Cetaganda Part 22

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Detained, not arrested, all right. Benin seemed exactly on track so far. But had he realized yet that all the governors had been involved? Or was Kety elected sole sacrifice? A Cetagandan internal matter, Miles reminded himself. It was not his job to straighten out the entire Cetagandan government, tempting as it would be to try. His duty was confined to extracting Barrayar from the mora.s.s. He smiled at the glowing white bubble still protecting the real Great Key. The hauts Nadina and Pel were consulting with some of Benin's men; it appeared that rather than attempting to get the force-screen down here they were making arrangements to transport it and its precious contents whole and inviolate back to the Star Creche.

Vorreedi gave Miles a grim look. "One thing that Lord Vorpatril has not yet explained to my satisfaction, Lieutenant Vorkosigan, is why you concealed the initial incident involving an object of such obvious importance-"

"Kety was trying to frame Barrayar, sir. Until I could achieve independent corroborative evidence that-"

Vorreedi went on inexorably, "From your own side."

"Ah." Miles briefly considered a relapse of shock-stick symptoms, rendering him unable to talk. No, alas. His own motives were obscure even to him, in retrospect. What had he started out wanting, before the twisting events had made sheer survival his paramount concern? Oh, yes, promotion. That was it.

Not this time, boy-o. Antique but evocative phrases like damage control and spin doctoring free-floated through his consciousness.

"In fact, sir, I did not at first recognize the Great Key for what it was. But once the haut Rian contacted me, events slid very rapidly from apparently trivial to extremely delicate. By the time I realized the full depth and complexity of the haut-governor's plot, it was too late."

"Too late for what?" asked Vorreedi bluntly.

What with the shock-stick residue and all, Miles did not need to feign a sick smile. But it seemed Vorreedi had drifted back to the conviction that Miles was not working as a covert ops agent for Simon Illyan after all. That's what you want everybody to think, remember? Miles glanced aside at ghem- Colonel Benin, listening in fascination.

"You would have taken the investigation away from me, you know you would have, sir. Everyone in the wormhole nexus thinks I'm a cripple who's been given a cushy nepotistic sinecure as a courier. That I might be competent for more is something Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan would never, in the ordinary course of events, ever be given a chance to publicly prove."

To the world at large, true. But Illyan knew all about the pivotal role Miles had played in the Hegen Hub, and elsewhere, as did Miles's father Prime Minister Count Vorkosigan, and Emperor Gregor, and everyone else whose opinion really counted, back on Barrayar. Even Ivan knew about that extraordinary covert ops coup. In fact, it seemed the only people who didn't know were... the enemy he'd beaten. The Cetagandans.

So did you do all this only to shine in the haut Rian's beautiful eyes? Or did you have a wider audience in view?

Ghem-Colonel Benin slowly deciphered this outpouring. "You wanted to be a hero?"

"So badly you didn't even care for which side?" Vorreedi added in some dismay.

"I have done the Cetagandan Empire a good turn, it's true." Miles essayed a shaky bow in Benin's direction. "But it was Barrayar I was thinking of. Governor Kety had some nasty plans for Barrayar. Those, at least, I've derailed."

"Oh, yeah?" said Ivan. "Where would they, and you, be right now if we hadn't shown up?"

"Oh," Miles smiled to himself, "I'd already won. Kety just didn't know it yet. The only thing still in doubt was my personal survival," he conceded.

"Why don't you sign up for Cetagandan Imperial Security, then, coz," suggested Ivan in exasperation. "Maybe ghem-Colonel Benin would promote you."

Ivan, d.a.m.n him, knew Miles all too well. "Unlikely," Miles said bitterly. "I'm too short."

Ghem-Colonel Benin's eyebrow twitched.

"Actually," Miles pointed out, "if I was free-lancing for anyone, it was for the Star Creche, not for the Empire. I have not served the Cetagandan Empire, so much as the haut. Ask them." He nodded toward Pel and Nadina, getting ready to exit the room with their ghem-lady escorts fussing over their comfort.

"Hm." Ghem-Colonel Benin seemed to deflate slightly.

Magic words, apparently. A haut-consort's skirts made a stronger fortification behind which to hide than Miles would have thought possible, a few weeks ago.

The haut Nadina's bubble was hoisted into the air by some men with hand-tractors, and maneuvered out of the room. Benin glanced after it, turned again to Miles, and opened his hand in front of his chest in a sketch of a bow. "In any case, Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan, my Celestial master the Emperor haut Fletchir Giaja requests you attend upon him in my company. Now."

