It was just...not, by any stretch of the imagination, Captain Korsakoff's day. Or even his year. But the icing on the proverbial Winterfair tart came when an entire bloody fleet just suddenly appeared in Sergyar's general vicinity, thousands of kilometers from the nearest wormhole jump. It wasn't the Cetas, thank God; that much was clear from the very start.
Quite frankly, most of their ships made a Barrayaran flagship look like a luxury cruiseliner. The Cetas would never stoop so low.
It took approximately forty-seven seconds for the strange fleet to notice that they hadn't randomly materialized in entirely unoccupied space. Unfortunately, their radio transmissions were either really well scrambled, or they were speaking a language the likes of which their translation programs had never heard. Or, Captain Korsakoff reflected bleakly, both.
Soon enough it appeared that they were receiving an official hail from what must have been the foreign flagship. At that point it became abundantly clear that yes, their language was totally incomprehensible, and Captain Korsakoff contemplated the most efficacious manner of dispensing of himself in an honorable fashion.
These could be aliens, for all he knew, and it was taking his ImpSec man on board a distressingly long time to determine whether the MASSIVE FOREIGN BATTLESHIP was friend or foe.
That was about the time that young Lt. Vormontaine wandered by, cocked his head, and commented, "Hey, you know what that kind of sounds like? Sounds like those Greekie hicks who live out near the Black Escarpment on South Continent."
At which point the ever-astute ImpSec man immediately demanded that Captain Korsakoff produce one of said Greekie hicks from the hills right that second.
The fates, it seemed, chose that moment to smile on the good Captain, because his ever-discreet ensign piped up and remarked that he thought Sgt. Coutsoubous was, (cough), one of those, erm, Barrayarans of Greek heritage.
The sergeant, much to Korsakoff's dismay, listened carefully when he was brought to the bridge, then scratched his head and said, "Yeah, it sorta sounds like my Great-Gran when she was having one of her fits."
At that point both communications teams were approaching the event horizon in terms of frustration, and the last thing Korsakoff wanted was to start an interspecies war because something got lost in translation.
And then they all felt like enormous idiots because Coutsoubous said, "Why don't you just get Vorquentine up here? Isn't that what t' linguist is for?"
Because, yes, due to the Greekie hicks, and the Frenchies, and the Ruskies, etc etc, Captain Korsakoff's ship was indeed blessed with its very own linguist. He hadn't been of much use so far, so the captain tended to try to forget his existence.
"Well..." Lt. Vorquentine said when they'd finally unearthed him from under his pile of diplomatic manuscripts, "it definitely has its origin among the ancient Earth languages of Greece, but..."
"But?" Korsakoff asked, sinking feeling sinking deeper.
"Well, it's obviously evolved to a great degree since then."
"And, what? And nothing."
"But what are they saying?"
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, YOU DON'T KNOW? How can you NOT KNOW?" Emperor Gregor was a just and good ruler - certainly nothing like the rumors Korsakoff had heard about his grandfather - but even in his equanimity he was sure to notice a little thing like an entire flagship being blown to smithereens by hostile aliens.
"Maybe because the language diverged, at a guess, tens of thousands of years ago? Relax, Captain, just give me some time with the comconsole and I'll see what I can come up with."
Lt. Vorquentine pulled up the comconsole's database of the Greek language as it existed on Barrayar, along with all other known variations of the language, including its ancient Earther origins. He combined that with an analysis vector of the increasingly-panicked transmissions coming through on the radio, and within the hour he had something like a rough translation program that he thought might work. He fervently hoped that he wasn't going to accidentally insult anyone's dead ancestors, or give an enthusiastic endorsement for fried goat testicle. Neither of those, he cringed to remember, had been particularly pleasant linguistic experiences, snafu-wise.
"Your transmission is acknowledged. Please retransmit, we are having difficulty translating from your language. Repeat, please retransmit. Over."
The impromptu comconsole program spit out something that sounded roughly similar to the gibberish that had been coming through the radios for well over an hour.
For a very brief moment, there was a lull, a hush. All radio transmission stopped. Everyone on the bridge stopped breathing.
"Oh, by the lords of Kobol, you can understand me!" The voice, once isolated from the other transmissions clogging the frequencies, was clear and rich and, to everyone's dismay, clearly female.
Lt. Vorquentine would wager that everyone on the bridge was trying very hard not to blanch at the idea of women in the armed services, sure that the Vicereine would be able to detect it, thousands of kilometers below though she was.
"Affirmative," Lt. Vorquentine answered, pleased that his work had yielded fruitage. "Please state your destination and, erm, not to put too fine a point on it, but who the hell are you people?"
The voice laughed, genuinely delighted. There was some sort of background noise, like other voices being equally delighted. "This is Petty Officer Dualla of the Battlestar Galactica. We..." she hesitated, as though receiving instructions. "We're on a heading for, well, Earth."
Vorquentine shrugged at Captain Korsakoff. "Well," he said lightly, "either you've come from a very long way off, or you got spectacularly lost. You're several dozen wormhole jumps from Earth. What is that, Captain, about two months' travel?"
Suddenly there was silence on the other end of the line. "You...you mean..."
"You're in orbit above Sergyar at the moment," he supplied helpfully. "Colony of Barrayar."
"Sir, he, he says...here, let me put it on speaker. I'm sorry, could you, could you repeat what you said about Earth?"
Vorquentine frowned. "You're still quite a ways off. Several dozen wormhole jumps, about two months' travel."
The background noise was suddenly back with a vengeance, becoming nearly a roar.
Petty Officer Dualla's voice came over the waves once more. "I don't believe it. I don't believe it's true. Thank the gods."
She sounded as though she was crying.
Roslin stared out the window at the planet that Colonial One and the Galactica were now orbiting. Sergyar.
Incredibly, impossibly, they were children of Earth. Anyone could lead them to Earth, now. They could book passage aboard a passenger cruiser.
From what Dr. Baltar said, their wormhole jumps appear to work quite differently from the fleet's FTL drives, the distances much farther. He descended into a babble of astrophysics that made her head hurt. The gist of it, from what she could tell: they wouldn't have made it on their own.
So she hadn't led them to Earth after all. Rather, whether by sheer dumb luck or the influence of the gods, they'd dropped out of an FTL jump in the territory of humans who not only wanted to help them, they also had the means to do so.
Not Earth. But fracking close enough, as far as Roslin was concerned.
Billy's voice brought her head out of the clouds. "Madam President? Your escort is here."
Everything was not quite back to normal following the Galactica's misadventure in martial law. But Commander Adama was sending Captain Apollo as the (very closely-supervised) leader of Roslin's own personal watchdog group, since Tigh was confined to quarters at the Quorum's insistence, and Adama was not yet well enough to make the trip. It was all, she was sure, a move to solidify the civilian fleet's confidence in the rule of law. Nor, Roslin suspected, was Adama quite comfortable leaving his ship in Apollo's hands.
