Duv Galeni sat in the parlor at the Koudelka residence and sipped his coffee. Across from him, Mark Vorkosigan did the same. It was almost amusing, how studiously they were focused on their drinks. It wasn't that they didn't get along, exactly, just … how does one make polite conversation with someone one's father tortured, physically, mentally, and emotionally, their entire childhood and adolescence? Being brothers-in-law was much more comfortable when they were on different planets.
"I understand that both you and Kareen are done with your schooling," Duv said at last, breaking the ice. They had to talk about something. His wife Delia, Mark's girlfriend and partner Kareen, their mother Drou, their sister Olivia, and Olivia's husband Count Dono were all gathered in the kitchen chatting while they waited for the last sister, Martya, and her husband Enrique to arrive. Given how absentminded Enrique could be, who knew how long they'd be waiting, and Duv was damned if he was going to be sitting here in an embarrassed silence the whole time. "Will the two of you be staying on Beta, returning to Barrayar, or doing something else entirely?"
"We're not sure, yet," Mark said. "I know Kareen wants to spend some time here with her family. And we need to make sure Martya and Enrique are doing all right with MPVK Enterprises. And then Mother has invited us to Sergyar to visit them. And we really should go to Escobar to check on the Duronas. After that … well, it depends on what business opportunities I find."
"Do you have any potential fields in mind?" Duv asked. He'd never really gotten the proper business training he should have. His parents would have seen to it if his father hadn't been so fanatically devoted to the Komarran rebellion against their Barrayaran conquerors that he spent virtually the family's entire fortune on it (including Mark's creation and training). Still, any child of the Komarran elite knew at least a little.
"Not really," Mark said. "I'm more management type, myself. I figure out a niche or a possibility and hire somebody good at that particular thing to do the actual work. For most startups, the problem isn't expertise in the field, it's funding and business acumen. I've got the money and the business skills. Kareen has the people skills. The rest is just keeping an eye out for potential opportunities. People with good ideas, markets that are underdeveloped, things like that. Why, are you looking for an investment potential?"
"Not specifically," Duv said with a shrug. "Delia and I live quite well on my ImpSec pay." Kareen and Martya both were very well off from their investment into MPVK Enterprises a few years earlier, and the changing distribution of money in the family had caused some interesting changes in the family's relations.
"Congratulations on your promotion, by the way," Mark said, beaming.
"Thank you," Duv said dryly. They shared a look; Duv's father Ser Galen would be rolling in his grave, which did not displease either of them. As a Komarran, Duv (then David Galen) had joined the Barrayaran military to make a point; he'd never dreamed he'd be able to make a career of it, much less rise to his present exalted position of commanding an ImpSec department. At this point, there wasn't much farther he could go; promotions were mostly a matter for show and pay increases. "I'm sure being a known friend of Lord Vorkosigan and brother-in-law to the second Vorkosigan brother didn't hurt."
Mark shrugged. "Nepotism is the Barrayaran way, after all. I confess, as long as those who benefit from it are competent, I really don't see what's wrong. It's an odd overlap of Jacksonian and Barrayaran cultures that made my professors shudder."
"I can imagine," Duv said. "But they do have a point. It's the Komarran way, too, what with the oligarchs—if Komarr's system defense forces and government hadn't been run by rampantly incompetent cronies, we might have had a chance when Barrayar's invasion fleet showed up." He paused, remembering his father's occasional rant on the subject. It hadn't been until years later, after he'd believed his father and older brother dead, that Duv had realized that his father's plans to rebuild the system just as it had been would simply reproduce the weaknesses Barrayar had so easily exploited. "Barrayar's main economic problem is that the old Vor system is breaking down, and nothing has really come in to replace it."
"How do you mean?" Mark asked.
"Well, you can tell a lot about a society by the expectations it has of its elite," Duv said, warming to his subject. History and sociology weren't subjects he often got to talk about, but they were still his first love. "On Barrayar, that's the Vor. In the Time of Isolation, the expectation was that the oldest son would go into the military, and the second son would stay at home managing things until the eldest's service was done and he came home to take over. Actually, that was the pattern for Barrayar in general, which then gave the counts a large supply of loyal people, since the best jobs and farmland and such went to the first sons who'd served in the military alongside the Count's heir. Those who survived, anyway.
"It worked pretty well back in the Time of Isolation. Each district had a strong military force, which doubled as a large pool of unskilled labor for basic slash-and-burn terraforming or building projects and such when the District wasn't at war. And you had the younger sons back at home learning their trades, with the Vor learning to manage the District. Even after the oldest son retired from active service and became Count, he usually focused on commanding his Armsmen and dealing with his brother counts, leaving a lot of the day to day running of the district to his younger brother, who was better qualified, after all. Granted, it was nepotism, but I think it was a practical kind of nepotism. Barrayar's ecology and economy were too harsh for the kind of 'Vor Bore' drones and town clowns you get nowadays. Even at the top levels, they couldn't afford people who didn't pull their weight." That was another huge difference between the Barrayaran Vor and the Komarran Oligarchy. By the end of their time ruling the planet, the major families had only needed a few competent people to run the family interests, allowing the rest to live off the proceeds. That had changed, after the Barrayarans had appropriated all tariffs to their own coffers and repurposed much of Komarr's industry to Barrayar's needs, not to mention confiscating large chunks of the family fortunes of those who'd followed Ser Galen into open revolt.
