Illyan kept his face impassive as he replayed each Count's history in his mind as they laid out their claims. Vorvolk was the main accuser, Vorparadijs had been dragged along to provide additional authority to the accusations, and Vordrozda … Illyan wasn't sure why Vordrozda was here, except that an Imperial Accounting Review allowed for three Counts, and Vorvolk could rely on Vordrozda to support him.
Henri Vorvolk was against anything that took money away from Southern Continent expansion, and Gregor relied on him to serve as a reminder that galactic interests were not always Barrayaran interests. Vorparadijs had been finessed into supporting this claim; an Imperial Auditor, however close to senile, carried more clout than the Accounting Committee could bring on its own. He occasionally implied that Miles was single-handedly destroying the Empire by continuing to have a Betan mother. The new Count Vordrozda had a shrill wife and two daughters that, even in the current female-starved climate, couldn't find husbands, and he often insinuated that this was the fault of offworld influences.
The charges, overt and covert, had been detailed. The expenses were too great, Vorvolk said; Miles was stripping the Empire of valuable resources for his own purposes. Vorparadijs insisted that Miles was guilty of sneaking embezzlement, apparently believing that an invoice for eighteen million marks involved some variety of stealth. Vordrozda seemed to imply that Miles' crime was not having a wife to curtail his excesses. Illyan wasn't sure if he was trying to arrange a match for one of his daughters—as a way to get influence over the Prime Minister, of course—or imply that Miles' tastes might run in less savory directions.
Illyan looked at Aral, measured the worry and pain hidden behind his closed expression. The doctors had been keeping Miles sedated, and Aral had only had second-hand accounts of his son's condition. ImpSec trumped family visits and these accusations had made it imprudent for Aral to visit in his capacity as Prime Minister; Illyan was the only one who'd heard the full reports.
Illyan didn't wink, but he must have twitched in some way Aral could recognize, because he gave the tiniest of nods, a tic of the chin that Miles unconsciously imitated when he was nervous. Illyan tapped his folder on the table once to get their attention, and set it down as he began speaking.
"Lieutenant Vorkosigan's preliminary reports have been amended with details that explain the expenses involved. As you can see—" Illyan gestured toward the stack of flimsies, of which they each had copies; "—every mark is accounted for. Replacement shuttlecrafts are expensive. Miles may be guilty of excessive waste, but he's not redirecting funds to his personal benefit."
That covered the legalities; a nod from Gregor and this meeting could be over—only to be repeated every time Miles' expenses caught someone's attention. He needed this session to both discourage future accounting "investigations" with political undertones and keep Miles' recovery time free from harassments. Or inspirations. Sometimes he thought half his career was spent preventing Miles from being overly-inspired.
The three men shuffled the flimsies they'd barely glanced at before, and scowled as they reached the conclusion that any "skimming" would have to indeed be very minor. They exchanged glances, obviously trying to decide how to proceed.
Illyan watched as Aral let his gaze turn slowly around the table, meeting Vorvolk's eyes, then Vorparadijs and Vordrozda, ending with Gregor without seeming to seek any particular consideration. Of course, they would be watching for any hint of undue influence. Illyan wondered what they'd do if they found it; while Aral's stewardship had been as devoid of nepotism as he could manage, Imperial history demonstrated no lack of preferential treatment for relatives and close friends of the Imperium. Gregor could hardly be deposed for bias toward his foster-brother.
Gregor and Aral stared at each other for a long moment and Illyan wondered if anyone else in the room was aware of the silent discussion between them. Finally, Gregor put on his "let's see what happens" face, and pulled his attention back to the Counts.
"It is Our opinion that the Empire is best served by continued discretion regarding the exact role of Our covert fleet, the Dendarii Mercenaries. To this end, We have authorized payment of the most recent invoices, and a similar sum for future expenses."
Vorvolk's face darkened with anger as he half-stood and started to open his mouth to protest when Gregor cut him off.
"However," the Emperor continued, "however, as the unexpected expenses from the Dagoola IV mission were indeed much greater than the funds allotted, We would not be adverse to reassigning them." He paused to let them absorb that idea. "Lieutenant Vorkosigan could be issued a loan for the amount of the bill, which he would have to repay out of pocket."
