"Lady Alys! I am so sorry about the death of Lord Vorpatril, if I had only known where you were in the city. I was trying to get Admiral Kanzian out. If only I'd known. Did you save the child?"
Lady Alys Vorpatril looked worn, but had clearly been back at Tanery Base long enough to clean up and was wearing a standard issue dependant's dress. Simon noted on second thought that it was in the "too large" size although some Vorlady art directed the eye away from that.
"Commander Illyan; oh you couldn't possibly have, without the Admiral we might all be dead. Ivan Padma is well and screaming; he's in the officers' wives' crèche now. Lieutenant Koudelka brought us through Vordarian's lines; he should get a promotion for his resourcefulness. Have you heard anything about Cordelia?"
"I suspect we'll all be due for a promotion when this is all over. Pity they can't give one to Lady Vorkosigan, she got back about two hours after you did, with Vordarian's head in a bag. The Empress Dowager didn't survive though."
Alys sighed and relaxed slightly, although Simon noticed a small wry frown at the news about Kareen.
"Lady Alys! What are you doing here?"
"Officially," the well-dressed socialite grinned slightly, "I'm sneaking cookies to young Vorinnes in Galactic Affairs."
Simon was sure he knew had to be coming next, although not the impact of it, "and unofficially?"
"Unofficially I have urgent news from Agent Vision. Vordrozda is moving, and one of his first moves is going to be to arrest you."
"That makes a lot of sense", Simon ruminated, "fortunately I'm at least two steps ahead of him."
"Have you heard anything about..." Alys looked worried.
"I had a message from my contact in Tau Verdi this morning; Miles is still there causing chaos. Lord Ivan hasn't been seen since boarding that tramp freighter at Beta Colony, but by my best guess we won't hear about him from Tau Verdi for another four days or so. It's all out of my hands though, we'll just have to hope that Ivan makes Miles see reason."
Lady Alys allowed herself a small smile quietly contemplating that, if her son did make Miles see reason, then it might be the first time ever.
"Now, you be getting down to Galactic Affairs and I'll make sure that only the right kind of incriminating documents are to hand when Vordrozda's goons arrive to arrest me."
"I don't think the time's right yet, Lady Alys."
"Come on Simon; it's not as if you don't know everything about her already."
Alys had commed through to Illyan's 'apartment' in the ImpSec building about ten minutes before; interrupting his supper of cheese on toast.
"Yes, but, she's not Empress yet, she's not on the inside for..."
"Nonsense," Alys interrupted with a shake of her head that made her earrings jangle, "you've already said there's nothing particularly sensitive coming up in the morning."
Simon waved the slice of toast in his right hand; about to say something but was cut off by a glare from the screen.
"And don't say something might come up in the morning; I already told you that Laisa will be understanding if there has to be a last minute change, but she's going to be working with ImpSec for the rest of her life and better to get started now before she has to deal with you in a more professional context."
Simon waved his toast again in probably defeat and this time managed to make an incoherent sound before Alys resumed.
"And you needn't worry about the social situation; Laisa doesn't view you has the cyborg oppressor of Komarr any more than she views Gregor as the boot on her planet's neck. And if she starts making you uncomfortable I'll be there yo save you."
Lady Alys nodded as if all was determined, "see you in the morning at the breakfast briefing then Simon," and cut the connection leaving him still trying to complete a sentence and his supper.
"Lady Alys! I'm glad you could make it so quickly; we have an emergency."
Alys nodded gravely, "So I inferred from your message, and I can only assume it must be about the Emperor's trip."
"Yes, indeed. He's vanished; secreted out of his room and through my security cordon without alerting anyone. No sign of who did it either, all the local suspects have been through the usual interrogations and there's no evidence of any of the galactics running an operation on Komarr."
Alys frowned and straightened her dress while she took that in, "Is there any chance that he just wandered off and is dead in a drain somewhere?"
"It's possible; my analysts put it quite low down though. You've spent more time with him socially; do you think he'd be likely to walk away from his cordon?"
"Possibly, if he was having a bad night; you know he's not really adapted to the responsibility yet?"
"Yes, I've read your reports, but he always seems very responsible around me. I suppose that's how he's been trained though. I'll send orders to Komarr to emphasise that possibility, they ought to know by now if it was some local plot and they'll need something to occupy their minds anyway. But there's a more critical question I asked you here about..."
"Do go on", Alys tilted her head enquiringly and brushed a lock of her hair from in front of her eye.
"What should we do at home to stop people wondering where the Emperor is? He's due back in a few days."
"Ahh, Lady Alys, can I have a moment of your time?"
"Of course, Captain, in private?"
"If you please; the blue balcony should be available."
Alys excused herself politely from the dance, leaving a bemused By Vorruyter to guard her wine glass and dance card, and swept out of the hall towards the powder room.
Turning off one door early, she climbed the stairs to the balcony where she found Illyan waiting.
"How may I be of assistance, Simon?
"I was hoping for your opinion on Lord Mark?"
"He's as bright as his clone brother, although more inclined to introspection. Not really a leader in Miles' mould; I think might make a good analyst if you're looking to hire him."
"Oh; God no! He has the same respect for authority that Miles does."
Lady Alys smiled broadly, "You mean none at all, unless it's his. I don't think that's quite true, he's overawed by Gregor."
"Yes, that's a good sign, and I think Gregor has a good opinion of him."
"He does, and I think I do too; he's made mistakes but I don't think he's the type to make the same mistake twice."
"So, should I let him into the search for Miles?"
"No, I wouldn't, he won't appreciate anything he doesn't have to work for; let him get into the search with his own energy and feel he owns it; then he'll work that much harder at it."
Simon nodded and thanked Alys. When she returned to the dance floor she could still see him up in the balcony, lost in thought; probably wracking his brain for missed leads to the location of Miles.
The Emperor's Birthday Ball was teeming with the great and good of the Vor dancing, drinking, and talking. Alys had retreated to one of the exterior balconies to get some air and was contemplating the debutante's dance card that she had nearly filled an hour before. Fortunately her mother had appraised her of the benefits of leaving double gaps in order to cool down and rest her feet.
Suddenly a noise as of a herd of elephants stampeded onto the balcony causing her to jump back and drop the card into the garden below. As the noise retreated she realised it was only a handful of the youngsters, perhaps playing a game of tag, and she took some deep breaths to steady herself before looking forlornly over the edge of the balcony.
Below her was a man in Imperial Security uniform with her dance card in one hand and considering the height of the balcony. After a couple of seconds he nodded to her and turned towards the wall where a vine was growing up a trellis alongside the ground floor window. Keeping the card held firmly in one hand he quickly assailed the trellis until his shoulders rose above the level of the restraining wall.
"My Lady, I believe you dropped this," he said, proffering it.
"Thank you," Alys looked at his uniform trying to remember insignia, "Ensign? I don't supposed I can offer you a dance for retrieving it?"
"Yes m'Lady, and no m'Lady, I'm afraid I'm on duty this evening."
"Well then," she replied, retrieving the card, "can you at least tell me whom I have to thank for this gallantry?"
"Ensign Illyan, m'Lady, of Imperial Security; at your service."