Miles could decipher an Imperial command when he heard one. He sighed, and bowed in return, in proper honor of Benin's august order. "Certainly. Ah..." He glanced aside at Ivan and the suddenly agitated Vorreedi. He wasn't exactly sure he wanted witnesses for this audience. He wasn't exactly sure he wanted to be alone, either.

"Your... friends may accompany you," Benin conceded. "With the understanding that they may not speak unless invited to do so."

Which inviting would be done, if at all, solely by Benin's Celestial Master. Vorreedi nodded in partial satisfaction. Ivan began to practice looking blank with all his might.

They all herded out, surrounded and escorted-but not arrested, of course, that would violate diplomatic protocol-by Benin's Imperial guards. Miles found himself, still supported by Ivan, waiting to exit the doorway beside the haut Nadina.

"Such a nice young man," Nadina commented in a well-modulated undertone to Miles, nodding at Benin, whom they could glimpse out in the corridor directing his troopers. "So neatly turned- out, and he understands the proprieties. We'll have to see what we can do for him, don't you agree, Pel?"

"Oh, quite," Pel said, and floated on through.

After a lengthy walk through the great State ship, Miles cycled through the air lock into the Cetagandan security shuttle in the company of Benin himself, who had not let him out of his sight. Benin looked cool and alert as ever, but there was an underlying... well, smugness leaking through his zebra- striped facade. It must have given Benin a moment of supreme Cetagandan satisfaction, arresting his commanding officer for treason. The one-up high point of his career. Miles would have bet Betan dollars to sand Naru was the man who'd a.s.signed the dapper and decorous Benin to close the case on the Ba Lura's death in the first place, setting him up to fail.

Miles ventured, "By the way, if I didn't say it before, congratulations on cracking your very tricky murder case, General Benin."

Benin blinked. "Colonel Benin," he corrected.

"That's what you think." Miles floated forward, and helped himself to the most comfortable window seat he could find.

"I don't believe I've seen this audience chamber before," Colonel Vorreedi whispered to Miles, his gaze flicking around to take in their surroundings. "It's not one ever used for public or diplomatic ceremonies."

Unusually, they had come not to a pavilion, but to a closed, low-lying building in the northern quadrant of the Celestial Garden. The three Barrayarans had spent an hour in an antechamber, cooling their heels while their internal tension rose. They were attended by half a dozen polite, solicitous ghem- guards, who saw to their physical comforts while courteously denying every request for outside communication. Benin had gone off somewhere with the hauts Pel and Nadina. In view of their Cetagandan company, Miles had not so much reported to Vorreedi as exchanged a few guarded remarks.

The new room reminded Miles a bit of the Star Chamber, simple, undistracting, deliberately serene, sound-baffled and cool in shades of blue. Voices had a curious deadened quality that hinted that the entire chamber was enclosed in a cone-of-silence. Patterns on the floor betrayed a large concealed comconsole table and station-chairs that could be raised for conferences, but for now, the supplicants stood.

Another guest was waiting, and Miles raised his brows in surprise. Lord Yenaro stood next to a red-clad ghem-guard. Yenaro looked pale, with dark greenish circles under his eyes, as if he had not slept for about two days. His dark robes, the same clothes Miles had last seen him wearing at the bioesthetics exhibition, were rumpled and bedraggled. Yenaro's eyes widened in turn at the sight of Miles and Ivan. He turned his head away and tried not to notice the Barrayarans. Miles waved cheerfully, dragging a reluctantly polite return nod from Yenaro, and starting a very pained crease between his eyebrows.

And here came something to keep Miles's mind off his own lingering shock-stick pains right now. Or rather, someone.

Ghem-Colonel Benin entered first, and dismissed the Barrayarans' guards. He was followed by the hauts Pel, Nadina, and Rian in their float-chairs, shields down, who silently arranged themselves on one side of the room. Nadina had tucked the cut ends of her hair out of sight among her garments, the same robes Pel had shared and which Nadina had not stopped to change. They had all obviously been closeted for the past hour in a debriefing at the highest level, for last of all a familiar figure strode in, shedding more guards in the corridor outside.

Close-up, Emperor the haut Fletchir Giaja seemed even taller and leaner than when Miles had seen him at a distance at the elegy-reading ceremonies. And older, despite his dark hair. He was for the moment casually dressed, by Imperial standards, in a mere half a dozen layers of fine white robes over the usual masculine-loose but blinding-white bodysuit, befitting his status as chief mourner.