"So what changed?" Mark asked.
Duv blinked and pulled his mind back to Barrayar's situation. "The problem was that as galactic technology and knowledge started flooding in, that kind of apprenticeship system didn't work anymore—there simply weren't people in the District the second son could learn from. This was particularly true after the Cetas left—in those districts that didn't resist as much, they actually did quite a bit of infrastructure modernization, which the Vor then had to figure out how to deal with. They didn't have the skills—they'd been off fighting, and the Cetas wouldn't have trusted them to run things anyway—so the real management got left in the hands of the proles the Cetagandans had trained, while the Vor 'lords' got sinecures and didn't really run things any more. To really run things, those Vor lords would have needed to be sent offworld to school, but few could afford that. Those who could didn't want to be contaminated by offworld ideas."
Duv shook his head. "The period just after the First Cetagandan War was very xenophobic. By the time that changed, you had a whole class of Vor who lived off rents for properties and businesses and such that they had no clue how to manage anymore." Duv realized he was lecturing and stopped, drinking his coffee and studying Mark. Just because Duv thought the subject fascinating didn’t mean Mark did.
"Y'know, I'd heard Miles call you 'Doctor Professor Galeni,' but this is the first time I've seen it," Mark said, settling back into his chair with a chuckle.
"I'm sorry if it was a little much," Duv said.
Mark waved a hand. "No, no, I enjoy hearing people talk about things they're experts on, and I expect that the other things you're an expert on, you can't really talk about."
Duv nodded. Learning to keep silent had been a necessity in his military training, a skill which ImpSec had been happy to develop.
"Listening to enthusiastic people is how I find projects to finance," Mark said.
"Yes, but I have a job, thank you," Duv said. "One that I am both very good at, and enjoy. It's satisfying to know that I am making a difference for my home planet—both of them." He smiled. "Although, if you were ever to look for a project that would have cultural returns rather than economic ones, I know several historians and archaeologists who would weep for joy over the chance to catalogue the Vorkosigan attics."
"I shall keep that in mind," Mark said. "But returning to what you said about the Vor and nepotism and the development of the town clown drones, I hadn't realized it was that bad. After all, it's not exactly what happened to the Vorkosigans."
"No," Duv said. "But then, between the Cetagandans and Mad Yuri and the Pretendership, the Vorkosigans haven't had any second sons or cousins for three generations. And the Cetagandans flattened most of the District because it was some of the most die-hard rebels, so they didn't come out with factories and shuttleports and such. The Vorkosigans have continued the pattern of eldest sent to the military, but they've had no one trained to run the District. Miles is home now more than his father and grandfather before him were, to my understanding, but Miles is still away quite a bit for political reasons—and Miles' education was all focused on his military career, with very little about the day-to-day running of the district. His choice of a bride was very canny, even leaving aside all emotional considerations. Lady Vorkosigan is already beginning to have a large impact on the terraforming and agricultural efforts in the District. As is your MPVK Enterprises and the Bug Butter project."
"So, that's actually fairly traditional of me?" Mark asked, rubbing his jowls. "Starting a business down in the District, I mean."
"Well, sort of," Duv said. "Traditionally, it was more managing farms and terraforming and the occasional cottage industry, not—bug butter. But the principle is the same, yes." He hesitated a moment. Mark had had a significant amount of therapy, and besides, Duv was tired of ignoring the elephant in the room. "Actually, now that your training is done, if you stay in the District and concentrate on its development.…" He gave mark the kind of bland smile that ImpSec cultivated in its agents. "One could make the argument that Ser Galen's commissioning of your creation was one of the best things that's happened to the District in some time."
"Wouldn't he just love to hear that," Mark said, returning the smile. It was sharp, a preditor's smile that reminded Duv that Mark had, after all, been trained as an assassin.
"It can join the many things he would … not approve," Duv said.
"Well!" Mark said. "I don't think Kareen and I will be making a permanent residence here on Barrayar, but I will definitely keep my eyes open for investment and business opportunities in the Vorkosigan district."
"Any way I can get you to do the same for my District?" Dono asked. Duv looked up to see him standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Drou and Delia stood behind him. "Overall, we're doing well, but given the … eccentricities of my predecessor and various of my cousins, well," he shrugged.
"No promises, but I'll see if anything comes up," Mark said, hedging.
"Speaking of nepotism," Duv said.
Mark shrugged. "This is the positive kind of nepotism, I think. Besides, it'll make Kareen happy."
"Now, we're here to catch up, not talk about business," Drou said.
Duv rather thought that for Mark, talking about business was catching up, but saw no point in mentioning it.
The doorbell rang and the front door opened. Martya stuck her head in the door. "Hi! Sorry we're late, something came up." She entered, dragging Enrique behind her. "Oh! Kareen, it's so good to see you!" she said, catching sight of her sister. Duv stood back out of the way and watched the family reunion. Mark joined him in the corner.
This was the hard part about marrying into the Koudelka family, Duv thought. They were all lovely people, but there were so many of them when they all got together. And they were so loud, and cheerful. It was so unlike anything from his own experience of family. But it came with marrying Delia.
"Do you ever get used to it?" Mark asked.
Duv smiled. "A little. Eventually."