Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Koudelka’

Happy New Year (for those of you following the Gregorian calendar, anyway), and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  This is the start of the fourth calendar year of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s exquisite Vorkosigan Saga, following Miles Vorkosigan and his friends, family and confederates through their adventures.  As the Christmas holidays draw to a close (for me, at least), I manage to persevere and to pull off two whole chapters this time–one of them a fairly unpleasant one, at that, as Miles’s dinner party turns into an unmitigated disaster.  Please join me for Chapters Nine and Ten of A Civil Campaign, if you dare…

Chapter Nine

Miles considers a number of potential outfits for the dinner party, rejecting his House and Imperial uniforms–briefly considering his Dendarii uniform, but afraid what Ivan and Illyan will say about it–before going back to his first choice, one of his normal gray Imperial Auditor suits.  Pym approves his choice, and Miles gets dressed, inspecting himself in the mirror and resisting the urge to pluck out gray hairs.

He goes the recheck the arrangements in the dining room, where he has carefully planned the seating so that Ekaterin is next to Miles, Kareen next to Mark, and Ivan in the middle far from either of them.  Lady Donna should be able to occupy all of Ivan’s attention anyway.  Miles recalls Ivan’s affair with Lady Donna, which he’d watched enviously, and Lady Alys had been quite disapproving of.  Of course, these days Lady Donna would still be able to have a child, no matter her age; he wonders if Lady Alys and Illyan are planning to have one, and makes a note to suggest it to Ivan at some appropriate moment–like when his mouth is full.  And on some other night.

Mark wanders in, dressed in black, and considers the place cards; Miles sternly warns him to leave them alone, and Mark asks if he can at least move Duv and Delia  farther away from him.  Miles says he needs to keep René Vorbretten next to Lady Alys, as a favour, and tells Mark he needs to be prepared to deal with Duv as part of the family, if he’s serious about Kareen.  Mark says that Duv must have mixed feelings about him.  Miles wonders how serious Mark really is about Kareen, and decides he should ask the Countess.

Pym announces the arrival of Alys and Illyan; Alys inspects the place settings, pronouncing a qualified approval but noting that the sexes aren’t matched–nine men and ten women–before going to talk with Ma Kosti.  Miles greets Illyan and asks if Alys has explained about Ekaterin to him.

“Yes, and Ivan had a few comments as well. Something on the theme of fellows who fall into the muck-hole and return with the gold ring.”

“I haven’t got to the gold ring part yet,” said Miles ruefully. “But that’s certainly my plan. I’m looking forward to you all meeting her.”

“She’s the one, is she?”

“I hope so.”

Illyan’s smile sharpened at Miles’s fervent tone. “Good luck, son.”

“Thanks. Oh, one word of warning. She’s still in her mourning year, you see. Did Alys or Ivan explain—”

He is interrupted by the announcement of the Koudelkas’ arrival, and goes to greet them in the library, Mark following him closely.  Armsman Roic brings out hors d’oeuvres and drinks, Mark talks to Kareen’s parents, and Illyan and Alys join them shortly thereafter.  Miles listens for the door, disappointed by the arrival of the Vorbrettens.  The next arrivals prove to be the Vorthyses and Ekaterin at last, and Miles eagerly goes to welcome them himself.

Ekaterin is wearing the Barrayar pendant he’d given her, and taking off garden gloves; she announces she’s just planted the first Barrayaran plan in his garden.  Miles says he’ll have to go see it later, and offers her his arm.  He escorts her to the library, where she is somewhat anxious, but he introduces her to the Vorbrettens, then to Alys and Illyan; she seems somewhat nervous at meeting the legendary former ImpSec head, but Illyan puts her at her ease, and seems to approve of her.

Enrique arrives, done up quite respectably, and shyly asks Ekaterin if she read his dissertation.  Ekaterin says most of it went over her head, and comments on the abstract being done in verse; Enrique says he’s sure she got most of it.  Miles notices that they’re using first names with each other, and that Ekaterin reacted to a compliment on her intelligence the way she never would on her appearance; he suddenly realizes that Enrique may be another rival for her affections.

Miles almost misses the announcement of Ivan and his guest, before realizing the Pym had said “Lord Dono” Vorrutyer…  He wonders why Ivan has pulled this last-minute substitution on him, and who this fellow is; mid-handshake the penny drops, and he smoothly asks if Lord Dono has been to Beta Colony.  As he introduces Dono to Ekaterin his mind begins to work through the implications of Dono’s change–obviously he hadn’t cloned Pierre after all.  Dono asks to discuss it with Miles at more length; Miles says that as an Imperial Auditor he has to remain neutral, but he recommends Dono talk to René Vorbretten, who also has a pending suit, as well as Professora Vorthys, who specializes in Barryaran political history, and Lady Alys and Simon Illyan.  Dono thanks him appreciatively and moves on.

Miles snags Ivan and asks if Gregor knows about Dono yet.  Ivan says he made sure of that right away, and Miles correctly guesses Gregor’s intent to “see what happens”.  Ekaterin asks what that was all about, and why Miles seems amused; Miles takes her aside and brings her up to speed on the Lady Donna/Lord Dono situation.  Miles admits he was caught off-guard, but in retrospect it makes an absurd sort of sense; Ekaterin objects mildly to the term ‘absurd’, and drifts towards where Dono is now surrounded with the Koudelka women.

Ivan returns to Miles, who twits him about his taste in dates; Ivan tells him how By Vorrutyer set him up.  Duv, Koudelka and Professor Vorthys join them; the women begin laughing, glancing at the men in amusement.  Miles decides that now is the time to serve dinner, to break this up before it gets too out of hand.  As they are leaving the library, though, Miles sees Mark and Ivan emerging from the dining room, where it emerges they have been reshuffling the carefully-ordered place settings.

All his carefully rehearsed conversational gambits were for people now on the other end of the table. Seating was utterly randomized—no, not randomized, he realized. Reprioritized. Ivan’s goal had clearly been to get Lord Dono as far away from himself as possible; Ivan now was taking his chair at the far end of the table by Mark, while Lord Dono seated himself in the place Miles had intended for René Vorbretten. Duv, Drou, and Kou had somehow all migrated Miles-ward, farther from Mark. Mark still kept Kareen at his right hand, but Ekaterin had been bumped down the other side of the table, beyond Illyan, who was still on Miles’s immediate left. It seemed no one had quite dared touch Illyan’s card. Miles would now have to speak across Illyan to converse with her, no sotto voce remarks possible.

Aunt Alys, looking a little confused, seated herself at Miles’s honored right, directly across from Illyan. She’d clearly noticed the switches, but failed Miles’s last hope of help by saying nothing, merely letting her eyebrows flick up. Duv Galeni found his future mother-in-law Drou between himself and Delia. Illyan glanced at the cards and seated Ekaterin between himself and Duv, and the accompli was fait.

Miles kept smiling; Mark, ten places distant, was too far away to catch the I-will-get-you-for-this-later edge to it.

After that, the dinner itself proceeds well enough; Ekaterin seems unconcerned with her ImpSec neighbours.  The menu seems a bit odd, though–a creamy soup, a creamy salad dressing, an aromatic herb spread for the bread…  Miles realizes that the meal is full of bug butter, and so does Ekaterin, though she determinedly pretends nothing is wrong.  Miles decides not to warn off his guests, though he avoids it himself.

Enrique gets up and taps on his glass to make an announcement.  He thanks Vorkosigan House for its hospitality, and says that he has a gift to give them in return, which fills Miles with dread.  Enrique takes out a box and sets it down next to Miles; the ImpSec men tense up, prepared for the worst.  He opens it, and it proves to contain three butter bugs, but changed; their carapaces are now adorned with a perfect replica of the Vorkosigan crest in brown and silver.  At Lord Dono’s puzzlement, Enrique explains the butter bugs, and how the bug butter they produce has been the basis for the food they’ve been eating.  He also says that the design was added genetically, and should breed true.  Pym seems quite distressed that the insignia he wears so proudly is now decorating repulsive insects; Miles tells him quietly that it wasn’t intended as an insult.

Miles tries his hardest to control his response; Ekaterin’s opinion is paramount, and from what he recalls of Tien, the man was probably given to displays of vicious temper.  He takes a deep breath and compliments Enrique’s talent, asking him to put the “girls” away for now; Ekaterin breaths a sigh of relief.  Enrique returns to his seat and happily tells his neighbours, the Vorbrettens, all about the bugs, but the rest of the conversation has ground to a halt.  Miles sends Pym to the kitchen for the next course, but asking him to check it for bug butter first.  What emerges is poached salmon garnished with lemon slices, instead of the buttery sauce that was doubtless meant to accompany it.

Ekaterin, trying to break the ice, asks Duv, as a Komarran in ImpSec, about his family’s opinion of his career; Duv, initially taken aback, merely replies that his new family approves of it.  Ekaterin picks up that she’s committed a faux pas, but doesn’t know what it is.  Koudelka changes the subject to the Komarran soletta repairs, which seems like a safer subject.  Before the conversation can get going again, though, everyone hears Enrique talking loudly to Kareen about how, with butter bug profits, she’ll surely be able to go back to the Orb of Unearthly Delights back on Beta Colony–again–with Mark.  Commodore Koudelka, obviously aware of the Orb’s reputation as a pleasure dome where almost everything was available for the asking, spews his mouthful of wine across the table and begins to choke.

Kou got just enough breath back to gasp at Mark, “You took my daughter to the Orb?”

Kareen, utterly panicked, blurted, “It was part of his therapy!”

Mark, panicked worse, added in desperate exculpation, “We got a Clinic discount . . .”

Galeni freezes at the news that Mark may be a prospective brother-in-law, and Koudelka begins to hyperventilate; Drou, who had gotten up to help her husband, deliberately sits back down, with a glare that conveys that they will discuss this later.  Lady Alys tries gamely to resume the soletta conversation, only to be interrupted by the arrival of a pair of kittens in the dining room, one of them carrying a Vorkosigan-liveried bug in its mouth.  Enrique tries to rescue it–too late–and Miles begins to wonder how the kitten managed to get hold of a butter bug, if they were all secured…  He asks Enrique and Mark, and Enrique, caught by a sudden thought, suddenly excuses himself and dashes away; Mark follows, and so does Miles, hastily instructing Lady Alys to take over as host.

In the laboratory, he finds Enrique kneeling by a butter bug house, its lid knocked askew, and only one brown-and-silver bug therein.  Enrique says the cats must have knocked it over–most of the bugs have escaped, close to two hundred.  Miles contemplates all the places a butter bug can hide, and says that at least they should all be neuter workers, since the queens can’t move.

“Um,” said Enrique.

Miles chose his words carefully. “You assured me the queens couldn’t move.”

Mature queens can’t move, that’s true,” Enrique explained, climbing to his feet again, and shaking his head. “Immature queens, however, can scuttle like lightning.”

Miles thought it through; it took only a split-second. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs. Vorkosigan-liveried vomit bugs all over Vorbarr Sultana.

There was an ImpSec trick, which involved grabbing a man by the collar and giving it a little half-twist, and doing a thing with the knuckles; applied correctly, it cut off both blood circulation and breath. Miles was absently pleased to see that he hadn’t lost his touch, despite his new civilian vocation. He drew Enrique’s darkening face down toward his own.

He gives Enrique an ultimatum–to get all the bugs back, including their queen, by six hours before his parents are due to return home, because after that he’s going to call in professional exterminators.  At Ekaterin’s shocked exclamation, he involuntarily releases Enrique’s collar, but Kareen steps forward to berate the Escobaran for mentioning the Orb.  Ekaterin assures Enrique that Miles can be reasonable, and offers to stay and help him hunt.  Miles, arrested by this unwelcome image, grudgingly agrees that, after dinner, they should all help look for the bugs, including the armsmen.

Mark offers to stay and help Enrique, but Kareen says that she refuses to deal with her parents and sisters all by herself.  Miles asks what Mark was doing, taking a young Barrayaran lady to the Orb in the first place.  Kareen calls Miles a hypocrite, since his grandmother said he’d been there several times; Miles insists that it was all for intelligence-gathering purposes.  He cuts off further argument by saying they should return to dinner, before Ma Kosti gets annoyed with them, and this shuts them up.

They return to the table, Pym serves more wine, and conversation is more-or-less successfully directed to the topic of the Emperor’s wedding, though Mark and Koudelka mostly just eye each other warily.  Ekaterin seems subdued, except for laughing at a few of Dono’s jokes.  After the main course, also bug-butter-free, the dessert proves to be a frozen creamy concoction; Pym tells Miles that Ma Kosti was already upset about her sauces, and refused to budge on the dessert.  Miles resolutely takes a spoonful, and is somewhat annoyed to find that it’s incredibly delicious; Ekaterin and Kareen seem especially delighted about this.

Miles has just finished a rousing anecdote about acquiring his District’s wedding gift–a life-size maple-sugar sculpture of a guerrilla–and is preparing to ask her a leading question about her garden, when Illyan innocently asks Ekaterin about how long Miles has been courting her.  Half the people at the table wince; Olivia says, confused, that she’d thought they weren’t supposed to talk about that yet.  Miles sees that Ekaterin’s face is freezing into stone; in a last-ditch effort, he asks her to marry him.

Ekaterin made no response at all, at first. For a moment, it seemed as though she had not even heard his words, and Miles almost yielded to a suicidal impulse to repeat himself more loudly. Aunt Alys buried her face in her hands. Miles could feel his breathless grin grow sickly, and slide down his face. No, no. What I should have said—what I meant to say was . . . please pass the bug butter? Too late . . .

She visibly unlocked her throat, and spoke. Her words fell from her lips like ice chips, singly and shattering. “How strange. And here I thought you were interested in gardens. Or so you told me.”

