When Prince Xav Vorbarra first arrived on Beta Colony, he was already a veteran of a bloody civil war.
The timing of the resumption of galactic contact could not have come at a more convenient time for Dorca Vorbarra and his forces. They were occupying Vorbarr Sultana and the surrounding strongholds. They had reclaimed the territory they had lost in the earlier years of the Dorcan-Marcan civil war, and had even taken back territory the Dorcans had ceded in the peace treaty ten years before with the Sergan Faction. The Marcans were not, as Dorcan propaganda suggested, suing for peace, but they were at a disadvantage for the first time in seven years and the Dorcans were pushing their advantage. Multiple detailed analyses have agreed that without the Betan interruption, the Dorcans would still have won the war, having inexorably turned the tide at the Second Battle of Johan's Ford. Once Prince Marco lost General Vorhalas and General Vorfolse in one battle, he lost his last hope of having any strategic advantage over the Dorcans. Conservative estimates suggest the war would have ended two to three years after it did, with the Vorloupulous War either not happening at all due to the lack of galactic catalyst or ending much sooner because Emperor Dorca did not have to consider galactic sensibilities in his revenge.
When the Betans arrived, it was not, as some have suggested, a surprise. The Barrayarans kept a strict calendar and valued astronomy highly. They watched the skies and they knew something was coming. Admiral Vorparadijs of the Imperial Science Academy was in charge of tracking the Betans and attempted several times to make contact with the spacecraft before it landed. He finally succeeded after two days of signaling, and, with the assistance of Lord Vorbohn, brought the Betans down safely on the banks of the Vorbarr River. The first galactics to land on Barrayar in centuries were met with all due ceremony.
The descent was so lengthy because Betan law required it. Barrayar was inhabited, but scans from orbit showed that the Barrayarans lacked spaceflight and other advanced technology. The Betans tried to initiate contact through multiple avenues. When all of the attempts failed, they initiated standard landing procedure.
It is not clear if the Betans were armed. The Barrayarans certainly were. Captain Raisman, the head of the expedition, recalled the military splendor that surrounded them. He assumed at first that he and his crew were under arrest. It became clear to them later that the show of force was not meant to be primarily a show of force, although that was certainly a secondary intent. Rather, he discovered, Barrayar was an overwhelmingly military society.
Raisman's report is telling. The Barrayarans assumed the expedition was made up entirely of soldiers, and treated them accordingly. His crew contained five women and three herms. Raisman reported, and the reports of the crew agree, that the Barrayarans did not seem to notice, and contemporary Barrayaran reports suggest that they did not. Raisman reported that the Betans were treated with a great deal of respect. They were treated as if they were Vor, a policy towards galactics that lasted until the Cetagandan invasion.
Emperor Dorca was intimately aware of the importance of contact. He knew the power of allies. When Admiral Vorparadijs had first reported that Barrayar was no longer abandoned, Emperor Dorca had called his counselors to him and they began to make plans. The Betans, they decided, would be treated like honored guests. Nothing would be touched. No one would enter their craft or try to steal its secrets. Emperor Dorca viewed the advantages of friends as greater than the advantages of quick, easy knowledge. The Betans were not arrested and their technology was not confiscated.
Instead, the Dorcans began a charm offensive.
Creating this galactic alliance became Emperor Dorca's highest priority. He negotiated a temporary truce with the Marcans for the first three months after the Betan contact, declaring it amnesty and mercy. He had it proclaimed as Dorca's Celebration: a cessation of hostilities to celebrate the end of isolation. Emperor Dorca declared that he wanted the Betans to see Barrayar at its best.
Prince Marco likely lost any hope of gaining the Imperium when he agreed to Emperor Dorca's truce. By doing so, he signaled to the Betans that their assumptions were correct.
After two months, it was clear that the Betans acknowledged the central Imperial government in Vorbarr Sultana as the legitimate planetary government. Remarkably, and very quietly, this achieved what ten years of war had not yet done: it made Dorca Vorbarra the undisputed Emperor of Barrayar. As other planets have found, external recognition can be a powerful force. Legitimacy is created by the outsiders, and the ultimate outsiders, from a Barrayaran political perspective, had made their choice. The Dorcans took ruthless advantage of this immediately, with the result that, within weeks of the Betans choosing to speak to Emperor Dorca personally on behalf of Barrayar, even some of the Marcan Counts were speaking of themselves in terms of a rebellion. Of all of the changes wrought by Contact, one of the least appreciated is the way it turned Prince Marco Vorbarra from the rightful heir into the usurper, and solidified Emperor Dorca's tenuous claim into a throne he never relinquished.
