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Vorkosigan's Day

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But if we can capture this one's true allegiance, it will be something like what I'd had in mind for Komarr in the first place. A generation late, true, and after a long and bloody detour, but--since you bring up these theological terms--a sort of redemption.
Brothers in Arms

*

For the fourth time since he'd woken, two hours before the alarm, Duv considered declaring himself sick today. He felt sick enough, stomach churning with nerves, and the thought of breakfast revolted him. But this course was required to graduate, and if there was one thing Duv had decided, it was that he was going to graduate. Top of his class. So that meant going to the seminar, no matter what.

Nobody knew what the seminar was about. Last year's senior class had whispered about it, but had loftily proclaimed that their juniors were too young to understand it. Duv remembered their faces afterwards, grim and sober. And now it was his turn. The Lord Regent of the Barrayaran Empire, Admiral Lord Vorkosigan, was coming to the Academy today, and he was going to take the senior class for a whole-day seminar.

Some of his classmates feigned relaxation about it all. They were high Vor too, and saw in Vorkosigan a peer, someone their parents chatted to at dinner parties. But Duv could see that despite this, the aura of the Regent was more than even they could face without a qualm. The usual ragging on him had been muted a little, as if even Vayne (Vorvayne, really, and his chief enemy in the class) knew that there were some things not to push with a Komarran, and the Butcher coming to visit was one of them.

Not knowing what the course was about, he couldn't even pour all his anxiety and fear into frenzied research. He was going to have to go in cold and unprepared. It was small comfort to him that nobody else in the class would be prepared either. He'd grown used to the fact that, on Barrayar, he had to work twice as hard as anyone else to get the same appreciation, and that his every mistake was noticed by all and marked down in their minds as Proof that Komarrans were stupid or untrustworthy or lazy or all of the above.

His nerves only worsened through the early-morning run and gym session that started most days at the Academy, and as a result he managed his personal best time for the run. But he couldn't outrun the Butcher's visit. He showered and put on his dress uniform and went with his classmates into the lecture hall. Everyone was more subdued than usual, none of the usual horseplay and banter. Duv took his place, opened his notebook, and waited in silence.

Then Admiral Vorkosigan stepped onto the podium. "Good morning."

He was shorter than Duv had expected, and his voice was quieter. Duv had only seen him before on vids, and at a distance at ceremonial occasions. Now he studied Vorkosigan, his emotions too confused for him to unravel them.

"I am here to talk to you all about a subject that some of your future commanders would greatly prefer I leave well alone."

Duv hadn't thought his attention could be more riveted to the podium, but abruptly he discovered that it could. Vorkosigan was here to subvert them. He tried to look at the Butcher and see a radical. It was hard.

The silence in the hall was profound. Vorkosigan gazed around the rows of students, as if he were memorising them all. His eyes touched Duv, and for a second Duv knew that nobody else had this man's attention. Then Vorkosigan's gaze moved on, and Duv realised that this was what people meant when they talked about charisma.

Into the silence, Vorkosigan spoke.

"What is an illegal order?"

He let that sink in for a moment, then continued. "Could you recognise one if it was given to you? What would you do?" He pointed at a boy on the far side of the hall from Duv, and repeated the question. "Your CO has just given you an illegal order. What happens now?"

The boy stood up slowly, colour draining from around his lips. Duv felt a certain sympathy. "Cadet Vadim Aronberg, sir. Um. I would go up the chain of command and quietly report it to a senior officer, and--and he'd help me sort it out."

Despite his tension, Duv felt his lips curl slightly at this answer. Even three years at the Academy had not shaken Aronberg's (Lord Vadim Voraronberg's) complacent belief that he would always be given the benefit of the doubt because of who he was.

"Hm," Vorkosigan said. His finger moved over the audience, and pointed at Duv. "What do you say?"

Duv stood up, not sure how he was managing it. "Cadet Duv Galeni, sir." Vorkosigan's eyes widened briefly, as if he recognised the name. Get real, Duv. You're the only Komarran at the Academy. Of course he knows who you are. His Armsmen probably have orders to shoot if you make any unexpected movements. Duv inhaled tensely, dragging his mind back to the question. "If I told my commanding officer the order he'd given me was illegal," he paused, feeling his bridges starting to blaze behind him, but knowing there was only one answer he could give to this, "then I think he would throw me in the brig, sir."

Someone sitting near him drew in his breath sharply, and it echoed around the suddenly deathly silent lecture hall.

