Lois McMaster Bujold, "BROTHERS IN ARMS"

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16

Chapter Eight

Galeni squinted at Miles. "Bloody hell," he said in a flattened voice.

"Same to you," Miles rasped back.

Galeni sat up straighter, bleary eyes narrowing with suspicion. "Or—is it you?"

"I don't know." Miles considered this. "Which me were you expecting?" He staggered over to the bench opposite before his knees gave way and sat, his back against the wall, feet not quite reaching the floor. They were both silent for a few minutes, taking in the details of the other.

"It would be pointless to throw us together in the same room unless it were monitored," said Miles at last.

For answer Galeni flipped an index finger up toward the light fixture.

"Ah. Visual too?"

"Yes."

Miles bared his teeth and smiled upward.

Galeni was still regarding him with wary, almost painful uncertainty.

Miles cleared his throat. There was a bitter tang lingering in his mouth. "I take it you've met my alter-ego?"

"Yesterday. I think it was yesterday." Galeni glanced at the light.

His kidnappers had relieved Miles of his own chrono, too. "It's now about one in the morning, of the start of the fifth day since you disappeared from the embassy," Miles supplied, answering Galeni's unspoken question. "Do they leave that light on all the time?"

"Yes."

"Ah." Miles fought down a queasy twinge of associative memory. Continuous illumination was a Cetagandan prison technique for inducing temporal disorientation. Admiral Naismith was intimately familiar with it.

"I saw him for just a few seconds," Miles went on, "when they made the switch." His hand touched the absence of a dagger, massaged the back of his neck. "Do I—really look like that?"

"I thought it was you. Till the end. He told me he was practicing. Testing."

"Did he pass?"

"He was in here for four or five hours."

Miles winced. "That's bad. That's very bad."

"I thought so."

"I see." A sticky silence filled the room. "Well, historian. And how do you tell a forgery from the real thing?"

Galeni shook his head, then touched his hand to his temple as though he wished he hadn't; blinding headache, apparently. Miles had one too. "I don't believe I know anymore." Galeni added reflectively, "He saluted."

A dry grin cracked one corner of Miles's mouth. "Of course, there could be just one of me, and all this a ploy to drive you crazy. ..."

"Stop that!" Galeni almost shouted. A ghastly answering smile lit his face for a moment nonetheless.

Miles glanced up at the light. "Well, whoever I am, you should still be able to tell me who they are. Ah-—I hope it's not the Cetagandans? I would find that just a little too weird for comfort, in light of my . . . duplicate. He's a surgical construct, I trust." Not a clone—please, don't let him be my clone. . . .

"He said he was a clone," said Galeni. "Of course, at least half of what he said was lies, whoever he was."

"Oh." Stronger exclamations seemed wholly inadequate.

"Yes. It made me rather wonder about you. The original you, that is."

"Ah . . . hem! Yes. I think I know now why I popped out with that . . . that story when the reporter cornered me. I'd seen him once before. In the tubeway, when I was out with Commander Quinn. Eight, ten days ago now. They must have been maneuvering in to make the switch. I thought I was seeing myself in the mirror. But he was wearing the wrong uniform, and they must have aborted."

Galeni glanced down at his own sleeve. "Didn't you notice?"

"I had a lot on my mind."

"You never reported this!"

"I was on some pain meds. I thought it might be a little hallucination. I was a bit stressed out. By the time I'd got back to the embassy I'd forgotten about it. And besides," he smirked weakly, "I didn't think our working relationship would benefit from planting serious doubts about my sanity."

Galeni's lips compressed with exasperation, then softened with something like despair. "Perhaps not."

It alarmed Miles, to see despair in Galeni's face. He babbled on, "Anyway, I was relieved to realize I hadn't suddenly become clairvoyant. I'm afraid my subconscious must be brighter than the rest of my brain. I just didn't get its message." He pointed upward again, "Not Cetagandans?"

"No." Galeni leaned back against the far wall, stone-faced. "Komarrans."

"Ah," Miles choked. "A Komarran plot. How . . . fraught."

Galeni's mouth twisted. "Quite."

"Well," said Miles thinly, "they haven't killed us yet. There must be some reason to keep us alive."

Galeni's lips drew back on a deathly grin, his eyes crinkling. "None whatsoever." The words came out in a wheezing chuckle, abruptly cut off. A private joke between Galeni and the light fixture, apparently. "He imagines he has reason," Galeni explained, "but he's very mistaken." The bitter thrust of those words was also directed upward.

"Well, don't tell them," said Miles through his teeth. He took a deep breath. "Come on, Galeni, spill it. What happened the morning you disappeared from the embassy?"

