"The revolution will be no re-run, brothers;
The revolution will be live."
- Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
"Mama, mama! I'm flying!"
Laisa ducked as Alys bounded off the couch, arcing across the room. The Komarran gravity in her father's Solstice flat was a literal weight off Laisa's back, but for Alys's Barrayar-forged muscles it must be like floating on air. The Empress of Barrayar failed to intercept her daughter, but Gregor's Armsman Gere snatched her effortlessly out of the air before she bounced off a wall.
The Empress frowned at her eldest child. Seven years old, or so ImpSec said. Even years later, she didn't know exactly where Alys had come from, unheralded and unlooked for. Her genes had been stolen to make this child, and the early years they should have spent together had been stolen too. It made her relationship with her adopted daughter… awkward, especially as Alys was thought by Vor society to be some illegitimate relation of Gregor's and no child of hers. She did look severely Barrayaran – brown-haired, hazel-eyed, scrawny rather than compact.
I'm too young to be an evil stepmother, she thought wryly, and let her daughter's dangerous rambunctiousness slide. The princess would grow out of it soon, surely. Laisa's own mother provided a timely distraction by suggesting that perhaps Alys would like to make cookies. Lured by the promise of sugar, the girl hopped out of Gere's arms and tamely followed Gran Toscane out of the room.
Laisa smiled in relief, picked up her wineglass, and wondered where her father was hiding. She walked past her eldest son, Prince Casimir, still sleeping with toddlerish torpor in his grav-cradle. He had his own set of armsmen already, six of whom were stationed around the living room and the annex. Laisa had her usual pair from Gregor's score on top of that. It was a miracle they weren't all tripping over each other.
She finally found her father in the media room, looking over his shoulder covertly at the Barrayaran guards while pretending to work. She suspected Ser Toscane wanted to challenge this invasion of his turf but hadn't quite worked up the nerve to do so. Laisa smiled at him in rueful sympathy. It was one thing when the Barrayarans occupied your planet, but something else again when they occupied your apartment. While the armsmen were in Komarran civilian dress, it just made them all look even more conspicuously foreign.
Laisa wondered again if she should have left the children and their not inconsiderable entourage with Gregor, but she wanted them to see more of Komarr than the sprawling governmental complex under Solstice's administration dome. The Toscane penthouse might be just as much of an overguarded cage but at least it had a much better view.
Looking up, her father shared a glance with her, one that asked the questions he couldn't ask in front of the men. Questions like 'is he treating you right?' and 'are you happy?'. They were hard questions to answer. Gregor the man she thought she liked. Gregor the Emperor was such a dominant part of who he was that she wondered sometimes if there was truly room for her in his life. Though, there was a certain romance to the insanity of Barrayar. Even Countess Vorkosigan thought so.
She smiled a little wanly at her father and sipped at her drink. It was hard, to come here and yet be unable to come home.
"How's your work going?" her father asked.
"It never stops," Laisa sighed. "I'm getting a lot done with the Ministry of Trade, despite the old fossils. But there's so much inertia… even Gregor has to be careful where he steps. It'd be difficult enough on its own without the endless entertaining."
"I thought you liked the entertaining?"
"Depends on the company. I'll never be Vor enough for some of these people." She scowled. "I don't want to be Vor enough for some of these people."
He looked pensive. "Barrayar is so strange. I worry about you sometimes, you know. When you can't even visit home without all your guards…"
"You've got bodyguards," she pointed out. He usually did, in any case. They had been unceremoniously turfed from the building by the armsmen.
"Not like yours!" he said. From the looks on their faces, the Imperial armsmen quite agreed with that assessment. Her father eyed them and frowned. "Do you want to go out and do something? Shopping, maybe?"
"I was hoping for a quiet visit," Laisa sighed. "I can't be anonymous. Not here in dome. And especially not with the children."
"Well," he said, glancing at the time. "I suppose we could watch Fazliu. She's having an admiral on, for once. Not sure the poor fellow knows what he's getting into."
"Oh, Gita's still on the air?" Laisa asked, considering his suggestion. She smiled at him. "I came here to decompress. Lazing on the couch sounds just fine."
"She moved to the state broadcaster, of all things," her father answered, settling back. "They gave her a longer show on trade, but usually there's not a Barrayaran to be seen. The Imperial Counselor's press secretary sometimes dares it, but the military men tend to be astonishingly tactless live and everyone knows it."
"We don't actually watch the news on Barrayar…" Laisa mused. "It just isn't… useful. It's exactly like the Komarran variety in that it's not allowed to report anything interesting about Barrayaran politics. The newsfaxes aren't much better." She shook her head. "I think everybody who is anyone on Barrayar gets their news from a combination of security briefings and gossip."
Her father snapped his fingers to activate his high-end media display and started sorting through channels. "I was wondering if you knew the man. It's that Naismith fellow, the one who was a mercenary."