Admiral Vorkosigan gave a slow nod. "That is a very significant point," he said. "It is important for us to keep our minds focused on reality. Not many officers would be happy to have their authority so challenged, far less their moral authority. So: you've been given an illegal order, you've objected to it, and now you're in trouble. The real question is, what will you do next?"

As Duv tried to think of a response to that, Vorkosigan gave him a nod. "Thank you, cadet," and Duv was able to sit down. Tomas Nazhinski, beside him, gave him a look in which awe and appalled horror were mixed.

"But before you can answer that question," Vorkosigan continued, his voice falling into a lecturer's cadence, "I think we need to consider the background theory of the situation more carefully. Let us begin with..."

Vorkosigan began to survey the details of Regs, starting with the definitions of an order, the chain of command, the Emperor's Code of Conduct and the Interstellar Judiciary Convention, then moving into the different kinds of illegal order and why they were illegal and where the grey areas were. It was all safely theoretical and academic, and after the first hour or so Duv began to relax. He'd never heard that Vorkosigan was a scholar, but he certainly knew this material inside-out, and was an excellent speaker as well. Familiar with the difficulties of giving a lecture like this, Duv felt a certain respect. He listened attentively, and found himself slipping back into the familiar rhythms of note-taking and analysis, almost to the extent that he stopped thinking about the man speaking, and simply considered the ideas. At the back of his mind, a somewhat irrational voice was bemoaning that he hadn't know about this course when he'd been writing his thesis. Change in the Barrayaran Imperial Service surely couldn't be more profound than that Admiral Lord Vorkosigan was teaching a course on how to disobey an illegal order.

"... and now we'll break for lunch. After lunch, we'll take all this theory, and turn it into practice. You are dismissed."

It took a while before the usual post-lesson conversation started to break out, but by the time Duv got out into the crowded corridor, it was almost like any other day, noisy conversations and clots of cadets clogging the corridor on the way to the mess hall.

Vorkosigan was standing to one side, talking quietly with a man Duv recognised with a shock as Captain Illyan. Caught in the crowd, he couldn't help overhearing their conversation.

"... thought I'd stay and hear the second half. My baby officers last year were thoroughly impressed by it; I had one challenge me personally over a particular order. I don't know what you're doing to them, but it certainly fires them up."

Vorkosigan gave a rumbling laugh. "And? What happened?"

"Oh, well, he'd had to do some quite creative misinterpreting of his orders to conclude that I wanted him to torture anyone. In truth, Cecil slipped up with him, I think. Not ImpSec material at all. After three months, we transferred him to the orbital shuttle station's guard, and he's doing much better there."

"Glad to hear it--ah." Vorkosigan suddenly looked directly at him. "Cadet Galeni. Walk with me."

Duv felt like his legs had been taken over by automatic control. He came alongside Admiral Vorkosigan. Captain Illyan, at a glance from Vorkosigan, unobtrusively dropped a few paces behind, but Duv was still burningly aware of him watching, as if Illyan's eyes were nerve disruptors. The two men he had been raised to hate most in all the galaxy, both within arm's reach ... his fingers twitched unconsciously.

"This afternoon," Vorkosigan said, skipping introductions and pleasantries with the air of a man whose meetings have been timed to the minute for years, "I will be showing a great deal of footage from the Solstice Massacre. It is likely that you will see images of your aunt, and perhaps other people you knew."

Vorkosigan stopped, and turned to face him. "If you would prefer, I will arrange that you should be absent from the room during that part of the session. It will not affect your grades, and your classmates will not know or suspect why."

It took a great effort for Duv to keep his voice calm and level as he replied. "I would prefer to stay, sir. "

"I thought you'd say that," said Vorkosigan with an unexpected flick of humour in his eyes. But then he sobered. "Nonetheless, hear me out. Even the ... other cadets, who are not personally connected, find this very disturbing. Each year I have several boys faint, or throw up." Vorkosigan fell silent for a moment, then went on, "This will be the twelfth year I've given this seminar. The first year, I wept."

Duv could not have been more startled if an alpha wolf had suddenly rolled over and exposed his throat. The noise from the other cadets seemed to vanish, leaving them in their own bubble of silence.

His, first, cynical thought was that it was a good deal easier to expose yourself like that when you were the de facto emperor of three planets, commanded a powerful military force, and--ever-aware of Illyan behind him--had your very own secret police to guard you. He choked that thought off. It might be easier, but it still cost something for Vorkosigan to say that to him.