"Madam President?" Billy asked.
"Yes, of course," she said. She really had nothing to bring with her, but she wished for something to keep her hands occupied. It had been a long time since anyone on the Twelve Colonies had to meet with foreign governments.
Billy looked uncomfortable, not just with the situation but specifically in her presence. She'd tried to tell Billy that she didn't blame him, that he'd followed the dictates of his conscience and she'd never fault him for that. But she did wonder if she'd failed to convince him because she wasn't convinced herself.
Surely Billy had done them all a favor, somehow managed, with Dee's help, to orchestrate this uneasy detente between civilian and military leadership. The price for this separate peace was her chamalla extract, but that was a consequence she had to accept. It had been inappropriate to play on Lt. Thrace's beliefs to further her own end, no matter if she was successful or not. She should have been more persuasive with Commander Adama. At least, under Doc Cottle's supervision, the dementia had been a side effect of detox and not a permanent disability.
Besides, it had cost Adama as well. Roslin suspected she did not truly know how much.
It didn't matter, in the end. She gave Billy a tight smile and went out to meet her success.
Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, Countess, Vicereine of Sergyar, defeater of psychopaths and all-around optimist, was perhaps a little nervous perusing the manifest of guests coming down from -- she checked the first page again -- the Fleet of Refugees of the Colonies of Kobol.
There was the first and most obvious question of what exactly they were seeking refuge from. The second consideration was the prodigious number of military -- or, she supposed, quasi-military, she couldn't be certain -- personnel on the manifest. Aral's ImpSec man wasn't happy, but as that was evidently his permanent state of being, and the guests had been vetted as thoroughly as possible under the circumstance, Cordelia wasn't overly-concerned about that.
She just hoped that their respective militaries could learn to, well, play nice with one another.
And that the poor benighted Barrayaran boys didn't continue to be bowled over by the sight of a woman in uniform.
The third, and in some ways the most pressing, concern was whether or not that damned minion would have the box of translation earbugs here on time. She didn't relish the thought of trying to negotiate a treaty via smiles and hand gestures. They could be so distressingly cultural, after all.
The fourth consideration was whether Aral would arrive back in time from his meeting with the agricultural council out on the East Plateau, but that didn't concern Cordelia much. She could do just fine without him if need be.
Armsman Esterhazy knocked at the door of her private office. "M'lady? They're arriving."
And no earbugs. Sighing, Cordelia rose, brushed the worst wrinkles out of her skirts and went to meet them in the official Receiving Room.
The guards insisted upon by the ImpSec man were armed with stunners only, much to his dismay. They were also nicely decorative, decked out in dress red and blue, trying their best to imitate large pieces of furniture. The gathering was small and relatively private, for one indomitable reason: ImpSec was trying to keep the whole affair as quiet as possible under the circumstances.
Which, admittedly, was not very.
A stoic captain in the security forces did his best impression of Gregor's majordomo, and managed to achieve Very Imperial Indeed. Barrayarans certainly did love their show, and being that Sergyar was still in many ways a frontier, they didn't get it very often. So their people had done their best to scrabble together a little ceremony for the occasion.
Even if the exchange about to take place would have made old Ezar Vorbarra roll over in his grave, if he believed in such things.
The majordomo took a deep breath and announced, "President Laura Roslin, sovereign of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol."
Cordelia winced inwardly. How very Barrayaran. Perhaps the lack of earbugs was a blessing for the moment.
"Captain Lee Adama of the Battlestar Galactica," the majordomo carried on undaunted. "Vice President Dr. Gaius Baltar. Lt. Kara Thrace. Lieuten..." He droned on as the party filed in, the first several after the president looking distinctly uncomfortable.
Cordelia flashed a friendly smile at President Roslin and extended her hand. "Cordelia Vorkosigan," she said brightly, just a hint of apology in her tone.
President Roslin smiled back, her eyes amused, and Cordelia decided they would get along very well.
The frantic minion shot through a side door and stumbled to a halt at Cordelia's side. "The earbugs, m'lady, er, Vicereine." He shoved the box at Cordelia and adjusted his sweaty collar with one shaking finger.
"Thank you, Ensign Jorgensen." She removed two bugs from the box and fit one neatly into her ear. The other she handed to President Roslin. "Please pass these around to the others, Ensign."
Roslin had finished inserting her earbug. Cordelia could see the moment it began to work, translating her directive into something Roslin could understand.
"Oh, my. That's rather startling, isn't it?"
"Sort of like an entire fleet suddenly appearing in our airspace," Cordelia answered with a grin.
"It was almost as traumatic for us, I assure you. Billy said that Petty Officer Dualla nearly broke down into hysterics afterward."
"I can imagine," Cordelia said, because it seemed like the thing to say.
Now that everyone was literally on speaking terms, Cordelia was going to suggest they retire to the conference room and begin the meeting in earnest. But then the side door opened again, and in walked Aral.
She smiled at him fondly and was about to carry out the introductions when Aral stopped short and looked back and forth between Cordelia and Roslin. A twitch of the majordomo's head sent the ensign scurrying over with an earbug.
"Aral?" Cordelia asked.
"Now that," he said, shaking his head as he inserted the earbug, "is just damned disconcerting."
Captain Korsakoff, Lt. Vorquentine, and several other advisors filed in behind Aral, all evidently having waited until he arrived. They must not have imagined that the proceedings could possibly begin without him. Korsakoff, catching the end of Aral's observation, did a double take and then positively twitched.
Roslin raised her eyebrows, confused. After a significant pause, from behind Roslin the one introduced as Captain Adama dissolved into apparently helpless laughter.
Cordelia took another look at Roslin. She was shorter, and Cordelia's hair was brighter, but. Well.
Perhaps there was a slight resemblance.
"Well," Cordelia said, rubbing her hands together gleefully, "I suggest we convene to the conference room and get underway."
Much later that evening, unfortunately, a significantly less jovial spirit reigned in Aral and Cordelia's private sitting room.
Cordelia sighed and gripped Aral's hand. "Are you going back to Barrayar with them?"
Aral squeezed back. "I'm tempted to send you. Captain."
Cordelia couldn't help but grin briefly. "Did you see the look on Lt. Thrace's face when she found out there are no women in Barrayar's military?"
"I thought she was going to punch Captain Korsakoff."
"I wouldn't have blamed her one bit. Though it may have been bad for diplomacy." Tiredly, Aral returned her smile, but said nothing. After a moment, she asked, "How detailed did you get in your message to Gregor?"
"Pretty damn detailed. It's going to be hell around here, you know, until we can determine which of them are Cylons."