Galeni sighed, and seemed to compose himself. "I got a call that morning. From an old . . . Komarran acquaintance. Asking me to meet him."

"There was no log of a call. Ivan checked your comconsole."

"I erased it. That was a mistake, though I didn't realize it at the time. But something he'd said led me to think this might be a lead into the mystery of your peculiar orders."

"So I did convince you my orders had to have been screwed up."

"Oh, yes. But it was clear that if that were so, my embassy Security had been penetrated, compromised from the inside. It was probably through the courier. But I dared not lay such a charge without adducing objective evidence."

"The courier, yes," said Miles. "That was my second choice."

Galeni's brows lifted. "What was your first choice?"

"You, I'm afraid."

Galeni's sour smile said it all.

Miles shrugged in embarrassment. "I figured you'd made off with my eighteen million marks. Except if you had, why hadn't you absconded? And then you absconded."

"Oh," said Galeni in turn.

"All the facts fit, then," Miles explained. "I had you pegged as an embezzler, deserter, thief, and all-around Komarran son of a bitch."

"So what kept you from laying charges to that effect?"

"Nothing, unfortunately." Miles cleared his throat. "Sorry."

Galeni's face went faintly green, too dismayed even to get up a convincing glare, though he tried.

"Too right," said Miles. "If we don't get out of here, your name is going to be mud."

"All for nothing ..." Galeni braced his back to the wall, his head tilting back against it for support, eyes closing as if in pain.

Miles contemplated the probable political consequences, should he and Galeni disappear now without further trace. Investigators must find his embezzlement theory even more exciting than he had, compounded now by kidnapping, murder, elopement, God knew what. The scandal could be guaranteed to rock the Komarran integration effort to its foundations, perhaps destroy it altogether. Miles glanced across the room at the man his father had chosen to take a chance on. A kind of redemption . . .

That alone could be enough reason for the Komarran underground to murder them both. But the existence of the—oh God, not a clone!—alter-Miles suggested that this slander upon Galeni's character, courtesy of Miles, was merely a happy bonus from the Komarran viewpoint. He wondered if they'd be properly grateful.

"So you went to meet this man," Miles prodded. "Without taking a beeper or a backup."

"Yes."

"And promptly got yourself kidnapped. And you criticize my Security techniques!"

"Yes." Galeni's eyes opened. "Well, no. We had lunch first."

"You sat down to lunch with this guy? Or—was she pretty?" Miles awoke to Galeni's choice of pronoun, back when he'd been addressing edged remarks to the light fixture. No, not a pretty.

"Hardly. But he did attempt to suborn me."

"Did he succeed?"

At Galeni's withering glare, Miles explained, "Making this entire conversation a play for my benefit, y'see."

Galeni grimaced, half irritation, half wry agreement. Forgeries and originals, truth and lies, how were they to be tested here?

"I told him to get stuffed." Galeni said this loudly enough that the light fixture couldn't possibly miss it. "I should have realized, in the course of our argument, that he had told me entirely too much about what was really going on to dare let me go. But we exchanged guarantees, I turned my back on him ... let sentiment cloud my judgment. He did not. And so I ended up here." Galeni glanced around their narrow cell, "For a little time yet. Until he gets over his surge of sentiment. As he will, eventually." Defiance, glared at the light fixture.

Miles drew breath cold, cold through his teeth. "Must have been a pretty compelling old acquaintance."

"Oh yes." Galeni closed his eyes again, as if he contemplated escaping Miles, and this whole tangle, by retreating into sleep.

Galeni's stiff, halting movements hinted of torture. . . . "They been urging you to change your mind? Or interrogating you the old hard way?"

Galeni's eyes slitted open; he touched the purple splotch under the left one. "No, they have fast-penta for interrogation. No need to get physical. I've been round on it, three, four times. There's not much they don't know about embassy Security by now."

"Why the contusions, then?"

"I made a break for it ... yesterday, I guess. The three fellows who tackled me look worse, I assure you. They must still be hoping I'll change my mind."

"Couldn't you have pretended to cooperate at least long enough to get away?" said Miles in exasperation.

Galeni's eyes snapped truculently. "Never," he hissed. The spasm of rage evaporated with a weary sigh. "I suppose I should have. Too late now."

Had they scrambled the captain's brains with their drugs? If old cold Galeni had let emotion ambush his reason to that extent, well—it must be a bloody strong emotion. The down-deep deadlies that IQ could do nothing about.

"I don't suppose they'd buy an offer to cooperate from me," Miles said glumly.