"My father," he said at last, trading Vorkosigan confession for confession, "had all the pictures from the Massacre, flat, holo and vid footage, up on display in his study. So that he would never forget, so that we all would never forget. I saw them every day since I was four. I will stay for your seminar, sir."

Vorkosigan gave a slow nod. "Very well. The choice is yours. See you after lunch."

Prudently, Duv only picked at a roll and swallowed a few spoonfuls of soup during lunch. Vorkosigan was seated at the high table, along with Illyan and the senior officers of the Academy. Duv was grimly amused to see that they were almost as unsettled by this Imperial visit as the students.

After lunch, they returned to the hall, and Vorkosigan--the only word for it, Duv, thought, was 'attacked'.

"You know the theory now, and I want to you revise it in your head, over and over, until it's second nature. But now it's time to start thinking about the reality. Of what a criminal order really looks like, and what others have done about it, and what you can do."

He didn't start with Solstice, as Duv had expected, but instead with a story that in some ways was more disturbing. In this story, Vorkosigan was an eyewitness--and a victim. Duv knew his Barrayaran history, of course, but that the young Aral Vorkosigan had witnessed his mother and brother blown up by an ImpSec death squad and had escaped with his life by bare seconds... well, that wasn't something the histories had dwelt on. Duv doubted many of the other cadets would notice, but he could see that even now Vorkosigan was reliving it as he related the story. It was unsettling to realise that this grim man had once been a scared boy terrorised by murderous soldiers, like so many Duv had seen, like Duv had been himself.

Vorkosigan immediately led them on to a discussion of what they would do if they found themselves in command of a death squad, a gyration of the imagination that seemed to disturb some of the cadets. They'd never seen themselves as the bad guys before, Duv realised with faint amusement. Vorkosigan's suggestions were, Duv thought, rather creative. After some time on that subject, Vorkosigan moved the discussion from the purely practical on to the legal and political.

"You all," he said, "have joined up willing to lay down your lives for Barrayar and her Emperor. But you may also be called upon to lay down your life for the Emperor's honour. A war crime is a dishonour upon the Imperium; preventing one, even at the cost of your life, is a worthy end." He paused, his eyes found Duv, and he gave a slight nod. "And, as we will now see, the honour of the Imperium and her safety can be more closely linked than it may seem at first glance. Let us turn to Komarr.

"The Solstice Massacre was the worst kind of war crime. To kill surrendered soldiers is a terrible thing; to kill surrendered civilians is far worse. And if someone, if anyone in that chain of command, had recognised the criminal order for what it was and refused to comply, even at the cost of his life, the Imperium would have been spared decades of terrorism and revolt."

If Vorkosigan's voice had been intense before, now it was impassioned. Duv had a vision of Vorkosigan's thousands of might-have-beens, snapshots of a world in which he was not the Butcher of Komarr, and felt a shiver of recognition. He had assumed that Vorkosigan's name was associated with all the awkward steps to make peace with Komarr for propaganda reasons. Now he realised, quite suddenly, that Vorkosigan was driving them, and this was the reason.

"Since the Ministry of Political Education kept highly detailed records, and since when it was destroyed most of those records were saved--" his gaze flickered to Captain Illyan standing by the door "--we have footage of the massacre and its immediate aftermath."

The lights went down, and despite his words to Vorkosigan earlier, Duv braced himself. Yes, he'd seen practically every image of that gymnasium there was available, but he'd also had nightmares about it for years--and nightmares about the Butcher, bogeyman of his childhood, too. And about other things he had seen, and worse, done ... he shuddered, swallowed, and made himself look steadily at the vid-screen.

Jerky footage from security cameras began to play, soundless. It was the gym, and the Counsellors were still alive, talking, moving around, sitting and standing, worried and animated and tired and scared. Duv saw his Aunt Rebecca briefly, just a flash of a gesture, and his breath caught. His father had used that gesture too, a family trait perhaps.

They watched the Counsellors for five minutes, long enough for a few of the cadets to get restless, even though they all knew what was coming. Long enough also for Duv to wish he'd taken Vorkosigan up on that offer after all and damn his pride. Then the doors of the gym opened and ten soldiers in black fatigues marched in, followed by their commander. Not, Duv knew, the political officer whose neck Vorkosigan had broken, but the soldiers' immediate superior.

