"At home this week, the news has been dominated by newly-wed Emperor Gregor and Lord Consort Miles Vorkosigan's Grand Tour of the Empire. The Emperor and the Lord Consort departed shortly after their wedding ceremony for Komarr, where they spent five days in Solstice before continuing on to Sergyar. While on Komarr, the Emperor and the Lord Consort met with highly placed Komarrans to discuss a number of issues, including tariffs, further soletta array expansion, and domestic security.
"In a speech to one of the Komarran trade conglomerates, the Emperor said that he hoped to see friendlier relations between the two planets – but that seems rather unlikely at the moment, as some Komarrans were not shy about expressing their displeasure at the Emperor's choice of life partner."
"Miles, why are you watching this?" Gregor asked, pausing over the threshold in the act of pulling on his trousers. "Besides an apparent desire to raise your blood pressure." It certainly raised his to see the scenes now playing across the holovid screen, of Komarrans marching in the streets of Solstice outside the Counselor's Residence. The footage was several days old now, but that didn't stop them from playing it. Or Miles from watching it.
Miles, Gregor noted, had made somewhat less progress towards getting dressed. He'd managed underwear but nothing else, and his hair still stuck up in all directions from being towel-dried after his shower. Gregor had not had the slightest inkling until this trip that Miles was prone to getting distracted while dressing, though he couldn't claim to have been surprised, exactly. In the two weeks since the wedding Gregor had found that he often took his turn in the shower only to come out and find Miles sitting on the bed, reading reports half-naked. Gregor didn't object in principle, but it did have the tendency to lead to even more distracting activities, which meant that getting dressed in the mornings was taking rather longer than it should.
"Morbid curiosity, I guess," Miles said, without averting his eyes from the screen. "I keep thinking they'll find something else to say about it. Some . . . insight."
"A spokesperson for one of the most vocal groups, the Coalition for a Democratic Komarr, was quoted as saying, 'We will never accept the son of the Butcher as Lord Consort. That the Emperor would make such a choice is to spit in the faces of Komarrans everywhere who lost loved ones in the Massacre –'"
"Yes, that's exactly what we had in mind," Miles informed the holovid, gesturing with the vid control for emphasis. "Spitting in the faces of Komarrans everywhere. Right after we spit in the faces of conservative Barrayarans."
"Well, that part I know you enjoyed," Gregor said, looping his tie around his neck.
"Does it never occur to these people that maybe, just maybe, you love me beyond all reason?" Miles asked, craning around to give Gregor an irritated frown.
"No," Gregor said flatly. "And you can forget about convincing them. Do you think you might like to put pants on before we go downstairs?"
"Shh," Miles replied, gesturing with the control again. Gregor rolled his eyes and went back into the bathroom to try and tame his hair, though he couldn't quite keep himself from listening with one ear.
"The good news for the Emperor and the Lord Consort, who arrived on Sergyar earlier today, is that things appear to be settling on Komarr. No major disturbances were reported yesterday, and a public opinion poll conducted within the last day cycle showed that 63% of Komarrans feel unfavorably toward the groups that caused the disruptions."
"There, you see?" Gregor said, pulling a comb through his hair while sticking his head out the bathroom door. "It's already calming down, just like Allegre and Galeni predicted. Just the natural rumblings of a society adjusting to an idea. Digesting it, as I believe you yourself have described it. Now will you please get dressed?" He snatched the holovid control out of Miles's hand and turned the damn thing off.
Miles glanced down in bemusement. "Oh."
Gregor handed Miles a pair of freshly pressed dark gray trousers. "I wouldn't normally mind, but Sergyar is supposed to be the quiet part of the trip. I think Allegre would be extremely put out if we caused a ruckus by going about half-dressed."
"Hmm. Quite." Miles rose at last and began to dress, while Gregor kept one eye on him for any more signs of distraction. His admiration – and sympathy – for his own valet Rete, left behind on Barrayar in the interest of the newlyweds' privacy, was growing by the day.
"In any case, you shouldn't let it get to you," Gregor said, noting the way Miles was frowning at his belt-buckle.
Miles sighed. "I know that – I was even getting good at it, I think. But they were so calm before the wedding – how were we to know they were just saving it up for the big show?"
"Allegre did warn us."
"Yes. He did." Miles grimaced.