"How long does it take to vet 50,000 people?" Cordelia asked bleakly.
"That," Aral said, gritting his teeth, "depends on whether these Cylons respond to fast-penta." He sighed. "We've got a long road ahead of us, dear Captain. It seems like they never end."
Cordelia rose and stretched, gazing at him fondly. "Then we'd better get a decent night's sleep if we're to begin the journey." She offered Aral her hand, and he took it.
It had been a long day in a string of particularly long days, but it wasn't nearly over yet. Captain Adama saluted his father and subsided into a barely-maintained position of attention at the old man's bedside.
"Sit down, son. You look like you're about to fall asleep on your feet."
Lee collapsed gratefully into a chair and said, "It wouldn't be the first time, sir."
"All the same," his father answered. "Well?"
"They've offered us temporary asylum until a more permanent solution can be worked out. They're concerned about the Cylons, of course."
"They'd have to be fools not be concerned."
"Count Vorkosigan proposes to come up to Galactica tomorrow to discuss security measures. They have...resources we don't."
Adama snorted. "Count. Bunch of damned imperialists."
Lee gave him a tight smile. "It's...strange. They have a system of government that seems to be based almost entirely on personal loyalty." Lee paused long enough to put away the distracting thought that it wasn't so different from how everyone he knew had been acting lately. It wasn't an idea he wanted to examine too closely. "On the bright side," he continued, "they do seem to have respect for the military institution. Countess Vorkosigan described them as 'military-mad,' which only seemed to make all the military personnel in the room uncomfortable. Her husband included. You, er, might want to avoid her in an official capacity for the time being. I gather that she's an offworlder, and views orders as suggestions rather than imperatives."
Adama glared. "That won't be any different from anyone else on this damned ship," he growled.
Lee's brows shot up, and he looked at his hands. Yes, all right, that was a fair shot. "I didn't..."
His father waved a weary hand. "Don't let's get into this now. It may not be relevant much longer anyway. I can't see any society with half a sense of self-preservation allowing a foreign government's forces to remain intact while under asylum."
Lee cleared his throat. "The President stood up for us, sir. She insisted that for the moment, our government and our military had to stay banded together. To protect the interests of our people. The jury's still out, but she made an eloquent case."
"Yes, I know all about Roslin's eloquent cases," he answered bitterly. "I don't trust a damn thing that woman says. The only thing that made it prudent to allow her back in power was the threat of civil war. She used it as a tool against me, and I don't take kindly to that." He took a deep breath. "She undermined the safety of the fleet, Lee."
"Yes, sir." Lee sighed. "I know, sir." There was a lot more he could say -- that whatever the President's actions, arresting her under those circumstances had been inappropriate as well as illegal. That they now had the benefit of hindsight, but at the time sending Boomer with the Raptor rather than Starbuck might have seemed like a good plan. That nothing was going to be accomplished when people didn't listen to each other.
That everything went to hell when he was unconscious and they're all fracking lucky it didn't turn out worse.
On the other hand, if Lee was being honest he had to acknowledge that the plan to send Kara back to Caprica was fracked, not to mention (he now knew) drug-induced. Whether it had worked or not was currently a matter of debate.
Either way, it was time to make nice and present a united front to these Barrayarans, who'd taken the news of the looming Cylon army with grim determination.
His father hadn't said anything at Lee's concession, so Lee looked him in the eye and said, "For the time being, I'm willing to say that the Barrayarans would be useful allies at the very minimum."
Adama raised one brow in acknowledgment. "Well, let's get them up here tomorrow."
Lee stood to leave, to head back to his rack from some blessed, blessed sleep. He saluted his father and said, "Yes, sir." Hesitating, he followed this with, "Dad -- I think our luck may be changing."
His father set his jaw. "Luck," he said tiredly, "hasn't got much to do with it."
It was a lovely spring day in Vorbarr Sultana. Ekaterin had left early that morning, breathless and happy, to meet with a client. Miles was playing in the Barrayaran garden with Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia when Pym appeared at his elbow with a discreet cough and the message that there was an urgent comconsole call for him in his chambers.
Miles twitched a brow in response. He told the children not to terrorize Pym while he took care of some Auditorial business, and trooped on into the house.
The face waiting less than patiently on the other end of the comconsole was Gregor's secretary. He told Miles to wait for the Emperor and the screen faded to a tasteful holding message.
Gregor looked agitated when he appeared on the screen. "Lord Vorkosigan. I just received a message from your-father-the-Viceroy and I think you'd better get over to the Residence as soon as possible. I'd rather not discuss...this matter...over the comconsole."
Miles fought back alarm. "A message from my father? Is anything wrong? Not -- Mother...?" His mother was younger than his father and Betan and was healthy enough to outlast them all. With the count's erstwhile heart trouble, he'd never expected...
"Don't panic yourself into a seizure, Miles. Your parents are both fine." He scowled grimly. "It's the rest of us I'm worried about."
"If that comment was calculated to keep me from panicking, you might want to rethink your phrasing."
Gregor dismissed this brotherly criticism with a flick of his eyelid. "How soon can you be here?"
"Ekaterin's working and my armsmen are occupied. I'll have to find someone to watch the children. Maybe Drou--"
"Bring them. If Laisa won't make time to play with them, I'll never believe it."
"Yes, Sire. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
They took the count's big aircar rather than the groundcar, with Pym at the controls. Vorkosigan House was not far from the Residence, and they made it in more like twelve minutes. Laisa met them, smiling down on the young toddlers who were already nearly too big for Miles to carry. Laisa hitched one onto each of her generous hips and said, "Aunt Laisa thinks we should have cookies in the garden. How does that sound?"
The children had found nothing unusual in the first place about dropping playtime with Da to go flying through the air. It was just the kind of thing that happened at Vorkosigan House. Cookies were almost overkill.
"Please don't stuff my children with sugar just in time to give them back," Miles said, tired just thinking about it. "They're hyperactive enough as it is."
Laisa flashed him a tight smile, concern pinching the corners of her eyes. "I'm told you deserve it," she answered, playing along. "Besides, that's what aunts are for."
Miles had a sudden, overwhelming urge to kiss each of his children before he went in to meet with Gregor. "Just you wait," he called to Laisa as they trailed off. "Your turn will be here before you know it, and I have Ma Kosti."
The Vorbarra senior armsman shepherded him insistently through the door to Gregor's private office. Gregor was watching as the door opened.
"Good afternoon, Lord Vorkosigan. Have a seat -- we're in for a long day." He offered tea, which Miles gratefully accepted, thinking about the lunch they had been about to go in for. Then Gregor spread the intelligence sent by his father via tightbeam, and Miles forgot all about everything else.