Galeni's voice returned to its original drawl. "Hardly."

"Right."

A few minutes later Miles remarked, "It can't be a clone, y'know."

"Why not?" said Galeni.

"Any clone of mine, grown from my body cells, ought to look—well, rather like Ivan. Six feet tall or so and not . . . distorted in his face and spine. With good bones, not these chalk-sticks. Unless," horrid thought, "the medics have been lying to me all my life about my genes."

"He must have been distorted to match," Galeni offered thoughtfully. "Chemically or surgically or both. No harder to do that to your clone than to any other surgical construct. Maybe easier."

"But what happened to me was so random an accident—even the repairs were experimental—my own doctors didn't know what they'd have till it was over."

"Getting the duplicate right must have been tricky. But obviously not impossible. Perhaps the . . . individual we saw represents the last in a series of trials."

"In that case, what have they done with the discards?" Miles asked wildly. A parade of clones passed through his imagination like a chart of evolution run in reverse, upright Ivanish Cro-Magnon devolving through missing links into chimpanzee-Miles.

"I imagine they were disposed of." Galeni's voice was high and mild, not so much denying as defying honor.

Miles's belly shivered. "Ruthless."

"Oh, yes," Galeni agreed in that same soft tone.

Miles groped for logic. "In that case, he—the clone—" my twin brother, there, he had thought the thought flat out, "must be significantly younger than myself."

"Several years," agreed Galeni. "At a guess, six."

"Why six?"

"Arithmetic. You were about six when the Komarran revolt ended. That would have been the time this group would have been forced to turn its attention toward some other, less direct plan of attack on Barrayar. The idea would not have interested them earlier. Much later, and the clone would still be too young to replace you even with accelerated growth. Too young to carry off the act. It appears he must act as well as look like you, for a time."

"But why a clone at all? Why a clone of me?"

"I believe he's intended for some sabotage timed with an uprising on Komarr."

"Barrayar will never let Komarr go. Never. You're our front gate."

"I know," said Galeni tiredly. "But some people would rather drown our domes in blood than learn from history. Or learn anything at all." He glanced involuntarily at the light.

Miles swallowed, rallied his will, spoke into the silence. "How long have you known your father hadn't been blown up with that bomb?"

Galeni's eyes flashed back to him; his body froze, then relaxed, if so grating a motion could be called relaxation. But he said merely, "Five days." After a time he added, "How did you know?"

"We cracked open your personnel files. He was your only close relative with no morgue record."

"We believed he was dead." Galeni's voice was distant, level. "My brother certainly was. Barrayaran Security came and got my mother and me, to identify what was left. There wasn't much left. It was no effort to believe there was literally nothing left of my father, who'd been reported much closer to the center of the explosion."

The man was in knots, fraying before Miles's eyes. Miles found he did not relish the idea of watching Galeni come apart. Very wasteful of an officer, from the Imperium's viewpoint. Like an assassination. Or an abortion.

"My father spoke constantly of Komarr's freedom," Galeni went on softly. To Miles, to the light fixture, to himself? "Of the sacrifices we must all make for the freedom of Komarr. He was very big on sacrifices. Human or otherwise. But he never seemed to care much about the freedom of anyone on Komarr. It wasn't until the day the revolt died that I became a free man. The day he died. Free to look with my own eyes, make my own judgments, choose my own life. Or so I thought. Life," the lilt of Galeni's voice was infinitely sarcastic, "is full of surprises." He favored the light fixture with a vulpine smile.

Miles squeezed his eyes shut, trying to think straight. Not easy, with Galeni sitting two meters away emanating murderous tension on red-line overload. Miles had the unpleasant feeling that his nominal superior had lost sight of the larger strategic picture just now, locked in some private struggle with old ghosts. Or old non-ghosts. It was up to Miles.

Up to Miles to do—what? He rose, and prowled the room on shaky legs. Galeni watched him through slitted eyes without comment. No exit but the one. He scratched at the walls with his fingernails. They were impervious. The seams at floor and ceiling—he hopped up on the bench and reached dizzily—yielded not at all. He passed into the half-bath, relieved himself, washed his hands and face and sour mouth at the sink—cold water only—drank from his cupped hands. No glass, not even a plastic cup. The water sloshed nauseatingly in his stomach, his hands twitched from the aftereffects of the stun. He wondered what the result of stuffing the drain with his shirt and running the water might be. That seemed to be the maximum possible vandalism. He returned to his bench, wiping his hands on his trousers, and sat down before he fell down.

"Do they feed you?" he asked. "Two or three times a day," said Galeni. "Some of whatever they're cooking upstairs. Several people seem to be living in this house."