The Betans saw very little of this. Their firm policy was that they never decided who or what was a legitimate government. Government came from the governed, and so the Betans turned to the population to tell them who was in charge. The Betans landed at the largest city on the planet and traveled to the other large cities. They were aware of civil strife, but the largest cities of the time were firmly in Dorcan hands by this point. Had the Betans arrived even two years earlier, with the Dorcans losing ground quickly to the Marcans after the brutal defeats at Vorhartung Base and the Three Borders Ridge, Barrayaran history may have gone in a rather different direction. As it was, the Betans toured Vorbarr Sultana, Vorrutyer City, and Vorkosigan Vashnoi within a week of their arrival and came to the conclusion heavily supported by the throngs Emperor Dorca, Count Vorrutyer, and Count Vorkosigan had arranged to meet them. It was a glorious political spectacle.
When Prince Marco arrived some days later with truce in hand, it was already too late. The Marcan Faction was deemed not a separate government by the Betans, who viewed government by their standards. Although he had ten Counts sworn to his side, Prince Marco himself controlled no territory. From the Betans's perspective, he ruled no one. The saw Barrayar as one polity, not two. Therefore, Prince Marco must simply be the head of an alternate political party, or an agitator, or simply the opposition. He was not a ruler in his own right. Betan law forbade the Betans from deciding what a legitimate government was. They saw nothing that would cause them to believe that the Marcans were a separate country or nation. They were therefore never recognized as one, despite Prince Marco's best efforts. The Betans were willing and eager to trade with the Marcans, but as private entities only. They did not recognize Prince Marco as someone who could speak for anyone other than himself, despite that between his hands, he held the oaths of ten Counts.
With Emperor Dorca, then, deciding who would speak in the Emperor's Voice on behalf of Barrayar, the Dorcan-Marcan Civil War was effectively over. Had Prince Marco's assassination plan succeeded, the Betans would have seen this as political unrest and instability, not as justice served. But Emperor Dorca putting down a revolt was merely and entirely the actions of a legitimate government. The Betans could object to the means, but not to the motives. They could not, and did not, object to Emperor Dorca's right to do it. Nor did they realize, when they filed a moral complaint about the executions, that it was they who had given Emperor Dorca the right.
Emperor Dorca wasted no time in pursuing the possibilities now open to him with the re-establishment of contact with the rest of the galaxy. He and his advisers could see the possibilities. He correctly saw it as more strategically important than war with the Marcans. For this, he could spare a younger son. When the First Delegation left Barrayar, Prince Xav, then a Captain in his father's army and still not yet twenty, was at its head. Because of the fait-accompli the Betans inadvertently created, when Prince Xav Vorbarra came to Beta Colony, he came not as a representative of one faction in a civil war, but rather as the ambassador from the undisputed Emperor of Barrayar and empowered to speak on his planet's behalf.
And so believing made it so. Dorca Vorbarra became the first Emperor of Barrayar to use intergalactic recognition as a tool to create his own legitimacy. He began to work immediately on the one tool that he was certain would assure his rule: a single Imperial Service.
For Prince Xav Vorbarra, his time on Beta Colony proved to be a very short respite from chaos. He later wrote fondly of his time off-planet, considering it a proving ground for what came later. The letter Prince Xav sent to his daughter on her first visit to Beta Colony is illuminating. He wrote that in his first month on Beta Colony, he found himself looking anew at everything he had previous done by rote. While some men would flinch away from the truth of their own soul, he had embraced it. He had learned new meanings to ritual words and phrases that he had never heard before when he was simply speaking the words. He became more Vor. In some way, he felt, he became Vor for the first time, forced to see himself the way outsiders did, forced to see himself in his context and his culture. On Barrayar, he had been simply himself, but on Beta Colony, he was Barrayaran, he was other. Because he now had contrast, he could see himself in the shadow he cast. There are no Vor among the Vor, he wrote, there are only high words and shallow feelings. You are not aware you are breathing air until you are drowning. You are not aware you are Vor until no one knows what that means. No one cares about birth on Beta because who you are is what you can achieve. Your lineage is nothing, your accomplishments are everything. It is the future that matters, not the past. It is what you can do, not what your parents did. So you must look to yourself and who you are. You must discover what you did not know you do not know. He wrote: I hope you find what you do not know you are looking for. If you only find what you are looking for, you aren't looking.