Gregor found himself returning the expression. "I feel like Barrayaran-Komarran relations are always one step forward, three steps back."
"Things are better," Miles said. He sat down on the edge of the bed to shove his feet into his boots. "I can't quite seem to remember that this week, but they are. Duv is head of Komarran Affairs – granted, he's even more unpopular with the extremists than you are," he added thoughtfully. "Though possibly not as unpopular as me."
"Well . . ." Gregor shrugged. "They're extremists. They'll never be happy, no matter what. There's nothing to be done. And you heard the report, the general population is losing patience with the violence. Terrorism is bad for commerce, if nothing else."
"I guess." Miles shrugged into his coat and buttoned it and then sat down on the bed to pull his boots on. His hair was still a mess, and Gregor, after a moment spent in ridiculous contemplation, leaned over to put it into some semblance of order with fingers and comb. Miles made a pleased, surprised noise in his throat, and Gregor smiled, stroking the soft hair, still slightly damp, curling around his ears.
"The hard part's over," Gregor said. "From here on out it's just Sergyarans. All we have to do is stand next to your parents after they get here tomorrow and smile."
Miles opened his eyes and smirked up at him. "I still say we should have told them to shove it and rented a house on the sea for a week."
They were on the brink of being late, but they'd been indulged so far; Gregor suspected Allegre didn't much want to think what they had probably been up to when they were a few minutes late. Gregor knelt on the bed and kissed the back of Miles's neck, enjoying the newly familiar warm feeling in his chest. He had wondered, sometimes, what being married would do to him. It remained to be seen, of course, but so far it had made him very content. Miles, too, seemed to itch less to be up and moving always, but Gregor had to wonder if the changes would prove lasting.
"We could still, in a few months maybe," he murmured. Miles shivered as Gregor's breath ghosted across the back of his neck. "Once things have settled a bit."
"It'll be nice to be home again," Miles said, turning his face toward Gregor. "Weird though. Different."
"Better," Gregor said.
"Yeah. Better. And in about ten months . . ."
"Yes." Gregor rubbed a thumb across the back of Miles's neck, searching for the pressure point that would relieve the incipient headache he suspected Miles was suffering from.
Miles made another small noise and leaned back against him before saying, "Part of me thinks it might be better to wait to start the first one. Work things out first and then do it."
"Ivan would be furious."
"Well, yeah, but that's never stopped us before."
Gregor reached around to clasp Miles's hand. "We've had almost five years. I don't think we need to wait. And I don't think I'd really want to. I want to meet our children as soon as possible."
"Me too," Miles said, looking at Gregor from an unusual height advantage. "It's kinda scary, though, isn't it?"
"Yes," Gregor said, glancing away. "Sometimes I think it's scarier than everything else put together. Barrayar, Komarr – all of it seems so small sometimes, compared to this. We could screw it up so badly . . ."
"Lots of parents do. Mine, for instance."
Miles pulled away enough to twist around, fingers tightening on Gregor's. "I don't think that's very fair to your mother. She . . . did what she had to do."
"And my father?"
"Gregor, do you even need both hands to count the number of times you met the man? That isn't parenting. And anyway," Miles added, stroking a soothing hand down Gregor's arm, "we both had my parents."
"Yes," Gregor sighed. "That we did."
Miles sat looking at him for a moment, and though he found it a little unnerving, Gregor endured the scrutiny. It was strange getting used to sharing space with someone after nearly forty years of living more or less alone. He had dreamed of this for over a decade, of falling asleep and waking up next to Miles, though he'd not taken into account things like Miles being inevitably irritated before his first cup of coffee or Gregor's own habit of falling asleep in his paperwork. These things hadn't mattered when their nights together were sporadic and special, and Gregor had neglected them in his fantasies as well – but he supposed he shouldn't have been surprised that reality was slightly more . . . real.
A knock at the door startled them both out of their mutual contemplation. "That'll be Alexis wanting to know where the hell we are," Miles said, rising to answer.
Indeed it was. "Emperor, my Lord Consort," Alexis Avalos, Miles's newly appointed assistant said, bowing briefly. He frowned down at Miles in faint exasperation. "My lord –"
"We're almost there, Alexis, don't worry," Miles assured him. "Two minutes."
"Two actual minutes?" Alexis replied, raising an eyebrow.
"Don't be cheeky," Miles retorted.