"Oh," Laisa said. "Him. Didn't you meet him at the Barrayaran wedding? I thought Admiral Vorkosigan introduced you."
Her father cleared his throat, by which Laisa gathered he'd been too intimidated by his Barrayaran counterpart on the wedding circle to pay much attention to the hordes of galactic guests. "The short one, in the ImpSec uniform?"
"No, that would have been Lord Vorkosigan," she said patiently. "Naismith was the one with the eight foot tall woman and the hermaphrodite. He wasn't in the Service yet." The dwarfish admiral had been making a point, she supposed, but she wished he hadn't chosen to make it at her wedding.
"Oh, yes. How'd he get invited then?"
"He's old friends with Gregor, apparently," Laisa said, and frowned. Gregor's bizarre relationship with Naismith had never been explained entirely to her satisfaction. "They met during the Vervain crisis. Of course, he's also Vorkosigan's son after a fashion. I'm sure you've gathered that much."
"You don't seem to like him," her father observed.
"It's not that…he's very entertaining. He's just very odd and calls at the strangest hours. I'm not sure he actually sleeps." She gathered her thoughts. "They probably had him do the interview as part of the cover for our visit. Gregor wants to avoid the press, but privacy is so much harder to come by here…"
"Ah! Is that why Admiral Vorkosigan is visiting Solstice with such great fuss, then?"
Laisa smiled. "Another sacrificial media lamb – though I'm not sure stirring up the radicals at this stage is a good idea." She glanced in the other room again, more nervously. "He and Gregor do have actual Sergyaran business to discuss, of course."
A stern-looking Barrayaran newsreader was silently finishing the hourly update on the media display. Her father waited until he was done and Interstellar Exchange's bombastic intro music was nearly through before unmuting the display with a gesture.
Fazliu appeared seated at her wide table, a holographic representation of the Nexus floating over it. She hardly looked older (a few cosmetic adjustments at work there, perhaps), but had changed her look again. Laisa's lip twisted as she recognized the telltale signs of a fashion sense forcibly stifled by the patriarchy. The poor woman looked positively staid in an understated olive pantsuit, and her once-short black hair was now shoulder-length. Her heavy black pendant necklace and matching earrings were, if not exactly conservative, fairly boring by Komarran standards.
The host spread an open palm in a traditional Komarran gesture of greeting. "Welcome to Interstellar Exchange. I'm Gita Fazliu. This week, a trade war has broken out between Beta Colony and Tau Ceti V over accusations of metals dumping in the markets of Betan daughter colonies. Wormhole tariffs have been raised and many ships of both polities are being forced to reroute to maintain their profit margins." With a stylus, she sketched on the table in front of her, highlighting the relevant planets and regions in the floating display as she spoke.
"Meanwhile, loosening restrictions on commercial passage between Marilac and Xi Ceta have created opportunities for shippers, but what are the risks? Joining us this morning in our Solstice studio is Rear Admiral Miles Naismith of the Imperial Service, who has recently been appointed military attaché to the Marilacan Confederacy. Welcome to Komarr, Admiral."
"Thank you, Dr. Fazliu." Naismith replied in his characteristic Betan drawl. He was a lean and energetic man, startlingly short even on the holo. Wearing his Imperial dress greens like a second skin, he perched comfortably on a chair opposite Fazliu. An astonishingly colorful collection of medals was displayed on his chest, including no less than three Barrayaran Imperial Stars, his controversial Order of Victory, a handful of other Service decorations, and a wide and varied assortment of foreign awards.
Fazliu leaned forward. "Admiral, what is your interpretation of this recent thaw in relations?"
"I wouldn't call it a thaw, precisely," Naismith said. "The Marilacan government is still officially not speaking to the Cetagandans and no Cetagandan ships or crews are permitted in-system. The Cetas have imposed similar restrictions, of course. What this agreement does do is open the wormhole to third-party shippers. From a Barrayaran standpoint this is an extremely important development, since we are one of the few governments with favorable trade agreements with both the Cetagandans and the Marilacans at the moment. To a lesser extent, the Hegen Hub Alliance as a whole will benefit."
Laisa's father nodded agreement, though Laisa had no doubt he was better informed on the economic implications than either of them.
"Some are saying the Marilacans are caving on their determination to single-handedly blockade Cetagandan trade," Naismith continued. "I would disagree with that assessment. The Marilacan blockade was enormously damaging to the Cetagandan Imperial economy, coming as it did in the aftermath of years of disruption to that route. A small but significant fraction of internal Cetagandan commerce travelled the Xi Ceta route through Marilac and Zoave Twilight to Sigma Ceta. The Marilac closure also forced the Cetagandans to make large tariff concessions to fully re-open the Rho Ceta route here."
"So you think the Marilacan blockade accomplished its goal?" Gita highlighted the sprawling Cetagandan empire on the display.