The committee erupted in chaos.
"He'll never do it!" said Vorvolk. "A Vorkosigan with money? It'll never happen."
"He'll leave the planet and never return!" said Vorparadijs gleefully. Then he seemed to realize he was supposed to want Miles punished more than he wanted him gone, and scowled instead.
Aral broke in. "He's had ample opportunity to disappear. In case you hadn't noticed, he manages an admiralty on his covert missions."
"A fake admiralty!" said Vordrozda. "He's not recognized by any authority."
"Eleven ships, five thousand crew members who salute him on sight and follow him into battle … I'd say that was a fairly real admiralty," Aral said drily. "Certainly real enough to leave and never return."
"It doesn't matter!" said Vorvolk. "He can't produce that much money! Nobody could! The Imperium needs to sell off those damn mercenary ships—" He almost spat the words. "—or he'll bleed the Imperium dry with endless future trumped-up expenses!"
Illyan cleared his throat.
Illyan wondered, not for the first time, if Negri ever felt like this when loud angry Vor lords went utterly quiet in his presence. So much for the inborn authority of the nobility. He avoided looking at Aral and pursed his lips sharply to keep them from twitching.
"I feel certain," Illyan began, "that Lieutenant Vorkosigan could legitimately acquire the necessary funds, in whatever timeline he's given. I believe he'd be able to do so more easily if he were allowed to use his offworld resources, but even if required to stay on Barrayar, I believe he'd be successful. I have come to realize that Miles is capable of quite exceptional accomplishments under pressure."
He paused to let that sink in. He saw furrowed brows as the men considered what the head of ImpSec would consider "exceptional accomplishments."
He looked around slowly to make sure he had their full and complete attention—refused to let himself smile nastily at the two who almost shuddered— "However, gentlemen, I would have you aware of some facts, before you make any decisions."
"Miles was sent to act as a contact on a fictitious arms deal as part of an investigation into anomalous business practices, and delivered an entire mercenary fleet to the Emperor, holding the way for victory against a Cetagandan invasion of the Hegen Hub."
Gregor didn't flinch, but Illyan could see he wanted to. Illyan couldn't react to that; Gregor's true role in the Hub events was, quite possibly, the most closely-guarded secret in the Empire. Illyan left Aral to supply whatever sympathy could be delivered in silence across a table as the other men muttered something about old history.
Illyan considered and rejected going over the details of the mission to Jackson's Whole. He realized with chagrin that the value to Barrayar of the destruction of House Ryoval's power base would be nearly incomprehensible to Miles' accusers. He returned to the more recent event.
"Miles was sent to make contact with an informant in a prison camp, and returned with ten thousand prisoners. This has gained us a strong alliance with Marilac, several hundred useful contacts, and, notably, yet another blow to the Cetagandan Empire which is now entrenched in a draining conflict on a planet it already thought it had conquered. None of these benefits can be measured specifically in financial terms, but you must admit, they show a noteworthy level of success, in the spirit, if not quite the exact phrasing of the original assignment."
Illyan was standing now, fingertips resting on the table, in a position that would be looming if anyone else did it, and from the expressions watching him, at least managed to appear predatory.
"Lieutenant Miles Vorkosigan has a talent for … excess. I would like each of you to contemplate where eighteen million marks might be acquired, and from whom, and what strings might be attached to that acquisition.
"And be assured that, whatever you imagine, Miles would surprise you by doing something else. Something more." He paused to look at each man in turn.
"You have the option of allowing the Imperium to pay eighteen million marks toward the maintenance of the Emperor's covert fleet… or assigning Lieutenant Vorkosigan the task of acquiring the funds from whichever individuals or institutions he believes to have them available."
Absolute silence in a council chamber was exhilarating, Illyan decided. He'd have to avoid the temptation to allow any more meetings like this; this kind of attention could be addicting.
"Lord Vorvolk, I believe you have extensive holdings of Terran hardwoods? And a son-in-law with a bit of a gambling habit? Lord Vordrozda, your oldest daughter is unmarried, with a substantial inheritance from her maternal grandmother—eight million marks, is that correct? Control of which will transfer to her husband upon her marriage, of course."