"Two actual minutes, yes, Alexis," Gregor said, smiling. The two of them exchanged a glance and Alexis took his leave with one last stern glower in Miles's direction.
"He offered to draw up the daily schedule like a combat mission plan," Miles said, buttoning his cufflinks. "I told him it wouldn't help, since I'd never kept to those either. I can't believe someone with a decade's experience in covert ops could be so . . . punctual."
"It was a different sort of covert ops," Gregor pointed out. "His was a long-term assignment. He had to be able to pass as a scientist in one of Bharaputra's labs – keep to a regular work schedule and so on."
"I suppose." Miles stepped into the bathroom to smooth down the hair Gregor had ruffled. Gregor, watching his reflection in the mirror, found himself imagining their children as he'd thought of them for the last four years. Two boys, of course, black haired and grey-eyed, with Miles's penchant for mischief and a touch of Gregor's solemnity. And a little girl, too, though he could see her less clearly than the others, with long black hair and a sweet smile. Probably she'd end up being more trouble than both boys put together, if she had anything of her grandmother in her.
They had come so far, in such a short time, and sometimes he thought it was mostly for them, for these children who didn't even exist yet except in their minds. Gregor had led a strangely unambitious life – all the wealth and power he could possibly ever want held in trust for him from the age of five. But he found that this, too, was an ambition of sorts. He was positively greedy for it when he let himself be. Even if it weren't the only kind of wealth, surely it would be one of the sweetest.
That evening's entertainment was dinner with the newly appointed Sergyaran Viceroy and Vicereine Vorvaine, followed by a concert by the Sergyaran Symphony. Gregor had requested the concert particularly, anticipating that they would both be too tired for dancing after several days of travel. Whoever had organized the event had done an excellent job of researching their tastes; it opened with one of Gregor's favorite pieces and, through the skillful selection of various pieces, segued into one of Miles's by intermission. This was no small feat considering they had been composed nearly a millennium apart. Concealed in the darkness of the concert hall, Gregor reached over and took Miles's hand. Miles glanced at him, squeezed his fingers, and settled back with a soft sigh.
Allegre came to fetch Gregor during the intermission for a security briefing, which Gregor did his best to hurry along. Things on Komarr continued to settle; there had been one incident with a group of drunken university students, but apparently the Solstice Municipal Guard had taken care of it on their own, no help from ImpSec necessary. There were a few small matters back home, but Domestic Affairs had them well in hand. Gregor found himself glancing toward the concert hall impatiently as he could hear the orchestra tuning and the next piece on the program was Beethoven's 5th; he wanted back in his seat before they began, if possible.
It seemed he was about to get his wish when Allegre paused, hesitated strangely, and said, "There is one more thing, Sire."
"Yes?" Gregor said. Damn.
"This has been developing – or rather, not developing – over the last day-cycle. I had hoped it would resolve itself, and I didn't want to worry you, and especially my Lord Consort, for no reason."
Gregor frowned. "What is it?"
"The Dendarii Fleet missed its rendezvous point with Admiral Quinn. They simply didn't show up where they were supposed to."
Gregort sat back, all thoughts of the music forgotten. "That's . . . strange."
"Admiral Quinn thought so as well, but we've been assuming that there was a fairly banal explanation for it. I thought my Lord Consort might be unduly concerned, so –"
"Yes," Gregor said. "I take it you haven't found them?"
Allegre grimaced, looking, if Gregor wasn't mistaken, rather embarrassed. "No, Sire. We know where they're supposed to be."
"Which is somehow not the same as knowing where they are," Gregor pointed out mildly.
"Not in this case. It is most irregular. But I'm still hoping that there's some simple explanation for it – a technical malfunction of some kind, for instance."
Gregor couldn't quite believe that, and it seemed to him that Allegre didn't really believe it either. "But in that case, wouldn't they have at least contacted Quinn to tell her they were going to be delayed?"
Allegre sighed. "Yes, Sire. One would assume."
"What about our agent in the Fleet?"
"He made his last scheduled contact – it was while we were on Komarr – and we've had nothing since then. I don't know what that means, Sire," Allegre added, holding his hands out in an approximation of a shrug. "It could mean nothing. We generally don't hear from him between scheduled contacts."
"But is no news really good news in this case?"