The Counsellors didn't seem to notice the soldiers. A few looked up, but most continued with what they were doing as the soldiers lined up. The commander made a gesture, and they opened fire. Even then, not everyone realised what was happening. Slowly, terribly slowly, they looked up in surprise, then alarm, then terror. They were shot down.

Duv didn't faint or throw up, though it was a near thing. He was completely unaware of the other cadets' reactions, seeing only the screen and the Butcher beside it. The gym filled with the dead and the dying, and the soldiers continued to shoot steadily into the mass of bodies long after the last had fallen. Then at a hand signal from the commander--one Duv recognised with a shudder from his own training--they ceased fire and began to walk about the gym, shooting occasionally at the least sign of life until every crumpled body had stopped twitching. At last they lined up again and marched out. Their boots left bloody footprints on the floor behind them.

The vid-screen went blank, and the lights came back up. Vorkosigan was pale, his lips a thin line and his eyes deep-shadowed. Duv had no doubt he looked worse. Vorkosigan surveyed the cadets and his eyes met Duv's for a moment of unwanted intimacy. Everyone in the room had been affected by the recording, but for Duv and, he realised, for Vorkosigan, it was personal.

A few cadets shuffled green-faced back into the room, and after a long silence, Vorkosigan picked up his thread. To Duv's surprise, he went on to talk not about the victims, but about the men who had opened fire, and their immediate commander. Images of their faces, recordings of their evidence given to the various enquiries afterwards, always heading back to the same question: why had they obeyed this order? What would it have taken to stop them?

And Duv started to think about how he had obeyed his father. He thought of the things he had done, for the sake of the Resistance, for the glory of Komarr, for fear of his father's anger. A cold chill began in his stomach as he thought it through. What difference was there? He had always thought that his obedience to his father excused him, pushing the guilt back onto the shoulders of the dead. But if those soldiers had been guilty, then what was he?

"And at the top of the chain of command--well, that was me." Vorkosigan gave his chin a very slight jerk upwards. "You have all heard the slander that I gave the order. Though that is a slander, the responsibility remains mine. When you command men, you assume responsibility for their actions. Even if you didn't order it, even if it was without your knowledge, no matter what, you bear the moral responsibility. Remember that when you are in command."

Duv stared at Vorkosigan. During the lengthy pre-admission screening, they'd rubbed his face in the fact that this man would be his Commander-in-Chief if he joined the Barrayaran Imperial Service. That he would have to serve at the orders of the Butcher of Komarr, kill for him and die for him. Duv had faced that prospect impassively, secure behind the fortress of logic he had constructed to justify his service here. He admired the Barrayaran military ethos. He respected what Vorkosigan had done as Regent, both here and on Komarr. He knew why he was here.

But academic, intellectual certainties were one thing; the man before him was another. Duv felt suddenly adrift, no longer sure of what he was doing or why, or whether he was right to be here. He had felt sure of his own virtue this morning, of his superiority to the Butcher; now he doubted it.

He listened to Vorkosigan continue his discussion with a distracted mind. Vorkosigan started to describe the channels he had worked to create for people in the service to report abuses without fear of retribution, systems of adjudication to determine the rights of a particular case, ways to handle a criminal order without disaster. He talked about prevention, about honesty and openness, and about honour. Duv took notes mechanically. It was all very sensible, very practical, and, he thought, with as good a chance of helping as anything could have. He wondered how much of it Vorkosigan had come up with himself. But only half his mind was on this now. The other half was churning over and over the questions of his own innocence and guilt, questions he had ignored for a long time.

"... and finally, if any of you wish to speak with me about these matters, I will be in the office outside afterwards."

Vorkosigan moved to the exact centre of the platform and raked them with his gaze. "Do not deceive yourselves. During your years of service, you will be faced with these questions, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in very serious ways. Some of you will find yourselves in situations as terrible as anything you have studied today, and the higher the rank you attain, the more difficult the problems will become, and the greater your responsibility to get it right. I cannot tell you what you must do in every situation; I can only tell you this. Hold fast to your loyalty to the Emperor and to each other, your courage in the most hopeless of fights, and most of all, hold fast to your honour."

He stepped back, and the cadets all rose to attention as he walked off the platform. There was a long silence, broken at last by Major Cecil stepping up to the platform to say a few banal, routine words of thanks and to dismiss the cadets. As the others began to file out, still in oppressive silence, Duv remained in his seat. He pretended to be finishing off his notes, but in truth he didn't want to move lest he jar the fragile edifice of his thoughts.