Vordrozda sputtered. "I would never— she wouldn't— it couldn't happen!"
So much for the thought that he might be looking for a match leading to access to the Prime Minister.
Illyan very carefully did not look at Aral. Whatever his reaction was to the idea of Miles marrying for money, he didn't want to see it. Besides, he told himself, planning for the conversation that would certainly happen later, Miles would be more likely to arrange Ivan's marriage to the girl (who, he had on good authority, had a laugh like a braying donkey and the table manners of a drunken sailor on leave) and arrange to acquire the money from Ivan. Somehow.
Forcing his attention back to the table, Illyan continued. "Consider the political aftermath of Lt Vorkosigan's more risky missions." He paused, allowing each of them to think about the details to which they had access. "While all these events have been to the advantage of Barrayar, they were also done for the purpose of Barrayaran advancement. I am quite certain Miles could pay this bill himself if it were required of him. The question is, are we willing to shift his focus from Imperial interests to financial ones? Miles' methods are … unique."
Think, gentlemen, Illyan willed them. My nightmares involve Miles turning up with a deed for all of Jackson's Whole and eighty thousand in-process contracts, being chased by the entire Old Earth armada. And since Miles has never once returned from a mission having accomplished exactly what my nightmares feared; he's always turned up with results that made me wish for something as simple as what I'd imagined… Illyan allowed some of his concern to show on his face.Vorvolk blanched. Apparently, that was a bit more concern than he'd been expecting to show. Illyan decided to press his advantage; he didn't often get the opportunity to share the worries Miles inflicted on him.
"Perhaps Lord Miles could arrange for Vorkosigan Vashnoi to be a tourist attraction, or the subject of a scientific study on the long-term effects of radiation on Barrayaran and Terran plant life. While interest in the Barrayaran ecosphere is limited, I'm sure there are quite a few Komarrans who would pay handsomely for the chance to observe it up close."
He could see disbelief, worry, and dismissal pass through their faces, as they decided that the requisite number of potential hostiles couldn't possibly get the necessary visas. Illyan lacked their insouciance, and continued, "The harder it would be to get permissions, the more he could charge for the visits. And we can hardly prevent all tourism on Barrayar just to forestall Lord Miles' potential income."
They looked skeptical. Gregor looked worried. Aral looked slightly green, as if this were something Miles had actually discussed with him at some point and he'd only barely talked him out of it. Illyan pressed on.
"Perhaps all we'd need for Lord Miles to pay off the debt is a complete rearrangement of our economic system. Right now, Barrayaran marks are approximately five to the Betan dollar. If that were to change—if marks were devalued to fifty, or five hundred, to the Betan dollar—he'd be able to sell a small bit of property on Beta to cover any debt on Barrayar. Of course, that'd play havoc with international trade for decades, but Lord Miles has a knack for that kind of disruption. It's just never been aimed at his home before."
Vordrozda snorted. "It's not possible. One man can't make that much change to an economy that quickly."
Illyan raised an eyebrow. "He rescued ten thousand strangers from a Cetagandan prison. Do you doubt he could pry eighteen million marks loose from the Barrayaran economy? I assure you, the fact that he has no experience with economics won't matter a bit; his improvisational skills are—impressive. To people watching from the outside, that is. People experiencing them directly tend to consider the experience terrifying."
Vorvolk tried to sneer, but couldn't quite hold it. Illyan could see him start to realize what could be involved in aiming the Emperor's most talented loose cannon at the Empire itself. Vordrozda looked confused and a bit worried, and Vorparadijs looked half-asleep; he'd obviously lost interest once it was obvious that "punish the brat" wasn't going to be the result of the proceedings.
Illyan decided that they were as convinced as they were likely to be, and more importantly, extremely unlikely to demand that Miles be ordered to hand over several million marks. He sat down and faced Gregor expectantly.
Gregor's wry expression was something between "thank you" and "I'll get you later." It was now his task it to soothe the egos of the Committee so they believed it was their own idea to consider Miles' expenses unworthy of future consideration. Illyan let his chip record the declarations while he looked at Aral and relaxed, just a bit, at the trust and gratitude shining in his eyes.