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23 August 2009 @ 08:09 am
Fic: Upgrade  
Title: Upgrade
Author: philomytha
Prompt: Simon Illyan's early Imperial service. After joining ImpSec, but before becoming Aral's shadow.
Rating/warnings: PG, none
Word count: 900
Summary: Illyan starts a new life

"... looks good."

"Maybe. I'm still not happy with the gamma wave pattern."

"You just have to wait a minute more and we'll know if it's worked."

A snort. "No. We'll know if it hasn't worked in a minute. It'll be six months or more before we know if it has."

"I don't like installing it on all these Barrayarans. I don't think they have the necessary flexibility of thought."

"Well, they're military men."

"I know. I think we should only try civilians in future." A sigh. "What are the odds on this one?"

"Li likes him, don't you?"

"Better than the others, anyway."

"Ssh, he can probably hear you by now."

The voices changed, less casual, more guarded.

"Second dose, now."

A hiss of a hypospray against his skin, a cold tingling like frozen ants marching down his spine, colonising his body.

He recognised the voices. He'd never heard them before. With an effort, he opened his eyes. For a moment everything was blurry, as was normal when you'd just been woken up after an operation. He'd never been woken up after an operation before. His vision began to settle, and he could see clearly. He was still in the operating theatre. He'd never seen the place in his life. Icy panic began to trickle outwards from his chest.

There was a lovely woman standing over him. That was an improvement on ImpMil. No record of ImpMil. The senior neurologist, who'd been setting him up for this for weeks. Whom he'd never seen before.

He'd been trained, he knew how to put the panic aside and deal with the reality before him, but this time he wasn't sure what the reality was. Wasn't sure who he was. Images rushed through his mind: his mother, his brother, his apartment, the house he'd been born in, all familiar and completely new to him.

Wait, wait, and it will come clear, he promised himself, promised the two competing sets of information in his head, and prayed it wasn't a false promise.

"Ah, good," the lovely neurologist said. "How do you feel?"

He coughed, clearing his throat of phlegm and the plastic taste of whatever tubes had been in his mouth. "Strange," he said honestly.

"Headache? Blurred vision? Ringing ears?"

He shook his head. It felt a little sore, but not worryingly so.

"Do you remember who I am?"

"Dr Li," he said without thinking, then wondered how he knew when he'd seen her for the first time forty-five seconds ago. Because you've worked with her for weeks, he told himself. And then he remembered what he'd worked with her on.

"It's in?" he asked. He tried to move his hand, to feel his skull, but he was still restrained. His fingers twitched. There were half-a-dozen ways to break out of these kind of bonds. He could feel his knowledge of the techniques spinning through his mind, being duplicated in his new memory.

"Oh, let me undo those. Yes, it's in. It should be up and running now."

"I think ... I think it is."

Her eyes focused on his face alertly. "And?"

"It works."

"Excellent. Now, can you tell the two memories apart?"

He observed the way everyone in the room tensed as he hesitated, probing his mind. They were clearly distinct. The chip was colder, crisper, like a bitter winter morning. His real memory--no, he corrected his thought, both were real--his organic memory was soft by comparison, fuzzy, heated with emotion. He answered the question. "Yes."

"That's a very good sign," said Dr Li. "Let's see how you're doing..."

Then it was standard cognitive functioning tests and reflexes and sensors on his skull for the next hour and a half. He could feel all the answers being stored on his chip, could dart back and forth in time and replay them all, moving from present to past without tripping. He had tried and tried to imagine what it would be like to have this chip, how it would feel, but even his most ambitious dreams seemed flat compared to this reality. He had everything, in his head. It was like being a god, all-seeing, all-knowing.

It was only later, back in his quarters, having passed enough tests to satisfy Dr Li, that he realised it was not only like being a god. It was like being watched by one. A cold, merciless god. None of his actions could be forgotten, safely obliterated in embarrassment or even forgiveness. It was after his attempt to flirt with the pretty medtech who'd accompanied him to his room--propelling him on a float-chair, even though he could walk just fine, because of some bizarre hospital regulation--that he understood this. Replaying the scene on his chip, he saw himself the way the medtech must have: absurd, presumptious, his jokes feeble and his compliments transparent.

But there was no turning back now; the chip was part of him. He finally understood why the psychological screening tests had been so interested in self-control and detachment. Everything on the chip had to be seen as mere data, raw information to be categorised and analysed or ignored as necessary. Illyan put aside his embarrassment, his feelings, and began to work through the exercises Dr Li had assigned to him. If he didn't learn to master the chip, it would end by mastering him.
Telteldreaming on August 23rd, 2009 07:35 am (UTC)
Very nice. Poor Illyan... I wonder what his life would have been like without the chip?
philomythaphilomytha on August 23rd, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
There would have been more flirting, I daresay ;-). Though his ability to cope with the chip is built on his existing character traits, so I don't think he'd have been that different a person. I expect he'd have spent a lot longer as a covert ops agent, moved into analysis at some point, done well there, got promoted... but if he'd never been sent on the Escobar invasion as Aral's watchdog, he'd never have caught Aral's eye and found himself chief of ImpSec all of a sudden one day.
vkw10vkw10 on August 23rd, 2009 07:52 am (UTC)
"It was like being watched by one. A cold, merciless god. None of his actions could be forgotten, safely obliterated in embarrassment or even forgiveness."

That is chilling. And that line about seeing himself how the medtech saw him is the perfect illustration. Illyan was what, 22? 24? when the chip was installed? So he lived with it almost 40 years? What incredible control the man had! And no wonder he had no life outside ImpSec.

You may have given me nightmares, but it's a good fic.
fawatson: Cetagandafawatson on August 23rd, 2009 08:34 am (UTC)
Seconded. Nightmares it is and excellent fic.

Edited at 2009-08-23 08:34 am (UTC)
(Anonymous) on August 23rd, 2009 08:52 am (UTC)
Yes, nicely horrifying, very plausible, great story.

philomythaphilomytha on August 23rd, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm pleased you liked it.
philomythaphilomytha on August 23rd, 2009 03:24 pm (UTC)
Illyan was about 27 when he had the chip put in. And yes, I think that it's the chip more than anything else that kept him living such a monastic life.

Sorry about the nightmares! I'm glad you liked the fic despite them.
shimotsuki: vorkosiganshimotsuki on August 23rd, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
Your Illyan is very quickly becoming my official Illyan. I always enjoy the way you get inside his head and flesh out what interacting with the chip feels like, and it's especially interesting here when the experience is new to Illyan himself.

he realised it was not only like being a god. It was like being watched by one -- Ouch, and very like him to figure this out so quickly, but I agree with the previous comments about how right this is and how good a fit for the chip Illyan is.
philomythaphilomytha on August 23rd, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you find 'my' Illyan plausible; I do enjoy figuring him out through fiction. He's not sure whether his chip is a blessing or a curse, but quite often he comes down on the side of 'curse'.
The Espresso Addict: coffee cupsespresso_addict on August 25th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
...he knew how to put the panic aside and deal with the reality before him, but this time he wasn't sure what the reality was.

You've got a very good handle on Simon here, and his realisation at the end is chilling.
philomythaphilomytha on August 25th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks! The more I think about the chip, the more amazed I am that he handled it so well.
VorWombat: biowombathouse on August 27th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
wow! As always, you explore aspects of canon I hadn't considered. Fearfully lovely.
philomythaphilomytha on August 27th, 2009 08:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I like poking around in the corners of the world LMB has made for us, there's so much to explore.