Allegre shook his head. "I don't know, Sire. We're working on collecting more information through other channels."
"Well," Gregor said, standing to return to his seat, "keep me posted."
"Of course, Sire," Allegre said, perforce standing with him. "If you don't mind my asking, are you going to tell my Lord Consort?"
Gregor hesitated. If he did, and it turned out to be nothing, he would have borrowed a great deal of trouble. On the other hand, if he didn't and it turned out to be something after all – well, that would be even more difficult, and Miles's anger – for he was sure to be angry about it – would be far more justified. Still . . . this trip had been stressful enough for them both already, as Miles's somewhat uncharacteristic brooding over the holovid earlier had demonstrated. "Not just yet. I think you're right, he'd worry unduly. It's not his job anymore, but all the same . . . if we don't hear anything in the next day-cycle, I'll tell him."
"Very good, Sire."
"Everything all right?" Miles whispered as Gregor joined him once more.
"Just a routine briefing," he whispered back. It wasn't a lie, exactly, but Gregor's conscience twinged enough that he found he couldn't quite enjoy the music as much as he had earlier. He decided it was just punishment for committing a marital sin of omission, as Cordelia likely would have termed it. Not that Miles would see it that way, if he ever found out.
Their schedule the next morning was hectic. Gregor had to squeeze the security briefing in before breakfast – no news on the Dendarii; Komarr continued to settle – before he and Miles were whisked off to meet Aral and Cordelia at the shuttleport. They met them in the concourse in front of about a hundred staff, media, and cameras. Gregor, kissing Cordelia on the cheek, thought her smile seemed a little strained. But of course they would have heard about Komarr.
"How was your trip?" Miles muttered through his smile once they'd turned to face the crowd once more.
"Uneventful," Cordelia said, blinking a little in the lights of the holovid recorders. "Unlike yours, or so we heard."
"The rumors of riots were grossly exaggerated," Miles assured her. "At most, you could call them protests. Small ones."
"The holovid broadcasts did not make them look small," Aral said wryly.
"Oh, well," Miles said, still smiling. "You know how those things are. You have the protesters, and then you have counter protesters, and then you have the people who are there for no reason in particular."
"Hmm," Cordelia said, eyeing her son shrewdly before casting a glance toward Gregor.
Gregor frowned slightly and shook his head; if Miles was going to be blithe about the whole thing – today, at least – then he didn't think Cordelia should press. "We were perfectly safe the entire time," he added, hoping to forestall further discussion.
Cordelia reached over to take Gregor by the arm as they finally began to move, ever so slowly, toward the exit where their groundcar waited. "I'm certainly relieved to hear it – if somewhat skeptical of your collective definition of safe."
The Count and Countess insisted they didn't need to go back to the Viceroy's Palace to rest, and so they spent the morning touring the capital, waving at the crowds lining the streets through the windows of their ground car. Viceroy Vorvaine kept up a running commentary that gave them far more information than they had ever wanted about the infrastructure of the city, including just how many marks a fully functional public transportation system, for example, would cost. After lunch they found themselves split up – Gregor to the nearby military base to conduct an official troop review, and Miles and his parents to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new hospital. Gregor thought it was very politic of somebody to have named it simply "Vorkosigan Municipal Hospital," rather than the "Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan Municipal Hospital" as he was sure had been their first impulse – nearly half the doctors working there were the Countess's scholarship students, after all.
Troop reviews were one of Gregor's more mind-numbing ceremonial functions, and that was saying something. He'd liked them when he was younger, but these days he found himself doing budget numbers in his head. It helped him look properly stern, he suspected. On this particular afternoon, he was trying to shift around Imperial funds to see if they could actually afford the public transportation system the Viceroy wanted so badly.
Well. Perhaps next year.
That evening was a banquet with various major players on Sergyar – large-scale investors, highly ranked military personnel, and various people in important political positions. They seemed to be of a more adventurous variety than their counterparts back home, Gregor thought. Some might have been living on Sergyar only reluctantly, but most clearly relished living in a frontier atmosphere. "Playing cowboy" as Cordelia put it.
A long stint of toasting commenced once everyone was seated at the elegantly set table in the Vicery's dining room. Beside him, Miles fidgeted subtly. Gregor put a hand on his knee and he stopped with a barely concealed sigh. But when his own time came to deliver a toast in honor of the Viceroy and Vicereine, he did so with aplomb. Despite finding the ceremony of his new role unbelievably tedious, Miles was good at it – when he wanted to be, at least. But Miles wouldn't be Miles, after all, without his tendency to deliberately and cheerfully disrupt, and occasionally destroy, the status quo.