They pored over the flimsies in silence, broken only to bring out a salient point, or when Gregor replayed the short holovid message Count Vorkosigan had included with the transmission. Miles' heart clutched; his father looked old and weary.
He came to the end of the final brief and sat for a moment listening; to the muffled sounds of the busy Imperial Residence, to a clock ticking in the corner, and finally to the acids eating way at his stomach lining. Gregor pressed a button and requested some supper be brought in.
"Well," said Miles. "You've succeeded in rendering me speechless."
"If I'd known that's all it would take."
"I assume you've already contacted Komarr, Beta Colony, Escobar, Eta Ceta..."
"...the rest of the planets in the Hegen Hub, yes. We have also sent transmissions to Earth and other allies farther out of the way. General Allegre also has an ImpSec man contacting Baron Fell." Miles' brows shot up; by way of explanation, Gregor added, "We may need the weaponry."
Miles conceded the point.
"I needed you here for two reasons, Miles. No, three reasons. The first is that I would speak with you about it no matter what. The second is that I also want to bring in the Dendarii Mercenaries."
"They're well-trained, sire."
"Yes. But I'm going to have to request Admiral Quinn come to Barrayar."
Miles clenched his teeth and avoided choking, despite knowing it was coming. "You didn't just ask me here to find out if I was okay with my old girlfriend visiting Barrayar on urgent business."
"No. But I thought perhaps you might like to give Ekaterin some warning."
"Ekaterin will be fine. It's half of Vorbarr Sultana we may want to give warning."
Gregor nodded, satisfied. "The third reason I asked you here is on Auditorial business."
"I can't imagine you'd ask me to substantiate the veracity of these claims. If someone wanted to pull a trick on Barrayar, it seems like a damned elaborate scheme, sire. We--"
Gregor cut him off with the wave of a hand. "That's what ImpSec analysts are for, Miles." He pushed one particular stack of flimsies back across the desk, to sit in front of Miles. "There are eight unidentified Cylons hiding in the fleet from Kobol. I want you to find them. I can't do anything with these refugees until we do."
Miles swallowed, and nodded. "And after that? Refuge on Sergyar, like my parents recommend? Do you think that's wise, Sire?" He took the stack of flimsies and clutched them tightly.
Gregor sighed. "I don't know Miles. Let's see what happens."
An armsman knocked discreetly on the door, and informed Emperor Gregor and Lord Vorkosigan that Lady Vorkosigan had arrived, and Empress Laisa required the Emperor's company in the garden for supper.
Miles' stomach growled again, loudly, and they gratefully retreated to the cozy outdoor dining area that Laisa particularly favored. Miles clutched Ekaterin's hand hard, and by the way she clutched back he could tell that Laisa had been doing some conferencing of her own. She buried her nose in Helen's soft hair, and Miles took Aral Alexander from Laisa.
They sat down and awaited their meal, but their thoughts were on something else entirely.
The delegation from Sergyar was due to arrive at 0900 hours. Commander Adama rose early, unable to sleep. The gunshot wounds still necessitated what he considered an excess of bedrest.
He'd opted to hold the conference in his quarters rather than in the war room. He wasn't keen on letting these people see too much of the operations and capabilities of his ship, not just yet at least. True allies would be a boon at this juncture, but he wasn't about the trust an x-factor like that. They'd all trusted that the Cylons wouldn't succeed in destroying humanity in one blow. He had personally trusted Roslin not to make a fractured mess of his fleet, and look how that turned out.
Adama called Tigh's quarters at 0700 and told him that Ellen had half an hour to vacate the room. Just because the fracking Quorum of Twelve had gone for Tigh's throat didn't mean he was about to stop consulting his XO.
"What the hell's going on?" Tigh growled when Adama arrived. Ellen was nowhere to be seen. Tigh was in uniform but he looked rumpled, sleep-deprived.
"A delegation from the Barrayaran army is arriving at 0900 hours to discuss security measures. It was Lee's...recommendation."
"How do we know this isn't all an elaborate Cylon trick?"
Adama frowned. "There were more than twelve people at the meeting yesterday, by all reports."
"And how do we know that there really are only twelve Cylon models?"
"We don't." Adama handed over a folder of the compiled reports from the previous day. "That's why they'll be under guard at all times. This is everything we have so far. I'd like you to sit in over the phone."
Tigh took the folder silently and began to peruse it. "Yes, sir."
It worried Adama how subdued Tigh was about being confined to quarters. He would have expected grousing at every turn.
Tigh saluted; Adama saluted back. He left Tigh's quarters and went to prepare for the meeting.
The meeting, however, got off to a less than auspicious start. They hadn't sent military advisors, they'd sent the Viceroy himself, who was introduced as "Count Vorkosigan, Viceroy of Sergyar." Adama's hackles went up immediately. If there was anything he liked less than interference from civilian government, it was interference from some backwards planet's aristocracy.
When Adama made a comment to that effect (more diplomatically, to be sure, but the essential idea remained unchanged) Vorkosigan did nothing but seem to give a kind of mental shrug. The others who'd come with him, however, whom Vorkosigan said were part of the Imperial Security agency -- they were another story. They said nothing, but glared at every Colonial Forces officer in the room with silent venom. Which was an awfully strange reaction to get from a bunch of glorified bodyguards.
In addition, Vorkosigan's wife had come up with him. She, much to Adama's surprise, stifled a laugh at his commentary.
Roslin arrived late. He hadn't wanted her in this meeting at all, but Lee suggested Dr. Baltar needed to be present for some reason that totally escaped Commander Adama, and he could hardly exclude the President while requiring the presence of the Vice President.
Baltar started with a run-down of what they knew about Cylon technology, both that they'd managed to gather themselves, and what they'd persuaded out of Boomer. Or rather, the Boomer who'd come back from Caprica with Starbuck. That Boomer said the one they'd known was a sleeper agent, and she wasn't surprised they hadn't been able to get much out of her.
They had photos of the known Cylon models, and rough descriptions of the others from Lt. Valerii. Unfortunately, she didn't have much of an aesthetic vocabulary and the descriptions could match any one of dozens of people in the fleet.
Adama rather thought they'd designed themselves that way.
Which was one of the sticking points of the whole meeting, actually. At one point the Vicereine frowned and said, "Who made the Cylons? Adama scowled. "We did."
"Pardon?" Vorkosigan asked.
"Humans did. They were meant to be robotic workers. Servants."
"No," the Vicereine said. "I meant, who made the human models?"
Silence. Adama looked around at all of his advisors, at Roslin, at Baltar. He could hear Tigh sputtering over the speakerphone.
"They say...they evolved," Adama said bitterly.
The Vicereine looked down at her briefing packet, troubled. "Robots don't just...evolve into humans, Commander."
"They aren't humans!" Tigh said over the phone. "They're fracking machines!"
