Illyan cut the comm link with Lord Mark and swore once into the empty room. Complications. He didn't need any more complications. Three plans for preventing Lord Mark from making further attempts to interfere surfaced in his mind, all of them utterly unethical and equally untraceable. No. He called up the time from his chip. Quarter to five in the morning. He was very glad that the Emperor could only have one birthday a year. Time to check the newest reports.
He looked first at the latest status report from the hospital. No change. No change was good, he told himself. No change meant he didn't have to think too hard about the implications of Lord Mark becoming Count Vorkosigan yet. He forced his mind on to the next report. Intercepted traffic from the Cetagandan embassy. The Cetas were clearly hoping no change meant he'll never get out of hospital. He only scanned at the third report, letting his chip record its contents without thinking about it, storing the information for when he would need to know about Count Vormuir's dispute with the Minister for Terraforming. It wasn't ideal; the tensions between the Counts and Ministers were worrying him, but he couldn't attend to it all right now. The fourth report. This one didn't impinge on his conscious mind at all. A light flashed on his display: Lieutenant Arnald reporting in. He told his secretary to hold him for five minutes and began the fifth report. None of the thirty-eight leads his analytical team had generated had brought them any closer to finding Miles, dead, alive or frozen. Illyan had barely the energy to be unhappy about it any longer. It would take a miracle to find Miles now. He was about to start reading the sixth when a loud buzz brought him to high alert. The Emperor. At this hour? Adrenalin began to pump through him as he pressed a button to receive the call.
Gregor was dressed only in black pyjamas, and Illyan saw that he was calling from his bedroom. 'Sire?'
'Simon. Don't worry, it's not an emergency.'
Illyan inclined his head, attentive. He didn't bother asking why the Emperor would call him a little after five in the morning if it wasn't an emergency. Undoubtedly he would find out.
'I understand you've spoken to Lord Mark recently.'
Shit. Surely the Emperor hadn't been totally beguiled by the man Illyan feared might want to take his job? He nodded curtly.
'Why did you refuse his request?' It was, Illyan understood with relief, a genuine question, not an accusation.
'He has done nothing to earn such a position of trust. My analysts have been trained intensively and are all men of unquestionable loyalty. Admitting Lord Mark as their equal, with his background, would be a mockery.'
'He does have knowledge of the situation which none of your other men can possibly have.'
'If he wants to be fully debriefed so that his knowledge can be used, I would be happy to oblige.' Just let me at him with a hypo of fast-penta. Or, said a dark part of his mind that recalled all too clearly the moment when he had first wondered how exactly his liege-lord had been brought so near death, any means available, to get to the truth.
'I trust him.'
He had foreseen the risks of letting Cordelia supervise Gregor's education. The Emperor had slowly grown into all of her most dangerous ways. Now he saw her eyes in Gregor's face, her bald, daring stratagems in his behaviour. He knew he wasn't going to win this argument. He tried anyway.
'You have that luxury, sire, but I do not. I cannot. Everything I know about Lord Mark confirms my judgement that he is not safe.'
'I don't want to have to order you, Simon.' It was not a threat, it was a genuine expression of reluctance, a concession to his long and valued service. But not a sign of weakness. 'I do trust him. I think he has a valid argument. And an interest in the case that none of your other analysts can have.'
'I fear his interest may be that we never see anything of Miles again.' There. As clear as he could make it.
The Emperor shook his head. 'I don't ask that you trust him, or assume his analyses must be correct. But I would like him to have a chance to find out what there is to find. If there is anything to find.' The sudden bleak look in the Emperor's eyes reminded Illyan that he loved Miles as dearly as any of them did.
It is my job to be terrified for you, so that you may think clearly, he had once said to Gregor, some time after that near-disaster at the Hegen Hub. He was terrified now, had been for weeks. Was Gregor thinking clearly? Illyan gazed at his Emperor for a long moment. Perhaps it was time for him to trust, too, not in Lord Mark but in Gregor's wisdom as Emperor.
'Your will, sire,' he said, bowing his head. 'I will give him access to all the information my other analysts have. Shall I call him now?'
'If you please. And thank you, Simon.'
The screen went blank, but Gregor's steadfast, determined face stayed in Illyan's mind a long time.