He gazed at the blank vidscreen, seeing all the images Vorkosigan had shown again in his imagination, until a janitor came in to sweep up and put out the lights. Then Duv got up and went out. There was only one boy remaining, talking to Vorkosigan in the little office. Duv stood waiting.

At last the boy went out, and Vorkosigan looked up. "Cadet Galeni," he said. He looked tired, almost as drained by the seminar as Duv was, but his eyes were alert and watchful. "Come in."

Apart from the inevitable Armsmen outside the door, the space was empty. Quickly, before he lost his nerve, Duv went to stand in front of Vorkosigan at strict attention. "I've committed war crimes," he said.

Vorkosigan gazed at him levelly, drew in a long breath, then let it out. "Perhaps you'd better sit down."

Thrown off-balance by this response, Duv found himself sitting opposite Vorkosigan. He rubbed his sweating hands on his knees.

"Tell me more," Vorkosigan said, leaning back in his chair with slitted eyes.

Duv swallowed, held himself rigid, and spoke. "When I was a boy. I was the one who left the bomb in the Green Parrot Café. Nine people died, three off-duty soldiers and--and six civilians. There were other things, too, but that... that was the worst."

"This was not in your records," Vorkosigan said mildly.

"No. Nobody ever asked, and ... and I was trying to forget. I nearly had forgotten."

"You can't forget a thing like that," Vorkosigan observed. "Even alcohol doesn't work, in my experience." He paused. "How old were you?"

"Ten."

"And who gave you the bomb? Whose idea was it?" His lips pressed together in irony. "Who gave the order?"

"My ... my father, sir."

"Yes," said Vorkosigan quietly. "It would be. Ten years old. I was eleven." He straightened in his chair. "Why are you telling me this?"

"You have a right to know," Duv said, a little confused. In truth he wasn't sure of the answer to that himself, only that after all Vorkosigan had said today, he had to tell him this. "I've followed--well, certainly criminal, terrible orders in the past. I might do so again."

"You're not asking me for an Imperial Pardon, then?"

Duv gaped. He was waiting for Vorkosigan to summon Illyan and his Armsmen to march him away, he realised. After all that he had heard today, he had come to Vorkosigan for justice. "No, sir," he said blankly.

"Too bad," said Vorkosigan. "In the light of your age, the fact that you were under the authority of your father, the Komarran Amnesty Order and your willing confession, I hereby grant you pardon, as Lord Regent of Barrayar for His Imperial Highness Gregor Vorbarra." He raised a hand as if in blessing. "This by my word as Vorkosigan."

Duv felt like he'd been hit by a tank.

"This won't change your guilt," Vorkosigan went on. "Nothing can do that. But if you wish to make amends ... keep on doing what you're doing." A slight smile crinkled his eyes. "I daresay, like most Komarrans, you think the Vor system of patronage is corrupt and foolish." The abrupt change of subject gave Duv the feeling of being turned on his head. "Nonetheless, I will be keeping an eye on your career. Cecil tells me you have a particular aptitude for Security. I'm sure Simon would be able to make good use of you, after you graduate and take oath to me."

Duv finally found his voice and managed to say the only thing possible. "Thank you, sir. But ... but why?"

Vorkosigan regarded him steadily. "I think," he said, "you understand what I want for Komarr. Better than many of my advisors, even. And I think you understand why I want it. I need you, Duv Galeni, and I need you here."

Duv had thought he had known why he was joining the Imperial Service: to help rebuild Komarr in the only way he believed could work in the long run. To position himself to stand between his people and Barrayar, to speak for Komarran interests from within, and to create a pathway that others might follow. In his study of history he had read of the thousands of ways in which conquerer and conquered might try to live together, and this road, bitter as it was, seemed to him the best way for Komarr.

But now another reason was joining that list, and it appalled him even as he knew it was true. He would follow his chosen path not only for Komarr, but also for Vorkosigan, for this sudden and disturbing kinship he felt for the Butcher of Komarr.

He met Vorkosigan's eyes square, felt his spine straighten. "I'll do my best, sir."

"It'll take everything you have," Vorkosigan said, "and everything you are. But I think, in the end, it will be worth it. It must be worth it."

Duv felt a moment of perfect understanding. "Yes, sir," he said. "It must, and it will."