You lied to me hung in the air between them, unspoken, thunderously loud.

So yell. Scream. Throw something. Stomp on me all up and down, it’ll be all right, it’ll hurt good—I can deal with that—

Instead, she gets up from the table, bids farewell to her aunt, and walks quickly out of the room.  Miles follows her, catching her up in the entry hall, saying they need to talk.  Ekaterin agrees, then tells him she resigns as his landscape designer, though she will pass on her designs for whoever he picks to finish her garden–if a garden was what he wanted in the first place.  Miles says that he wanted the garden and to spend time with her, but he couldn’t tell her all of that, because she wasn’t close to being healed from Tien’s treatment of her.  Ekaterin flinches at the truth of that, but excoriates him for playing on her vanity.

“Not vanity,” he protested. “Skill, pride, drive—anyone could see you just needed scope, opportunity—”

“You are used to getting your own way, aren’t you, Lord Vorkosigan. Any way you can.” Now her voice was horribly dispassionate. “Trapping me in front of everyone like that.”

“That was an accident. Illyan didn’t get the word, see, and—”

“Unlike everyone else? You’re worse than Vormoncrief! I might just as well have accepted his offer!”

“Huh? What did Alexi—I mean, no, but, but—whatever you want, I want to give it to you, Ekaterin. Whatever you need. Whatever it is.”

“You can’t give me my own soul.” She stared, not at him, but inward, on what vista he could not imagine. “The garden could have been my gift. You took that away too.”

Miles wants to follow up this last statement, but a large groundcar is pulling up outside, and Ekaterin takes advantage of this distraction to insist that Pym let her out.  As Ekaterin turns to flee, she bumps directly into the early-returned Count Aral Vorkosigan.  He and Cordelia express concern at the young lady’s distress, assure her that they will call a cab for her directly, and ask Miles what is going on.  Miles says his dinner party is just breaking up; he tries to introduce Ekaterin to her, but is interrupted by Ekaterin’s abrupt retreat from the house.  The Koudelkas soon follow suit, insisting that Kareen come home with them, and stay out of Vorkosigan House, despite Kareen’s insistence that she works there; Mark tries to insist it’s his fault.

Commodore Koudelka’s eye fell on the returnees as the rolling altercation piled up in the hallway. “Ha—Aral!” he snarled. “Do you realize what your son has been up to?”

The Count blinked. “Which one?” he asked mildly.

The chance of the light caught Mark’s face, as he heard this off-hand affirmation of his identity. Even in the chaos of his hopes pinwheeling to destruction, Miles was glad to have seen the brief awed look that passed over those fat-distorted features. Oh, Brother. Yeah. This is why men follow this man—

Olivia is allowed to leave with the Vorbrettens instead, who try to sneak out quietly; Lord Dono makes a point of complimenting Miles on his interesting dinner party.  Enrique wanders into the entry hall, with some kind of unpleasantly-scented lure on a stick, searching for his bugs.

“Pym!” The Countess spotted a new victim, and her voice went a little dangerous. “I seconded you to look after Miles. Would you care to explain this scene?”

There was a thoughtful pause. In a voice of simple honesty, Pym replied, “No, Milady.”

“Ask Mark,” Miles said callously. “He’ll explain everything.” Head down, he started for the stairs.

Comments

Hoo boy, that was an ordeal.  It’s painful to read.  As I said before, when I first read the book, I was looking forward to this scene, getting all these characters together in one room–it would be a lot of fun.  Like one of those Emperor’s Birthday or Winterfair scenes from other books–which often had their share of unpleasantness, but nothing like the meltdown that happens here.  I guess that didn’t fit in with the plot, though.  Enrique and Illyan between them manage to say just the wrong things, bringing Miles and Kareen’s secrets to light–Kareen about the exact nature of her relationship with Mark, and Miles’s singularly unsecret campaign for Ekaterin’s heart.  In hindsight, of course, it’s inevitable, because in both cases the secrets have been shared so widely that almost everyone but the person/people that they were supposed to be secret from knew about them.

It’s almost a little off, that even Miles is judgemental about Mark and Kareen having a sexual relationship, or maybe it’s just that the Orb is taking it too far.  He should know that Mark hasn’t internalized a true Barrayaran value system–his upbringing by Ser Galen probably included a fair chunk of it, but I’m sure it didn’t thoroughly take.  The Koudelkas, of course, aren’t true Vor, but they probably wish they were, on some level, and prefer to emulate the true Vor value system as much as possible–like Bothari, everything has to be right for their girls.  It’s more than a little hypocritical for both of them, but as I recall we get to that a little later.

At some point in this chapter Miles thinks to himself that he was no good at poetry (apart from limericks), being much better at planning combat drop missions.  This obviously shows, because his campaign for Ekaterin is like one of those combat drop missions, where he tries to plan every detail, getting potential rivals out of the way (and sharing too much vital intelligence on the way), and then suddenly everything goes pear-shaped, just like Mark’s clone-rescue on Jackson’s Whole back in Mirror Dance.  Or, if I may venture into an entirely different mythos, like Phil Connors’s calculated attempts to woo Rita, over and over, in “Groundhog Day”.

At least this is the low point.  Miles and Mark’s love lives are as screwed up as they can get–but now Countess Cordelia is there, and she can help them untangle themselves.  Yes, I know, sometimes it seems a little pat, having her as the fix-it person, but right now it’s a positive relief…

Chapter Ten

Countess Cordelia wakes Mark up the next afternoon, bringing him tea, but not food.  Mark had sought refuge in Gorge and Howl last night after fleeing the party, eating his way through several tubs of bug butter.  Cordelia says that Miles sought his refuge, more traditionally, in wine, and they shouldn’t expect to see him again before evening.  Mark’s last memory of the party were Koudelka calling Mark’s grandmother a “Betan pimp” and Kareen refusing to ride home with “uncultured Barrayaran savages”.

Cordelia says she had a most enlightening conversation with the Vorthyses, particularly the Professora, who she wished she’d known earlier.  Simon Illyan was quite distraught at spilling the beans; he’d apparently thought that he’d forgotten something important that Miles had told him.  The Countess is annoyed at Miles for setting Illyan up like that, and also for not passing on more information about Ekaterin in his brief missives.  She had also had a talk with Enrique; she says his work seems sound, and she promised to keep Miles from killing his bugs.  They found a couple in their bedroom that morning, one of which got squished by accident, but neither of them was the queen.

She tells Mark she feels some responsibility for Kareen, being perfectly aware of what choices she would have available to her on Beta Colony.  She adds that she would be perfectly happy to have Kareen as a daughter-in-law, and that she trusts Mark’s intentions to be honorable.  Mark says he doesn’t think that the Koudelkas would be that keen to see him in the family.

“You are a Vorkosigan.”

“A clone. An imitation. A cheap Jacksonian knock-off.” And crazy to boot.

“A bloody expensive Jacksonian knock-off.”

Cordelia says she’s more than happy to help him and Kareen, if they can only tell her what it is they want.  Mark, cautious about what problems he aims his mother at, says that he wants what Kareen wants, but that seems to have gotten confused since their return to Barrayar.  He tells her that Kareen wants time to be herself, and Barrayar seems to be trying to push her into a box–even “wife” would be a box, here.  She asks what his own goals are, and if they’ve changed with his time on Beta.  Mark says his therapy has made progress, and it’s encouraged him; economics school was helpful, and he’s gotten some good ideas about what to do to make the Jackson’s Whole clone-body replacements less desirable, including some potential life-extension treatments the Duronas have come up with.

He’s pumping money into the Durona Group, but he wants enough to maintain financial independence as well, and so he’s looking into his “agribusiness” venture on Barrayar.  Cordelia notes that they could come in handy on Sergyar too, though she admits that they should remove the Vorkosigan crest before pitching them seriously to Aral.  Mark says that it’ll all come to nothing if he and Kareen can’t get back to Beta Colony.  He’d probably be able to pay her way back, but he doesn’t think that would be a good idea, putting her in his debt like that.  Cordelia finds that interesting, but points out that if they both give each other everything, then it evens out.

The Countess finished her tea and put down her cup, “Well. I don’t wish to invade your privacy. But do remember, you’re allowed to ask for help. It’s part of what families are all about.”

“I owe you too much already, milady.”

Her smile tilted. “Mark, you don’t pay back your parents. You can’t. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It’s a sort of entailment. Or if you don’t have children of the body, it’s left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.”

“I’m not sure that seems fair.”

“The family economy evades calculation in the gross planetary product. It’s the only deal I know where, when you give more than you get, you aren’t bankrupted—but rather, vastly enriched.”

Mark asks if she can help Miles; she says that’s more difficult, because she doesn’t know about the Ekaterin side of the equation.  She’s of the opinion that he dug his own hole, he’ll have to dig his way out.

After she leaves, Mark tries calling the Koudelka household on the comconsole, preparing various conversational gambits for whoever may answer, but it turns out they’ve blocked him entirely.

Ekaterin has somewhat of a hangover the day after the dinner party as well–with Pym topping up her wineglass, she was sure she’d drunk several times her usual two-glass limit.  At least it had given her the courage to run out.
She’s prepared all the notes on the Barrayaran garden, but she hesitates on the final act of sending it to Miles and closing off that chapter of her life entirely.  She ponders the model of Barrayar that Miles had given her, remembering the shopping trip on Komarr with its watery climax, and the way he’d awarded it to her in the transfer station.  She convinces herself that it was really an award, not a gift, because if it was a gift she should never have accepted it, and therefore she earned it, and doesn’t have to get rid of it.

She’d almost gone back to the garden and taken her skellytum rootling back out, but she’d been afraid of running afoul of Vorkosigan House security, who would likely have been quite embarrassed.  Miles didn’t care about it, in any case–after all, he hadn’t gone out to look at it, had he?  She’d carried it around long enough, it had survived enough mishaps and moves, and now she was done with it–she would leave it to its fate in the garden.  Though she does add an appendix about its requirements to the garden instructions.

Nikki thumps into the room, making her wince; she’s glad she hadn’t brought him along to the dinner party, where she might have been trapped, unable to retreat with him complaining about not having finished his dessert.  He asks if she’d settled on when she could go out to Vorkosigan Surleau and ride Miles’s horse, a topic which had come up during one of his visits to Vorkosigan House.  Miles had generously allowed Nikki to visit the house sometimes when Ekaterin had to bring him to work, playing with Armsman Pym’s son, and sometimes Armsman Roic, eating Ma Kosti’s food, even helping Kareen in the lab, and had made this offhand invitation at the end of one such day.  Now she wonders how calculated this invitation had been.

She tries to put Nikki off by telling him they can’t impose on him, and suggests they try somewhere closer if he wants to ride horses.  Nikki says that Miles offered to let him try flying his lightflyer on the way down, too; Ekaterin says he’s too young, but Nikki says that Miles first flew when he was younger than that.  He presses her to ask Lord Vorkosigan next time she goes to work, and finally she has to tell him that she quit her position.  When Nikki asks her why, she says it was an ethical issue.

“What? What issue?” His voice was laced with confusion and disbelief. He twisted himself around the other way.

“I found he’d . . . lied to me about something.” He promised he’d never lie to me. He’d feigned that he was very interested in gardens. He’d arranged her life by subterfuge—and then told everyone else in Vorbarr Sultana. He’d pretended he didn’t love her. He’d as much as promised he’d never ask her to marry him. He’d lied. Try explaining that to a nine-year-old boy. Or to any other rational human being of any age or gender, her honesty added bitterly. Am I insane yet? Anyway, Miles hadn’t actually said he wasn’t in love with her, he’d just . . . implied it. Avoided saying much on the subject at all, in fact. Prevarication by misdirection.

“Oh,” said Nikki, eyes wide, daunted at last.

Aunt Vorthys ushers Nikki out of the room, telling him his mother has a hangover, which is a concept he has some trouble getting his mind around.  She returns a while later with water and painkillers, which Ekaterin takes dutifully.  She says, mournfully, that it must have been the Count and Countess Vorkosigan last night, that she had bumped into and fled past.  Her aunt agrees, and says she had quite a nice conversation with them.  Ekaterin says they must think she’s a lunatic, the way she ran out like that.  But she can’t believe what Miles did to her, either.

Her aunt says that she didn’t have much choice but to run out–otherwise, she’d have had to answer Miles’s question.  Ekaterin is confused–wasn’t her departure answer enough?

“He knew it was a mistake the moment the words were out of his mouth, I daresay, at least judging from that ghastly expression on his face. You could see everything just drain right out of it. Extraordinary. But I can’t help wondering, dear—if you’d wanted to say no, why didn’t you? It was the perfect opportunity to do so.”

“I . . . I . . .” Ekaterin tried to collect her wits, which seemed to be scattering like sheep. “It wouldn’t have been . . . polite.”

After a thoughtful pause, her aunt murmured, “You might have said, `No, thank you.’ ”

Ekaterin rubbed her numb face. “Aunt Vorthys,” she sighed, “I love you dearly. But please go away now.”

She does realize, after her aunt leaves, that she was right–she hadn’t actually answered the question, and she hadn’t realized it.  She recognizes her feeling, heartsickness, all too familiar from her rows with Tien, the cold feeling after the argument broke down.  She doesn’t want to return to that state again.  She’s not sure who she is anymore, where her home could be.  She has felt moments of deep calm in Miles’s presence, and also extreme exasperation.  But she doesn’t trust her own judgement anymore.

She considers adding a note to the garden plans, but decides that just sending them will be message enough, and sends them without further ado, then goes to lie down.

After a day of sulking in his bed, Miles emerges in the evening, and enters the library to find his parents there.  He mumbles a greeting to them, and after a moment asks them about their trip home; his mother says it was quite uneventful, at least until their arrival.  She says they missed him at mealtimes that day; Miles says he spent a lot of time throwing up, which wouldn’t have been much fun.

