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"Whilst we wait for Lord Vorkosigan, let's get some of the preliminaries out of the way, and then he can fill out his part of the forms and we'll be able to remove the implant." Doctor Patril put aside a few pieces of paper--real paper, Cordelia thought with the little mental hiccup that was starting to become familiar--and took out a medical scanner. "Please excuse the question, but this will be your first pregnancy, is that correct?"

Cordelia wondered what would be offensive about the question. "That's right. I've had the contraceptive implant since I was thirteen." As the doctor began to run the scanner over her, she asked idly, "What forms does Aral have to fill in?"

"Oh, just the permission form, and then we can get started. Your implant is Betan, isn't it?" He looked very keen to examine it properly, but Cordelia's brain had come to a stop.

"Permission?"

"From the woman's father, husband or other male guardian, yes." He smiled at her. "Just a formality, I assure you. Is it true that on Beta Colony you have to get a license from the government before you can do this?"

"That's right, but--" Cordelia took a deep breath. Other cultures do things differently, she assured herself. "Do you have to have that form to get a contraceptive implant fitted as well?"

"Oh yes." He looked at the readings on his scanner and said, "Your blood pressure's a bit elevated, milady. Have you been under any undue stress lately?"

Undue stress. Cordelia considered getting up, walking out of the doctor's office, taking a flyer and going to the shuttleport and fleeing the planet. She couldn't go back to Beta, but there was a whole civilised galaxy out there where women didn't have to get permission from their 'male guardians' to get a contraceptive implant. But most of those places had extradition treaties with Beta.

The door to the office opened and Aral entered. "Sorry about that--something just came through from the District courts that I had to sign." He looked at Cordelia. "Everything all right?"

"No," she said across the doctor's practiced phrases. "No, everything is not all right. Aral, apparently there's a form you have to sign to give me permission for this implant to be removed."

Aral was much quicker than the doctor. "Oh," he said. "Yes. There would be. I remember with... yes." He sat down beside her, leaning forward intently. "It was a condition the Council of Counts added when galactic contraceptives were made legal here. It seemed ... better to allow the condition, than continue with the black market situation, which was extremely dangerous."

Doctor Patril was catching on. "It's only for contraceptive implants and physician-prescribed medications," he said. "There are other methods--more cumbersome and less effective, it's true, but reasonably safe--that anyone can use."

Cordelia pressed her lips together. "I refuse. Don't sign it."

"I beg your pardon?" Dr Patril said anxiously. Aral waved him to silence.

"Aral, if ... if something happened to you, who would sign this sort of form for me then?"

"Well, Father, I suppose," Aral said. "Since you don't have any family of your own here. But Cordelia, it's not--"

"It's not serious? It's not important? That I can't have certain medical procedures without a third party's consent?"

Aral sat back in his chair, hands open and deliberately relaxed. "What do you want me to do?" he said. "I can't change Barrayar's laws."

"You can protest them," Cordelia said sharply, suddenly feeling extremely Betan. "This is--this is barbaric, Aral. I can't live with this."

Aral sat silent. The pain on his face almost made Cordelia backtrack. She trusted him absolutely, after all. But all her education and training and beliefs held firm. She was a legal adult able to make her own decisions, nobody's possession. She hadn't taken the standard Barrayaran wedding oath to obedience either, instead making the same vows as Aral.

"If I might..." Dr Patril looked between them. "There is a third option, my lord, my lady. It has been done, in some cases, for a woman's, um, relative, to sign a letter releasing her from such obligations."

"Would that hold if Aral died?" Cordelia demanded.

"I don't think it's ever been contested," Dr Patril said. "In general a man's heirs are bound to honour his breath and voice."

Aral gave her a beseeching look. "I don't like it," Cordelia said, unnecessarily. "But very well. Do it." She paused. "You once considered going into politics. If you do..."

"If I do," Aral said, "I will not forget this."

After that it all was over quickly. For all their cultural differences, the procedure to remove the implant was exactly the same here as it would have been back home. No. On Beta Colony. This place, with its appalling rules and customs, was home. But it was traditional for a new wife to redecorate her husband's home, here. Cordelia was beginning to think that she would have to apply the same principle to the planet.