Back when he took the job, Simon had relied on memories of the late Negri to guide decisions. Aral had suggested his first task should be cleaning house; Simon had taken his suggestion for an order: there had been a considerable number of cockroaches which had scuttled out of the cracks and crevasses of security headquarters, helped by Negri’s private files hidden in his bottom drawer. Reading them had made Illyan realise just how much had been kept from him when he first joined the Emperor’s service. He followed where their trail led relentlessly, ruthlessly, in pursuit of Aral’s goal for peace. ImpSec was a much quieter and cleaner place when he was done. Simon had always felt satisfaction that came from knowing and when he knew a task completed was well completed. However, completing this task made him feel vindicated in a way wholly unfamiliar. It seemed the thirst for vengeance came with this job.
The young Illyan had regularly accessed his memories of Negri when trying to make tough decisions. He had, after all, been quite young to be appointed to his position. But then field promotions in time of war often came suddenly to men who would have been overlooked in peace. Unlike most men his age, Illyan had been witness – quite literally given his eidetic chip – to all the powerful men of his age and all their decisions. (Well – not quite all: Negri’s secret recording of Aral with Ezar before the Escobaran campaign had been an eye-opener.) Those experiences helped him now, as he assumed his own position of power. When his own memories did not help, he would ask himself: what would Negri have done.
He was well established as the dreaded Head of ImpSec when his fall from grace came, abruptly, though not permanently, when Aral’s son raised his little private space force. Until then, life had been much too busy for deep contemplation (not to mention the fact Simon had learned the knack, years before, of avoiding it lest he go mad trying to reconcile personal memories with eidetic). However, several weeks of imprisonment with nothing more to do than read fiction had brought it home to him: memories were not all Negri had left him. Negri’s ghost was as scathing in death as the man had been in life:
“I am not just a technical fault in your eidetic chip.”
No indeed. That had not been the only scathing comment Illyan had had to endure during those long weeks of waiting until Miles returned from his adventure in Tau Verde IV. On balance, he thought he would have preferred the silence of solitary confinement (punctuated by the daily schedule of routine pleasantries when his guards delivered his meals, on schedule, thrice daily). The choice was not, however, his to make.
Inevitably he adjusted. What was different, after all? Just his knowledge of the source of his understanding.
Lucas Haroche distinguished himself in the Yarrow affair. Illyan promoted him.
“Definitely one to watch,” whispered Negri.
Illyan fancied his ghost shared his frustration when they waited anxiously for news of Miles and his Dendarii fleet following the Marilacan POW escape.
“He reminds me of Piotr” murmured his ghost when finally they read Miles’ report.
“Aral, surely,” Illyan murmured back.
“No, Piotr’s boy was just a space commander, honoured by the upper echelon for his innovative understanding of war in three dimensions, rare in their generation, but essential in his. It was Piotr who always inspired the common man – who could convince them to feats of courage and daring they had never dreamed possible – who singlehandedly raised an army against the Cetagandans and then refused to waste it in pitched battle and fought guerrilla instead.”
Illyan ceded the point.
“It was Piotr I always watched – he could have taken the crown had he had the mind for it. Fortunately, after his wife’s death, he preferred horses to power.”
That was definitely a different insight to the man who had been a young officer when the Emperor Ezar was old. But there was no doubting Negri would have known.
And then, after so many years, Negri was silent. Just when his own chip was silent - gone - and Simon had to learn to live life without it. Illyan had grown used to the ascerbic asides from his long-dead mentor. He had sometimes thought it would be a relief not to have to listen to them; now he found he almost missed them. Though he felt renewed freedom from them when Alys made her interest known (oh so subtly but unmistakably). Simon thought it was just as well Negri was silent then.
He reasserted himself when Haroche made his last report to Gregor, making a pithy, somewhat rude (and anatomically impossible) comment, whispered privately to Illyan as the group listened to Haroche’s stumbling self-serving explanation for treason. Almost Illyan turned around to look but the reactions of the rest in the little holding cell made clear Negri’s comments were for him alone.
The next day, after he received formally (delivered personally by one of Gregor’s own Vorbarra Armsmen) that much-delayed-but-oh-so-anticipated parchment scroll confirming the Emperor’s acceptance of his resignation, Illyan muttered, “you can get out of my head now, Old Man. I’m no longer Head of ImpSec.” He thought he heard a faint cackle of laughter before he knew himself, at last, alone.
Let Negri go haunt Allegre now.