The Countess added astringently, “Are you done with that now?”

“Yeh. It didn’t help.” Miles slumped a little further, and stretched his legs out before him. “A life in ruins with vomiting is still a life in ruins.”

“Mm,” said the Count in a judicious tone, “though it does make it easy to be a recluse. If you’re repulsive enough, people spontaneously avoid you.”

The Count asks Miles if he has any Auditing to do; Miles says no, fortunately for them.  Aral says that Alys gave them a heavily editorialized account of the dinner party, and says she hopes he wouldn’t have retreated from a losing battle the way he did last night.  Cordelia says that a woman running screaming from Miles’s marriage proposal isn’t a good sign, but from what she heard Miles didn’t leave her much choice.  She asks Miles how bad Ekaterin’s prior marriage was; Miles says that from what he could tell, Tien Vorsoisson played so many head games with his wife that she must have been half-convinced she was crazy, a type that Cordelia says she recognizes well.

He admits he panicked when Illyan spilled the beans, never wanting to ambush her like that.  He starts to explain his brilliant plan, to use her interest in gardens to keep her in proximity to him by hiring her to put one in the lot next door.

“Is that what that crater is,” said his father. “In the dark, from the groundcar, it looked as though someone tried to shell Vorkosigan House and missed, and I’d wondered why no one had reported it to us.”

“It is not a crater. It’s a sunken garden. There’s just . . . just no plants in it yet.”

“It has a very nice shape, Miles,” his mother said soothingly. “I went out and walked through it this afternoon. The little stream is very pretty indeed. It reminds me of the mountains.”

“That was the idea,” said Miles, primly ignoring his father’s mutter of . . . after a Cetagandan bombing raid on a guerilla position . . .

Miles suddenly remembers the skellytum Ekaterin said she’d planted, and panic briefly over what might have happened to it, before deciding it was just another reason she was mad at him.  Cordelia paraphrases his plan as trying to keep a destitute widow from other romantic opportunities by manipulating her purse strings, which Miles considers an uncharitable description.  He can’t believe she’d just quit working on the garden after all the time she’d devoted to it.

Cordelia reminds him of an incident from his youth, where he’d won a game of cross-ball against Armsman Esterhazy, his first win ever, only to find out later that Esterhazy had lost on purpose.  He’d been furious, and never forgiven the insult; Cordelia says that Esterhazy had done it to cheer him up, but Miles said it stole his victory from him, and poisoned any later victory he happened to achieve.  His mother lets this sink in for a few seconds.

The light dawned. Even with his eyes squeezed shut, the intensity of the glare hurt his head.

“Oh. Noooo,” groaned Miles, muffled into the cushion he jammed over his face. “I did that to her?”

His remorseless parent let him stew in it, a silence sharper-edged than words.

I did that to her . . .” he moaned, pitifully.

He realizes what she’d meant about the garden being her gift…he’d just been hoping they were finally getting into the real matter, so they could have a real argument…so that, as his father supplies, he could win.  Aral says you can’t win that war except by surrendering.  Miles said he tried to surrender; his mother points out that she wasn’t lowering herself to Miles’s level, and hopes that sometime they can actually properly meet this woman.  Miles says she sent the garden plans to him, no message or anything, and asks what he should do now.  Cordelia asks if she’s going to actually listen to his advice, because otherwise she won’t give it; Miles swallows his anger and humbly says that he’s listening.

Cordelia says he owes Ekaterin an apology.  He says Ekaterin won’t even talk to him, and she admits that he can’t go over to the Vorthys house in person, or even make a live comconsole call, without being too invasive.  She suggests he write a short note of apology, as abject as he can manage.  Handwritten, if he can make it legible, without having a secretary do it.

Miles says he doesn’t even have a secretary, since his workload hasn’t required it yet; Aral says that he can’t wish Miles had more problems to solve, and after all, solving the Komarr soletta problem should have earned him some time off.  Cordelia wonders what Ekaterin earned for her own contribution, and Miles grumbles that she should have earned the gratitude of the Empire, except that the whole thing has been classified.  She was heroic, she didn’t fold under the pressure, she did what she had to–and she doesn’t get the recognition for it.  Cordelia points out that everyone has some pressure they’ll fold under, it’s just not the same kind of pressure for everyone.

Miles heads out to water the skellytum, which takes him some time to find, and wonders if it’s hardy enough to survive out here.  He ponders what his life will be like when the skellytum is full-grown again–reclusive bachelor, or proud paterfamilias?  He heads back inside, determined to nail this damned “abject” if it kills him.

Comments

Professora Vorthys seems to be a wise woman too, someone who Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan gets along with instantly, with perhaps not quite the same uncanny insight, but good enough for a second-stringer, anyway.  (Do we ever find out her first name?  I can’t recall.)  I do think that Ekaterin has a point–fleeing indecorously from a marriage proposal should, probably, be considered a “no”, but I suppose that her aunt also has a point, in that Ekaterin has avoided actually saying anything one way or the other.

Cordelia’s shrewd comparison of Miles’s hiring of Ekaterin being like an adult intentionally losing a game to a child hits right to the heart of the problem with Miles’s plan.  The garden was never, really, Miles’s primary goal–that was, always, the conquest of Ekaterin’s heart.  He wasn’t planning to _lie_ to her, exactly, about anything, except perhaps his reasons for spending time with her.  Though he was also trying to present his best features to her, but that might be considered normal to someone one is dating, or courting.  Is it acceptable for an employer-employee relationship?  Perhaps–everyone wants to come off well, don’t they?  Admittedly, back on Komarr they had already gotten past that stage, to some extent–Ekaterin saw him in the throes of a seizure, she saw him chained up outside the Waste Heat Station, she saw him soaking wet in the pond.  So Miles was getting off track, trying to backpedal in his treatment of her, because he was beginning to see her a precious treasure to be won, rather than just a person that he was beginning to rely on.  Not someone it was important to tell only the truth, but someone whose inconvenient emotional baggage was an obstacle that needed to be worked around.  So, between Cordelia explicitly pointing out his mistake, and Ekaterin implicitly letting him know that he was way off base, Miles has been thrown off of that track.  Maybe he can start thinking of her as a person again…

As for Mark…he did, indeed, have some reservations about just offering to spring for Kareen’s schooling.  In some ways it would be the right thing to do, but it would only convey the proper message if they were both on the same page, relationship-wise.  And it can’t really be used to put them on the same page.  I’ve seen some real-world relationships where two people date, then live together, well enough, but then one of them has to move to another city for work…  If they both make the move together, then it seems that either they get engaged shortly thereafter, or they break up.  It’s a bit of a crucible for a relationship, it seems, and, with Kareen’s uncertainty about things since their return to Barrayar, Mark doesn’t know if it’ll work out for them any more.  Maybe Kareen is overreacting to the idea of being put in the “wife” box, which is doubtless one that means different things on Barrayar than it does on Beta Colony, and probably a little, or large, bit different for every culture everywhere; after all, she hasn’t even had Ekaterin’s bad experience to make her gun-shy, and I don’t see any evidence that she’s even heard Ekaterin’s horror stories about Tien.  But being back on Barrayar seems to be making her think of things in Barrayaran ways, even if on some level she may know that Mark doesn’t have that same level of indoctrination.  I confess, Kareen is the POV character I have the most trouble sympathizing with here, but maybe that’s because I can see inside Mark’s head and know how he feels about her.  Maybe Kareen knows that too, or maybe she doesn’t, and maybe I’m just being an ignorant straight white male here, but I keep feeling like she’s blowing everything out of proportion.  Except that she seems to have been bang-on about her parents’ reactions, of course…


Two chapters, hurrah!  Maybe things will pick up after this, and I can speed things up a little.  You can hope, anyway.  I’m not going to go so far as to make it a Resolution or anything, to do two chapters a week, but it could happen.  As long as they’re not too long…

Read Full Post »

Sisyphus finally pushes his boulder to the top of the mountain, only to have gravity yank it from his grasp and send it rolling down the other side.  In unrelated news, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, where due to Christmas concerts and other such vagaries, this is going to be another single-chapter week, despite my best intentions.  So prepare yourself for another chapter from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in this case Chapter Seven of A Civil Campaign, where we get to see Mark Vorkosigan lead a field trip, and Ivan meet a friend at the spaceport and reluctantly make a call on their behalf.

Chapter Seven

Mark flies over Vorkosigan’s District in Miles’s lightflyer, enjoying the fine weather and the fact that the controls are at the right height, even if the seat’s a bit narrow.  He banks to show off the landscape better to Kareen and Ekaterin in the back seat, and Ekaterin does indeed admire the countryside aloud.  Enrique admits that he’d expected something more drab, concrete and marching soldiers in uniform.

“Economically unlikely for an entire planetary surface. Though uniforms, we do have,” Mark admitted.

“But once it gets up to several hundred different kinds, the effect isn’t so uniform anymore. And some of the colors are a little . . . unexpected.”

“Yes, I feel sorry for those Counts who ended up having to pick their House colors last,” Mark agreed. “I think the Vorkosigans must have fallen somewhere in the middle. I mean, brown and silver isn’t bad, but I can’t help feeling that the fellows with the blue and gold—or the black and silver—do have a sartorial edge.” He could fancy himself in black and silver, with Kareen all blond and tall on his arm.

“It could be worse,” Kareen put in cheerfully. “How do you think you’d look in a House cadet’s uniform of chartreuse and scarlet, like poor Vorharopulos, Mark?”

“Like a traffic signal in boots.”

Ekaterin tells Enrique that the South Continent area where she grew up was very flat, despite mountains just over the horizon, but she says it was very spacious, and had tremendous sunrises and sunsets.

Mark flies them over Hassadar, where they set down on top of the Count’s Residence, just off the city’s central square.  Tsipis is waiting there to greet them; he flies them in turn over to check out three possible sites for the facility–one of them a city warehouse, and the other two farms belonging to families who had emigrated to Sergyar.  All are owned by the Vorkosigans outright, and Tsipis says that Mark may be able to get Miles to forgo the rent; Mark isn’t sure about asking Miles for the favour, but he reminds himself that he is also a Vorkosigan.  He and Kareen discuss the possible choices, while Ekaterin shows Enrique some of the native plants.  At last they decide on the farm with the newer and more spacious outbuildings, and Tsipis takes them back to Hassadar for lunch.

The lunch spread is luxurious, and Mark suspects Miles had left instructions to that effect for Ekaterin’s benefit.  Later, while the others are inspecting the gardens, Tsipis asks Mark about Madame Vorsoisson; Miles has been holding forth about her, at length.  Mark says it’s hilarious, and yet also scary.  Tsipis agrees, saying that Miles was never afraid of physical pain, but emotional rejection can drive him crazy.  He relates an incident where, after one such rejection, Miles had a riding accident, riding a horse he’d been forbidden to ride, and they wondered how much of an accident it really was.

Tsipis says he’s surprised Miles is interested in a Barrayaran, rather than a galactic, and wonders if he’s setting himself up for a fall.  Mark says that Miles has a Plan, and asks Tsipis what he thinks of her; Tsipis declares Ekaterin honest, and a quick study, which is high praise from him, attractive enough, and well-qualified for the job of Countess.  He says it’s not before time, in any case, and hopes for the Count to have some grandchildren in his lifetime.

“You will keep an eye on things, won’t you?” Tsipis added.

“I don’t know what you think I could do. It’s not like I could make her fall in love with him. If I had that kind of power over women, I’d use it for myself!”

Tsipis smiled vaguely at the place Kareen had vacated, and back, speculatively, to Mark. “What, and here I was under the impression you had.”

He asks if Mark has seen any signs that Ekaterin returns Miles’s affection, and Mark says that she is very reserved.  He says he’ll ask Kareen, since girls often discuss these things among themselves.  Tsipis, who considers Kareen part of the family, asks assurances that Mark will treat her well, and Mark agrees fervently.  Even the Black Gang are behind him.  He’d be willing to follow Kareen around hoping for a crumb of her affection, but his therapist has admonished him from putting that kind of pressure on her.  Of course, his therapist likes Kareen, because everyone likes her, because she likes them; she has virtue to spare, and she’d do wonders in sales.  He can’t bear the idea of losing her.

Once the others return, Kareen chivvies them off to gather rocks for Ekaterin’s garden; Tsipis sends two burly young men with a van to follow them and do the actual lifting.  Mark heads them into the Dendarii mountains, to a vale still largely populated by native plantlife.  Ekaterin steps out and, looking out over the valley below them, exults in the feeling of spaciousness, which she says she normally doesn’t find in hill country.  She leads the young men to hunt for rocks, Enrique following after; Mark stays behind to cuddle with Kareen.

When Mark ventures a sexual suggestion into his cuddle, Kareen pulls away; she apologizes, and says that being back on Barrayar is making her feel less like her own person and more conscious how dependent on her family she really is.

He clutched her hand; that at least he might not let go of. “You want to be good. All right, I can understand that. But you have to be careful who you let define your good. My terrorist creators taught me that one, for damn sure.”

She clutched him back, at that feared memory, and managed a sympathetic grimace. She hesitated, and went on, “It’s the mutually exclusive definitions that are driving me crazy. I can’t be good for both places at the same time. I learned how to be a good girl on Beta Colony, and in its own way, it was just as hard as being a good girl here. And a lot scarier, sometimes. But . . . I felt like I was getting bigger inside, if you can see what I mean.”

Mark says she has to be sure to choose Kareen’s good, not Barrayar’s or Beta Colony’s; Kareen says she can’t even seem to find herself to ask what that would be.  She says she wants to stay on Beta Colony until she can become as strong a person as Countess Vorkosigan.  Mark hugs her reassuringly, hoping that when she finds herself, there’s still room for him in her life.