Emperors per se did not unnerve Miles, though Yenaro swayed on his feet as though he were about to faint, and even Benin moved with the most rigid formality. Emperor Gregor had been raised along with Miles practically as his foster-brother; somewhere in the back of Miles's mind the term emperor was coupled with such identifiers as somebody to play hide-and-seek with. In this context those hidden a.s.sumptions could be a psychosocial land mine. Eight planets, and older than my father, Miles reminded himself, trying to inculcate a proper deference to the illusion of power Imperial panoply sought to create. One chair at the head of the room rose from the floor to receive what Gregor would have sardonically dubbed The Imperial a.s.s. Miles bit his lip.

It was apparently going to be a most intimate audience, for Giaja beckoned Benin over and spoke to him in a low voice, and Benin subsequently dismissed even Yenaro's guard. That left the three Barrayarans, the two planetary consorts and Rian, Benin, the Emperor, and Yenaro. Nine, a traditional quorum for judgment.

Still, it was better than facing Illyan. Maybe the haut Fletchir Giaja was not disposed to razor- edged sarcasms. But anyone related to all those haut-women had to be dangerously bright. Miles swallowed against a babbling burst of explanations. Wait for your straight lines, boy.

Rian looked pale and grave. No clue there, Rian always looked pale and grave. A last pang of desire banked itself to a tiny, furtive ember in Miles's heart, secret and encysted like a tumor. But he could still be afraid for her. His chest was cold with that dread.

"Lord Vorkosigan," Fletchir Giaja's exquisite baritone broke the waiting silence.

Miles suppressed a quick glance around-it wasn't like there were any other Lords Vorkosigan present, after all-stepped forward, and came to a precise parade rest. "Sir."

"I am still... unclear, just what your place was in these recent events. And how you came by it."

"My place was to have been a sacrificial animal, and it was chosen for me by Governor Kety, sir. But I didn't play the part he tried to a.s.sign to me."

The Emperor frowned at this less-than-straight-forward reply. "Explain yourself."

Miles glanced at Rian. "Everything?"

She gave an almost imperceptible nod.

Miles closed his eyes in a brief, diffuse prayer to whatever sportive G.o.ds were listening, opened them again, and launched once more into the true description of his first encounter with the Ba Lura in the personnel pod, Great Key and all. At least it had the advantage of simultaneously getting in Miles's overdue confession to Vorreedi in a venue where the emba.s.sy's chief security officer was totally blocked from making any comment or reply. Amazing man, Vorreedi, he betrayed no emotion beyond one muscle jumping in his jaw.

"As soon as I saw the Ba Lura in the funeral rotunda with its throat cut," Miles went on, "I realized my then-unknown opponent had thrown me into the logically impossible position of having to prove a negative. There was no way, once I had been tricked into laying hands on the false key, to prove that Barrayar had not effected a subst.i.tution, except by the positive testimony of the one eyewitness then lying dead on the floor. Or by positively locating the real Great Key. Which I set out to do. And if the Ba Lura's death was not a suicide, but rather a murder elaborately set up to pa.s.s as a suicide, it was clear someone high in the Celestial Garden's security was cooperating with the Ba's killers, which made approaching Cetagandan Security for help quite dangerous at that point. But then somebody a.s.signed ghem-Colonel Benin to the case, presumably with heavy hints that it would be well for his career to bring in a quick verdict confirming suicide. Somebody who seriously underestimated Benin's abilities," and ambition, "as a security officer. Was it ghem-General Naru, by the way?"

Benin nodded, a faint gleam in his eye.

"For... whatever reason, Naru decided ghem-Colonel Benin would make a suitable additional goat. It was beginning to be a pattern in their operations, as you must realize if you've collected testimony from Lord Yenaro here--?" Miles raised an inquiring eyebrow at Benin. "I see you found Lord Yenaro before Kety's agents did. I think I'm glad, in all."

"You should be," Benin returned blandly. "We picked him up-along with his very interesting carpet-last night. His account was critical in shaping my response to your cousin's, um, sudden onslaught of information and demands."

"I see." Miles shifted his weight, his parade rest growing rather bent. He rubbed his face, because it didn't seem like the time or place to rub his crotch.

"Does your medical condition require you to sit?" Benin inquired solicitously.