The damned woman smiled thinly and said, "This says they believe they're called to action by God. A machine doesn't believe in God, Colonel." She looked down again and murmured, "I don't see how they could."
Into the silence that reigned, Vorkosigan explained, "Cordelia's something of a theist. You'll have to forgive her." This was obviously not meant as an insult, but rather as a private joke; he shot his wife a grin that she answered faintly.
"You have a religion, don't you?" she asked.
Adama gladly let Roslin field that one.
"Well, yes," she said. "But we believe...those who do believe, not everyone does...in a pantheon. The Twelve Lords of Kobol."
The Vicereine nodded and murmured, "I've never found there to be a practical difference."
All things considered, it was not the most confidence-inspiring moment of the entire meeting.
Still, nobody had to like them in order to realize the strategic benefits of an alliance. If the Colonial Fleet had made it here, the Cylons would come, it was simply a matter of when. And they wouldn't be pleased to see a new planet chockfull of unmassacred humans, so it was up to both parties to combine their forces and take them out once and for all.
As the meeting broke up, Adama unbent and offered them a tour of Galactica. The Vicereine's comment about God aside, it was doubtful they were untrustworthy enemies.
The Vicereine asked if they had any science department that she might explore, and expressed an interest in meeting some of the crew. Dr. Baltar made no secret of his surprise at her interest in science.
She didn't glare, but she did not smile, either. "I was an astrocartographer, in another life. Captain Naismith of the Betan Astronomical Survey."
Adama was surprised at that. "You're ex-military?"
"If you could call it that," Vorkosigan snorted. "You can't get Betans to all point their guns in the same direction, much less follow an order once in awhile."
But she wasn't able to come up with a retort before Dr. Baltar and Roslin led her away, Lee and a small detachment on their heels.
Adama personally escorted Vorkosigan on a tour of various areas of the ship, until finally they ended up in CIC.
Everything was business as usual for about five minutes, and then it all went to hell.
A loud klaxon went off and Gaeta said, voice tight with adrenaline, "DRADIS contact. Two Cylon Raiders, sir...no, four. No..." The alerts in CIC began to flash red.
Adama immediately looked to the tac screen, showing blips of red popping into existence at the far end of their range. Vorkosigan, bristling, stepped up beside him and began to examine the unfamiliar technology.
"Report, Lt. Gaeta."
"Sir, I make five Cylon raiders and two Heavy Raiders. It could be a patrol, sir, if they've begun making them more heavily-armed."
"Commander Adama, sir," said Dualla, "they'll be able to pick up in less than three minutes."
"Action stations," Adama ordered.
"Action stations, action stations," Dee began over the com. The CAP was a third of the way toward being within range; the first Viper shot out of the tubes twenty seconds later. On deck at the time, evidently.
"They'll never make it," one of the Marines said.
Vorkosigan spoke up. "They have to be destroyed before they can report back?" he guessed. Adama nodded, and Vorkosigan activated his personal com link. "Korsakoff, are you seeing this?"
Captain Korsakoff's voice came over Vorkosigan's link, tinny to Adama's ears. "Yes, Admiral. We're on our way."
"Good. Those Cylon ships must be taken out before they notice we're here, do you understand? No wormhole jump necessary, I hope we're all clear on that."
Two more Vipers and a Raptor exited Galactica and made for the Cylon invaders.
Over Vorkosigan's com link, the Barrayaran captain said, "All clear, sir. Three minutes till we're in range."
"It's got to be sooner than that, Korsakoff. They'll be gone by then."
"Bloody hell. Understood. Korsakoff over and out."
By the time Vorkosigan got finished calling in his calvary, the CAP was on the closest of the Cylon Raiders and the transmissions were coming back.
"All right, nuggets," came Starbuck's voice over the radio, "we've got to keep them too busy to jump back and squeal on us. We're going in tight, try to make it look good for the visitors, okay?"
It was strange to hear her out there again. Adama'd almost forgotten that she was back on CAP after returning from Caprica.
"Frack it, Hotdog, watch your fracking six!" "I'm pulling up, somebody cover me."
"That one was too close, Joker, don't make me kick your ass when this is through."
"Got one!" somebody shouted joyously, and sure enough, one of the red blips blipped out of existence.
Vorkosigan's com link activated again. "Viceroy, this is Captain Korsakoff. We're in range, but it's too hot out there. I'm not reading all of the ships as having the same energy signature."
Vorkosigan said, "Stand by, Captain Korsakoff." He turned to Adama. "Pull your people back."
"You've got to be kidding!" snapped Adama.
"I'm not kidding. Pull them back unless you want to see them caught in the crossfire."
"They know better than that. No way am I letting those Raiders relax for a minute! They'll be gone in a blink and before you know it the whole Cylon army will be bearing down on your precious planet!"
"They won't have time to escape. As soon as your people are clear, my people can take out the hostile ships."
Adama paused momentarily. "At this range?"
Adama took a deep breath and said, "Pull back, have them pull back."
Dee began transmitting the orders and two of the Vipers broke off from engaging one of the Heavy Raiders. They couldn't have been more than a couple seconds away when the Heavy Raider blinked off the DRADIS screen.
"Frack it, what happened! I thought you said they wouldn't have a chance to jump."
"Commander Adama, sir," said Lt. Gaeta. "I don't believe that's what happened."
And at that moment Hotdog confirmed it, with an awed exclamation of, "Frackin' ace! Did you see that? It just crumpled. Into nothing."
Adama looked to Vorkosigan. "How did they do that?"
"It's called an imploder lance," Vorkosigan said grimly. "Captain Korsakoff, you made remarkable time," he said into his com.
"We shut down the shields and boosted all reserve power to the weaponry, sir, since it didn't look like they had enough range to mount a counter-attack."
The other Heavy Raider and two more of the standard Raiders blinked out of existence, to a chorus of joyous whoops from the CAP. The last of the Vipers took out one of the two remaining Raiders, then peeled off into a retreat, only to be followed by the last Raider.
"Frack it." It was Starbuck. "I'm under fire. Does anybody have my six?"
But Korsakoff's ship picked it off without so much as a shrug. "The Prince Xav is happy to have your, erm, six, Lieutenant."
Kara laughed over the radio. "I don't have a frackin' idea what you just said, but I think I like the sound of it."
Adama gave the order to return to the ship, and all that was left was the cleanup. "Admiral?" he asked Vorkosigan.
"I'm retired," the Barrayaran answered. "Captain Korsakoff must have...reverted...in the heat."
"How the frack did you build a weapon with that kind of range?"
Vorkosigan looked Adama in the eye. "Our sworn enemies didn't disappear for fifty years."
Adama nodded, slowly. He'd known the Colonial Forces had gotten complacent. It was the reason they'd lost in the first place.