He changes the subject to Ekaterin, and asks Kareen if she seems to like Miles back.  She says she can’t tell; Ekaterin is working hard on his garden, but they’re still not on a first-name basis.  Mark says Tsipis wants some reassurance about Miles, and Kareen says she’d like to be friends with Ekaterin, since she doesn’t seem to have many friends, and she’s still very quiet about what happened to her on Komarr.  He asks if she’d be good for Miles, and Kareen asks if anyone’s thought about whether Miles would be good for her.

“Um . . . um . . . why not? Count’s heir. Well-to-do. An Imperial Auditor, for God’s sake. What more could a Vor desire?”

“I don’t know, Mark. It likely depends on the Vor. I do know I’d take you and every one of the Black Gang at their most obstreperous for a hundred years before I’d let myself get locked up for a week with Miles. He . . . takes you over.”

“Only if you let him.” But he warmed inside with the thought that she could really, truly prefer him to the glorious Miles, and suddenly felt less hungry.

“Do you have any idea what it takes to stop him? I still remember being kids, me and my sisters, visiting Lady Cordelia with Mama, and Miles told off to keep us occupied. Which was a really cruel thing to do to a fourteen-year-old boy, but what did I know? He decided the four of us should be an all-girl precision drill team, and made us march around in the back garden of Vorkosigan House, or in the ballroom when it was raining. I think I was four.” She frowned into the past. “What Miles needs is a woman who will tell him to go soak his head, or it’ll be a disaster. For her, not him.” After a moment, she added sapiently, “Though if for her, for him too, sooner or later.”

The young men return for their van and load up the rocks that Ekaterin had picked out.  Enrique returns, looking cheerful, if wet from falling in the creek, and carrying a huge bundle of Barrayaran plant samples.  They load back up in the lightflyer and Mark flies them back to Vorbarr Sultana.  They drop off Ekaterin and Kareen, and Mark and Enrique return to Vorkosigan House, where Ekaterin has promise to return the next day to help Enrique classify his samples.  Mark discovers that Ekaterin has also expressed interest in Enrique’s doctoral thesis, Toward Bacterial and Fungal Suite-Synthesis of Extra-cellular Energy Storage Compounds.  He decides it could use some spicing up, and keeps asking Mark for rhymes so he can rewrite the abstract as a sonnet.  Mark wonders if Enrique is now thinking that he has a chance to woo Ekaterin.  He resolves to move the business out of Vorkosigan House as soon as possible.

Ivan and By Vorrutyer wait in the Vorbarr Sultana shuttleport for the returning Lady Donna; Ivan has a bouquet, hoping to strike the right tone with her right off the bat, though By seems amused by it.  He’ll offer to carry her luggage, he decides, except perhaps for any uterine replicators she happens to have brought back from Beta with her.  At least, if she is trying the clone ploy, he won’t have to get involved in the political end of it.

By points out an approaching group of three men.  One of them Ivan recognizes as Szabo, one of the late Count Pierre’s armsmen, and there’s another Vorrutyer guardsman on the other side.

The man in the center Ivan had never seen before. He was an athletic-looking fellow of middle height, more lithe than muscular, though his shoulders filled his civilian tunic quite well. He was soberly dressed in black, with the barest pale gray piping making salute to the Barrayaran style of pseudo-military ornamentation in men’s wear. The subtle clothes set off his lean good looks: pale skin, thick dark brows, close-cropped black hair, and trim, glossy black beard and mustache. His step was energetic. His eyes were an electric brown, and seemed to dart all around as if seeing the place for the first time, and liking what they saw.

Ivan wonders who this is–a Betan paramour?  Count Pierre’s secret love child?  He does look like a Vorrutyer…  By says that they need no introduction, but Ivan says they do; the man introduces himself as Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  Ivan finally recognizes the eyes–as Lady Donna’s.  After all, on Beta Colony, if you can can afford it and convince them you’re an adult, you can get them to do anything you want…such as, in this case, a sex change.  Donna/Dono insists that he/she will be Count Vorrutyer, once he can get the Council of Counts on board.  He/she teases Ivan with the bouquet until Szabo asks him/her not to do that in public.  Dono promises to be good.  By suggests they continue the conversation in private, and directs them to the waiting groundcar; Ivan tries to excuse himself, but By and Dono insist that Ivan come with them.

Dono says he got rid of Lady Donna’s luggage on Beta Colony, living out of one suitcase like his armsmen do.  Ivan asked if the Armsmen are all in on it; Dono says that he and Szabo swore them all in after Pierre died, when they presented the plan.  Lady Donna had been running the District quite well, and none of them has the slightest affection for Richards.  Dono says that Richars had tried to rape her when she was twelve, and then drowned her new puppy, blaming it on her; only By had believed her then.  Szabo said that Richars has counted the District as his since Pierre started getting ill, and had been deliberately trying to erode his health since then.  He’d also sabotaged Pierre’s attempts at courtship, though they haven’t proven he actually caused the flyer wreck that killed one of them.  So the Armsmen all concluded that they wouldn’t last in Richars’s service.

Pierre had refused to make a will, not wanting to officially declare Richars, or any of Richars’s brothers or sons, as his heir.  He’d been holding out hope still for a son of his own up to the time of his death.  Ivan wonders if Dono can expect to be heir, since she wasn’t his brother at the time of his death; Dono says that without a sworn heir, his sex won’t matter until they appear before the Council of Counts itself, when he will demonstrably be Pierre’s brother.

Ivan asks what happened to Donna’s female parts; Dono says he dumped them back on Beta, not particularly feeling a need to go back, though he says he could always clone new organs if he ever wanted to.  Ivan asks where Dono’s male parts came from; Dono says the Y chromosome came from Pierre, and they used tissue samples from him to grow his male genitalia.  He admits most of his chromosomes are still XX; the full gene therapy would have taken too long, and risked ending up as some kind of odd chimera or mosaic, but his genitalia is all XY.  For the Council of Counts, though, he needs Ivan.

They pull into Vorrutyer House, an old, fortress-like house built with gun-slits at ground level by Count Pierre “Le Sanguinaire” Vorrutyer, trusted aide and enforcer to Emperor Dorca Vorbarra near the end of the Time of Isolation.  That Pierre was killed in the Cetagandan invasion, though one of his daughters married into the Vorkosigans, which is why Mark’s middle name was “Pierre”.  Dono leads them into the house, which seems to have been entirely abandoned since Count Pierre left for his District months ago.  Dono claims the Count’s old bedroom, though with fresh sheets, and tells Szabo to get the place cleaned up as soon as possible; Ivan recommends the cleaning firm the Vorkosigans use.

By tells them that Richars tried to take possession of the house twice; the first time, Dono’s Armsmen kept him out, and the second time, they had a legal order, which By was luckily able to trump.  Szabo critiques Dono’s sitting position, saying that rather than emulate By, he should go for a more dominating model, like Aral Vorkosigan.  Dono goes rooting in Pierre’s closet, saying that he shouldn’t be too far off fitting Pierre’s clothing, asking Szabo to get a tailor.  Dono begins undressing, and Ivan tries to excuse himself again, but Szabo insists he stay.

“Sit down, Ivan,” Lord Dono growled. His burning eyes suddenly crinkled, and he murmured, “For old time’s sake, if nothing else. You used to run into my bedroom to watch me undress, not out of it. Must I lock the door and make you play hunt the key again?”

Ivan opened his mouth, raised a furious admonishing finger in protest, thought better of it, and sank to a seat on the edge of the bed. You wouldn’t dare seemed suddenly a really unwise thing to say to the former Lady Donna Vorrutyer. He crossed his ankles, then hastily uncrossed them again and set his feet apart, then crossed them again, and twined his hands together in vast discomfort. “I don’t see what you need me for,” he said plaintively.

“So you can witness,” said Szabo.

“So you can testify,” said Dono.

Dono strips completely naked, and asks Ivan’s opinion.  Ivan reluctantly inspects Dono’s equipment, and admits that it looks normal; By agrees, but points out it’s a bit undersized as yet.  Dono says that he was in a rush, but the Betans insist it will finish growing in situ.  It hasn’t reached full sexual maturity yet, but he’s looking forward to it.  Ivan wonders how Dono’s going to learn sex from the other side, and Dono says that that’s one thing he’s not worried about; he taught Ivan, after all.

Ivan asks Dono if he’s let Gregor in on this yet; Dono says they hadn’t, figuring it was easier to get forgiveness than permission.

Ivan clutched his hair. “All right. You two—you three—dragged me up here because you claimed you wanted my help. I’m going to hand you a hint. Free.” He took a deep breath. “You can blindside me, and laugh your heads off if you want to. It won’t be the first time I’ve been the butt. You can blindside Richars with my good will. You can blindside the whole Council of Counts. Blindside my cousin Miles—please. I want to watch. But do not, if you value your chances, if you mean this to be anything other than a big, short joke, do not blindside Gregor.”

Byerly grimaced uncertainly; Dono, turning before the mirror, shot Ivan a penetrating look. “Go to him, you mean?”

“Yes. I can’t make you,” Ivan went on sternly, “but if you don’t, I categorically refuse to have anything more to do with you.”

“Gregor can kill it all with a word,” said Dono warily. “Before it even launches.”

“He can,” said Ivan, “but he won’t, without strong motivation. Don’t give him that motivation. Gregor does not like political surprises.”

“I thought Gregor was fairly easy-going,” said By, “for an emperor.”

“No,” said Ivan firmly. “He is not. He is merely rather quiet. It’s not the same thing at all. You don’t want to see what he’s like pissed.”

“What does he look like, pissed?” asked By curiously.

“Identical to what he looks like the rest of the time. That’s the scary part.”

Dono says that By was the one who’d brought Ivan in on this, because of his connections, so they should listen to Ivan’s advice on the matter.  He asks Ivan what they should do, and Ivan says they should arrange a meeting with Gregor before doing anything else, talking to anyone else.  He asks Dono if he ever slept with Gregor, and he confesses he did not.  Ivan says that if Gregor won’t approve it, then it’ll be over quickly, but if he does, then they’ll have a matchless silent backer.  Dono asks if Ivan can get them an appointment, as soon as possible, the next morning; Ivan mumbles that he’ll see what he can do.  With that, at last they let him go; Dono even send him home by groundcar, unfortunately depriving Ivan of the opportunity to get murdered on the way and get out of this affair for good.

Back in his apartment, Ivan mourns the loss of Lady Donna–the last thing Barrayar needs is another man, after all–though he supposes that maybe they can send the excess Vor males off to Beta to get reshaped the other way.  Reluctantly, he digs out his private contact-card and inserts it into his comconsole.  Gregor’s “gatekeeper” identifies Ivan immediately, and asks if he really meant to call this channel.

He is shortly put through to Gregor, with a blurry Laisa in the background straightening her clothing.  Gregor is initially annoyed to see that it’s Ivan, and not Miles, contacting him, and then asks why Ivan is contacting him.  Ivan tells him that “Lady Donna” is back onplanet, and Gregor needs to meet with “her” as soon as possible.  Gregor warns Ivan that he better not be just calling in some sexual favour; Ivan insists he wanted nothing to do with it, which intrigues the Emperor, and he fits them in at 11:00 the next morning, frowning in puzzlement.

Comments

Another talky chapter, and not from our two romantic principals.  Most of the plotlines get advanced a little–Mark and Kareen, Mark and Enrique, Ekaterin and the garden (if not, directly, Ekaterin and Miles), and then the Ivan and By and, apparently, Lord Dono Vorrutyer.  The little field trip to the Vorkosigan District doesn’t advance anything too far, but it does introduce Enrique to the list of potential Ekaterin suitors.  You know, Mark goes on about how everybody likes Kareen, and she likes everybody, and it seems like everyone likes Ekaterin, too.  They’re just a likable pair of women, I guess.

You know, if the only possible way to keep your scumbag rapist cousin from becoming a Count is to go off to another planet to get a sex change…then maybe there’s something wrong with your system.  And Barrayar is progressing in a lot of ways, but I don’t get a sense that sexual equality, in particular in the Countships, is that close to the offing.  Maybe they just need to take a few tips from the Cetagandans and seize power in their own sphere…  Yeah, I don’t know what that would mean either…though I recall Cordelia having some observations on women’s power back in Barrayar.  So maybe the Countships are, or should be, less relevant.

I love the whole bit with Ivan calling Gregor, though.  Nobody is taking him seriously–questioning whether he meant to make the call, questioning his motives for doing this…  Ivan’s got almost as much of a “town clown” reputation as By Vorrutyer, though I guess it’s more that his goals have been negative–to not get involved in politics, to not get stuck under his mother’s thumb–so it’s odd to see him actually trying to do something.  But this plotline here is why we were all cheering for Ivan to get his own book…

<hr/>

I do almost wish I’d had time to do the next chapter too, since it follows on directly with the interview with Gregor, but alas, lack of time and gumption.  Next week, I promise, you will…get at least that chapter, if nothing else.  And after that is Christmas, which I may give myself off…though I should try to get another post or two in over the holidays regardless.  For this week, though, I am signing off.

Read Full Post »

Scintillate, scintillate, globule aurific; fain would I fathom thy nature specific.  Sesquipedalian version of a child’s nursery rhyme?  Or a contrived introduction to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread?  You decide.  In the meantime…um, well, here’s another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  This week I managed to cover two full chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, her SF/romance hybrid where her regular protagonist Miles Vorkosigan is joined by a capable supporting cast, including Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the woman he’s secretly (from her, at least) in love with…

Chapter Five

Ekaterin arrives at Vorkosigan House with a question for Miles, which she tells Pym isn’t urgent; Pym goes off to fetch him, though Ekaterin realizes that he may still be asleep.  She heads up to the library to wait for him, and is startled to find it occupied, by a man who she immediately realizes must be Miles’s clone-brother Mark; she notices the resemblances immediately, despite his barrier of flesh.  He doesn’t seem annoyed at her presence, and she introduces herself, calling herself Miles’s “landscape consultant”.