"That would seem to be the one time you could make a break, then."

"It was," agreed Galeni.

Was, right. Their captors' guard would be redoubled now, after Galeni's attempt. Not an attempt that Miles dared duplicate; a beating like the one Galeni had taken would incapacitate him completely. Galeni contemplated the locked door. "It does provide a certain amount of entertainment. You never know, when the door opens, if it's going to be dinner or death."

Miles got the impression Galeni was rather hoping for death. Bloody kamikaze. Miles knew the fey mood inside out. You could fall in love with that grave-narrow option—it was the enemy of creative strategic thought. It was the enemy, period.

But his resolve failed to find a practical form, though he spun it round and round inside his head. Surely Ivan must recognize the imposter immediately. Or would he just put down any mistakes the clone made to Miles having an off day? There was certainly precedent for that. And if the Komarrans had spent four days pumping Galeni dry on embassy procedures, it was quite possible the clone would be able to carry out Miles's routine duties error-free. After all, if the creature were truly a clone, he should be just as smart as Miles.

Or just as stupid . . . Miles hung on to that comforting thought. If Miles made mistakes, in his desperate dance through life, the clone could make just as many. Trouble was, would anyone be able to tell their mistakes apart?

But what about the Dendarii? His Dendarii, fallen into the hands of a—a what? What were the Komarrans' plans? How much did they know about the Dendarii? And how the hell could the clone duplicate both Lord Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith, when Miles himself had to make them up as he went along?

And Elli—if Elli hadn't been able to tell the difference in the abandoned house, could she tell the difference in bed? Would that filthy tittle imposter dare seduce Quinn? But what human being of any of the three sexes could possibly resist an invitation to cavort between the sheets with the brilliant and beautiful. . . ? Miles's imagination curdled with detailed pictures of the clone, out there, Doing Things to his Quinn, most of which Miles hadn't even had time to try yet himself. He found his hands writhing in a white-knuckled grip on the edge of the bench, in danger of snapping his finger-bones.

He let up. Surely the clone must try to avoid intimate situations with people who knew Miles well, where he would be in most danger of getting tripped up. Unless he was a cocky little shit with a compulsive experimental bent, like the one Miles shaved daily in his mirror. Miles and Elli had just begun to get intimate—would she, wouldn't she know the difference? If she—Miles swallowed, and tried to bring his mind back to the larger political scenario.

The clone hadn't been created just to drive him crazy; that was merely a fringe benefit. The clone had been forged as a weapon, directed against Barrayar. Through Prime Minister Count Aral Vorkosigan against Barrayar, as if the two were one. Miles had no illusions; it wasn't for his own self's sake that this plot had been gotten up. He could think of a dozen ways a false Miles might be used against his father, ranging from relatively benign to horrifically cruel. He glanced across the cell at Galeni, sprawled coolly, waiting for his own father to kill him. Or using that very coolness to force his father to kill him, proving . . . what? Miles quietly dropped the benign scenarios off his list of possibilities.

In the end exhaustion overtook him, and he slept on the hard bench.

He slept badly, swimming up repeatedly out of some unpleasant dream only to re-encounter the even more unpleasant reality—cold bench, cramped muscles, Galeni flung across the bench opposite twisting in equal discomfort, his eyes gleaming through the fringe of his lashes not revealing whether he woke or dozed—then wavering back down to dreamland in self-defense. Miles's sense of the passage of time became totally distorted, though when he finally sat up his creaking muscles and the water-clock of his bladder suggested he'd slept long. By the time he made a trip to the washroom, splashed cold water on his now-stubbled face, and drank, his mind was churning back into high gear, rendering further sleep impossible. He wished he had his cat-blanket.

The door clicked. Galeni snapped from his apparent doze into a sitting position, feet under his center of gravity, face utterly closed. But this time it was dinner. Or breakfast, judging from the ingredients: lukewarm scrambled eggs, sweet raisin bread, blessed coffee in a flimsy cup, one spoon each. It was delivered by one of the poker-faced young men Miles had seen the night before. Another hovered in the doorway, stunner at ready. Eyeing Galeni, the man set the food down on the end of one bench and backed quickly out.

Miles regarded the food warily. But Galeni collected his and ate without hesitation. Did he know it wasn't drugged or poisoned, or did he just not give a damn anymore? Miles shrugged and ate too.

Miles swallowed his last precious drops of coffee and asked, "Have you picked up any hint of what the purpose of this whole masquerade is? They must have gone to incredible lengths to produce this . . . duplicate me. It can't be a minor plot."