When Prince Xav left Barrayar, he left as Dorca's younger son, forever in his elder brother's shadow. When he returned, it was as the successful negotiator who brought the galaxy home with him. The first delegation set up relationships that continue until today. The University Of Silica, for example, still imports scrubweed and razorgrass by the jumpship. Of all of Barrayar's trade relationships, the one with Beta Colony has been the strongest and most enduring. It ceased only briefly, as an official Betan protest to the conquest of Komarr. Throughout Barrayar's first galactic century, Beta Colony has been Barrayar's most consistent ally. The credit lies with Prince Xav and the First Delegation.
When Prince Xav arrived on Beta Colony, he knew he must begin as he meant to go on, and he knew what he had to do. Emperor Dorca had sent his most skilled negotiators, men who had written every treaty he ever signed, men who he trusted to know their duty. And he sent the steady Prince Xav, a man who had already earned a reputation for keeping calm in a panic, for always thinking everything through thoroughly before acting. Emperor Dorca was clear: there would be no hot-headed Vor lord among the delegation, no one who would forget duty and honor in the heat of the moment. And Prince Xav was incorruptible; that had been proved beyond a doubt at Johan's Ford when Prince Marco swore to make him his heir. Emperor Dorca gave the delegation their orders and he gave them their leader.
And in return, Prince Xav gave Barrayar an unshakable trade partner and ally. In Prince Xav's first report home to his father, he wrote: I hope to position us so that if we withdraw, they will be sure to notice. I will find something to prop up, if only a shelf somewhere. If we withdraw, they will feel it. Only by Barrayar becoming necessary for Beta Colony will we succeed. In return, my liege, I must make us as reliant on them in return. I will not otherwise succeed.
It was a risk Emperor Dorca was willing to take.
Barrayar desperately needed galactic medicine and technology. Beta Colony, then as now, wanted natural resources. They prized the products of Barrayaran terraforming as highly as the native vegetation. Their botanists and chemists were eager for new data and samples, and their industry and their artisans wanted wood. What was reasonably valuable back home could fetch a fortune on Beta Colony, a fact that mystified the Barrayaran delegation even as they enthusiastically exploited it. General Paul Vordarian, the senior military officer, wrote in his briefing materials that Beta Colony possessed the technology to manufacture and exactly replicate everything the Barrayarans could offer. What the Betans desired, however, was authenticity and artistry and the taste of the exotic. Beta Colony is a desert planet, therefore the Betans desired wood and produce grown out of doors. Barrayar was covered in forests and farms, every terraformed inch of it beyond value on Barrayar and every non-terraformed inch equally valuable on Beta Colony.
In addition, Barrayar came to the negotiating table with the force of the civil war behind it; Emperor Dorca wanted the Marcan provinces to suffer. For what Barrayar would receive in exchange, Dorca was willing to fell every tree from the Great East River to the Keroslav Valley, suck up every resource, and send it through the wormholes. It was no less than those Counts deserved, Prince Xav wrote to his father, to be sacrificed for the centralized Imperium they had so despised and had resisted. And so he would.
And so they did. Prince Xav shipped home invaluable technology and training materials, everything Betans knew about purifying water, about coaxing crops from unforgiving land, about air filtration, about space travel. In exchange, Prince Xav gave away land by the acre. It caused the ten-year famine in the Vorfolse District and at least four floods.
They called it a fair exchange.
When Prince Xav returned from Beta Colony, bringing with him investors, speculators, scientists, and his future wife, the Imperial Service imagined by Emperor Dorca had coalesced into something real. Prince Xav had left a planet with scattered, legitimate armies, with independent Counts, and with civil war. He returned to the Barrayaran created by the first of the Dorcan Laws.
With central Imperial authority now securely vested in the person of Dorca Vorbarra, with the power of the individual Counts all but broken, their armies all but consumed, the Imperial Service was born. Already, to be a soldier on Barrayar was to be a Dorcan, an Imperialist, a Centralist. There was no alternative. The old faction names remained, but were soon to die in the first blast of the Cetagandan War. The faction names would die with their heroes, creating room for new ones to spring up from the ashes.
When Prince Xav left Barrayar for the first time, he left a planet still locked in the grip of firm social roles. The elite were a closed society, the military promoted based on caste and social status rather than merit, and the vast majority of the population locked into place. He returned to a planet he recognized. A planet where to be an officer was to be Vor and where to be Vor was to be an officer. A planet where horse cavalry was the pinnacle of war technology. A planet where a birth dictated all.
All that was soon to change.