She says that they’re taking down an old maple tree, and wants to know what Miles wants with done with the remains.  Mark immediately says that if it’s “Earth-descended organic matter”, he’ll take anything of it that Miles doesn’t want, though he doesn’t say why, telling her that he doesn’t garden.

The decidedly disjointed conversation was interrupted by a booted tread, and Armsman Pym leaning around the doorframe to announce, “M’lord will be down in a few minutes, Madame Vorsoisson. He says, please don’t go away.” He added in a more confiding tone, “He had one of his seizures last night, so he’s a little slow this morning.”

“Oh, dear. And they give him such a headache. I shouldn’t trouble him till he’s had his painkillers and black coffee.” She turned for the door.

“No, no! Sit down, madame, sit, please. M’lord would be right upset with me if I botched his orders.” Pym, smiling anxiously, motioned her urgently toward a chair; reluctantly, she sat. “There now. Good. Don’t move.” He watched her a moment as if to make sure she wasn’t going to bolt, then hurried off again. Lord Mark stared after him.

Mark says that he’d thought that Miles’s seizures were practically cured; Ekaterin says that they’re more “controlled”, and she’s seen one of them herself.  At Mark’s prodding, she says that it was on Komarr, during his recent Auditorial case.  She mentions the device he uses to trigger them, though she wonders if the one he’d just suffered had been manually triggered or if he’d waited too long, and says she heard it was from cryo-revival damage.  Mark tells her that Miles got killed trying to save Mark, and Ekaterin says she Miles hasn’t told her much of his prior career in impSec.

Miles emerges shortly thereafter, freshly washed and smartly dressed, but otherwise looking like death warmed over; Ekaterin tells him that he shouldn’t have gotten up.  Pym arrives with coffee and breakfast, and after taking a few sips, Miles regains language ability and greets Ekaterin properly.  He notes that she’s up early, and she forebears to contradict him; she says that she was eager to get started.  Her hired crew is out gathering up the sod and topsoil, and preparing to transplant the oak, and she asks him what to do with the maple.  Miles says they want it for firewood, and they have a pile to store it for household use and Winterfair bonfires.  Mark says he’ll take the leaves and clippings for Enrique’s project, and Miles says that’s up to their “eight thousand little friends”.

Ekaterin, deciding to stay a little longer so as not to have gotten Miles out of bed for nothing, says they should be able to start excavating tomorrow; she has secured all the necessary permits, and learned more than she wanted to about Vorbarr Sultana infrastructure in the process.  Miles agrees that it’s old and strange, and says she should ask Drou about the time she and Cordelia escaped through the sewers with Vordarian’s head.  He says the dinner party is scheduled for a week tomorrow, which works for her as well.

Miles says he just got back from a bizarre Auditorial errand Gregor sent him on, mostly because of his Betan background.  He tells Mark that their father had put in place legislation making it easier for ordinary Barrayarans to move from one district to another, changing their fealty to another Count; the result has been that people have been voting with their feet, and some Districts have been hemorrhaging population as a result.  The Vorkosigan District is holding steady, losing people to Vorbarr Sultana and Sergyar but gaining people with the up-to-date educational and medical facilities in Hassadar.  A certain Count Vormuir, however, has been losing steadily.

Ekaterin listens, entranced, as Miles outlines Vormuir’s novel solution to the problem.  He bought thirty uterine replicators and began to populate them.  With daughters, the oldest of which is two years old.  Count Vormuir himself is the father, but his wife will have none of the affair, and has moved out, refusing him conjugal visits under the threat of plasma arc.  The eggs have been surplus backups, which would otherwise have been discarded, from the District’s own replicator crèche, which Vormuir claims doesn’t violate any Barrayaran law.  By now he has 92 daughters, plus another batch of thirty in the replicators; Miles has ordered him not to start any more, which he wouldn’t be able to do for seven months anyway.

Mark says there should be a law against this, and Miles agrees, but they have to take some time and figure out what kind of law first, studying how other planets are dealing with it.  Even so, Vormuir won’t be affected by the new law.  There’s no rape involved, the children are well taken care of, they’re all his own daughters and so not legally slaves, and the eggs haven’t technically been stolen.  Ekaterin says that the girls should technically belong to their mothers, but Miles says that he’s not sure that applies if Vormuir never married any of them; in any event, he expects few of the mothers would want them, and if they did, they’d still be new population for Vormuir’s District.

Ekaterin’s brows drew down in thought. “By your account, Vormuir is much taken with economies, of scale and otherwise.” Only long after Nikki’s birth had she wondered if Tien had pushed for the old-fashioned way because it had seemed much cheaper. We won’t have to wait until we can afford it had been a potent argument, in her eager ears. Vormuir’s motivation seemed as much economic as genetic: ultimately, wealth for his District and therefore for him. This techno-harem was intended to become future taxpayers, along with the husbands he no doubt assumed they would draw in, to support him in his old age. “In effect, the girls are the Count’s acknowledged bastards. I’m sure I read somewhere . . . in the Time of Isolation, weren’t Imperial and count-palatine female bastards entitled to a dowry, from their high-born father? And it required some sort of Imperial permission . . . the dowry almost was the sign of legal acknowledgment. I’ll bet the Professora would know all the historical details, including the cases where the dowries had to be dragged out by force. Isn’t an Imperial permission effectively an Imperial order? Couldn’t Emperor Gregor set Count Vormuir’s dowries for the girls . . . high?”

“Oh.” Lord Vorkosigan sat back, his eyes widening with delight. “Ah.” An evil grin leaked between his lips. “Arbitrarily high, in fact. Oh . . . my.” He looked across at her. “Madame Vorsoisson, I believe you have hit on a possible solution. I will certainly pass the idea along as soon as I may.”

Ekaterin is gratified at his approval of her suggestion, and hopes she’s helped him feel better about his morning.  She checks the time, and exclaims that she needs to be outside to meet the tree-removal crew.  Pym and Miles escort her to the front door, and Miles encourages her to stop in again, telling Pym to show her where to put the maple wood.

Ekaterin glanced back over her shoulder. “He didn’t look very well this morning, Pym. You really shouldn’t have let him get out of bed.”

“Oh, I know it, ma’am,” Pym agreed morosely. “But what’s a mere Armsman to do? I haven’t the authority to countermand his orders. What he really needs, is looking after by someone who won’t stand his nonsense. A proper Lady Vorkosigan would do the trick. Not one of those shy, simpering ingenues all the young lords seem to be looking to these days, he’d just ride right over her. He needs a woman of experience, to stand up to him.” He smiled apologetically down at her.

“I suppose so,” sighed Ekaterin. She hadn’t really thought about the Vor mating scene from the Armsmen’s point of view. Was Pym hinting that his lord had such an ingenue in his eye, and his staff was worried it was some sort of mismatch?

Ekaterin gets to thinking about this possible ingenue, supposing that Miles will probably need to look to the younger generation for potential brides these days.  He’ll probably have to settle for an intellectual light-weight, and hope for one who won’t snub him for his physical defects.  She’s surprised to find herself indignant at the image of this idiot girl turning up her nose at Miles, and firmly turns herself back to the prospect of tree demolition.

Inside, Miles returns to the library, sitting down with care and resuming his breakfast.  He tells Mark he thought the conversation went well, and asks what they talked about before he arrived.  Mark says they discussed his seizures, and scolds Miles for not giving him all the information on them.  Miles says Mark couldn’t do anything about them anyway, and while Mark still blames himself, Miles says it was the Jacksonian sniper who did the damage, after all.
Miles asks what Mark thinks of Ekaterin, as a possible Lady Vorkosigan.

Mark blinked. “What?”

“What do you mean, what? She’s beautiful, she’s smart—dowries, ye gods, how perfect, Vormuir will split—she’s incredibly level-headed in emergencies. Calm, y’know? A lovely calm. I adore her calm. I could swim in it. Guts and wit, in one package.”

“I wasn’t questioning her fitness. That was a merely a random noise of surprise.”

“She’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece. She has a son, Nikki, almost ten. Cute kid. Wants to be a jump-pilot, and I think he has the determination to make it. Ekaterin wants to be a garden designer, but I think she could go on to be a terraformer. She’s a little too quiet, sometimes—she needs to build up her self-confidence.”

“Perhaps she was just waiting to get a word in edgewise,” Mark suggested.

Mark contemplates Ekaterin; he supposes that she might appeal to Miles, with his taste for “brainy brunettes”, though he himself preferred curvy blondes, like Kareen.  He’s glad he has Kareen, who’s making him more human just by being around him.  He tells himself that he can’t take her recent attack of nerves personally.  Killer whispers in his head that she’s probably found someone else, and he knows how to deal with problems like that; Mark shushes him.  Even if she had, her honesty would have led her to tell him about it already.  All Mark knows is that, if he had to choose, he’d rather have Kareen than oxygen.  He briefly considers talking to Miles on the issue, but he holds off, not sure that Miles wouldn’t lead the posse after Mark’s head.

Mark asks Miles if Ekaterin knows about Miles’s intentions; Miles says that it’s a tricky situation.  She’s recently widowed, and her husband died recently on Komarr, under circumstances that Miles can’t talk about, but was far too close to.  So she’s not ready to be courted, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the onslaught of Vor bachelors, or the non-Vor either.  Miles’s plan is to get in under her radar as a friend, and then make his move when the time is ripe.

“And, ah, when are you planning to spring this stunning surprise on her?” Mark asked, fascinated.

Miles stared at his boots. “I don’t know. I’ll recognize the tactical moment when I see it, I suppose. If my sense of timing hasn’t totally deserted me. Penetrate the perimeter, set the trip lines, plant the suggestion—strike. Total victory! Maybe.”

He asks Mark not to spill the beans, and Mark says he won’t interfere; as a parting shot, he asks if Miles should really be planning his romantic life in terms of war, and leaves while he’s still sputtering.

Comments

Mark is, of course, perfectly right, as I’ve been saying and will continue to say.  It does make perfect sense in Miles terms, but unfortunately Ekaterin is less likely to think of it that way.  Plus, for someone trying to keep a secret, he keeps telling people about it.  Trying to ask their opinions, shore up his insecurity, but increase the probability that someone’s going to spill the beans.  And then he’s planning this dinner party, which keeps looming up throughout the book, which is going to be bringing basically everyone who knows about Miles’s intentions–and Ekaterin–into the same room.

Admittedly, Miles does seem to have some support.  Pym seems to be entirely in favour of the prospect, even if his broad hints seem to sail right over Ekaterin’s head.  Her Aunt Vorthys has also seemed fairly approving.  Ekaterin must be wilfully keeping herself from contemplating the possibility at all.  After all, if she had to regard Miles as someone trying to lure her back into the prison of marriage, she’d have to stop associating with him.  Not that there aren’t worse things he could do, of course…

I’d forgotten how quickly Ekaterin disposed of the Lord Vormuir problem.  It is a cunning plan–now I’m picturing Vormuir played by Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder (although, in my head, he looks more like Stephen Fry’s Melchett)–sailing through loopholes in Barrayaran law, but Ekaterin manages to point out a way that that law can be bent back upon him.  She obviously has some familiarity with Vor law and custom, perhaps through her aunt if nothing else, and puts her finger on the correct spot.  The situation does, though, sound like some awful movie, though since most of those don’t have uterine replicators, they tend to involve someone sneaking their sperm into the actual fertilized eggs that the husbands think are theirs.

Mark and Miles do seem to be settling into a standard sibling-type relationship, which is not, as Miles is finding out, as much about always being there for each other as it is about friendly rivalry and one-upmanship.  Mark twits Miles about his campaign for Ekaterin, Miles complains about the butter bugs, etc.  You’d think he’d have figured from Ivan what family is about, and now, like it or not, he and Mark are developing the same way.  After all, more than most, Mark has a lot of sibling-rivalry issues, as his Betan therapist has doubtless spotted, since his “older brother” was literally held up to him as an example of the way to act.  It’s probably good if all he’s trying to do about it these days is score “last words” and conversational coups against him.

Chapter Six

Kareen is working in the lab when a woman comes in looking for Mark, introducing herself as “Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the garden designer”; she’s come to offer Mark more compost, having removed an entire row of bushes.  Kareen asks Enrique, who says that if it’s Earth-descended organic matter, and free, they would like to try some.  Ekaterin looks around at the lab, which Kareen congratulates herself is looking more scientific and appealing, and more organized.  Kareen has also been building housing units for the bugs, and cleaning out the guano, which luckily hasn’t been as bad as she’d feared.

Ekaterin asks what they need the plant matter for, and Kareen invites her to come in and see for herself.  She says she’s the Head Bug Wrangler–and also the only one, so far.

Kareen unlatched the steel-screen top of one of the bug hutches, reached in, and retrieved a single worker-bug. She was getting quite good at handling the little beasties without wanting to puke by now, as long as she didn’t look too closely at their pale pulsing abdomens. Kareen held out the bug to the gardener, and began a tolerably close copy of Mark’s Better Butter Bugs for a Brighter Barrayar sales talk.

Though Madame Vorsoisson’s eyebrows went up, she didn’t shriek, faint, or run away at her first sight of a butter bug. She followed Kareen’s explanation with interest, and was even willing to hold the bug and feed it a maple leaf. There was something very bonding about feeding live things, Kareen had to admit; she would have to keep that ploy in mind for future presentations.