He held out his hand to the retired Admiral. "I'd be happy to be your ally, sir."
Vorkosigan shook. "And I, yours. That was some impressive flying your pilots did. Unfortunately, while I might be the Voice of the Emperor on Sergyar, I am not the one who ultimately gets to decide."
They made arrangements for a delegation to depart for Barrayar three days hence.
"And this," Ivan said, feeling a remarkable sense of deja vu, "is where my father was murdered during the Vordarian Pretendership."
"What, you put up a plaque?"
He sighed. "M' mother did." He should have known better than to volunteer to squire the female lieutenant around town. She was attractive enough, in her own athletic way, though not precisely his type. But, Christ, once you got to know her she was enough to make Miles' inimitable Quinn look like a chaste Barrayaran maiden.
She'd threatened to punch him if he offered her his arm one more time, and Ivan fervently doubted that hers was an empty threat.
"Your mother put up a plaque in the middle of the fracking street to mark the spot where your father got his brains blown out."
"It was a nerve disruptor, thanks, and it's embedded," he pointed out. "It's not as though it's diverting traffic."
Lt. Thrace laughed. "Sorry, it's just that I've never heard of anything quite that pointlessly dramatic. And I've known Lee Adama for years."
Ivan shrugged. "Look, are you hungry? There are a few first-rate restaurants around here. This whole district has been redeveloped -- thirty years ago it was a slum."
"Is that supposed to impress me? Believe me, you haven't seen 'slum' until you've seen the streets of your city crumbling from a nuclear bomb."
Ivan bristled. She'd been doing this all afternoon, making snide comments designed to one-up him in -- well, essentially everything. "We have that too," he said defensively. "Vorkosigan Vashnoi, the capital of my cousin Miles' district, was completely obliterated by nukes 80 years ago. It still glows in the dark."
"Multiply that times a thousand and you have some idea of what we've been through, okay?"
Ivan gritted his teeth. "I'm not trying to make it sound as though you haven't all been through a terrible experience. I've been in combat, too, you know. I'm trying to offer you lunch at one of Vorbarr Sultana's finest establishments, but if you'd rather have a punching bag, we can go back to the gym at the HQ and I can get you a better one than I make."
Thrace said nothing for a moment, and then she laughed in his face. Typical. "You're not all bad, Captain Vorpatril. Okay, let's eat."
Ivan decided now was not the time to point out that his correct mode of address, if they were being really picky about that kind of thing, was Captain Lord Vorpatril. He liked his nuts just the way they were, thanks.
They made their slightly less-hostile way a few blocks over to one of his favorite restaurants. He'd debated taking her to the place his mother favored, when he'd volunteered for this whole job (and what was that about, anyway? He never volunteered for anything, and he was beginning to remember why) but as he'd realized about thirty seconds in, that would have been a terrible idea.
He realized his mistake in bringing her to his favorite place soon enough, when the waitress there -- one of the older ones who treated him like a son, not the younger ones who flirted with him mercilessly -- came over to take their order, and started clucking at him. "Oh, Lord Vorpatril, another young lady? Aren't you ever going to settle down?"
Lt. Thrace choked on a gulp of water, so he was spared her snarky commentary for the moment. He smiled suavely at the waitress and said, "Not if I can help it, madam. Besides, Lt. Thrace and I are out on business."
The waitress clucked again, and Ivan rapidly ordered his favorite dish, the beef with the most delicious glaze he'd ever tasted outside of Miles' cook's kitchen. Thrace took one look at the menu and snorted, rolling her eyes.
"Why don't you order for me?" she sneered.
Ivan was startled by that for a moment, until he realized that she probably couldn't read the menu. Translation bugs weren't that good -- not yet, anyway.
"Do you eat meat?" he asked, mindful of a few of the more...forceful young ladies he'd gone out with, university students mostly, who insisted that eating meat was cruelty to animals, and just rolled their eyes when he pointed out that most of this meat was grown in a vat.
She smiled tightly. "When I can get it."
Ivan looked at the waitress. "Make that two, please. And, er, wine?"
He looked questioningly at Thrace, who said, "Gods, yes."
"A bottle of wine. Pick something that goes with the beef," he said, smiling at the waitress, because he rather thought Thrace would laugh at him if he scrutinized the wine list.
They made pointless small talk while they waited for their meals to arrive, and drank enough wine that Ivan started to feel much more relaxed about the whole scenario.
Their meals came, and Ivan tucked into his immediately. Breakfast seemed a long ways off at this juncture. So he didn't even notice Thrace until she started making positively obscene noises from her side of the table.
He glanced up and saw a look of utter bliss on her face, one that froze his fork on the way to his mouth. Christ, he hadn't been attracted to her before, but anybody who looked like that just from eating...
He coughed. "Having fun molesting your beef, Thrace?" Yes. Good. That was the way to go. Otherwise he'd be sure to lose at least one of the mechanisms necessary for him to have children one of these days.
"You have no idea how long it's been since I've had a meal like this," she said, words muffled by a mouth stuffed full of juicy glazed beef and crunchy, flavorful greens. She swallowed hard and chased it with a none-too-delicate drink of wine. "I'd guess that military rations are pretty much the same everywhere, right?"
Ivan grimaced. It wasn't as though he'd had to eat them very often, but he had done so for long stretches, mostly when he was stuck on some hare-brained mission with Miles. "I see your point."
"Yeah, well," she said, shoveling in more food, "when the Cylons attacked I hadn't had leave in awhile. I haven't eaten anything this good in way too fracking long."
They finished their meal in something almost approaching camaraderie, which Ivan supposed was the natural result of bonding over food. Thrace slumped back in her chair when she was finished and said, almost subdued, "So what do you think they're talking about?"
It took him no time at all to realize she was referring to the meeting currently going on at the Residence, the one she hadn't been in on. Gregor, Uncle Aral, General Allegre, their ship's commander and their president and vice president. He'd bet his bottom dollar that Aunt Cordelia was there, too. The rest of the military escort that had come to Vorbarr Sultana had been farmed out to officers over at Ops, to entertain as they saw fit.
"If I know Gregor," he answered, "it'll all work out."
She pursed her lips. Evidently that wasn't as detailed an answer as she was looking for, but really, Ivan couldn't give her a better one. He tried not to get involved in these things. More often than he'd like, he failed, but it wasn't like he was in Gregor's confidence. He wasn't Miles, thank God.
They were making their slow way back toward the Residence when Thrace's attention was positively grabbed by one of the shops. Her eyes went wide and she stood looking through the window in undisguised want.
Ivan was used to this sort of thing. Girls frequently did this in his company, paused to look at some kind of dress or bauble. Ivan glanced in the window to see what it was that managed to catch her attention, and almost choked.