"I'll manage." Miles took a breath. "I tried, in our first interview, to direct ghem-Colonel Benin's attentions to the subtleties of his situation. Fortunately, ghem-Colonel Benin is a subtle man, and his loyalty to you," or to the truth, "outweighed whatever implied threats to his career Naru presented."

Benin and Miles exchanged guarded, appreciative nods.

"Kety tried to deliver me into the hands of the Star Creche, accused by means of Ba Lura's false confession to the Handmaiden," Miles continued carefully. "But once again his p.a.w.ns ad libbed against his script. I entirely commend the haut Rian for her cool and collected response to this emergency. The fact that she kept her head and did not panic allowed me to continue to try to clear Barrayar of blame. She is, um, a credit to the haut, you know." Miles regarded her anxiously for a cue. Where are we? But she remained as gla.s.sily attentive as if that now-absent force-bubble had become one with her skin. "The haut Rian acted throughout for the good of the haut, never once for her own personal aggrandizement or safety." Though one might argue, apparently, over where the good of the haut actually lay. "Your late August Mother chose her Handmaiden well, I'd say."

"That is hardly for you to judge, Barrayaran," drawled the haut Fletchir Giaja, whether in amus.e.m.e.nt, or dangerously, Miles's ear could not quite tell.

"Excuse me, but I didn't exactly volunteer for this mission. I was suckered into it. My judgments have brought us all here, one way or another."

Giaja looked faintly surprised, even a little nonplussed, as if he'd never before had one of his gentle hints thrown back in his face. Benin stiffened, and Vorreedi winced. Ivan suppressed a grin, the merest twitch, and continued his Invisible Man routine.

The emperor took another tack. "And how did you come to be involved with Lord Yenaro?"

"Um... from my point of view, you mean?" Presumably Benin had already presented him with Yenaro's own testimony; a cross-check was in order, to be sure. In carefully neutral phrasing, Miles described his and Ivan's three encounters with Yenaro s increasingly lethal practical jokes, with a lot of emphasis on Miles's clever (once proved) theories about Lord X. Vorreedi's face drained to an interesting greenish cast upon Miles's description of the go-round with the carpet. Miles added cautiously, "In my opinion, certainly proved by the incident with the asterzine bomb, Lord Yenaro was as much an intended victim as Ivan and myself. There is no treason in the man." Miles cut off a slice of smile. "He hasn't the nerve for it."

Yenaro twitched, but did not gainsay any of it. Yeah, slather on the suggestion of Imperial mercy due all 'round, maybe some would slop over on the one who needed it most.

At Benin's direction, Yenaro, in a colorless voice, confirmed Miles's account. Benin called in a guard and had the ghem-lord taken out, leaving eight in this chamber of Imperial inquisition. Would they work their way down to one?

Giaja sat silent for a time, then spoke, in formally modulated cadences. "That suffices for my appraisal of the concerns of the Empire. We must now turn to the concerns of haut. Haut Rian, you may keep your Barrayaran creature. Ghem-Colonel Benin. Will you kindly wait in the antechamber with Colonel Vorreedi and Lord Vorpatril until I call you."

"Sire." Benin saluted his way out, shepherding the reluctant Barrayarans.

Obscurely alarmed, Miles put in, "But don't you want Ivan too, Celestial Lord? He witnessed almost everything with me."

"No," stated Giaja flatly.

That settled that. Well... until Miles and Ivan were out of the Celestial Garden, indeed, out of the Empire and halfway home, they wouldn't be any safer anyway. Miles subsided with a faint sigh; then his eyes widened at the abrupt change in the room's atmosphere.

Feminine gazes, formerly suitably downcast, rose in direct stares. Without awaiting permission, the three float-chairs arranged themselves in a circle around Fletchir Giaja, who himself sat back with a face suddenly more expressive; dryer, edgier, angrier. The gla.s.sy reserve of the haut vanished in a new intensity. Miles swayed on his feet.

Pel glanced aside at the motion. "Give him a chair, Fletchir," she said. "Kety's guard shock- sticked him in the best regulation form, you know."

In her place, yes.

"As you wish, Pel." The Emperor touched a control in his chair-arm; a station chair near Miles's feet rose from the floor. He fell more than sat in it, grateful and dizzy, on the edge of their circle.

