It was nothing so overt as an announcement; merely a quiet word passed through the household. At age 51, Count Miles Vorkosigan was visibly beginning to slow down: gray and weary most mornings even when he hadn't used his seizure-stimulator, and seldom able to sustain the kind of forward momentum that had once been his default setting. And in the interests of not working himself into an early grave, or at least no earlier a grave than could possibly be avoided, he was soon to take a long step back from his work as an Imperial Auditor ... and to semi-retire from his work as Count, handing off the duties to his oldest son and heir, Aral Alexander. Aral would act as his father's proxy in the Council, as a form of on-the-job training against the (hoped-to-be distant) day when he would inherit the title of Count Vorkosigan in his own right.
There was only one problem with this plan.
"We have to do something." Helen Natalia pushed herself up out of the chair and stalked across her room for the nth time, dark hair flying behind her like a banner. "Aral doesn't want the Countship. The whole idea of being Da's proxy makes him miserable. He doesn't want the work, he doesn't want the responsibility, and he doesn't want the part where people try to bribe or blackmail him, either."
"But you're fine with all of those?" Blonde and tall and a year older at nineteen, Milla Galeni sat on the edge of her friend's bed and watched her pace.
"I'm not afraid of them." For a moment it seemed that was all she would say, except for the silent signal of her tight-closed hands; and indeed it was only another few seconds before she burst out, "And I'd be good at it. Doesn't that count for something? Vorkosigan's District needs somebody who can do the job -- doesn't that make it my duty to try? Aral would rather take a wormhole jump to nowhere. Piotr and Simon won't be old enough for years yet. And I'd make a good Count, even Da says so."
"If you weren't a girl."
"Your uncle Dono was a girl," Helen pointed out, "and everyone says he's the best Count Vorrutyer there's been in generations." She came to a stop again, fingers stretched out now and touching the edge of her console table. "I should talk to him."
Milla raised her eyebrows dubiously. "About a sex change?"
"No." Helen looked shocked, then thoughtful, then dubious herself. "Maybe. No. But -- Lady Donna managed the Vorrutyer estates for her brother for a long time, and if Aral does become the next Count Vorkosigan, I'll probably be doing the same for him. Or maybe...." She drummed her fingers on the table, then closed her hand into a fist. "I have to talk to Uncle Gregor, is who. But first --"
"There's a first?" Milla sat up straight, starting to be alarmed. "Before the Emperor?"
"In this particular circumstance." Her jaw firmed, and there was a light in her grey eyes that Milla knew all too well.
"Your father." She frowned as Helen shook her head. "Your brother?"
"We need to bring Aral in on this too, yeah," Helen agreed. "And my father. And my other brothers too, eventually. But before anything else ... I need to talk to Grandmother Cordelia."