Yuri succeeds Dorca and reigns for five years before succumbing to fever. His son Vlad dies without heirs in scandalous circumstances. Xav dies an Emperor, as does his son Ivan, leaving it to young Nicholas. Gregor watches it all.
Xav marries his daughter to Piotr to keep the peace, his sister to Ezar to ease his conscience. Ezar's eldest son marries Count Vorinnis's eldest daughter. Their marriage is short and unhappy. Kareen names her son after the only man to protest the match: Serg's bachelor uncle, the one rumored to be a bastard, the one who always looked at her with ghosts haunting him.
Gregor lives to an old age and dies the day he was taken.
Not for nothing was Gregor Vorbarra the final military apprentice that Piotr Vorkosigan ever took on. The old man came out of retirement for him, a favor to Gregor's grandfather, and Gregor learned everything he could from him. And when the old Count died and Gregor's mother sent him to university, he learned there, too.
When he wakes up in the Emperor's Suite in the Imperial Palace, he knows precisely where he is, and does not know anything about why. His-cousin-the-Emperor is older than him by some years, and not one for games. If Gregor had been drunk, he might have been tossed into a spare bedroom to sleep it off, but he would not have been invited to Nicholas's private domain. And Gregor did not dine privately with the Emperor last night, or at any time in the last year. Gregor has been on Komarr, studying.
Gregor would suspect some kind of trick from the Princes, something to goad him into revealing some kind of convoluted plan, but the room is decorated strangely. There are none of the Betan touches that Nicholas favors, but it is still, unmistakably, the Emperor's Suite.
Gregor pulls on a robe and heads to the antechamber. An armsman there salutes him. "Good morning, sire," he says. And Nicholas's armsmen are never ones for humor.
Gregor pulls a smile. "Good morning," he says. He doesn't know where he is, he doesn't know what game this is, or how it's being done, but Gregor Vorbarra has learned patience, has learned caution, has learned care. He is Vorbarra, but raised by his mother, who is not. He is Vorbarra, but was taken under the wing of the Vorkosigans. He is a Vorbarra who knows how to be... not.
He is a Vorbarra who knows how to sit back and see what happens.
There are no answers at his morning's intelligence briefing. The ImpSec man is blond, a captain, and clearly not Vor. He has an odd way of speaking, as if recalling memory is a particular experience for him. He tells Gregor about the growing Cetagandan threat -- Gregor is unsurprised -- and about unrest on Komarr and on the South Continent. Gregor does not understand why Komarran unrest is included in this briefing; perhaps it could spill over through the wormhole or cause problems with shipping? Gregor tries to tease out details, but remains confused. Happily, it seems the captain does not expect Gregor to make instant decisions, because he waits politely, and then takes Gregor's pronouncement that he will think on it with equanimity.
The mutie, however, takes him by surprise. Gregor finds him waiting back in Gregor's sitting room, his feet up on a chair, a glass twirling between his fingers. The mutie jumps up when Gregor enters and then bows and sits back down again without asking for or gaining permission.
Gregor eyes the mutie's uniform and says, "Vorkosigan." Gregor is very curious as to how a mutie ended up in the colors of Piotr Vorkosigan. Surely old Piotr was never around to see this.
"Mother sends her best," says the mutant Vorkosigan. Gregor watches in fascination as he drains his drink and then stand to pour a refill for himself, and one for Gregor. "She says I'm the worst patient she's ever seen."
Now that Gregor looks harder, he can see that the mutie is favoring one of his legs. Perhaps that's a recent injury and not a result of the mutation. "I can see that," Gregor responds.
The mutie flashes a brief grin. "Well, you know me." The mutie starts swinging his legs. Gregor can feel a headache building. Do Vorkosigans around here -- wherever here is, whatever simulation this must be -- not know how to sit still? Gregor would never dream of acting this way around his Emperor.
"And you know where the door is," Gregor replies. The mutie is treating him with a shocking incivility, so Gregor will assume that is the standard around here, and return the favor. The ImpSec captain had been the height of formality, as had Gregor's armsmen. This Vorkosigan must be a special favorite, given privileges others would never dare. Perhaps whoever the Emperor is here, the Emperor whose place Gregor has usurped in this reality, or been placed into in the simulation, had also been apprenticed to the Vorkosigans, and had taken a shine to a Vorkosigan who could never dream of usurpation. It wouldn't have been Piotr, though. It must have been Selig. Selig hadn't had a very stellar military career, but perhaps the one here had exceeded the Selig Vorkosigan that Gregor knew. It wouldn't have been very hard. Piotr's daughters and nephews had always had more sense than any of Piotr's sons.
"Right where it always is," the mutie agrees. "Ivan'll be a few minutes, Lady Alys caught him with Donna last night."