Naismith raised his eyebrows. "I think… the Cetagandans will think more carefully about the consequences of invading their long-suffering neighbors in the future, yes. Although I admit that's what I would have said after Vervain as well. It's important to remember that Xi Ceta has been Marilac's trading partner since before the Cetagandan Empire existed in its present form. Culturally the two planets are very similar, though of course Marilac lacks the warrior class and haut aristocracy."
"I understand that you yourself played some role in the liberation of Marilac, Admiral," Fazliu said. "Would you be willing to tell us more about that?
Naismith's gaze across the table sharpened. "That – well, that started somewhat by accident, actually. Somebody in my position – my former position – generally has to be very cautious when getting involved with, um, partisan resistance struggles." The admiral was clearly choosing his words carefully, although his answers were not hesitant. "My part, while high-profile, was fairly minor in the long run. The real unsung heroes of that struggle were the remnants of the Marilacan Spaceguard. If they hadn't defected to Zoave Twilight at the last hour and prevented the Cetagandans from seizing the far wormhole, all of the extraordinary courage of the Resistance would have been in vain."
"That was back when you were a mercenary commander, of course," Fazliu prompted.
"Right." A small smile flickered across Naismith's face.
"Your background is quite unconventional for the Imperial Service. What brought you to Barrayar?"
"A combination of factors," Naismith said. "While my relationship with the Imperium has historically been strained at best, I worked with Gregor Vorbarra at Vervain and have always had a great deal of respect for him as a leader. In a certain weird sense Barrayar has always been my homeworld – I grew up steeped in its culture and mythology. And I have family here."
Fazliu folded her hands on the table demurely. "Your father is the famous Admiral Vorkosigan," she said. "Have you found it difficult to live up to his legacy?"
"That's brave to ask," Ser Toscane said with approval.
Naismith's eyes crinkled. "What a fantastically loaded question. No."
"Yet you use your mother's surname."
"Of course. Otherwise they would make me wear dress swords." His expression remained perfectly serious, but his eyes were laughing.
She blinked at him. "Have you found it difficult to adjust to being a Barrayaran officer?
Naismith smiled. "I think it's important to point out here that the Service has always been a diverse institution that integrates people from many different backgrounds into a cohesive whole. That's something that I consider one of its key strengths. In the past, it was forged together from warring private armies not so different from the one I ran. There are brilliant General Staff officers today who were scared young men on the wrong side of Vordarian's Pretendership thirty years ago." His lip quirked, "One or two were even on the wrong side of the Komarr Revolt."
Gita pressed the point. "But surely there must have been some culture shock in going from a freewheeling mercenary outfit to the Imperial Service. It's an interesting move for someone of your, er, stature to take."
Naismith's eyebrows rose slowly. "Dr. Fazliu, are you accusing me of selling out to the man?"
"What?" A wrinkle in her forehead betrayed her confusion.
"You had a thriving career in local news before you chose to host Interstellar Exchange for the occupation," he pointed out dryly. "I'm sure you had your reasons too."
It was easy to forget there were things one couldn't say on Komarr until someone said them. "Did he really just…?" her father said.
"He should back off," Laisa said tightly. "He's going to get her fired going on like that."
It took a second or two for Fazliu to wipe the look of glassy half-panic off her face, but she recovered valiantly and changed the subject. "Whatever did happen to your mercenary fleet?"
Naismith leaned back in his chair, folding his arms behind his head. "As an Imperial officer and sworn liegeman to Emperor Vorbarra, it's completely out of the question for me to maintain a private army," he said seriously. "The Dendarii corporation was dissolved after the Reach War, and now only exists as a holding company to lease out fleet-owned vessels to independent captain-operators. While I'm still theoretically responsible for that end, the income goes to the Dendarii pension fund, and I don't see any of it. Since my second in command and most of my core staff retired with me, the surviving ships split up. A few of my senior officers – Mohammed Truzillo and Elli Quinn – have since created their own outfits."
Fazliu smiled, but there was still an edge of panic in her eyes. "Yes, I understand your fleet was mixed-sex. Do you miss working with female officers?"
"The Barrayaran military is segregated rather than all-male," Naismith observed. "I do some work with the auxiliaries from time to—"
The vid flickered out.
A bright flash illuminated the media room through its translucent curtains. After another brief pause the vidfeed returned. As Fazliu rose to her feet looking terrified, Naismith ducked out from under the table and raced off-set.
A painfully loud roar belatedly shook the penthouse, and then something screamed through the air above. Naismith's authoritative yell cut through the ambient noise. "Cut the broadcast. Turn everything off now!"
The vid went out once more, this time for good. After a series of distant thuds, there was silence except for faraway sirens. Laisa moved to the window to peek out, confirming in her heart what she knew the sirens meant. The shape of the horizon was wrong, and icy clouds of frozen water vapor boiled out of the heart of Solstice. The great five-kilometer-wide Administrative Dome, the largest manmade structure on Komarr, had been breached.