It was a tobacconist's.
"Frack," she said. "I hadn't even thought of it."
"Don't shop there," Ivan said before he could control himself. "They might have the flashiest display, but the good stuff is two streets over."
She looked at him with a mingled expression of joy and anguish. "Nevermind," she mumbled. "Let's just go back."
Suddenly he realized what the problem was. None of them had any money, at this point. He'd been given to understand that it wouldn't be a problem later, because the Imperium planned on paying a healthy sum for various aspects of the deal, not the least of which was the FTL technology that could turn travel between two wormhole jumps into a matter of seconds instead of hours or even days.
So Ivan stumbled through some excuse about forgetting to tell her about the allowance they were supposed to receive as guests of the Imperium, and steered her two streets over to Gaultier's, which stocked only the finest tobacco in the galaxy. She went into a frenzy of sniffing cigars, of all things, and finally chose a few for purchase.
Of course, then they had to find a fine establishment in which to enjoy her purchases. Ivan led her back to a bar near Ops -- not one exclusively favored by officers, he was smarter than that, thank you. But there was a place near enough that Ivan went there sometimes when he wanted to be left alone in whatever misery might have been dumped on him by his Vorish relatives and commanders.
Thrace lit up a cigar and that look of bliss crossed her face again. Ivan choked while inhaling his, and she laughed at him.
"Look," she said, leaning back in her chair and blowing out a sensual puff of smoke, "you might as well call me Kara. You're not quite the jerk I was convinced you were at first."
That surprised Ivan into laughter. "Well, madam, I'd be honored if you were to call me Ivan," he said, turning on his best leer.
Fortunately, she took it in the spirit in which it was meant -- as a joke. He was going to keep all of his bits today, at least.
Two of the Marines led Sharon through a door in a little-used section of Galactica, her wrists bound behind her. They'd cleared the corridors before they transported her. Inside the room was Apollo, along with two men in unfamiliar uniforms, whom she assumed must be the Barrayarans.
She had a wild moment to wonder whether Barrayarans were some sort of dwarfish race, but then noticed that only one of the men was unusually short. Shorter than her, even, which she -- or rather, the other Boomer -- hadn't really come across before.
The shorter one, who was evidently in charge, said something to the Marines that she didn't understand. They protested that she was far too dangerous for that, but the man spoke again, insistent.
One of the Marines unbound her hands and pushed her toward a chair. "One move, Cylon, and you'll go from toaster to toast."
The short man said something that made the Marines glare, and made Apollo smother a grin.
"I wish I could understand what you just said," she commented, "because I think you just told him off."
The other man, tallish and dark, made what she thought was a nonverbal sound, and handed something to her. He didn't appear to think of her as any threat, which just went to show how closely they didn't read their briefings. The Marines' warning aside, she could break his neck before he had time to register surprise.
It was a good thing she was on their side, such as it was.
The handed her by the other man was small and fragile. The first one mimed putting it into her ear.
"...and if it works the way it should, it'll translate our words for you directly."
Sharon considered him coolly. "It works," she said.
"Excellent. Now I can tell you why you're here. I am Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, servant of the Barrayaran Imperium. This is Commodore Duv Galeni. We're here to identify the rest of the Cylons in the Colonial Fleet."
She assessed them carefully. Commodore, she understood that, and she could definitely see that it was a pretty high rank in their military, from the number of bars on Galeni's uniform. But Lord Auditor was a pretty strange rank.
"I'm sorry -- they sent a military accountant?"
Something about that seemed to strike Vorkosigan as hilarious. Even Galeni's lips twitched a little. "In a way, you might say that," Vorkosigan said. "Though I'm more of an accountant's heir." He turned serious again and added, "But I'm not in the military. Not any longer, at any rate."
And yeah, now that he mentioned it she could see that his uniform wasn't actually a uniform at all, but rather clothing tailored to look like a uniform. Probably to mask his physical...inadequacies. She'd used the tactic herself, actually. Kept her flight jacket on to make her body appear larger than it was.
"I solve problems for the Emperor of Barrayar," Vorkosigan continued. "And you, or rather your, er, people, are a pretty big problem."
"I've never killed anybody," Sharon insisted, for what felt like the four thousandth time since she left Caprica. "Not anybody human, anyway. And I've already told everything I can. It's not my fault if I don't have a fracking family photo album on me."
The door to the chamber opened again and Sharon's heart swelled at what she saw in the doorway.
"Helo!" she started to go to him, but a sharp forward motion from the nearest gun-wielding Marine stopped her cold.
"Sharon," he said. He sounded tired. The Marines wouldn't let him approach her, either.
Vorkosigan did the introductions again for Helo, only this time he added, "But you can call me Miles," with a grin.
"You never said I could call you Miles," she said desultorily.
"Ah, you didn't give me a chance, madam." He turned to the Marines and said, "This would be a lot easier if you waited outside."
They protested, but Apollo just nodded at them and said, "Go."
The door shut and Helo rushed to her side, said, "What, are you gonna torture her, and you didn't want witnesses?"
"No," Miles answered, "but I would like her to speak candidly, and I've found that's so much more difficult when minions are around."
Galeni snorted and looked at her, then down at a photo he held in his hand, one of the other Sharon laid out in the morgue. "Jacksonian work, d'you think?"
"I doubt it," said Miles.
"It would make sense, though. That's where you'd go for clones."
"Yes, and please don't forget how my family feels about clones. Which reminds me, we should explain about Mark as soon as possible. At any rate, the timetable is a little too compressed for it to be Jacksonian. It could be Cetagandan, but I can't see why they would."
"What are you talking about?"
Miles waved her off and said, "Commodore, would you like to do the honors?"
Galeni opened a small case. He took out a hypodermic needle and Sharon cringed.
"They did a test on you the other day to determine an allergy," Galeni said. "You passed."
"What is that?" Apollo asked. Aside from the order to the Marines, it was the first thing he'd said.
"Fast-penta," Miles said. "It's a truth drug." He turned to her. "It doesn't hurt."
"Like I'm afraid of a little pain," she sneered, just because he didn't seem like he'd hit her for it.
He didn't, but Galeni did press the tube to her skin and depress the handle. Miles was right, it didn't hurt one bit.
The interrogation itself was hazy in her memory. She remembered them asking a lot of questions about her personal life at first, which struck her as odd, since she didn't think they'd view her as capable of having one. She answered all of the questions with details about the other Boomer's life, not because she wanted to prevaricate, but because they seemed like the truthful answers.
After that it was harder to remember. It went on for a long time, and at one point she started to swim up through the morass of her thoughts, and they gave her another dose.
Afterward, the first thing that she was really aware of was Galeni pressing another needle to her arm, and after that everything became clear so fast it was almost disorienting.