Of those names, the only one that Gregor is willing to risk identifying is Lady Alys, who might possibly be his mother's favorite cousin. It would make sense that Gregor would have formed strong social bonds with the children of those his mother favors. Gregor wonders who this mutie's mother is. Aunt Gabrielle, perhaps? She would have taken a Vorkosigan's offer if one had been made. Perhaps Laurent Vorkosigan had managed to be kept clear of the Vorpatrils long enough for Gregor's grandmother to bring sense to the situation. "He should take better care to not be caught," Gregor says.
The mutie is looking at him strangely. "What, nothing about divorced Vorrutyers?"
Gregor tries to remember a Donna Vorrutyer. Is that her married name? There's always been far too many Vorrutyers to keep track of; Gregor has a cousin in Political Education to do it for him. "Unless he's going to marry her, then no."
The mutie laughs. "I'm going to tell him you said that."
"Please do." Gregor says.
The promised Ivan arrives not five minutes later, dressed in Imperial uniform. He has already completed his apprenticeship, but Gregor sees no sign of a crest indicating who brought him through it. That must not be the fashion here. Ivan greets with mutie with an affectionate, "Miles, I'm going to get you back for abandoning me," and gives Gregor more space than the mutie, Miles, had. And Ivan, at least, waits for permission to sit.
"What happened with Donna?" Gregor asks Ivan.
Ivan groans. "Not you, too, Gregor. Nothing happened. We were just talking."
"Don't lie to the Emperor," Miles chides him gleefully.
Gregor looks sternly at Ivan. If Ivan is lying to his face, well, Gregor is going to revise his estimation of Ivan significantly downward.
Ivan blanches. "It really was nothing! Did Count Vorrutyer put in another demand for me to marry her? Because Donna's not interested, she keeps telling me that. We just found a nice spot of the garden to talk, and that's all we did!"
If Count Vorrutyer is demanding marriage, then Donna must be his daughter. The Vorrutyers have always been straight-forward about honor. How they went about that honor, on the other hand... "I see," Gregor says flatly. Ivan must have been brought through by the Vorrutyers. That would give him familiarity with the daughters from a young age. No wonder Count Vorrutyer would like to see this marriage happen. Solidifying the connection with the Vorrutyers would certainly be advantageous to all of them. But Gregor can see why someone in Ivan's position, and with Lady Alys for a mother, would rather wait and see what other offers he received. After all, Ivan's not even a Lieutenant yet.
"Yeah, okay, it would have been more if it had been more private, but it wasn't, so Count Vorrutyer can't complain," Ivan finishes triumphantly.
"Like that would stop him," Miles says. "You remember that time--"
"With the fish?"
Miles snickers. "My finest achievement."
Pranksters. Gregor does see. And is Gregor a prankster amongst them? He seems to be the Emperor, and at his age. There is no hint of an overly controlling Prime Minister or an aging Regent coughing his way through the halls. Gregor must not be a new Emperor. He wonders if his mother lives here with him or if she has her own residence.
This is seeming more and more like reality, and less and less like some kind of malicious simulation. And Gregor is increasingly confused as to how he got here.
The afternoon intelligence briefing yields more results. It occurs ten minutes before the scheduled time when the ImpSec captain, Illyan, bursts in, on the edge of frantic. "Sire, the Cetagandans have invaded Komarr." Armsmen are pouring in behind him. Gregor stands. "In their announcement, they've declared that you are not truly Gregor Vorbarra."
Gregor raises an eyebrow at that. He may not be the Gregor Vorbarra they are looking for, but he is certainly Gregor Vorbarra. No interrogation could prove otherwise. And this certainly answers some of Gregor's questions. He should have known the Cetagandans would be behind this. While others could benefit more from questions of Imperial legitimacy, only the Cetagandans would do something so byzantine as to engineer the Emperor's secret replacement with an impostor in such a manner that the impostor may not be aware of it.
"We think they may be attempting some kind of substitution," Illyan continues. "We've implemented Protocol Alpha, and Prime Minister Vorkosigan is on his way."
"Miles and Ivan?" Gregor asks, because a child Emperor would care about his dear childhood companions.
"Taken to Vorkosigan Surleau and being sat on. We're not letting Miles run off to his mercenaries again." Again?! Gregor would dearly love to ask some pointed questions of his predecessor. "The Cetagandan embassy staff have barricaded themselves inside the embassy. We expect to have the ambassador here within the hour, sire."
"And will you be proving to them that I am not a clone?" Gregor asks. He won't be able to provide passwords. It would be best to get that eventuality out of the way as quickly as possible. He can't dwell on that worry. If they found out that he was not their Gregor Vorbarra, and under these circumstances, his death would be a Cetagandan's death. Gregor would prefer to avoid that if possible.
Illyan looks somewhat insulted. "No, sire, I will not be giving their pretext any veneer of legitimacy."
Ah, ImpSec arrogance. Gregor might have known. But it's in his favor this time, so he can hardly begrudge it.