Ekaterin is intrigued at the prospect of butter bugs that eat native foliage, and allows that she does have some practical experience with it.  She asks to see the bug manure, and is impressed with the quality of it as fertilizer, reinforced by Enrique’s contributions on its exact chemical composition.  She asks to borrow some, and encourages them to try to sell it.  Enrique said nobody had been interested in it on Escobar, and Ekaterin tells him that on Barrayar it’s harder to come by good quality fertilizer when trying to terraform the soil.  She tells Enrique about a time when the Counts and the Emperors would quarrel over the distribution of horse manure.

Enrique asks Ekaterin if she can show them around some of the native vegetation; Ekaterin says they really need a District agronomy officer, and Enrique points out that he didn’t even know there was such a thing.  Ekaterin says that Tsipis could help them out, and Kareen agrees.  Ekaterin says she’s been planning to go to the Dendarii Mountains to gather rocks to line the stream bed, and Kareen agrees that Miles is very fond of the mountains.

Mark arrives with a load of lab supplies, greeting Ekaterin and thanking her for the maple clippings.  Mark persuades her to try the bug butter, and she agrees to a small taste.  Kareen opens a container for her, telling Mark that they’re going to need more containers, the rate the bugs are producing it–and the rate that nobody else in the house is eating it.  Ekaterin tries a spoonful, pronounces it “interesting”. then offers some helpful suggestions, like flavouring and freezing it.

“Hm. D’you think that would work, Enrique?”

“Don’t see why not,” responded the scientist. “The colloidal viscosity doesn’t break down when exposed to subzero temperatures. It’s thermal acceleration which alters the protein microstructure and hence texture.”

“Gets kind of rubbery when you cook it,” Mark translated this. “We’re working on it, though.”

Mark asks Kareen if she wants to come to the District with him and scout out sites for the future facility–though they can’t settle on the name (between Borgos Research Park, Mark Vorkosigan Enterprises, and Kareen’s Butter Bug Ranch).  Kareen mentions Ekaterin’s rocks, and showing Enrique the native flora, and suggests they all go down together; secretly she’s reluctant to spend time alone with Mark, even though that’s obviously what he’s angling for.  She arranges the trip for the day after tomorrow.

Miles dashes in then, saying that Armsman Jankowski only just told him that Ekaterin was here.  He says he hopes they haven’t fed her the “bug vomit” yet, but Ekaterin says stoutly that it’s not half bad, they just need to do some product development.  She picks up the fertilizer Kareen has packaged for her and says her farewells, until day after tomorrow; Miles escorts her out.  He returns a few minutes later complaining about their feeding “that stuff” to Ekaterin.  Mark says that Ekaterin, at least, has an open mind, and Enrique says that she seemed to understand him better than most people.

Miles asks what’s happening day after tomorrow, and Kareen tells him about the proposed trip to Vorkosigan District.  Miles protests that he had Ekaterin’s first tour of the District already planned out, and Mark, unsympathetic, says that they won’t be going too far afield, there’ll be plenty to show her later.  Miles tries to insist on going along, but Mark says he’s only got four seats, and he’d rather take Kareen than Miles.  Miles leaves, grumbling about Armsman Jankowski.

Kareen asks what his problem is, and Mark explains that Miles is in love with Ekaterin, which is why he hired her as a gardener after meeting her on Komarr, but he hasn’t told her yet.  Mark isn’t quite sure why, unless it’s sexual shyness; Kareen reminds him about Elli Quinn, and Mark postulates that most of Miles’s girlfriends have been more the forceful types, throwing themselves at him, and he doesn’t know how to actually court a woman who’s not.  Mark is filled with glee at the prospect of watching Miles fumble around, and Kareen tells him to be nice.

Enrique asks if Miles was really upset about Ekaterin feeding the bug butter, and Mark says not to worry about it.  Enrique says he’s got an idea to change Miles’s mind about the bugs, but will only say that it’s a secret.  Mark asks Kareen about it, but she has no idea either.  She suggests talking to Ma Kosti about the ice cream freezer, which Miles has probably gotten her one of.  Then she thinks of how Ma Kosti seems a little frustrated with how little cooking she really has to do, and how she likes Mark for his obvious enjoyment of food, and she grabs some bug butter tubs and runs to the kitchen.

Miles arrives at Vorbretten House–more modern than Vorkosigan House, because it had to be rebuilt after the Pretender’s War.  An armsman leads him inside, to where René Vorbretten is sitting in a darkened room.  He is nervous at the arrival of Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, but Miles assures him he’s not there on business.  René was worried that Miles had been sent with the news, but Miles assures him that the Council of Counts still can’t vote without him.  René says the “Ghembrettens'” social life has dwindled away to nothing.  Miles apologizes for not having come sooner, having been on Komarr.

Miles says the Progressive Counts will doubtless want to keep René around–a vote is a vote–but René says some seem to thinking that they don’t want to vote against his opponent, Sigur, and make an enemy of him, in case he wins.  The definite votes one way or the other balance out, leaving the undecideds to settle the matter, and most of them have been avoiding him.  Miles assures René that he has the Vorkosigan vote, no matter what damage Cetagandans might have done to his District.

They discuss the precedents–the horse heir, Lord Midnight (and other, less colourful cases), establishes that a Count’s successor doesn’t have to be a blood relative, but Sigur is claiming that René’s grandfather won his father’s approval fraudulently.  It would make a difference if they could prove that the father had known his heir wasn’t his true son, but they can’t find any evidence in the archives one way or the other.  Miles said that not everyone objected to the Cetagandan bastards, despite widespread customs of killing them and leaving the bodies around to shake up the invaders; Prince Xav himself objected to that practice.  René says they still have no proof, but then, neither does Sigur.

Counthoods generally come up only rarely, as old Counts die, so it’s odd to have two disputed seats at the same time.  Miles asks René if he knows what’s up with Donna Vorrutyer, but René hasn’t heard anything either.  He says he’s grateful that Miles has come to visit, at least; Miles points out that he’s five-eighths Betan, so he can’t think that a little offworlder blood makes anyone unfit.  René does speculate that Lady Donna’s trip to Beta Colony must have something to do with her objection, but he’s not sure what.  Miles guesses that she’s looking for some obscure evidence against her cousin Richars, but René doesn’t think it’s anything that simple.  Ivan might know, having dated her for a while, though René and Miles themselves missed out on that honour.

René says that Miles’s family has been fighting to integrate Miles’s clone Mark into the family; he speculates that Donna might be doing something similar with a clone of the late Pierre Vorrutyer, growing it on Beta Colony and planning to offer it as an alternative heir.  Miles says it might be possible, but he’s not sure if the Counts would accept it.  She was practically running the District anyway, though, so she might make a good guardian.  René mentions one Countess, back in a time of civil war, who had herself legally declared a male so she could inherit.  Miles wonders if there is a clone, whether Donna would want to gestate it in her own womb, which would make it harder to steal, or use a replicator, in which case Richars could end up in custody of it.  In any case, her three months–a generous amount of time, probably dating back to days of travel on horseback–are almost up.

Feminine laughter heralds the arrival of Olivia and Martya Koudelka, who had been out shopping with René’s wife Tatya, Olivia being an old schoolmate of Tatya’s.  They thank Miles for coming to cheer René up, then tell René that he can take them to a concert tomorrow night.  Tatya shows René an envelope from Countess Vorgarin, which she opens eagerly, only to be crushed when it turns to be an “un-invitation” to a baby naming-day party.  Martya and Olivia rip Countess Vorgarin’s character to shreds in absentia, but it doesn’t cheer Tatya up that much.

René notes that they haven’t received a wedding invitation from Gregor and Laisa yet; Miles points out that local invitations haven’t been sent out yet, not mentioning that which Vorbretten to invite is still a matter under discussion.  Wanting to lighten the mood, he invites the Vorbrettens to his upcoming dinner party.  René isn’t sure, but Olivia encourages him to come, saying that Miles is going to show off the lady he’s courting in secret–from her.

René’s brows went up. “You, Miles? I thought you were as confirmed a bachelor as your cousin Ivan. Married to your career.”

Miles grimaced furiously at Olivia, and twitched at René’s last words. “I had this little medical divorce from my career. Olivia, where did you ever get the idea that Madame Vorsoisson—she’s my landscape designer, you see, René, but she’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, I met her on Komarr, she’s just recently widowed and certainly not—not ready to be anybody’s lady-love. Lord Auditor Vorthys and the Professora will be there too, you see, a family party, nothing inappropriate for her.”

“For who?” asked Martya.

“Ekaterin,” escaped his mouth before he could stop it. All four lovely syllables.

Martya grinned unrepentantly at him. René and his wife looked at each other—Tatya’s dimple flashed, and René pursed his lips thoughtfully.

“Kareen said Lord Mark said you said,” Olivia said innocently. “Who was lying, then?”

Miles explains again that she’s in mourning, her husband just died, and he will declare himself in time, but he can’t yet, he has to wait…and he hates waiting.  When Tatya asks, Miles has to admit he doesn’t know anything about her feelings for him.  He grumbles about Mark spreading his secrets, but Martya says that she, Kareen, and her parents all heard it from different people–Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and Pym–so he’s not doing a good job of keeping it secret.  Trying to defuse the conversation, Tatya accepts Miles’s invitation.  René asks if Miles’s parents will be back from Sergyar yet, and Miles says probably not, but soon; this will be his own party, before the house fills up again.  He’s also concerned about orchestrating Ekaterin meeting his parents just right.

His social duty satisfied, Miles bids them farewell; Martya takes him up an the offer of a ride home.  Miles gives Pym a disgruntled look as they leave, not sure he likes that Pym is acquiring the valuable information he can get through gossip by trading Miles’s information to other people.  He restrains himself from more than glaring, or from berating Martya for twitting him about Ekaterin like that.

He asks how she thinks the Vorbrettens are holding up, and she says René thinks they’re going to lose, and they’re pretty shaken.  Since his father died in the Hegen Hub, he’s hated Cetagandans, so this revelation really unnerves him.  Their marriage is also a little unsteady–they haven’t followed through with their plan to start a family, and Tatya enjoys being a Countess…  Now her friends, apart from Olivia, are avoiding her, too.

“If you go back far enough, we’re all descended from off-worlders, dammit,” Miles growled in frustration. “What’s one-eighth? A tinge. Why should it disqualify one of the best people we have? Competence should count for something.”

Martya’s grin twisted. “If you want sympathy, you’ve come to the wrong store, Miles. If my da were a Count, it wouldn’t matter how competent I was, I still wouldn’t inherit. All the brilliance in the world wouldn’t matter a bit. If you’re just now finding out that this world is unjust, well, you’re behind the times.”

Miles grimaced. “It’s not news to me, Martya.” The car pulled up outside Commodore Koudelka’s townhouse. “But justice wasn’t my job, before.” And power isn’t nearly as all-powerful as it looks from the outside. He added, “But that’s probably the one issue I can’t help you on. I have the strongest personal reasons for not wanting to reintroduce inheritance through the female line into Barrayaran law. Like, my survival. I like my job very well. I don’t want Gregor’s.”

Comments

Ekaterin has now met Kareen and Enrique, and won them over too.  She likes the butter bug guano, she offers helpful suggestions for the bug butter itself, and she has useful information about the Barrayaran vegetation…she’s just an all-around useful person.  It’s so nice to see her blossoming in her new environment, sending out new shoots like that skellytum, no longer bonsai’d, one hopes.  Which is why it’s going to be so devastating for her to find out why Miles really hired her to do his garden…  I am reminded, too, that Enrique seems to fall for her a little bit, too, after this scene.  Plus he’s got his “secret plan” to make Miles like the butter bugs, which I recall turns out really, really, well.  Just like Miles’s dinner party.

I had almost forgotten this scene with Miles and the Vorbrettens, and two more of the Koudelkas–Martya and Olivia, who we barely see, if at all, before this book.  Even in this book I don’t remember much with Olivia, though of course Martya gets a role later on in the book.  Martya’s line near the end of the chapter is quite telling, though, especially given the speculation about Lady Donna’s visit to Beta Colony earlier in the scene.  It is true that, no matter in what other ways it’s improving, Barrayar is not much yet for feminism and women’s rights.

It makes me think of that article that went around the Net a while ago, about how life as a white male was like playing on the easiest setting, compared to life as a woman or a minority.  Does Miles, even with his physical issues, qualify for that?  If I was building him for a role-playing game, one of those where you can give your character disadvantages to get more “character points” to buy things, his social class and mental skills would more than offset his physical limitations.  Even he would have an easier time getting into the military than Elena, and an easier time becoming Count than Martya.  Even _Mark_ would have an easier time becoming Count, and he was a clone born offworld and raised by Komarran radicals.  He’s male, though, and that’s the important thing.  Anyway, this book, taking place so much on Barrayar, and featuring so many female characters, gets the most heavily into gender issues.  At the very least, I can look around at our world and say that at least we’re a little bit more progressive than Barrayar…right?  Aren’t we?


No promises of a two-chapter post next week, but it could happen.  May depend on chapter length as well as random circumstantial factors–weather, sleep, and other potential gumption traps.  Lady Donna should be showing up soon, and the visit to the Vorkosigan District…and the fateful dinner party is looming…  Oh, yeah, and Vormoncrief’s Baba may have arrived by now.  Should be fun, in any case, except for the winceworthy painful embarrassing bits…

Read Full Post »

Good evening, denizens of the Internet (where it’s always evening somewhere), and welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread.  It is my continuing delight to lead you at a leisurely pace through the works of Lois McMaster Bujold in the saga of Miles Vorkosigan, and his friends and family.  This week, the more-than-normally-leisurely pace continues, as I cover Chapter Four of A Civil Campaign, and…that’s it.  Shall we let’s?