"Well, on the bright side, nothing disagrees with anything that appears in the reports she's given," Miles said, looking to Galeni for confirmation.
"There are, from what I can tell, a few areas where she was able to provide a little more detail under fast-penta, but nothing of significance was held back under normal interrogation," he said.
"Unfortunately for you," Miles said, looking straight at her, "that puts us no closer to identifying the other Cylons based on your descriptions alone."
"Unfortunately because now I'm not of any use to you?" she said defiantly. Helo was mostly silent, but his hand tightened on her shoulder.
"Unfortunately because now the only thing we can think of is to have you go through photos of the entire fleet, pointing out the ones that are Cylons. It's not exactly efficient, but this report says you can do with days without sleep anyway, so it can't be all that bad, can it?" He sounded almost cheerful.
It struck her as odd the way he was dealing with her. It was nothing like anyone else on the ship had even approached; and suddenly she knew where she'd had this feeling before. Before it had been all tangled up with love and lust and confusion, which she guessed was why it took her so long to identify.
"Why are you treating me like I'm human?" Sharon asked.
Miles looked down at his stack of reports, and didn't answer for a moment. Finally, he said, "Because my mother would kill me if I didn't." He just barely glanced at Galeni and added, "And also because I don't necessarily think you're a bad person because of what you are. At some point, we all have to make a decision whether to follow our parents."
Galeni sighed and rolled his eyes. "All right, Miles, I give." It was the most inflection he'd had in his voice all day. "I get it, you can stop driving the point home with, with..."
"Yes, it rather does feel like a shovel sometimes."
Helo reached down and took her hand, and suddenly she realized that he was here for her, not because they wanted to interrogate him. She didn't know quite how to feel about that. She was way too used to being treated by everyone like -- well, like a machine.
They set her up at something they called a comconsole and began a program that scrolled through about ten security photos a minute. She had the control to pause or scroll backward or forward if she needed. She began fast-forwarding the photos, one or two each second.
While she worked, Apollo and Miles began conversing. They probably didn't realize that she was more than capable of scrolling through the pictures and listening closely at the same time.
"So, Captain Adama."
"Please," he interjected, "call me Apollo."
"It's my call sign."
"Hm. Not quite so eager to trade on your father's name as your peers probably think, yeah?"
Apollo's voice sounded brisk when he answered, "No, I'm not."
"Believe me, I understand the impulse. We don't have call signs, so I created a whole different identity to get out from my father's shadow."
"You what? How did you manage that?"
"I, erm, sort of stole a mercenary fleet."
"You stole a -- I don't even have -- huh?"
"They liked me better than their old Admiral. Though it wasn't a smart move, at first. It got me brought up on charges of high treason for opposing the Imperium."
Galeni ground out, "Miles, all of this is classified."
"As classified as a nearly twenty-year-old misadventure can possibly be, Duv, which means that essentially everyone knows by now, though not officially. I was trying to cheer up Cap -- er, Apollo here."
Apollo choked. "You know about all of that? Already?"
"Yes, it was part of the report my father made after meeting with your father. I thought it might be helpful to bring out the several points of interest we have in common."
"Oh, yay," Apollo said snidely, "we've both been accused of treason. Let's be best friends."
"My point is, sir, that my career survived. Doubtless yours will too. As my mother says, 'This, too, shall pass.'"
After a moment, Apollo said quietly, "Your mother seems like a remarkable lady."
Sharon rather thought so too, if his mother could make people stop thinking of her as a household appliance.
At that moment, the other part of Sharon's brain kicked in and she paused the scrolling images on the comconsole. There he was, Number Nine, a passenger on Cloud Nine. He always did have a sense of irony.
"I've found one," she said, and they all crowded around to see.
She'd never killed a human. But she'd killed plenty of Cylons. What was one more?
They signed the treaty five days after the party from Sergyar arrived in Vorbarr Sultana. Aral hadn't received more than five hours of sleep any night in the intervening time. By the time it was over, they were all starting to look a little ragged, even Cordelia.
Halfway through the conferences Admiral Quinn arrived, explaining that it was awfully lucky she'd been in the Hegen Hub at the time. The same day a representative from Escobar arrived, and that had been the point where the talk turned from political and civil negotiations to serious military tactics.
That was when Cordelia had retired to Vorkosigan House to spend time with their grandchildren. Aral hadn't seen them more than four times since he'd been back.
They'd passed Miles in transit, but didn't have a chance to do more than have a near-realtime comconsole conversation before each ship had reached their respective wormhole jumps.
Aral rather suspected that he was getting too old for this.
But nevertheless, it was over. They had what everyone, even Adama, agreed was a workable tactical plan. Cordelia and President Roslin had been the primary movers in clearing the way for the civilians to take refuge on Sergyar, at least once Miles cleared the fleet of enemy operatives. As Cordelia said, "We need settlers on Sergyar anyway."
Gregor had invited the Colonial party to stay to supper at the Residence. That was an occasion he was almost sorry to miss, but Aral instead retreated gratefully to Vorkosigan House for some much-needed downtime.
He had an awkward moment with Admiral Quinn as she was leaving. He was debating whether, as an old friend of his son's, he should invite her home to supper when Quinn spared him. "I've got to get back to the fleet," she said. She didn't even look winded. Ah, for the vigor of youth.
It was just as well. Without Cordelia to advise him, he'd probably been about to make some huge faux pas in the social order of women everywhere.
So Aral went home. He let his grandchildren climb all over him, and had several moments wherein he was profoundly sorry that he was missing so much of their babyhood. He and Cordelia had a pleasant conversation with Ekaterin, who'd finally gotten comfortable thinking of them as her family, rather than as intimidating high Vor scions. He stuffed himself sick on Ma Kosti's remarkable cooking.
Later that night he found Cordelia in the library, looking out the windows to the garden.
"I've been thinking," she said when he stepped up behind her. "If this war doesn't go well, we might have to evacuate Sergyar."
Aral sighed. He'd had far too much of this the last five days. "It was discussed, yes."
She turned to him. "I don't want them to have Sergyar," she said vehemently. "I found that planet." She smiled. "Well, okay, Barrayar found it first, but we didn't know that. Aral, that planet is our planet."
Aral smiled. "I know, dear Captain."
Cordelia sighed and wrapped her arms around him. "Will we survive this one, do you think?"
He squeezed her tightly. "I don't see why not," he said. "We've survived all the rest, haven't we?"
"That's what worries me," she answered, face buried in his shoulder. "We have to run out of grace sometime."
Aral looked out through their hazy reflections into the garden beyond. "I'd never believe it of you and your God, Cordelia."
They stood there like that until Armsman Roic came to investigate the lights still burning on his night watch. Then they bid the armsman good night, and retired to bed.--