming, in any case; sailing might be okay, with a lifejacket and a lifeguard.

Miles has deliberately scheduled his visit to coincide with his thirtieth birthday, since he’s feeling antisocial and not up to well-wishers and party-throwers.  Nonetheless, Lady Alys calls to wish him well, and Miles tries to figure out how to hide from the impending comconsole calls.  He goes to visit Bothari’s grave, and General Piotr’s, but can’t come up with anything to say to them.

I’m talking to the wrong damned grave, is the problem, Miles decided abruptly. Ruthlessly, he turned and strode back to the house to wake up Martin, who would sleep till noon if allowed. He knew someplace he could go where the comconsole could not pursue him. And he desperately needed to talk to a certain small lady there.

Miles tells Martin to fly him to a place in the mountains called Silvy Vale, and points out the map coordinates for the cemetery he wants to visit.  Martin offers again to take the lightflyer faster, but Miles, now feeling a little daunted by the goal of his quest, proposes to teach Martin a little bit about mountain flying, which Martin says will at least be better than horseback riding.  Martin is duly impressed by Dendarii Gorge, though at much slower speeds than Ivan and Miles had done, but eventually Miles can delay no longer.

Martin asks what is in Silvy Vale, and Miles tells him about the infanticide case he judged up there years ago, and how he wants to talk to the victim, Raina Csurik.

Martin’s brows rose. “Do you, uh . . . talk to dead people a lot, m’lord?”

“Sometimes.”

Martin’s mouth crooked in an uncertain, we-hope-this-is-a-joke smile. “Do they ever talk back?”

“Sometimes . . . what, don’t you ever talk to dead people?”

“I don’t know any. Except you, m’lord,” Martin modified this slightly.

“I was only a would-be corpse.” Give yourself time, Martin. Your acquaintance will surely expand in time. Miles knew lots of dead people.

Even among the other dead people Miles knows, though, Raina Csurik is the biggest symbol of what he’s trying to do, and he thinks he’s started to lose touch with that, trying to play the Admiral Naismith game.  He knows exactly how he lost Naismith, but now he’s wondering how he lost Vorkosigan.

When they landed, he would tell Martin to take a walk, or go fly the lightflyer around some more. This was one conversation with the dead he didn’t want a witness to. He’d failed Gregor, yet faced him, failed his family, and would have to face them soon. But facing Raina . . . that was going to hurt like needle grenade fire.

Oh, Raina. Small lady. Please. What do I do now? He hunched away from Martin, very silent, his forehead leaning against the canopy, eyes closed, head aching.

He’s shocked when Martin says that the spot where Miles wanted him to land now seems to be underwater.  A hydroelectric dam has been installed, and flooded the valley.  Miles checks the map, which has no dam, and is only two years out of date.  He tells Martin to set down on the shore, and Martin eventually finds an open spot in the trees.  Miles gets out and peers into the water, wondering what happened to the cemetery and the dead of Silvy Vale.

Comments

I should really have done chapters Ten and Eleven together, because of that cliffhanger.  Well, not really a cliffhanger, but it doesn’t come to a neat ending.  Not up to a three-chapter week, and I’m already too far ahead to want to do a one-chapter week, so this is what you get.  We haven’t really seen Miles in Vorkosigan District since “The Mountains of Mourning”, which is, of course, the story of Raina Csurik’s death and Miles’s investigation of it.  Vorkosigan Surleau turned up in the two Cordelia books, of course, not to mention a fair chunk of the hill country in Barrayar, but Miles has been spending more time out in the galaxy.

It’s hard to say whether Miles is, at first, trying to reground himself in his notional home, or if he’s just trying to flee from contact.  The way he evades his brithday calls would seem to indicate the latter.  He’s out of his near-catatonic funk, but still nowhere near ready to deal with most of the people he knows.  Vorkosigan District is, at least, somewhere he knows, a place familiar from his childhood, with some pleasant memories attached, but things don’t stay the same.  The extra buildings around the lake are just the beginning–obviously Silvy Vale, which is a kind of emotional touchstone for him, is also changing.

I gotta say, while the scene with Simon Illyan firing Miles is quite affecting, I have a hard time getting through this chapter and the next one without welling up.  Raina Csurik’s story is just so sad, and touches Miles so deeply, that I can’t help but feel for them both.  And then Bujold cuts off the hard conversation I was anticipating by flodding the entire valley, and taking this sequence in a completely different direction…

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Next week we’ll find out what did happen to the Silvy Vale cemetery, and the rest of Silvy Vale.  Soon, the real plot will surface, once we’ve gotten a little farther into Miles’s recovery.  Obviously he can’t just shrug off a blow like this…but soon he’ll be given a impetus to put his inimitable talents to good use, which will be of great help, as well as a more exciting read for those of you who may be getting a little impatient with Miles moping.  …But I don’t think next week’s chapters get that far yet.  Come back anyway.

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Time flows inexorably on, like an ever-flowing river, and so another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread washes up on the shores of the Internet.  Or something.  Our journey through Lois McMaster Bujold’s books of Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends and family, has reached the book with the deceptively simple and bland title of Memory, which marks a major transition in Miles’s life, which hinges upon the events of Chapters Five and Six.

Chapter Five

Miles and Delia Koudelka emerge from Duv Galeni’s groundcar at the Imperial Residence.  She’s much taller than Miles, and is a little dubious about escorting him; Miles promises she’ll only need to give him the first two dances.  Galeni basks in the glow of his companion, Laisa Toscane, a shapely, zaftig woman whose skin Miles finds almost seems to glow.  She seems excited, but not overwhelmed, to be there.