"I hope you all see now," said the haut Fletchir Giaja more forcefully, "the wisdom of our ancestors in arranging that the haut and the Empire shall have only one interface. Me. Only one veto. Mine. Issues of the haut-genome must remain as insulated as possible from the political sphere, lest they fall into the hands of politicians who do not understand the goal of haut. That includes most of our gentle ghem-lords, as ghem-General Naru has perhaps proved to you, Nadina." A flash of subtle, savage irony there-Miles suddenly doubted his initial perception of gender issues on Eta Ceta. What if Fletchir Giaja was haut first, and male second, and the consorts too were haut first, female second.... Who was in charge here, when Fletchir Giaja knew himself as a product of his mother's high art?

"Indeed," said Nadina, with a grimace.

Rian sighed wearily. "What can you expect from a half-breed like Naru? But it is the haut Ilsum Kety who has shaken my confidence in the Celestial Lady's vision. She often said that genetic engineering could only sow, that winnowing and reaping must still be done in an arena of compet.i.tion. But Kety was not ghem, but haut. The fact that he could try what he tried... makes me think we have more work to do before the winnowing and reaping part."

"Lisbet always did have an addiction for the most primitive metaphors," Nadina recalled with faint distaste.

"She was right about the diversity issue, though," Pel said.

"In principle," Giaja conceded. "But this generation is not the time. The haut population can expand many times over into s.p.a.ce presently held by servitor cla.s.ses, without need for further territorial aggrandizement. The Empire is enjoying a necessary period of a.s.similation."

"The Constellations have been deliberately limiting their numerical expansion of late decades, to conserve their favored economic positions," observed Nadina disapprovingly.

"You know, Fletchir," Pel put in, "an alternate solution might be to require more constellation crosses by Imperial edict. A kind of genetic self-taxation. Novel, but Nadina is right. The Constellations have grown more miserly and luxurious with each pa.s.sing decade."

"I thought the whole point of genetic engineering was to avoid the random waste of natural evolution, and replace it with the efficiency of reason," Miles piped up. All three haut-women turned to stare at him in astonishment, as if a potted plant had suddenly offered a critique of its fertilization routine. "Or... so it seems to me," Miles trailed off in a much smaller voice.

Fletchir Giaja smiled, faint, shrewd, and wintry. Belatedly, Miles began to wonder why he was being kept here, by Giaja's suggestion/command. He had a most unpleasant sensation of being in a conversation with an undertow of cross-currents which were streaming in three different directions at once. If Giaja wants to send a message, I wish he'd use a comconsole. Miles's whole body was throbbing in time with the pulsing of his headache, several hours past midnight of one of the longer days of his short life.

"I will return to the Council of Consorts with your veto," said Rian slowly, "as I must. But Fletchir, you must address the diversity issue more directly. If this generation is not the time, it is still certainly not too soon to begin planning. And the diversification issue. The single-copy method of security is too horrifyingly risky, as recent events also prove."

"Hm," Fletchir Giaja half-conceded. His eye fell sharply upon Miles. "Nevertheless-Pel-whatever possessed you to spill the contents of the Great Key across the entire Eta Ceta system? As a joke, it does not amuse."

Pel bit her lip; her eyes, uncharacteristically, lowered.

Miles said st.u.r.dily, "No joke, sir. As far as we knew, we were both going to die within a few minutes. The haut Rian stated that the highest priority was the recovery of the Great Key. The receivers got the Key but no lock; without the gene banks themselves it was valueless gibberish from their point of view. One way or another, we a.s.sured you would be able to recover it, in pieces maybe, even after our deaths, regardless of what Kety did subsequently."

"The Barrayaran speaks the truth," affirmed Pel.

"The best strategies run on rails like that," Miles pointed out. "Live or die, you make your goal." He shut up, as Fletchir Giaja's stare hinted that perhaps outlander barbarians had better not make comments that could be construed as a slur on his late mothers abilities, even when those abilities had been pitted against him.

You can't get anywhere with these people, or whatever they are. I want to go home, Miles thought tiredly. "What will happen to ghem-General Naru, anyway?"

"He will be executed," said the Emperor. To his credit, the bald statement clearly brought him no joy. "Security must be... secured."

Miles couldn't argue with that. "And the haut Kety? Will he be executed too?"

"He will retire, immediately, to a supervised estate, due to ill health. If he objects, he will be offered... suicide.

"Er... forcibly, if necessary?"

"Kety is young. He will choose life, and other days and chances."

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Cetaganda Part 22 summary

You're reading Cetaganda. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Lois McMaster Bujold. Already has 925 views.

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