Galeni, looking a bit less pale by virtue of the decent food, rolled his cup carefully between his hands. "I know what they've told me. I don't know if what they've told me is the truth."

"Right, go on."

"You've got to understand, my father's group is a radical splinter of the main Komarran underground. The groups haven't spoken to each other in years, which is one of the reasons we—Barrayaran Security," a faint ironic smile played around his lips, "—missed them. The main body has been losing momentum over the last decade. The expatriates' children, with no memory of Komarr, have been growing up as citizens of other planets. And the older ones have been—well, growing old. Dying off. And with things becoming not so bad at home, they're not making new converts. It's a shrinking power base, critically shrinking."

"I can see that would make the radicals itchy to make some move. While they still had a chance," Miles remarked.

"Yes. They're in a squeeze." Galeni crushed his cup slowly in his fist. "Reduced to wild gambles."

"This one seems pretty damned exotic, to bet—sixteen, eighteen years on? How the devil did they assemble the medical resources? Was your father a doctor?"

Galeni snorted. "Hardly. The medical half was the easy part, apparently, once they'd got hold of the stolen tissue sample from Barrayar. Though how they did that—"

"I spent the first six years of my life getting prodded, probed, biopsied, scanned, sampled, sliced and diced by doctors. There must have been kilograms of me floating around in various medical labs to choose from, a regular tissue smorgasbord. That was the easy part. But the actual cloning—"

"Was hired out. To some shady medical laboratory on the planet of Jackson's Whole, as I understand it, that would do anything for a price."

Miles's mouth, opening, gaped for a moment. "Oh. Them."

"Do you know about Jackson's Whole?"

"I've—encountered their work in another context. Damned if I can't name the lab most likely to have done it, too. They're experts at cloning. Among other things, they do the illegal brain-transfer operations-illegal anywhere but Jackson's Whole, that is—where the young clone is grown in a vat, and the old brain is transferred into it—the old rich brain, needless to say—and, um, they've done some bioengineering work that I can't talk about, and . . . yes. And all this time they had a copy of me in the back room—those sons of bitches, they're going to find out they're not as bloody untouchable as they think they are this time . . . I" Miles controlled incipient hyperventilation. Personal revenge upon Jackson's Whole must wait for some more propitious time. "So. The Komarran underground invested nothing except money in the project for the first ten or fifteen years. No wonder it was never traced."

"Yes," said Galeni. "So a few years ago, the decision was made to pull this card out of their sleeve. They picked up the completed clone, now a young teenager, from Jackson's Whole and began training him to be you."

"Why?"

"They're apparently going for the Imperium."

"What?!" Miles cried. "No! Not with me—\"

"That. . . individual. . . stood right there, "Galeni pointed to a spot near the door, "two days ago and told me I was looking at the next Emperor of Barrayar."

"They would have to kill both Emperor Gregor and my father to mount anything of a sort—" Miles began frantically.

"I would imagine," said Galeni dryly, "they're looking forward to just that." He lay back on his bench, eyes glinting, hands locked behind his neck for a pillow, and purred, "Over my dead body, of course."

"Over both our dead bodies. They don't dare let us live..."

"I believe I mentioned that yesterday."

"Still, if anything goes wrong," Miles's gaze flickered toward the light fixture, "it might be handy for them to have hostages." He enunciated this idea clearly, emphasizing the plural. Though he feared that from the Barrayaran point of view, only one of them had value as a hostage. Galeni was no fool; he knew who the goat was too.

Damn, damn, damn. Miles had walked into this trap, knowing it was a trap, in hopes of gaining just the sort of information he now possessed. But he hadn't meant to stay trapped. He rubbed the back of his neck in utter frustration—what joy it would have been to call down a Dendarii strike force on this—this nest of rebels—right now—

The door clicked. It was too early for lunch. Miles whipped around, hoping for a wild instant to find Commander Quinn leading a patrol to his rescue—no. It was just the two goons again, and a third in the doorway with a stunner.

One gestured at Miles. "You. Come along."

"Where to?" Miles asked suspiciously. Could this be the end already—to be taken back down to the garage sub-level and shot or have his neck broken? He felt disinclined to walk voluntarily to his own execution.

Something like that must have been passing through Galeni's mind too, for as the pair grabbed Miles unceremoniously by the arms, Galeni lunged for them. The one with the stunner dropped him before he was halfway across the floor. Galeni convulsed, teeth bared, in desperate resistance, then lay still.

Numbly, Miles allowed himself to be bundled out the door. If his death were coming, he wanted to at least stay conscious, to spit in its eye one last time as it closed on him.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16