One of the ImpSec men puts himself forward. He's a Colonel, but not in charge here. Interesting. "Preliminary analysis suggests they might have been planning this for the upcoming state visit to Komarr, but their timeline had to be changed when the visit was cancelled. They might not have had enough time to revise their plan."
"They chose the time of attack," Gregor says coolly. "I am entirely certain they waited until they were ready."
Not for nothing was Gregor worthy of being trained by Piotr Vorkosigan. He knows how to take command.
And he does.
To Gregor's shock, Prime Minister Vorkosigan is Aral Vorkosigan. He is also the controlling Prime Minister that Gregor had been looking for earlier, although perhaps this Aral's Emperor had recently beaten some respect into him. He has that sense to him. He seems just a little too awed by Gregor, just a little too careful. If Gregor were this world's Gregor, he would have done it shortly after his twentieth, but perhaps he might have waited a year or so. Gregor, after all, knows very little about this political climate. Aral Vorkosigan must have become Prime Minister after his father died, perhaps to appease the General Staff. They always did like the Vorkosigans a little too much. They'd put Selig, no great mind, in charge of Ops. At least Aral knew what he was doing with his fleet.
When Gregor had been given a choice between completing his military apprenticeship under Selig Vorkosigan or waiting indefinitely for someone else worthy of training a Vorbarra to have an apprenticing spot open, he had gone to university and never looked back. In a choice between Selig and Aral for Prime Minister, Gregor would grudgingly have to choose Aral. One Vorkosigan son had a strategic mind. The other... well, the other had several heirs, one of which would probably end up a success, by chance if nothing else.
Still, they couldn't do better than Aral Vorkosigan? Are there no other Vorkosigans but him and Selig? And even if so, are all the Vortalas dead?
But Aral, it seems, has experience with Komarr, with conquering Komarr, Gregor discovers from a side comment. That explains... well, that explains a great deal. Gregor magnanimously leans on Aral's experience, and Aral seems to take pride in being at Gregor's command. Well, he's a Vorkosigan, and Gregor's a Vorbarra. He damn well should.
And there's something of Old Piotr about him, something familiar and comforting. The Aral that Gregor had known hadn't been like this, but if this Aral had conquered Komarr, well, Gregor shouldn't be comparing him to anyone. This Aral Vorkosigan is singular. Gregor envies his other self who got to learn from him. If this Aral had been Gregor's Aral, if this had been the new Count Vorkosigan, he wouldn't have hesitated to complete his apprenticeship under the Vorkosigans. He would have trusted fully in Count Vorkosigan's competence.
Gregor will send Aral Vorkosigan out to command the fleet during this war, he decides. After all, the man who conquered Komarr once could certainly do so again. Gregor-the-Emperor trusts in Aral's abilities. Gregor-the-pretender, well, if Aral were to challenge him, he could succeed. Best to keep Aral happily occupied with other matters. A war with Cetaganda would be just the thing to distract everyone who could benefit from replacing Gregor. And if needs must... well, accidents can be arranged.
Gregor adapts. He has ImpSec at his fingertips and a lifetime of training behind him. Miles is really quite crafty and Ivan knows all the best gossip; no wonder Gregor's predecessor had kept them around. Cordelia Vorkosigan makes him wary, so he appoints her as the ambassador to Beta Colony in her own right. If she shares her suspicions with her husband or her son, ImpSec never hears of it.
Sometimes, Gregor thinks of his great-uncle, Ezar's bastard brother. Gregor never encountered any images or records of Uncle Gregor as a child and all of the stories that Gregor had ever heard of him start with his service during the war. Uncle Gregor himself never reminisced about anything from before the war. And Gregor had never thought any of this strange. He certainly had never been suspicious. Now Gregor realizes he doesn't even know whose apprentice Uncle Gregor was, even though Gregor can name the apprenticing lineage of every other Vorbarra of note. And, Gregor remembers being told, when Xav on his deathbed ruled on the divorce of Serg Vorbarra, he had consulted only with Uncle Gregor before making his decision. And Gregor... Gregor had never asked. It had been part of his life from the very beginning; he had never thought to ask. He wouldn't have even known, then, what to ask.
He wants to go back, now, and ask. Sometimes, at night, he composes lists of questions. He is coming to an uncomfortable certainty. He doesn't like it. He doesn't like his conclusions.
He wonders what Uncle Gregor might be thinking now.
He wonders if Uncle Gregor knew that Gregor would come here.
He wonders... it doesn't matter. The Cetagandans successfully switched the Emperor without anyone knowing, and it was only pure luck that the Gregor who came as the replacement was just as capable as the Gregor who was sent away. This could never be allowed to happen again.
So on the nights he can't sleep, Gregor Vorbarra -- grandson of Ezar Vorbarra, apprentice to Piotr Vorkosigan, a man never born to be Emperor -- plots how to destroy Cetaganda.