The guards let them inside, where they meet Lady Alys Vorpatril, who greets Miles and Delia; Miles introduces her to Galeni and Laisa, and Alys tells them they’ll be seated at Gregor’s table, mixed in with the galactics.  Miles spots Simon Illyan off to one side, and asks Delia to take the other two to the dinner hall.  Alys speaks approvingly of Laisa, heir of the rich Komarran Toscane family, though she can’t bring herself to wholeheartedly approve of a Komarran nonetheless.

Illyan, armed and earbud-equipped to handle the event’s security, doesn’t seem happy to see Miles.  He tells Miles he has seen his report, but nothing more; Miles asks to speak with him, but Illyan puts him off, saying he’s waiting for further information.  As Miles turns to leave, Illyan asks if he drove there, and Miles says he came with Duv Galeni, who Illyan approves of.

Miles catches up with his companions outside the hall; Galeni and Delia are chatting, and Laisa is looking around at the décor.  She discusses some of the antiques and wooden furniture with Miles, pointing out that some of them are younger than the oldest domes on Komarr, and yet seem to have more history.  Komarr is still centuries of terraforming away from a breathable atmosphere, hence the domed cities.  They have long exploited their strategic position in the jump nexus, but their decision to let Cetaganda through to attack newly-discovered Barrayar led Barrayar to attack them in turn, as their only outbound route, hence their current status as a Barrayaran possession.  Miles suggests that Laisa get Duv to take her horseback riding, to experience the outdoors that Komarr lacks; if he doesn’t know how, Miles thinks, he can give Galeni a crash course.  Laisa says Duv has a tendency to exaggerate the unromantic side of history, though admittedly she herself needs to be a practical businesswoman, since Komarr relies so heavily on its commerce.

They enter the Glass Hall–lines with windows on one side, and mirrors on the other–where Gregor is playing the role of host.  Laisa observes that he’s not wearing the military uniform they see in vid broadcasts, and Miles explains that Gregor only wear the military uniform on special occasions, since he doesn’t feel he’s truly earned the right to wear it.  That lets the rest of them dress more formally for many occasions, which Miles is okay with, especially the part where he doesn’t have to wear ceremonial swords.

They reach the Emperor, who tells Galeni he’s heard good things about him.  His attention is somewhat arrested by Laisa, but he lets her go with some polite words about hope for Komarr’s future.  Delia leads them off in search of Ivan and Martya; Laisa wonders at Gregor’s words, which she construes as an apology for conquering Komarr in the first place.

They are forced to halt for an old General moving slowly with his cane and full dress uniform; Laisa asks about him, and Miles explains that he’s an Imperial Auditor, General Vorparadijs, the last one appointed by Emperor Ezar.  The Imperial Auditors are the supreme overseers over the Counts, with the Emperor’s Voice and authority behind them; Galeni adds that there are supposed to be nine, though at the moment there are only seven living.  Laisa asks if they are lifetime appointments, and Miles says sometimes, but sometimes they’re just appointed on a temporary basis.  His father, as Regent, had only appointed acting Auditors, until Gregor was able to confirm them upon his accession.  Laisa wonders if they should talk to the General, and Miles says that Vorparadijs himself is incredibly dull, considering everything to have gone downhill since Ezar’s day; most Auditors are retired military types, to give them more authority over regular military types.

They are seated near the Escobaran embassy, where Miles and Laisa endeavour to make conversation with the galactics, while Gregor and Galeni politely discuss Komarr.  Laisa interjects in response to a leading statement by Galeni, pointing out the interest her employers, the Komarr Shippers’ Syndicate, have in the issue in question.  Miles applauds her spunk, and she and Gregor discuss the issue; she provides a farming metaphor that Gregor thinks will be effective in explaining the issue to the more rural Counts in the Council.

Laisa smiled. Gregor smiled. Galeni looked downright smug. Laisa, having made her point, had the good sense to back off and turn the conversation immediately to lighter matters, or at least, to Escobaran policies on jump technologies, less potentially volatile than Barrayaran-Komarran taxation issues.

After dinner the dancing begins in a downstairs ballroom; Gregor starts with Lady Alys, and then various female guests in rank order.  Miles dances twice with Delia, then, feeling that he’s made his point, he sits down to watch the rest of the guests.  Galeni dances methodically; aiming for a political career in the future, he devotes himself to acquiring social skills as well.  Gregor requests a mirror dance with Laisa, who even manages to make him laugh.

She returned to Galeni, temporarily holding up the wall along with Miles, with her eyes shining. “He’s more intelligent than I imagined,” she said breathlessly. “He listens . . . very intently. You feel as though he’s taking it all in. Or is that an act?”

“No act,” said Miles. “He’s processing everything. But Gregor has to watch what he says very closely, given that his word can be literally law. He’d be shy if he could, but he’s not allowed.”

“Not allowed? How odd that sounds,” said Laisa.

Laisa and Gregor dance three more times before the end of the evening, continuing to make each other laugh.  Miles finds the opportunity for a private word with the Emperor; Gregor’s first comment is that Vorberg is home, though not quite the worse for wear.  Miles give him the noncommittal explanation of the “plasma arc accident”, deferring the full story for a later time which he hopes he can avoid for a while.

“Where did you find that extraordinary young Komarran woman?” Gregor added, gazing off into the middle distance.

“Dr. Toscane? Impressive, isn’t she? I admired her courage as much as her cleavage. What all did you find to talk about out there?”

“Komarr, mostly . . . Do you have her, um, the Shippers’ Syndicates address? Oh, never mind, Simon can get it for me. Along with a complete Security report, whether I want it or not, no doubt.”

Miles invites the two Komarrans back to Vorkosigan House for a drink; Galeni is about to demur, but Laisa says she’d love to see the house, so Galeni perforce joins them.  Miles leads them to an upstairs parlour, where he removes the furniture covers, then goes to fetch wine and glasses.  Upon his return, Galeni has not pressed his suit on Laisa; Miles wonders if he knows of Laisa’s yen for a little “romantic idiocy”, and thinks that there doesn’t seem to be a spark of playfulness of humour between the two of them.  But then, what does he know?

The conversation turns again to Barrayar-Komarr relations, including a discussion of those Komarrans who cooperated with the Barrayarans after the conquest, like the Toscanes, and whether they can be called collaborators or not.  Galeni forebears to introduce the topic of his terrorist father and his views on the subject.  Miles can hardly bear to let his guests go, but in the wee hours of the morning reluctantly escorts them out.  He wonders if Galeni will be able to win Laisa over, and doesn’t think Galeni has managed to advance his cause much with the evening’s efforts.

Still no message from Illyan, and Miles wonders if it’ll take long enough for him to have had time for the medical trip fo Escobar after all.  He considers tempting fate by getting really drunk, perversely encouraging Illyan to call, but he thinks it will slow down his time sense too much.  Illyan can’t have forgotten, of course, because of the memory chip Ezar had implanted in his head; those chips tended to make their wearers schizophrenic, but Illyan had been one of the lucky few, and after Ezar’s death, had more or less entered Aral Vorkosigan’s service.  Miles wondered how horrible it would be to have every memory fresh and available at your beck and call.  He’d hate it, himself; Galeni might be able to handle it, but even he might have things he wanted to forget.
Miles stares at the comconsole, willing Illyan to call, and in the end gets another bottle of wine.

Coments

This chapter sees the first introduction of the Imperial Auditor, though it’s done deftly enough that it was a few rereads through the series that I realized they were invented just for this book.  They seemed like a logical enough development, and the way that Miles and Galeni explain it to Laisa, as something that they already know, is a great way to sneak it in.  Enough of the other information in the chapter–like the history of relations with Komarr–is done in the usual internal-monologue info-dump style, so it’s good to have a little variety there.

The most interesting part of this chapter is seeing what happens with Laisa Toscane at the dinner party.  She spends some time chatting with Miles, more than she seems to with Duv Galeni himself; she asks after Gregor a lot, and dances with him, and talks with him, and they make each other laugh.  And Gregor resolves to get her…employer’s number.  It all goes right over Miles’s head, let alone Galeni’s, since they’re too busy focusing on Galeni’s chances with her to notice that her attention has turned in a completely different direction.  We’ll find out the results of that in just a few chapters, I believe.

Miles, though, is still frustrated.  He actually gets to talk to Illyan, but Illyan puts him off, telling him to keep waiting.  And Illyan asks if he drove there…which also goes right over Miles’s head.  Seriously, Miles, how badly did the cryo-freeze affect your brain?  Illyan knows about the seizures, or at least suspects, and what he’s waiting for is confirmation.  I suspect that Gregor doesn’t know at this point, but I could be wrong.  He didn’t seem to have quite enough reserve with Miles to have that hanging over him, but maybe it was just Laisa’s influence…

Chapter Six

Miles doesn’t get another comconsole call for two more days, and when it does, it turns out to be only his cousin Ivan, just off work.  Miles’s eyes are instantly drawn to the captain’s rank tabs on his collar.  Ivan has obviously called fishing for congratulations on his promotion, but Miles is incredulous that Ivan got promoted before he did, and is barely able to muster a polite appreciation.  Ivan points out that Miles has spent a lot more time on medical leave than he has.

Blood and bone. Every bit of that unwelcome leave had been bought with blood and bone and endless pain, laid down willingly enough in the Emperor’s service. Blood and bone and they promote Ivan? Before me . . . ?! Something like rage choked him, clotting words in his throat like cotton.

Ivan’s face, watching his, fell. Yes, of course, Ivan had expected to be applauded, in some suitably backhanded way, expected Miles to share his pride and pleasure in his achievement, which truly made a sad dish when eaten alone.

Miles pulls himself together and makes a half-hearted jab about how Ivan’s mother will surely push him to get married now.  They go over a list of single Vor women of their generation, and Ivan tells him who each of them has gotten married to, but says he can always go for someone younger.  Miles manages to offer a heartfelt congratulation for Ivan, who laments that it’ll be difficult to get further promotion without some ship duty, which the ongoing peace is making a scarce commodity.  Ivan points out that Miles has had more ship experience than most people he knows, even if it is classified.

“I never let anything stop me. That’s how you get what you want, Ivan. No one’s just going to hand it to you.” Well . . . no one was going to just hand it to Miles. Things fell out of the sky onto Ivan, and had done so all his charmed life. “If you can’t win, change the game.”

Ivan twitched a brow upward. “If there’s no game, isn’t winning a pretty meaningless concept?”

Miles hesitated. “Out of the mouths of . . . Ivans. I’ll . . . have to think about that one.”

