The common room was full of noise, the faculty cross-ball team celebrating a resounding victory over the physics department, the holovid left on in the corner with the volume turned up, and three grad students arguing vociferously over class schedules, but amidst the racket Dr Galeni sat in a bubble of personal silence, running a flimsy through his fingers.
"What's that you've got?" Anton Tashpula asked, dropping down on the battered sofa beside Duv and breaking the spell. "Anything interesting?"
In answer Duv passed him the flimsy, still silent. Anton quirked an eyebrow at him, then read it through, his eyes growing wider. "The Vorfolse Fellowship," he whispered reverently. "Wow." He passed the flimsy back to Duv, then grinned. "I can't think of anyone better. Congratulations! The drinks will all be on you tonight!"
"I never dreamed they'd give it to me," Duv said. "Helen made me put my name down, but I'd completely forgotten about it until I got the letter. I was thinking maybe I'd try for a teaching position at one of the District universities."
Anton gave a laugh. "You, in the District universities? That wouldn't be--they're a bit more traditional out there, you know. I think you'd have had trouble, um..."
"You mean they've never met a Komarran except at the other end of a plasma rifle," Duv shot back, and Anton grimaced.
"More or less. No, it was always the big cities for you, my friend. But the Vorfolse ... well, you deserve it."
The cross-ball team tramped out in a final flurry of arguing, sweeping the grad students with them, and after the door banged shut, the sound of the holo carried across the room.
"... discussed for the past ten years, but this Imperial Decree now permits subjects from all planets in the empire to volunteer to serve..."
"Besides, you have to be in a city, don't think I haven't noticed the way you get twitchy when you're more than a hundred metres from the nearest building," Anton continued. "And the College of Belgravia is amazing; one of my friends went there--"
Duv raised a hand. "Ssh." He turned to the holo.
"The announcement was made simultaneously on Komarr, and was welcomed with enthusiasm, forestalling the sceptics' criticism of the move as an empty and wasteful gesture when no Komarrans would be willing to volunteer to join the Imperial Service..."
The scene shifted, displaying a crowd of cheering Komarrans in the renamed Imperial Plaza. Duv studied them. Things were definitely changing on Komarr, he thought. Once people were marched out to cheer the Barrayarans at gunpoint; later on, cheering crowds looked suspiciously like out-of-work actors and shareless people who would do anything for money; but this crowd looked like it had been formed by offering everyone in the nearby government office buildings a half-day off if they would come and cheer for a while in the plaza first. They all wore the slightly set smiles of Komarrans who found themselves for whatever reason needing to applaud their new overlords, but they looked mostly a little bored rather than terrified or fake-enthusiastic. It was progress of a sort.
Though the Barrayaran holovids were still a little amateurish, and he caught sight of a protestor at the edge being hustled away before the angle was adjusted to take him out of sight. Once, Duv thought, he might have been that protestor. Now--now he watched avidly as the image shifted again to show the Prime Minister himself.
"Komarrans have long held shares in their planetary government," Vorkosigan was saying, "giving each Komarran a stake in their society. But on Barrayar we also have a way for our subjects to hold a share in the Imperium."
Duv went still. Surely Vorkosigan hadn't read his paper? He stared at the holo-image, and by some trick of the camera, Vorkosigan seemed to gaze straight back at him.
"A share, as a Komarran historian described it, bought in blood. The Imperial Service gives Barrayarans an opportunity to earn his share of the honour of the Imperium--"
"Barrayaran men," Anton muttered. Duv gave him a frustrated wave, acknowledging the point and requesting silence at once. Vorkosigan was quoting his paper.
"...and our veterans, who have proven in blood their willingness to serve, are then given greater opportunities for service. And so we invite all Komarrans to volunteer to serve their Emperor and take their share of the future of the Imperium."
There was another shot of the cheering Komarrans, and then the image shifted to the Vorbarr Sultana Municipal Stadium, and the announcer continued, "Now, in sport..."
And that was it, enough to change Duv's life.
"They're opening the Service to Komarrans," he breathed.
"You're surely not interested in playing the ridiculous Vor-military game?" Anton said, eyebrows shooting up. "I thought you wanted to be a serious academic, like me."
From Anton, Duv would take that. He did not underestimate the moral courage it had taken for Lord Anton Vortashpula to leave the Imperial Service Academy after his first year, disavow his titles, change his name to the non-Vor form and dedicate himself to academic study. Duv had made his decision on his own, but Anton had been surrounded by hostile or unhappy family and peers who never lost a chance to tell him how wrong he was. Count Vortashpula hadn't quite disowned his second son, but the relationship was necessarily fraught, and Duv had listened patiently as Anton related each tense conversation or argument.
"Choosing not to play and being forbidden to play aren't the same thing," Duv said. "I couldn't play, so I decided to study those who could and understand them as much as possible. But this ... changes things." He stared at the flimsy in his hand, not reading the words he already knew by heart. "And he read my paper, Anton. That was me, the Komarran historian he was mentioning, that was my paper four months ago in the Military History Review about the role of the Service in modern Barrayaran society with the comparison between planetary shares and the Imperial Service."
"Or his speechwriters read it," Anton said, which made Duv grimace.
"Well, maybe. But it was still in the speech."
"Yes, it's impressive, but it's not exactly a good reason to throw your entire career away, is it? And if you do want to--to influence people, then it's proof you're already doing it. Damn it, Duv, you've got more flair for this in your little finger than I have in my whole body. You can't just go sign up to join the Service because Vorkosigan made a pretty speech."
"It's the route into your power-class, and you know it. There aren't any Komarrans there now. If Vorkosigan's going to invite us to the table, I'm not going to turn around and walk away."
"You're really serious about this," Anton said, shaking his head. "The Vorfolse in your pocket and you want to crawl in a ditch. Duv, you don't know what it's like. They'll eat you alive. I've been there; I know."
Duv merely smiled a little. Here on Barrayar, everyone knew he was a Komarran loyalist, and Anton knew his family had been on the wrong side of the Revolt, but none of his acquaintances knew the rest of the story. He'd shown only his newly-created self to the world: the quiet, insightful, dedicated scholar. Anton didn't know David Galen, who had carried messages and weapons and bombs through war-torn streets from the age of nine, who'd been interrogated by ImpSec, who'd seen death and who'd killed. He'd studied Barrayaran military culture, and he was sure the Imperial Military Academy would be hell, and also sure he could survive it.
If they would let him. That thought scorched the edges of his new hope. Barrayaran security had permitted him to travel here, to study at the University, to live in Vorbarr Sultana, with no more restrictions than any other Komarran faced. He had registered his address with a security officer, and had to clear any travel outside the District he was permitted to remain in, and as far as he knew he was otherwise unwatched--and David Galen knew the signs when Security was watching. But when he applied to serve the Emperor he had once fought... there stood his father, always his father, even from the grave threatening his peace and his victories.
"What is it?" Anton said, looking at him.
"You may yet get your wish. I don't know whether they'll let me in."
Typically, Anton instantly reversed position. "They'd be idiots not to! I know how loyal you are, and how much shit you put up with to stay here. I think it's a stupid thing to do, but they'd be lucky to get you."
Duv smiled a little. For all his protestations, Anton still had what Duv considered the most attractive virtue of the Vor class: their unstinting loyalty.
"Well, I'll try. And there's the Vorfolse to fall back on." He looked back at the flimsy, then carefully folded it and put it back into the envelope.
"My family," he went on after a minute, "controlled a fair percentage of the Komarran planetary shares, back before the Conquest. My father squandered a lot of it during the Revolt, and the rest was confiscated afterwards. These days, I only have my personal single planetary share. And they're more symbolic than valuable, now. I think I should try to earn something more."
The first Galen had paid for her first investments in her own sweat and blood, according to the family stories, working and fighting and outthinking her rivals to earn control of her first trade ship. Now the shape of the world had changed, but her renegade descendant could still follow her example. One day, perhaps, the name of Galeni would be as powerful in the Imperium as Galen had been on Komarr.