Chapter Four

Ivan is just leaving the Ops building (after dropping off some wedding invitations for offworld delivery) when he is hailed by Alexi Vormoncrief.  He prepares another wedding-related mission as an excuse in case he needs to escape from Vormoncrief, a notorious bore, but he is curious to know how his plan is going.  Vormoncrief offers to buy Ivan a round, since he has something to celebrate, and Ivan decides to accept.  They go across the street to the usual Ops tavern, where Ivan spots By Vorrutyer; Vormoncrief invites By over as well.  To Ivan’s surprise, By accepts, and he wonders why By is cultivating Vormoncrief.  He greets By cautiously, since Miles isn’t there to draw By’s attention.

Vormoncrief offers condolence to By on the death of his cousin Pierre, Count Vorrutyer; By says it was definitely just plain heart failure.  Pierre died without issue, unfortunately, and the next in line is Richars Vorrutyer, another cousin, and one that By doesn’t approve of, though Vormoncrief, a staunch conservative, calls him “politically sound”.  By mention possible obstacles, which puzzles Ivan; apparently Pierre’s sister, Lady Donna Vorrutyer, has lodged a motion to block Richars’s accession, though she’s been on Beta Colony since before Pierre’s funeral.  Ivan has fond memories of Lady Donna, with whom he’d had a fling years ago, and thinks that he should get back in touch with her when she gets back to Barrayar…  By won’t tell them what her planned impediment is, though, but he wishes her luck with it.

Their drinks arrive, and Vormoncrief proposes a toast to matrimony, and announces he has sent the Baba.  He thanks Ivan for having introduced him to Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, and says that he managed to get her father’s name and address and sent a high-class go-between to send his formal proposal of marriage.  He admits that Ekaterin hasn’t actually accepted him yet, but he’s confident that the romance of the old-fashioned proposal will win her over, something that Zamori can’t match.  Ivan hadn’t invited Zamori, though, trying to limit Miles’s romantic rivals to clods like Vormoncrief, but apparently Vormoncrief spilled the beans, and Zamori is a more serious threat.

While Vormoncrief is away from the table, Ivan confesses his problem to By, that he was really just trying to twit Miles.  By says that he was there too, also because of Vormoncrief’s lack of discretion; he assures Ivan that he wasn’t wife-hunting, but he fancies that he intrigued Ekaterin a little bit…  Then he changes the subject and asks Ivan to help Lady Donna out with her case, since he has the ear of influential people.  Ivan thinks that By is overestimating his capabilities, but agrees to meet with her on her return, even if he isn’t sure what she hopes to accomplish by blocking Richars from the Countship.  Ivan makes his escape after Vormoncrief’s return.

How to avoid Miles? He couldn’t put in for transfer to some distant embassy till this damned wedding was over. That would be too late. Desertion was a possibility, he thought morosely—maybe he could go off and join the Kshatryan Foreign Legion. No, with all Miles’s galactic connections, there wasn’t a cranny of the wormhole nexus, no matter how obscure, sure to be safe from his wrath. And ingenuity. Ivan would have to trust to luck, Vormoncrief’s stultifying personality, and for Zamori—kidnapping? Assassination? Maybe introduce him to more women? Ah, yes! Not to Lady Donna, though. That one, Ivan proposed to keep for himself.

Lady Donna. She was no pubescent prole. Any husband who dared to trumpet in her presence risked being sliced off at the knees. Elegant, sophisticated, assured . . . a woman who knew what she wanted, and how to ask for it. A woman of his own class, who understood the game. A little older, yes, but with lifespans extending so much these days, what of that? Look at the Betans; Miles’s Betan grandmother, who must be ninety if she was a day, was reported to have a gentleman-friend of eighty. Why hadn’t he thought of Donna earlier?

Donna. Donna, Donna, Donna. Mmm. This was one meeting he wouldn’t miss for worlds.

Kareen swears that she hears Mark skipping before he enters the antechamber where Pym has had her waiting; she doesn’t think he looks healthy, with all that too-fast weight loss.  He grabs a footstool, climbs up, and they kiss vigorously.  She tells him that she walked over from their hours, and he invites her up to cool off in his room, with Grunt…  Kareen isn’t willing to consider it in Vorkosigan House, though, and the Koudelka house would be even worse.  Mark suggests a lightflyer, or a groundcar, or a rented room…Kareen still shakes her head.

Mark is alarmed, wondering if he’s done something wrong, if she wants him to gain the weight back…she says it’s just Barrayar, and her.  On Beta Colony everything seemed to clear, but on Barrayar, she hasn’t even been able to tell her family that she and Mark are together.  She can feel herself shrinking back into her old place, folding herself to fit into Barrayar’s expectations.  She wishes that Cordelia was there–as a Betan, it was easy to talk to her–because she can’t even talk to her own mother about it.

Mark decides that he can survive celibacy for a couple of months, but Kareen tells him that she probably won’t be able to afford to go back to Beta Colony.  She says she can’t get the scholarship again, and without that she won’t be able to afford it.  Mark says he still needs another year of schooling–and therapy–on Beta Colony, but he doesn’t know if he can handle it without her, even if he does come back to Barrayar afterwards.  They huddle for a moment, then Mark pulls back and says there’s still three months to see what will happen.

He invites her to see the butter bugs, while she’s there.  He tells her that Lilly Durona told him about Enrique, who was a genius, but in a bit of trouble.

“…Great biochemist, no financial sense. I bailed him out of jail, and helped him rescue his experimental stocks from the idiot creditors who’d confiscated ’em. You’d have laughed, to watch us blundering around in that raid on his lab. Come on, come see.”

As he towed her by the hand through the great house, Kareen asked dubiously, “Raid? On Escobar?”

“Maybe raid is the wrong word. It was entirely peaceful, miraculously enough. Burglary, perhaps. I actually got to dust off some of my old training, believe it or not.”

“It doesn’t sound very . . . legal.”

“No, but it was moral. They were Enrique’s bugs—he’d made ’em, after all. And he loves them like pets. He cried when one of his favorite queens died. It was very affecting, in a bizarre sort of way. If I hadn’t been wanting to strangle him at just that moment, I’d have been very moved.”

Mark leads her down to the laundry room where the lab is set up.  As soon as they arrive, Enrique protests that they need more light and heat, and furniture, and Kareen suggests they check the attic.  Mark introduces them, then fetches a butter bug to show her.  It does look repulsive, but she holds out her hand, and Mark puts the bug in it.  It is ugly, but not worse than some things she’d seen in xenozoology, and it doesn’t smell bad.  Mark and Enrique explain how they produce the bug butter.

Enrique says they need more food for the bugs, and pulls out a rose from a florist’s box; apparently he’d asked Miles how to get some Earth-style organic matter, and Miles had recomended them.  Mark says that it’s far too expensive to buy flowers just for the bugs, and says they should be able to get some much more cheaply from outside.  Enrique says he also needs a lab assistant, and information on Barrayaran biology; Mark says that Miles will know people at the university, and then he suggests that Kareen come work for them.  He tells Enrique she’s Betan-trained, which Enrique approves of, though he points out that they don’t have much money right now.  Mark elaborates that it’s not gone, just a little short and not very liquid right now.  Enrique suggests selling shares again, but Mark says not after last time–on Escobar Enrique had sold shares for several hundred percent of his company.

Mark takes Kareen aside and says that Enrique really needs a keeper, or a mother, to keep him from doing stupid things and wasting their money, and he knows he could trust Kareen.  But he says he would need to pay her in shares; Kareen isn’t sure that this is really going to make them any money, but Mark is confident, and says that he has a majority of the shares, and is working with Tsipis to make things all official.  He assures her that it’s the Lord Mark persona behind this plan, not one of the Black Gang.  He adds that the job will let her come to Vorkosigan House all the time, so they could see each other…  The bug in Kareen’s hand then vomits some bug butter into her palm, but she decides to accept anyway.

Comments

No Miles at all in this chapter, or Ekaterin either, just ivan and Kareen.  The other major plotline, with Donna Vorrutyer, is introduced–like I said, I tend to recall the Ivan and By scenes, mostly because of this plot.  It’s amusing to find that Lady Donna taught Ivan everything he needed to know about pleasing a woman, to survive the Lord Yenaro’s extreme-impotence drug treatment in Cetaganda.  Ivan’s reunion with her, of course, is not going to go quite as he might hope.  By, of course, knows exactly what Lady Donna is doing on Beta Colony, and I’m sure that, however serious he is about wanting Ivan’s help, he’s also enjoying the thought of what’ll happen when Ivan meets “Lady Donna” next…

When Kareen thinks about her money troubles, it doesn’t occur to her to ask Mark for money.  She must know that Mark’s net worth is substantial, and he could easily (under normal circumstances, at least) bankroll her, but I’m pretty sure that she wouldn’t want to accept charity from him like that.  Her Barrayaran heritage would probably think of it as some kind of lien on her, like he’s trying to buy her favours, and her self-reliant nature wouldn’t take kindly to it either.  Of course, we find that Mark’s money’s a little tied up right now anyway, so he couldn’t even really offer.  So he’s really dependent on the success of the butter-bug scheme, which is resting on somewhat shaky foundations right now–Enrique’s unworldliness, Miles’s revulsion, and the somewhat questionable legal status of their departure from Escobar…


Another chapter next week…or two, perhaps?  Well, perhaps.  Traffic woes and weather have eased up, so my commute is no longer quite as mind-crushing, so we’ll see how I do on Chapter Five.  If I manage to get it done before Wednesday, for instance…

Read Full Post »

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

Chapter Twenty-Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Illegibly handwritten,” muttered Gregor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hah. I thought so.”

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

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

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

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

Just the opposite.

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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


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

Read Full Post »

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

Chapter Twenty-Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I . . . don’t think it is, somehow.”

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

“What consequences?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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


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

Read Full Post »

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Four

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

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

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

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

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

Good God. Illyan’s sleeping with my aunt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

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

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

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

Chapter Twenty-Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. The work Haroche had taken away from Illyan.

Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you, boy?

. . . Who are you who asks?

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

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

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

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

Smoke.

Air filters.

Miles’s eyes widened.

Comments

This is the chapter.  This.

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

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

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

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


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

Read Full Post »

You’re standing at a fork in the road; a man stands before each fork, one of which always tells the truth, the other of which always lies.  Also, you’re not wearing any pants.  Suddenly you wake up and discover that it’s time, once again, for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread!  It’s like a dream come true!  Yes, before your eyes is a skillful summation and insightful commentary of two more chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s novel Memory, as Lord Miles Vorkosigan works on solving the mystery of what happened to Simon Illyan’s memory chip.  And just think, all you need to do is read it…

Chapter Twenty-Two

Miles hangs around in Haroche’s office all day, mostly kibitzing, which Haroche endures patiently.  They won’t hear anything back from their galactic enquiries for weeks, but Miles doesn’t want any possible lead overlooked.  When they exhaust all their leads, Miles and Haroche wonder if Miles should go to Jackson’s Whole himself, with all of his experience dealing with Jacksonian Houses.  Miles briefly entertains the possibility of commandeering a fleet with his Auditor’s credentials, but decides against it.  He thinks there’s still something to be found somewhere in ImpSec.  He leaves the office and wanders around ImpSec, poking his head into all sorts of crannies he’s never needed to know about, and this turns into a systematic top-to-bottom survey of the entire building.

He left behind a trail of disruption and dismay, as every department head frantically searched his conscience for a reason why the Imperial Auditor might be visiting him. Ha. Guilty, every one of ’em, Miles thought dryly. Several made a point of explaining their budgetary expenditures in what Miles felt was excessive detail, though one blurted out a wholly unasked-for defense of his recent galactic vacation. Watching these normally closemouthed men babble in panic was highly entertaining, Miles had to admit. He led them on with lots of well-timed neutral noises, like “Um,” and “Hm?”, but it seemed to bring him no closer to formulating his right question.

He could have kept it up around the clock, but he decides to err on the side of thoroughness, and goes home to sleep instead.  The presence of so much household staff at Vorkosigan Staff inspires him to return to work early, starting by meeting with Gregor.  Gregor has already been brought up to speed about Avakli’s report and Haroche’s inquiries; he expresses concern over Illyan’s condition.  Miles says it seems to him like Illyan is mostly just out of practice at paying attention.  He tells Gregor that he is happier with Haroche now; he seems to be on the ball, and learns from his mistakes.  Miles just wishes he had some handle to grasp at this problem with; he asks Gregor if he’s sure he doesn’t want a real Auditor on the case.  Gregor asks if Miles wishes to be relieved; Miles thinks about it, and says he just wants to offer Gregor the option, but Gregor doesn’t take it.

Alys and Laisa arrive, brightening up Gregor’s morning, and Miles says he doesn’t have anything else to report.  Laisa expresses ambiguous sympathies for Illyan–as a Komarran, he had a legendary reputation, but turns out to be just a man after all.  Laisa says she really came to invite Miles to a reception for her and Gregor’s friends next week, and asks Miles if he has a “young lady” to bring.  When he says he doesn’t, he senses that she’s hoping to share her happiness by trying to match him up, but she seems content to leave that until later, to consult with Lady Alys.  Gregor asks Alys to bring Illyan with her to a lunch they’re having with her and Cordelia, and Alys agrees, saying that she finds Simon’s conversations rather interesting now that they’re not principally reports.

Miles returns to his inspection of ImpSec, somewhat baffled by Cryptography, overwhelmed by Finance, and fascinated by Housekeeping and Physical Plant, where they are all too eager to show him the intricacies of the building once they learn he’s genuinely interested.  He’s impressed at the security and attention to detail, each room having a private filtration system, sufficient to keep microbes or poison gases from spreading throughout the building; the janitorial staff are all soldiers, well-paid and proud of their work.  Miles crawls through a few ducts, noting that they’re even video-monitored, basking in the camaraderie until it begins to remind him of the loss of the Dendarii.