Not tonight, though – actually, he'd been remarkably well behaved the entire trip. He was adjusting, Gregor thought, but he was sure that as soon as Miles was more comfortable, he'd start testing whatever new boundaries he ran into. Gregor found himself looking strangely forward to it. Life in the Imperial Residence would never be boring again.
Seven courses later, Gregor thought he might be ready for a nap. Instead he excused himself for his evening briefing and met Allegre in the library once again.
"Any word from the Dendarii?" Gregor asked quietly.
"No," Allegre said, and Gregor frowned. "But we seem to have located them."
"They're floating in dead space between two wormholes on the Komarr-Escobar route. There's nothing there, which is why it took us so long to find them."
Gregor blinked. That was puzzling. "Has Admiral Quinn been informed?"
"Yes. She's been trying to make contact with them, but they haven't yet responded. Nor have they sent out a distress signal. It's very irregular."
"And we've still had nothing from our agent?"
"What do you think happened?"
Allegre, plainly reluctant to make a guess, turned his hand palm out in a gesture of uncertainty. "I don't know, Sire. Neither does Quinn. A technical malfunction at the same time on all half dozen ships seems extraordinarily unlikely."
Gregor frowned. His it's probably nothing justification seemed to be crumbling, but he found himself reluctant to let go of it completely. "What's the next step?"
"We've sent Quinn out on a ship with a number of ImpSec agents – no one who can be traced back to us, of course. They will assess the situation and report back."
"When should we hear?"
"We should have a much better idea of what's going on within the next day-cycle."
Gregor nodded. "I'll wait to tell Miles then." There was absolutely nothing Miles could do, after all. The Dendarii weren't his responsibility anymore and he would only worry. Gregor could worry well enough for the both of them – he had a decade and a half of experience doing just that, after all, since Miles had never worried nearly enough about himself.
Miles raised his eyebrows in subtle questioning as Gregor returned to the table, and Gregor gave him a subtle, reassuring smile.
It was very late that night by the time Gregor and Miles collapsed into bed, and they would have to be up in just a few hours for the long trip out to the settlement their were scheduled to visit. Grgor slept deeply thanks to the Sergyaran wine he'd drunk at dinner, until he gradually became aware that someone was shaking him gently, and it wasn't in his dream. He opened his eyes and saw his night duty Armsman standing by the bed, hand on his shoulder.
"What's it?" Gregor managed, sitting up.
"I'm sorry, Sire, but General Allegre insisted I wake you."
That was never a good sign. Not at – Gregor checked the bedside chrono – 0300. Damn. "Did he say why?"
Komarr or the Dendarii, he thought grimly. Either way, this day was going to be extremely unpleasant. He got up and began pulling on his clothes from the night before, which lay folded over a chair.
"What's going on?" Miles mumbled, apparently woken by their voices. He sat up and rubbed a hand over his face. He peered at the bedside chrono. "We don't have to get up for another two hours."
"Something's happened," Gregor replied grimly.
Miles looked instantly more awake. "What?"
"I don't know, but if it was bad enough for them to wake me at three in the morning . . ."
"Yeah," Miles said, already reaching for his own clothes.
There was already a lot of activity downstairs by the time the two of them arrived. It didn't take Gregor long to realize that the place was swarming with twice as many ImpSec agents as earlier that evening – he wouldn't have been surprised if half the agents in the capital were present. He exchanged a quick glance with Miles, who frowned back and shook his head, before they were ushered through to Allegre in the library.
Allegre looked up, and then stood. "Sire," he said. "My Lord Consort."
"What happened?" Gregor replied. The news was going to be bad and there was no use prolonging the agony. He was very grateful that Miles was standing next to him, blessedly alive and well and unharmed.
Allegre looked past them at the other agents. "Could we have the room, please?" he said over the din of voices. When the room had emptied, he turned back, his mouth a grim line.
"General," Gregor demanded, "what happened?"
"Sire, one of the wormholes between Komarr and Barrayar," Allegre said, and Gregor's stomach turned to ice. "We just received word. It's closed."