Both of them dislike the turn of the conversation, they sign off.  Miles vents his frustration in curses against the bedroom ceiling.  He tries to decide what it is he wants–to win, or to be seen to win?  ImpSec is not a good posting for anyone who wants public recognition, though everyone who matters to him knows the truth of what he’s accomplished.  Except his grandfather, long dead; Miles wonders when he’d stopped carrying around the old man’s dagger like a talisman.  He feels out of balance, as he increasingly does when he’s not on a mission as Naismith.  Will being Count be this bad, all day long?

Being Naismith is an expensive hobby, which he needs ImpSec to underwrite, and which thus requires him to make them frequent proofs that they’re getting their money worth.  Accountants are just as bad as enemy missiles…or not quite, he thinks, tracing his scars, and wondering if there’s something wrong with his new heart, which feels like a stranger’s.  He wants his mission from Illyan–maybe he’s become an excitement junkie, but his occasional attempts at extreme sports don’t seem to scratch the itch.

He barely sleeps that night, and so Illyan’s summons wakes him from an afternoon doze.  Miles promises eagerly to be there as soon as possible, but Illyan’s secretary says they’ll send a car in an hour.  He bathes (again) and puts on his undress green uniform, including his battered lieutenant’s tabs and his unduplicable Horus-eye ImpSec pins.  He’s still waiting impatiently when the car arrives.

The door to Illyan’s office is open this time, but, unusually, Illyan closes it as soon as Miles is in the room, which Miles hopes portends something special.  Illyan seems in a grim, tense mood, but at least he hasn’t had the visitor chairs removed.  Illyan asks Miles about the addendum he’d mentioned to his previous report, but Miles, reluctant to derail his next mission assignment, demurs.  Illyan says he received a disturbing report from Jackson’s Whole, related to Miles’s last misadventure on the planet.  They’d finally managed to acquire Miles’s complete medical records from his cryo-revival under the Duronas, and determined what they meant.

The bottom drops out of Miles’s stomach as Illyan says the worst part is how Miles concealed the seizures from the ImpSec physicians.  Miles claims he thought they’d gone away, but Illyan produces the report he’d been waiting for, from one of his Dendarii agents–one that Miles didn’t know about–which includes his fleet surgeon’s reports.

“Do you want to try to play any more little guessing games about this?” Illyan added dryly.

“No, sir,” Miles whispered. He hadn’t meant it to come out a whisper. “No more games.”

“Good.” Illyan rocked slightly in his station chair, and tossed the card back to the desktop. His face looked like death itself. Miles wondered what his own face looked like. As wide-eyed as an animal in the headlights, as viewed from a groundcar traveling toward it at a hundred kilometers an hour, he suspected.

Illyan calls Miles’s actions a betrayal of his subordinates, and those who depended on him–like Vorberg.  Miles goes on the offensive, reminding Illyan of how much he’s done for him and ImpSec, for the Marilacans, for nine years, how he’s bled for them.  Illyan agrees that Miles’s accomplishments mean a lot–which is why he’s offering Miles a medical discharge, rather than a court-martial.  He says he’s gone over it in his mind for weeks, and this is the best for Miles and the Vorkosigans.  Miles realizes that this is exactly why Illyan summoned him back.

Miles asks if Illyan’s told his father, and Illyan says he leaves that job up to Miles.  He points out that even Miles’s father alone would not be able to convince Illyan to be so lenient on Miles without his excellent track record; if he pushes it to a court-martial, then for the travesty of his last, truncated report he’d be lucky to get away with merely a dishonourable discharge.  Illyan says he went over it with Gregor, all that morning, and everything’s ready for the discharge to become official.  Miles just needs to scan his palm and retina, and he can keep his custom uniforms and rank tabs, but he has to return his ImpSec Horus-eyes.  Miles begins one last round of frantic protests, interrupted by the visual aura which foretells another seizure.

He comes to on the ground, Illyan bending over him, a stylus in his mouth to keep him from biting his tongue; Illyan says he was out for about four minutes.  His lip is swollen and his nose bleeding from the fall to the ground, but when Illyan offers to call a medic, Miles refuses and lurches to his feet on his own, borrowing a handkerchief for his nosebleed.

Illyan half-sat on the edge of his desk, watching him. Watching over him, always. “You knew,” said Illyan. “And you lied. To me. In writing. In that damned falsified report, you pissed away . . . everything. I’d have mistrusted my memory chip before I mistrusted you. Why, Miles? Were you that panicked?” The anguish leaked into that level voice like blood into a bruise.

Yes. I was that panicked. I didn’t want to lose Naismith. I didn’t want to lose . . . everything. “It doesn’t matter now.” He fumbled at his collar. One pin tore the green fabric, coming off in his shaking hands. He thrust the pins blindly at Illyan. “There. You win.”

Illyan’s hand closed over them. “God save me,” he said softly, “from another such victory.”

“Fine, good, give me the read-pad. Give me the retinal scan. Let’s get this the hell over with. I’m sick of ImpSec, and eating ImpSec shit. No more. Good.”

Illyan offers him a minute in his washroom to compose himself and clean up, before he’ll let Miles go out in public again.  Miles accepts the offer; his face in the mirror looks like the one he saw after he lost Sergeant Beatrice above Dagoola.  He washes his face, though there are still bloodstains in his shirt-collar.  He returns to Illyan’s office and completes the formal resignation, then asks Illyan to let him go.  Illyan is reluctant, considering that Miles is still shaking in reaction, and says he’ll at least escort Miles to a car, and that Miles should consider going directly to ImpMil.  Miles says he’ll just go home, since it’ll probably take a while for another seizure to happen; he reminds Illyan that he no longer has any authority over Miles’s actions.  Illyan wipes his eyes briefly and unlocks the door.