He knocks off early, has dinner with his mother and Illyan, and chats about Sergyar; the next day, he pesters Haroche until Haroche suggests sending him to Jackson’s Whole again, and then resumes his tour.  He spends time in Analysis, talking with Galeni and the other analysts, including those working on other problems, and discussing the impending wedding with Guy Allegre.  Finally, as Miles had planned, he arrives at the Evidence Rooms last thing in the afternoon–a converted dungeon from Mad Emperor Yuri’s days, now filled with documentation, weapons, drugs, biological samples, and more bizarre items.  He plans to browse the weapons room, perhaps spend some time with the crossbow and soltoxin gas canisters responsible for his physical deformities.

The sergeant at the front desk is a little nervous at Miles’s presence, and Miles assures him he just wants to sign in and take a tour.  The sergeant is puzzled to find that Miles is listed as not cleared to enter, which turns out to be Haroche’s revocation of his access from earlier.  Miles encourages him to call Haroche and clear the matter up, which he does.  Miles is idly browsing the history of the times he’s visited the Evidence Rooms before, reminiscing, when he notices the last date is listed as twelve weeks ago–the day he’d returned to the planet, finding Illyan out of town, and the time being while he was walking home.

His eyes widened, and his teeth snapped shut. “How . . . interesting,” he hissed.

“Yes, my lord?” said the sergeant.

“Were you on duty that day?”

“I don’t remember, my lord. I’d have to check the roster. Um . . . why do you ask, sir?”

“Because I didn’t come down here that day. Or any other day since year before last.”

This is the loose end he’s been looking for, Miles suspects.  He tells the sergeant to summon Ivan Vorpatril, who arrives with alacrity from the other side of Vorbarr Sultana.  Ivan tells Miles he’s looking gleeful and manic, and Miles says that somebody has hacked ImpSec internal security records to lie about him.  Not only was the entry to the Evidence Rooms recorded, but Miles’s departure time from the building has been altered to match, and the video records of the day have gone missing.  He supposes that this could be unconnected with the memory chip sabotage, but he wouldn’t bet on it.  He tells Ivan to cancel their dinner plans, and puts him in charge of the Evidence Rooms, which he’s declaring sealed to anyone that he doesn’t personally authorize.

He asks the lieutenant in charge of the rooms about their inventory procedures, and is told that they do physical inventory once a month, and nothing has come up missing in the last year.  Miles tells Ivan to requisition some security-cleared men from Ops, unconnected with ImpSec in any way, to come in and help him inventory the Evidence Rooms.  Miles himself will stay out of it, in case there’s any suspicion that he tampered with anything, and he has witnesses that he hasn’t entered it that day.  He then takes the Evidence Room staffers with him and heads to Haroche’s office.

Haroche is unhappy to find out about the tampering, but asks Miles if he has witnesses to his walk home; Miles says he’s tolerably noticeable, and he’s sure that the police could find a witness if they tried, but also points out that, as an Imperial Auditor, he doesn’t need to alibi himself.  Miles sends the Evidence staffers outside, with strict instructions to stay put, then asks Haroche how he wants to deal with the evident mole in ImpSec.  They could shut down the whole facility until it’s been audited by outsiders, but he admits that would be a major inconvenience, but having it checked by staffers risks having the mole able to cover his own trail.  Haroche suggests assembling teams of three or more, chosen at random, to minimize chances that they’d all be moles, to check things a section at a time.  Miles supports the idea.

Haroche says he hates internal investigations, because they always turn out ugly.  Miles is still puzzled at the evidence room tampering, though–it seems like an attempt to frame him, but backwards.  It may have even been planted before Miles became an Auditor, when, as a recently-fired junior officer, he might have seemed the ideal target.

Haroche shook his head in wonder. “You confound me, Lord Vorkosigan. I believe I’m finally beginning to understand why Illyan always . . .”

“Why Illyan what?” Miles prodded after a long moment.

A lopsided smile lightened Haroche’s heavy face. “Came out of your debriefings swearing under his breath. And then promptly turned around and sent you out again on the stickiest assignments he had.”

Comments

I’m always amused when Miles’s plumbing experience is alluded to, even indirectly, as it is here.  I suspect the whole thing about the video recordings of the ducts is significant, but I can’t remember how just now; I know that the air-filtering system is, and I remember how.

Finding the extra log entry is a stroke of luck for Miles, or perhaps just a reward for being thorough.  Would he have noticed it if it hadn’t been for the delay caused by Haroche’s having locked him out earlier?  Possibly not, and who knows when it would have surfaced then?

The little scene with Gregor and Laisa seems to interrupt the flow of the chapter somehow, and doesn’t seem to come to much–I don’t remember the dance being that significant, or Laisa’s matchmaking impulses, or anything much except a little more of the growing Alys & Illyan relationship.  But I guess it is a reminder that Laisa and Gregor and Alys are still out there, while the action shifts to the heart of ImpSec HQ.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Ivan and his team check the Weapons rooms first, scheduling the Biologicals rooms for last in hopes they won’t have to do them at all.  In the wee hours of the morning, Ivan finds something in Weapons IV.

“I’m in a Weapons Room, right?” Ivan demanded, waving his inventory sheaf of plastic flimsies.

Miles tore his attention away from the chemical description of the nine-hundred-and-ninth item in alphabetical order in the Poisons Room: Ophidian Scrapings, Polian, Three Grams. “If you say so.”

“Right. So what’s a little box labeled ‘Komarran virus’ doing on Aisle Five, Shelf Nine, Bin Twenty-Seven? What the hell is it, and shouldn’t it be in Biologicals? Did somebody misclassify it? I’m not unsealing the damned thing till you find out what it is. It might make me break out in green fungus, or bloat up like those poor suckers with the Sergyaran worm plague. Or worse.”

It is on the Weapons Room list, but Miles agrees that it’s suspicious.  He pulls up its record, using his Auditor’s seal to satisfy its requirement for top-level security clearance, and begins to read it.  He quickly realizes that this isn’t actually a “weapon”, per se, nor a virus; it’s a “bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote”–the same microbes used against Illyan’s memory chip.  He and Ivan read the record together, which tells that it has been sitting on the shelf for five years, taken from Komarran terrorists in Vorbarr Sultana–terrorists associated with Ser Galen, Mark’s creator and Duv Galeni’s father.  Ivan asks if Mark could be involved with this, but Miles says Mark has been on Beta Colony for months, and the odds that he would have tried to pretend to be Miles are very slim, considering how much weight he’d have to lose, and how little Mark wants to be mistaken for his brother any more.  But he’ll have ImpSec double-check to reassure themselves, since they’re watching Mark on Beta anyway.

The microbes were created on Jackson’s Whole all right, and were intended to target Illyan as part of the overall plot which also included Count Aral Vorkosigan’s assassination at Mark’s hands.  ImpSec has already traced the prokaryotes to their creators, and Miles wonders how long it’ll take for them to realize that they’re trying to track down the same substance again.  He says that the fame was supposed to work the other way around–the prokaryotes were supposed to lead the investigators to the Evidence Rooms, which would lead to finding Miles’s fabricated visit, and making him a suspect.

Miles tries calling Dr. Weddell, but he’s not answering his comconsole, so Miles send the Imperial Guards to drag him down to ImpSec HQ instead.  By dawn Miles has assembled his team to enter the rooms.  A forensics expert examines the prokaryote container for fingerprints, but reports that it’s been moved a few times, and none of the prints are fresh; its sensors indicate it hasn’t been removed from the room, and there’s no hairs or fibers.  Ivan unlocks the box and opens it.  According the records there were six small capsules in the container originally, with one taken out and destroyed in testing five years ago.  But there are only three capsules in the box now.

“You mean,” moaned Weddell, “I racked my brains for a week reassembling that damned crap, and a whole undamaged sample was sitting downstairs all that time?”

“Yep.” Miles grinned. “I hope you like irony.”

“Not at this hour of the morning.”

The forensics man notes that the box’s lock was not forced open; Miles tells him to give it a full examination, and sends Ivan along with instructions to never let it out of his sight.  He tells Weddell to take one more capsule and confirm that it’s the same stuff that did for Illyan’s chip; no one but he is to touch the sample, and he will report to nobody but Miles himself; the other two go back on the shelf, locked under Auditor’s seal.

Haroche has actually gone home for the night, so Miles has to wait for his return to bring him up to speed on the events of the night.  Haroche says there’s no more chance it’s anything but an inside job.  They make a list of people who might have known about the sample–those who retrieved it, the Evidence Rooms staff, and their friends, plus the Komarrans and their friends…still a long list, but shorter than the entire population of the Empire.  Haroche also asks about Mark, and Miles gives him the same answer.  Miles says they can limit the list to those who knew about the weapon and also had recent access to ImpSec’s systems, but Haroche points out that there could be more than one working together.

Miles wonders about the motivations, why they tried to frame him–was he the only disgruntled employee in the right time-frame?  Haroche says speculating on motivations is too slippery, and best left for the post-mortem.  Miles says that whoever did this had to provide a scapegoat, a guilty party, because otherwise the search would continue until it found him.

“Three days.” Haroche smiled crookedly. “You went through all of ImpSec in just three days.”

“Not all of ImpSec, just the headquarters building. And it was more like four days. Still . . . somebody must be squirming. I hope. If they meant to hook ex-Lieutenant Vorkosigan, and instead got Lord Auditor Vorkosigan . . . it must have felt like putting in your line for a trout, and pulling up a shark. I may have arrived just in time downstairs after all. Given the several more weeks of lead time he was expecting, our assassin might well have thought to yank his plant in the evidence room and try something else. God, I’d love to know.”

Miles wonders who at ImpSec might have cause to hate him; the only one he can think of is Vorberg, and imaging him taking down Simon Illyan to get at Miles seems too twisted.  Haroche praises Miles for what he’s accomplished, calling it a good, solid lead.  Haroche wishes they could just fast-penta ImpSec people, but too many of them have the induced allergy; Miles says it’s too early to contemplate old-fashioned torture.  He says he’s going to get some sleep while they investigate the faked data and the forensic evidence.

Back at Vorkosigan House, he finds his mother, reading the Imperial Wedding history book, and asks where he can find Illyan.  Cordelia says he’s just sent for breakfast, and Lady Alys is with him; Miles surmises that she came by to drop off the book.  He goes up to Illyan’s quarters and knocks.

Pym had not lingered to serve the breakfast, it appeared, because instead of the retainer opening it, Illyan’s voice finally floated through the wood: “Who is it?”

“Miles. I have to talk to you.”

“Just a minute.”

The minute became two or three or four, as he leaned against the door frame and scuffed his boot on the patterned carpet. He knocked again. “C’mon, Simon, let me in.”

“Don’t be so impatient, Miles,” his aunt’s voice admonished him firmly. “It’s a bit rude.”

Eventually Lady Alys opens the door and greets him cheerfully; she’s wearing a dinner gown and her hair is loose, and Illyan is still getting dressed.  He tries to send Lady Alys away before giving Illyan the news, but she refuses to leave, and Illyan insists she stay.  So Miles briefs both of them on the night’s activities, Lady Alys approving her son’s achivements.  He asks Illyan if he remembers anything about the Komarran plot; Illyan mostly remembers the events on Earth, but has no memory of the prokaryote’s existence being reported to him, presumably lost with the rest of the memory chip.

He asks if Duv Galeni has been asked about it, since his father was involved in the plot.  Miles says he hasn’t brought Galeni up with Haroche yet, because he’s sure he’ll show up on the list eventually, but he doesn’t want to point Haroche in Galeni’s direction.  Illyan wonders if he’s leaping to conclusions, but Miles says he knows Galeni better than that.  Miles asks Illyan if he remembers taking a small brown capsule, and Illyan is positive that he doesn’t remember it, not even from his own doctor.  Miles heads off to bed before he incapacitates himself any further.  He awakens in midafternoon, checks on Weddell, who reports no progress.  Ivan calls, saying the forensics examination is finished and asking to be relieved to go home now; Miles guiltily authorized him to take it back to Evidence and then get some sleep.

Later that day, Dr. Chenko calls him to say they’ve prepared the seizure-triggering device, and want to know when he can have it implanted.  Miles says it’s not a good time right now, since there’s so much going on; Dr. Chenko warns him to avoid stress, as another seizure may be building up.  After signing off from the call, Miles remembers that this is the night of Laisa’s party, and he should, luckily, be able to attend.  He calls Delia Koudelka to ask if she’s free that night, but she says she’s busy…as, alas, are her sisters, leaving Miles obliged to attend on his own.

Comments

Oh, now I remember what’s happening with Laisa’s party.  But the party itself will have to wait for the next chapter.  Any guesses who Delia’s date is?  Miles is clueless, of course, as he is to most of the romantic undercurrents in this book.  For instance, Lady Alys is having breakfast with Illyan, wearing last night’s clothes, and they take a few minutes to answer the door, and it goes right over his head.  I guess Lord Vorkosigan really is on the verge of sexlessness.

I’m not sure if the prokaryote sample was deliberately misfiled in Weapons, or if it was a mistake, or if it was somehow considered the right place to put it at the time.  Either way, it’s an oddity, which is of course why Ivan eventually managed to notice it there.  It can’t really have been planted there for the Illyan attack, though, if it hasn’t been taken out in five years…unless someone was canny enough to tamper with the records to backdate its movement to the Weapons room.  And did Illyan really forget being briefed about it…or did it somehow get omitted from the briefing entirely?  Did someone manage to hide its very existence from Illyan, and hence from anyone who could told him?  It’s all highly suspicious…so things are going to have to come to a head soon.  Possibly more than one.


Six chapters left, three weeks…with luck, that’ll leave my week off just in time for the weekend I’m gone for a convention.  The plot’s gotta wrap up soon, as all good things must come to an end, and sometimes they even have a denouement.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »