"Lizzie," said Taura Vorkosigan, twelve years old. "I got third place in the junior engineer competition!"
"Oh, that's wonderful Taurie." Elizabeth Vorkosigan, fifteen years old, immediately gave her sister a big hug. "Have you told Da and Mama yet?"
"Not yet. You're the first one."
Elizabeth's enthusiasm was dampened when she learned what the date of the award acceptance ceremony was going to be. It was at the same time as a critical judo training session. She would not be able to see Taura accept the prize.
When they told Da, he was extremely pleased. "Atta girl!"
"Da, you'll come with me to the acceptance ceremony, won't you?"
"Ah," Miles face fell a little. "I have to go to investigate something in Vortaine district. I don't think I'll be able to make it. But I think Mama will be able to go with you."
Miles, Taura, and Elizabeth went together to Ekaterin to tell her the good news.
"Congratulations!" she said. "I must tell Uncle Vorthys, he will be so happy for you."
"You're going to go to the ceremony with me, right?" Taura asked.
"Ah," Ekaterin said. "I would love to, but I already agreed to do a botanical demonstration at Selig and Simone's school."
"The demonstration is in the day, and the award ceremony is in the evening," Elizabeth pointed out.
"Yes, but the award ceremony is in Weienovya, and I don't think I could get from the school to there in time. We'll send you with Armsman Karsky, and I'll ask my cousin Charlotte to host you."
"You mean I'll have to stay with 'dead fish'!"
"Taurie, do not call your second cousin that!"
Elizabeth knew she would not want to spend a night in the home of 'dead fish' with just Armsman Karsky as a companion.
"I'm proud of you, my girl," Professor Vorthys said in the vid call. "It's great to have another engineer in the family."
"Will you come to the ceremony?" Taura asked.
"I'd love to, but I just came out of surgery, and the doctor ordered me to stay in bed for three weeks."
"What about you, Aunt Vorthys?" Elizabeth asked.
"I wish I could go, but I have to stay back here and take care of your great-uncle," Professora Vorthys replied.
Elizabeth told her sensei that she was not going to show up to the judo training.
"Lizzie, this is an important preparation for the tournament. It's not a good idea to miss it."
"I know, but something came up."
Her sensei sighed. "Make sure to set aside some time for solo practice. And keep up with your meditation practice."
Charlotte Vorthys Vordarian, her husband Lord Kolya, and their daughter Serena, who was about the same age as Aral and Helen, had visited Vorkosigan house a couple times. All of the Vorkosigan children considered Serena the most incredibly dull person among their peers. She hardly spoke, hardly even reacted to things. At first, they mocked her for being the great-niece of the Pretender. Then Helen started calling her 'dead fish'. Of course, since Serena did not respond to their taunts, even teasing her was no fun.
Taura, Elizabeth, and Armsman Karsky were eating lunch with the Vordarians, just before the awards ceremony. Before, "dead-fish" Serena had hardly ever talked, and was no fun. Now she would only speak of boring subjects such as transfer of property from the jurisdiction of the municipal mechanical repair shops to the north sewage treatment plant, and thus was now anti-fun. Elizabeth was grateful that Serena would not be coming to the ceremony.
"How come you only have one kid?" Taura asked Charlotte. "We don't know any other Vor who only have a daughter and no sons."
"Oh, we thought it would be romantic to have a child the old fashioned way - we did not even choose whether we would have a boy or a girl."
"I cannot imagine that I would love any son more than our precious Serena," Lord Kolya said. "I don't have any titles I can pass on, and my brother-the-Count has already produced heirs for our house and young officers for the Imperial Service."
"But why not have another kid?" Taura asked.
"Taking care of the district is a lot of work," Charlotte said. "Vordarian District is the most populated in all of Barrayar - twice as many residents as Vorbarra District. Kolya and I agree it is better to have just one, and give her all of our love, than to spread ourselves too thin by caring for the district and our family."
Elizabeth cheered for Taura at the award ceremony. She was very happy for her little sister, yet when they returned to the Vordarians' home for the night, she also felt angry. She went to meditate as instructed. After her meditation session, her anger floated back, and this time Elizabeth could see its cause.
Taura was still awake. Elizabeth approached her, and said "You know that Selig and Simone are Mama's favorites."
"Yeah, and Helen is Da's favorite," Taura replied.
"Aral always gets a lot of attention because he's Lord Vorkosigan," Elizabeth continued.
"And Nikki had Mama all to himself for eleven years," Taura finished.
"I have the judo academy - my sensei, my fellow students," Elizabeth said. "They are like a second family to me. When I'm with them, I feel like I don't have to compete as much."
"You go to judo competitions all the time!" Taura exclaimed.
"That's a different kind of competition," Elizabeth countered. "But what about you? You don't have anybody who always thinks of you first. It's not fair!"
"I do have somebody," Taura replied. "I have you."