Outside Illyan’s office, Illyan’s secretary has been joined by Duv Galeni and General Haroche, all looking anxious, especially when they see Miles’s collar stripped of its insignia.  Haroche wonders out loud what’s going on, but Illyan just excuses himself and leads Miles to the door.

Comments

Miles’s wishful thinking comes to an end here; Illyan’s seen through him, at least with the aid of the belated information from Jackson’s Whole.  If anyone were to know about this, it would do wonders for tales of Illyan’s omniscience, to gather this information from several hyperspace jumps away, even about one of his own agents.  I suppose he needs to keep a close eye on his ImpSec agents to make sure they’re not trying to pull something…as Miles did.  And if Miles hadn’t sliced Vorberg’s legs in half, Illyan might have been more merciful–there would have been no faked report, just a matter of concealing his medical issues from his superiors.  Maybe still a medical discharge, and maybe Miles wouldn’t have taken it any better, but maybe he would’ve just been reassigned to a desk job.  But Miles burned that bridge.

The scene with Miles and Illyan is painful, in some ways, but it’s a great piece of drama.  Illyan, traditionally so reserved and bland, is deeply torn by Miles’s actions, trying to balance his past accomplishments with his present misfeasance.  He has deep connections to Miles, and to Miles’s father, almost familial, so it’s painful for him to have to make these kinds of decisions–and his hopes for Miles’s future, which we’ll find out more about in the next chapter, have been dashed.

As for the Ivan scene…obviously that’s mostly there to underscore the problems with Miles’s secret career, his lack of advancement compared to Ivan’s relative coasting along.  There are certain assumptions about rank relative to age, or at least time of service, so Miles’s hopes for promotion are probably not that unreasonable, and maybe, if it hadn’t been for the events of the last book, it would’ve happened already.  But it didn’t, and Miles really has to struggle to overcome his jealousy of Ivan.  Though Ivan does lead him to wonder what he’s even trying to accomplish, and for whom, which is a highly useful train of thought for him to embark on right now, when his previous goal gets derailed, just like when he washed out of the obstacle course back in The Warrior’s Apprentice.  And we all know how that turned out.


Tune in next week to see Miles slip, once again, into his depressive phase, and how Ivan knows exactly how to deal with it.  And we start moving into my favourite part of the book–Miles trying to figure out what to do when he grows up.

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Is it that time again already?  What do you mean, that was yesterday?  Anyway, it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, wherein the Vorkosigan Saga novels of Lois McMaster Bujold are read, summarized, and discussed.  This week I manage to get through two more chapters of Mirror Dance, where we finally get to see something of the long-absent (due to a slight case of death) Miles Vorkosigan once again, while his clone-brother Mark prepares to dash off to the rescue if they will but let him.

Chapter Nineteen

A man awakens in a hospital bed, and opens his eyes to find them covered with some kind of translucent medical goo.  He’s having trouble breathing, and realizes that there’s a tube down his throat, and more in his nose, and sticking into his arms; it hurts to move.  Looking down at himself, he sees his chest sunken and covered with scars and surgical patches, as well as the goo, and more tubes everywhere.  That can’t be good, he thinks as he sinks back into unconsciousness.

Later, half-drowsing, a woman comes, tells him that they’re taking out his “pacer”, since his new heart and lungs should be working.  She opens up his chest and takes something out, closing it up again when she’s done and giving the thing to her male assistant.  She’s pretty and vaguely Asian, and dressed in a white coat, and he guesses she’s a doctor, but she can’t hear him around the tube in his throat, which she then removes, to his immense relief.  She asks him his name, and he realizes he doesn’t know.  The assistant says he’s placed bets that this one’s brain-damaged, but the woman says he needs some time to recover.  She does some simple reflex tests, saying she’ll save more complex ones for a few more days.  Convinced somehow that he has to recover soon or die, he tries doing some simple exercises in bed after they leave, but the man returns and sedates him, sinking him into nightmares.

Later, the woman returns to give him his first meal with his new stomach, nothing more than glucose water.  He proves able to suck it through a straw, but can’t drink much; the woman explains that his new organs are still a little small, but “Lilly” was in a hurry to awaken him.  He’s not sure if she expects him to understand what she says, though.  She gives him a sponge bath, and he spies the tag “DR. R. DURONA” on the pocket of her scrubs.

“You were quite a little mystery, you know. Delivered to me in a crate. Raven said you were too small to be a soldier, but I picked out enough camouflage cloth and nerve disruptor shield-netting, along with the forty-six grenade fragments, to be quite sure you weren’t just a bystander. Whatever you were, that needle-grenade had your name on it. Unfortunately, not in writing.” She sighed half to herself. “Who are you?”

She did not pause for an answer, which was just as well. The effort of swallowing the sugar water had exhausted him again. An equally pertinent question was, Where was he, and he was peeved that she, who must surely know, didn’t think to tell him. The room was an anonymous high-tech medical locale, without windows. On a planet, not a ship.

How do I know that? A vague picture of a ship, in his head, seemed to shatter at his touch. What ship? For that matter, what planet?

There ought to be a window. A big window, framing a high hazy city-scape with a rapid river cutting through it. And people. There were people missing, who ought by rights to be here, though he could not picture them. The mix of generic medical familiarity and particular strangeness tied his guts in knots.

He’s relieved, if a little raw, to have all the dead skin removed; she depilates his face as well and combs his hair, pulling out clumps of it, and then holds up a mirror.  He doesn’t recognize his face, but supposes he can get used to it, despite bloodshot eyes and patchy hair.  He tries to speak but can’t get anything coherent out.

“Lilly called your cryo-chamber Pandora’s box,” she murmured reflectively. “But I thought of it as the enchanted knight’s crystal coffin. I wish it were as easy as waking you with a kiss.”

She bent over, eyelids fluttering half-closed, and touched her lips to his. He lay very still, half-pleased, half-panicked. She straightened, watched him another moment, and sighed. “Didn’t think it would work. Maybe I’m just not the right princess.”

She leaves him in the dark, where he falls asleep on his own, feeling somewhat hopeful.  When he awakens he begins to regain some muscle control, enough to twitch his arms and legs, but when Dr. Durona returns, she’s horribly wrong–older, and colder towards him, more businesslike, with different, shorter hair.  He can’t understand, wondering if he fell asleep for longer than he’d thought.  She puts him in a hospital gown and makes him stand up, which nearly makes him pass out, then puts him back to bed.  Next time she shows up looking ten years older yet, with hair in a ponytail, and walks him across the room and back.

The short-haired version returns and gets him walking again, out into the hallway where he sees the older Dr. Durona, and this time notices they have different initials on their nametags–Dr. P. with the ponytail, Dr. C. (addressed as “Chrys”) with the shorter hair, neither of them his Dr. R.  discuss his progress, Chrys being of the opinion that he’s progressing well physically, but mentally not as well.  Lilly is pressuring them to get his memories working again, or he’ll be of no use.  They put him back to bed, and his Dr. R. Durona, appears then, to his relief, expressing mock disapproval about their treatment of her patient.  Chrys is apparently the physical therapist, which explains things, and Dr. R. sets limits on the therapy, though fairly high ones.

The other two leave him with her, and she tells him his hair is starting to grow again in his bare patches, and hopes this means his brain is working too.  She asks him again for his name, and he responds by asking, muzzily, for hers.  At first she simply thinks he’s repeating what she said, but he convinces her that he is actually asking for her own name, and tells him that it’s Rowan.  He tries to urge her to kiss him again, but she leaves.

This time he doesn’t fall asleep, but lies there with bits of thought washing around his brain, some of them possibly memories.  When he examines them too closely he gets panicky, though, and so he just lets them froth.  He decides that if he can’t remember who he is, he can try to figure out where.  He’s no longer hooked up to machines or tagged, so he slips out of bed and to his door, which opens.  The hallway outside leads past a monitor-station which seems to be temporarily unmanned, so he slips past and out through the door at the end, which also opens.  He passes surgeries, storage rooms, and labs, and concludes somehow that this place is more of a research centre than a hospital or clinic.

He finds the bottom of a deactivated lift-tube, and after briefly considering trying to climb it (which proves to be beyond his physical capabilities) he risks turning the power on and rises from level “S-3” to “S-1”.  The lift-tube exits into a tiny foyer, then a storage room, but when he turns around he discovers the door has vanished and he can’t reopen it again.  His bare feet are cold and he’s dizzy and tired, but he can’t return to his bed, so he persuades himself to go on.  He finds the bottom of another lift-tube, this one labelled as “B-2”, with nothing below it; he heads up to level “G”, which proves to be ground level.  He finds a darkened lobby, with glass doors and windows showing that it’s night outside.  There is a desk with a comconsole, where he sits gratefully, but can’t access its data, even though he’s sure he can overcome a palm-lock.

He shivered. God, I hate cold. He wobbled over to the glass door. It was snowing outside, tiny scintillant dots whipping by slantwise through the white arc of a floodlight. They would be hard, and hiss and sting on bare skin. A weird vision of a dozen naked men standing shivering in a midnight blizzard flitted across his mind’s eye, but he could attach no names to the scene, only a sensation of deep disaster. Was that how he had died, freezing in the wind and snow? Recently, nearby?

I was dead. The realization came to him for the first time, a burst of shock radiating outward from his belly. He traced the aching scars on his torso through the thin fabric of his gown. And I’m not feeling too good now, either. He giggled, an off-balance noise disturbing even to his own ears. He stifled his mouth with his fist. He must not have had time to be afraid, before, because the retroactive wash of terror knocked him to his knees. Then to his hands and knees. The shivering cold was making his hands shake uncontrollably. He began to crawl.

He gets close to the door, which opens automatically; not wanting to get trapped outside again, he tries to turn to avoid it, but gets disoriented and finds himself outside after all.  Suddenly he feels a shock and smells singed hair as he is pushed back into the doorway, where he curls up miserably.

Voices and shouts arise, and he is pulled back inside to a babble of voices wondering how he got there, and asking for Rowan to be called.  One of the men proves to be Rowan’s male assistant, whose initial is also R., who wonders how he broke out of their security.

“Na’ sec’rty.” Words! His mouth was making words! “Fire saf’ty.” He added reflectively, “Dolt.”

The young man’s face jerked back in bewildered offense. “Are you talking to me, Short Circuit?”

“He’s talking!” His Dr. Durona’s face circled overhead, her voice thrilled. He recognized her even with her fine hair loose, falling all around her face in a dark cloud. Rowan, my love. “Raven, what did he say?”

The youth’s dark brows wrinkled. “I’d swear he just said ‘fire safety.’ ” Gibberish, I guess.”

Rowan explains how he must have known that the locked doors would all open outward, for fire safety, but Raven isn’t impressed.  An older Dr. Durona with white hair shuffles out and dismisses everyone without a reason to be there; she asks how he got out, and the one who was supposed to be manning the monitor station admits to leaving their post for a minute.  Raven says he’d have frozen to death out there even if he had gotten through the force screen.  After some discussion of improved security, they decide he needs to be guarded; Raven is assigned as his night guard because he can be spared, with Rowan to watch him during the day.

Raven picks him up to carry him back down, where Rowan checks him for damage.  He’s shivering with cold, so they raise the temperature in his room.  Rowan says he’s in some minor distress, but he should fall asleep once he warms up.  Rowan invites him to speak again, but he’s thinking about the tension he sensed among the various Dr. Duronas in the lobby, tension to do with him, and wonders what they know about him.  Rowan leaves and Raven stays with him, studying some medical subject or other, still in training to be a doctor like the others.

He lay back, drained beyond measure. His excursion tonight had nearly killed him, and what had he learned for all his pains? Not much, except this: I am come to a very strange place.

And I am a prisoner here.

Comments

So first Kyril Island, and now cryo-freezing…and a cold planetary environment (Jackson’s Whole?) outside his prison.  Poor Miles, with the cold.  I sympathize.  For it is Miles, of course, even if he doesn’t know himself yet.  With new heart and lungs, and apparently stomach too–he was really blown out, wasn’t he?  The dead skin flaking off was a little disgusting, but I guess if he was frozen, a lot of his skin might have died.  Not sure how that would work, I guess.  This bringing someone back from death must be a complicated business.

Somehow, even unconscious and amnesic, he’s still winning over hearts and minds, as he and Rowan seem to be drawn together, even if none of the others are quite as impressed.  The Duronas are all clones, of course, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t have differences in personality, even if it’s just because of being raised in changing family environments.

Chapter Twenty

The day before Mark, Elena and Cordelia are due to leave, they’re looking at ship specs.  Mark asks if he thinks they’ll be able to stop in on Komarr and visit his clones, who ImpSec has set up in a private boarding school there, where they can be together and yet still meet other children.  Cordelia has urged that they be put into foster families to give them examples for forming their own families later in life.  Now she says that they could stop in, certainly–Illyan will complain, but they can overrule him–but she wonders if it might not be better for Mark not to know precisely where they are, in case he falls into Bharaputran hands on Jackson’s Whole.  Mark decides that it’s probably better if he doesn’t see them, having come to terms with the fact that they won’t see him as a hero.

Illyan calls and asks to talk to Cordelia; Elena and Mark worry that he’s going to block them, but Cordelia tells them to be quiet and let her deal with Simon.  Illyan pronounces her scheme unacceptable.

“To whom, Simon? Not to me. Who else gets a vote?”

“Security,” Illyan growled.

“You are Security. I’ll thank you to take responsibility for your own emotional responses, and not try to shift them onto some vague abstraction. Or get off the line and let me talk to Captain Security, then.”

Cordelia says that he’ll need to arrest her and Mark to keep them from going; Illyan threatens to go to the Count, but Cordelia says she’s already cleared it with him, and he’s too ill to be bothered further.  Illyan protests that he doesn’t see the point of their expedition, and Cordelia says that they don’t know yet what Mark will be able to do, but ImpSec is welcome to beat him to it.  Illyan points out that they are risking the last chances of House Vorkosigan, and Cordelia says she accepts that risk.  Illyan says that people from all parties are scrambling to find someone to take over Aral’s position, and Cordelia wishes them well, and hopes that she can get her husband out of the government alive.

“Who is capable of succeeding him?” asked Illyan plaintively.

“A number of men. Racozy, Vorhalas, or Sendorf, to name three. If not, there was something terribly wrong with Aral’s leadership. One mark of a great man is the legacy of men he leaves behind him, to whom he’s passed on his skills. If you think Aral so small as to have stifled all possible others around him, spreading smallness like a plague, then perhaps Barrayar is better off without him.”

Illyan then asks if she’s considered the risk of bringing Mark too close to Miles.  Cordelia says that if he’s so worried about that, he’ll have to find Miles first.  Illyan protests that they’ll expect help from ImpSec if they get into trouble, and Cordelia says that they should have the right to expect it anyway.  Illyan signs off, and Cordelia says he’s going to try to go over her head, so she waits at the console until Gregor calls.

“Good morning, Lady Cordelia. You really ought not to stir up poor Simon that way, you know.”

“He deserved it,” she said equably. “I admit, he has far too much on his mind at the moment. Suppressed panic turns him into a prick every time; it’s what he does instead of running in circles screaming. A way of coping, I suppose.”

“While others of us cope by becoming over-analytical,” Gregor murmured. The Countess’s lip twitched, and Mark suddenly thought he knew who might shave the barber.

Gregor asks if she really thinks this expedition is wise, and Cordelia says that they can only find out by trying it.  She notes that this is really the best to put any rumours about Mark’s motives to rest, by putting him in a situation of supposed temptation and giving him enough rope to hang himself.  Gregor finds this a compelling argument, and wishes Mark good luck.

Cordelia and Mark make a final visit to Aral at ImpMil hospital; Mark finds the hospital atmosphere oppressive, and still finds Aral daunting, but Cordelia predicts that he’ll regret not having talked to the Count more than he’d ever regret doing it.  Aral is sitting in bed looking out the window, his colour far from good, and is cheered by their presence.  Cordelia tells him she’s seen his new heart, still tiny but beating away in its vat, which she thinks is cute but Aral grotesque; she comments on the possibilities for tasteless jokes with his old heart when he’s done with it.

Aral talks to Mark about the Jackson’s Whole expedition, wishing momentarily that Bothari was going with them, causing them some concern until they’re sure that he’s not forgetting that Bothari is years dead.  He laments the role of the mentor, left behind while the protégé goes and risks himself, and advises Mark that he can’t be defeated if he’s not defeated in his own mind.  He and Aral exchange a firm hand-clasp, and Aral wishes confusion to his enemies.

That night Mark makes one final call, to the Koudelka household, where Mrs. Koudelka answers.  He asks haltingly for Kareen.

A blonde brow twitched. “I believe I know which one you are, but—who may I say is calling?”

“Lord Mark Vorkosigan,” he got out.

“Just a moment, my lord.” She left the range of the vid pick-up; he could hear her voice fading in the distance, calling “Kareen!”

There was a muffled bumping in the background, garbled voices, a shriek, and Kareen’s laughing voice crying, “No, Delia, it’s for me! Mother, make her go away! Mine, all mine! Out!” The sound of a door thumping closed on, presumably, flesh, a yelp, then a firmer and more final slam.

Kareen is quite happy to see him, and Mark is breathless for a moment.  He tells her he’s called to say goodbye, and clarifies that he’s going off-planet for a while.  She asks when he’ll be back, and he says he’s not sure, but he would like to see her on his return.  He asks what was going on with her sister, and she explains that Delia would have stood off-camera and made faces at her while she talked to Mark, because that’s what Kareen’s done to her.  Mark is amazed by how normal this situation is, and leads her into a description of her life, of a well-off family with a strong work ethic–peaceful, calm and real.  Kareen slows down when she realizes how little Mark is saying.

“Good heavens, I’m babbling. I’m sorry.”

“No! I like listening to you talk.”

“That’s a first. In this family, I’m lucky to get a word in edgewise. I didn’t talk till I was three. They had me tested. It turned out it was just because my sisters were answering everything for me!”

She asks about his life, which she says sounded like sort of an adventure.  Mark tells her that it was more like a disaster, and explains that he’s kind of a mess, but he doesn’t know what he should tell her about it.  Kareen says they should ask the Countess, who’s an old friend of her mother, who used to be her bodyguard.  He thinks of the Barrayaran tradition of go-betweens, and wonders if using Cordelia as a mediator would work out well or not.  He tells Kareen that sometime, before he comes back, she should talk to the Countess about him and say that Mark told her to ask about him.  Kareen agrees, and insists that if he’s back by Winterfair, they will dance at the ball, and not in the corner this time; Mark allows that if he’s back by then, he won’t need to hide any longer.

“Good. I’ll hold you to your word.”

“My word as Vorkosigan,” he said lightly.

Her blue eyes widened. “Oh. My.” Her soft lips parted in a blinding smile.

He felt like a man who’d gone to spit, and had a diamond pop accidently from his lips instead. And he couldn’t call it back and re-swallow it. There must be a Vorish streak in the girl, to take a man’s word so seriously.

She tells him to be careful, saying that he reminds her of her father, a soldier, when he’s pretending that he isn’t heading into a difficult situation.  Mark is touched by her concern and bids her farewell.

Comments

It’s not clear how much time has passed between their resolution to depart for Jackson’s Whole “as soon as possible” and the current chapter, one day before departure, but it can’t have been that long if Simon Illyan is only calling them now.  I suppose that Aral’s condition and the search for Miles is distracting him from keeping an eye on Cordelia’s activities, but surely he had someone watching Mark, if nothing else.  Maybe he wasn’t sure how serious she was, or when precisely she was leaving…  He is essentially powerless against Cordelia, except for when he can sway her through persuasion and/or logic, which he’s not nearly as good at.  Gregor is probably more capable of it, as one of her best pupils, but he thinks more like her in the first place, so he doesn’t need as much persuading.

The other scene, the call to Kareen, is more cheerful, as Mark catches glimpses of the normalcy that he never had in his life, and probably over-romanticizes, but I’m sure would embrace happily nonetheless.  Despite anything that he may have done at the Emperor’s Birthday, she’s still willing to consider him a “fellow” and dance with him again.  I can’t remember if we get back to Kareen in this book or not, but they do have a great plotline in A Civil Campaign, at least.  Oh, and a glimpse of her mother Ludmilla “Drou” Koudelka, one of the few we get in the series after Barrayar, though she also turns up in A Civil Campaign, at least.  I keep thinking we’ll see more of Clement Koudelka himself sometime, but I can’t remember other scenes offhand.  He’s probably still working for Aral, which means he’s probably trying frantically to keep things going until the Count recovers, but I can’t help but wonder what “difficult situations” Kareen was talking about, since her father shouldn’t be going into anything front-line these days.  I guess there’s still tense situations which don’t involve outright battle…

A shortish chapter, but a talky one, so hard to summarize and sounds at all good, so lots of nice quotage.  They’ll be off Barrayar soon, alas, into more action and less interesting dialogue with interesting characters (which somehow seems to be my favourite bit of Bujold books).


There you have it, two chapters one day late rather than one chapter on time and then slacking off for most of another week.  Maybe I should even change my schedule to Wednesdays instead–I picked Tuesdays more or less at random, after all, or perhaps for reasons that no longer apply, and I’m not attached to them.  But I’m afraid that my having an excuse for potential underproductivity makes it more likely I’ll just slack off.  At least this book has some fairly short chapters.

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