Actions

Work Header

The Astrocartographer's Apprentice.

Work Text:

1.

When Miles Vorkosigan is seventeen years old, he fails the entrance examinations for the Imperial Service Academy.

When Miles Vorkosigan is seventeen years old, he is acquitted on two counts of treason.

When Miles Vorkosigan is seventeen years old, he enters Hassadar District University to become an astrocartographer like his mother before him.

Because he's going to find another wormhole out of Barrayar.

 

2.

The full astrocartography course is six years long. Miles plans it out: by the time he graduates, Ivan could be a lieutenant. He thinks up a few scathing remarks to make to Ivan about how it's harder to be Miles's mother than to be any graduate of the Imperial Service Academy, then he reconsiders when he thinks about one of them when he's around Gregor. Gregor's also a graduate of the Academy. Miles'll be rude to Ivan, but he doesn't want to be rude to Gregor.

It's not the best astrocartography course on the planet. It's not even the best astrocartography course in two hundred kilometers. But everything Miles does is political these days. If he stayed in the capital, he'd be the target of plots. If he went to any other District, he'd be the target of speculation. He's got to stay home for this. Home has to be good enough for him. He was itching to get away, he was itching to leave the planet. And he still can do that. But he needs to spend six years here first. He needs to go through the training, he needs to earn his certification, and he needs to make a plan.

If Miles can't serve his Emperor like his father has, it only makes sense to try his mother's way instead. She'd gone on blind-jumps, trying to find new planets and mapping out wormholes. If there's one thing Barrayar needs, it's another wormhole that actually goes somewhere. Being at the bottom of a well is a terrible place to be, militarily and economically. They don't have a back door for a retreat. It's expensive to ship. Miles has a District full of maple mead he'd like to sell to the galaxy, to say nothing of his father's legacy as the Butcher of Komarr to redeem by doing the one thing guaranteed to actually help Komarr.

Miles can't be a military captain, but he can damn sure still be a ship captain. He'll always be in the shadow of his father-the-great-admiral and his grandfather-the-great-general, and if there's any way to make his name on Barrayar, it would be as the man who saved it from being one wormhole collapse away from going back to the Time Of Isolation.

It had been a Betan Astronomical Survey ship that had first encountered Isolation Barrayar and, even after finding Barrayar, they'd kept sending mapping expeditions until the Cetagandans had put a stop to that by invading. The Cetagandans had presumably done their own surveys, but none of that information ever made it to Barrayar, or presumably left the Cetagandan Empire at all. Survey ships starting coming back again very slowly after the Cetagandans retreated for the final time. Yuri hadn't liked them, had felt they were spies, but had been too busy to stop them. Ezar had had the military clear them out for the first few years and then ignored them after that. Miles's father had invited the crews to dinner. Miles's mother always pumped them for every detail she could. Miles, staring at his exams, wishes he'd paid more attention when he was a kid. How was he to know he'd fail out of the Academy and have to find an alternate career plan?

Well, other than that's what everyone's been telling him since he was six years old and started insisting that he'd be able to do it. But the first one Miles always fools with his forward momentum is himself. He didn't have a second plan. He has to make one now.

The most common route for astronomical survey teams to try to find is the original Earth-to-Barrayar route used by the Firsters. It had been a three-jump route, unimaginably dangerous for the time, but they'd risked it because Barrayar had a breathable atmosphere. Some enterprising soul had dug up the original maps from the old Earth archives about fifty years ago, but no one's been able to find the route again. That wormhole is gone or hiding very, very well.

Miles is used to chasing legends. He's been chasing Vorthalia the Bold since he was seven. But any route he tries, he's going to have to justify to the expedition sponsors. The original route's a distraction; every variation on it has been tried and failed. Barrayar has five civilian astronomical surveys. Some want wormholes alone. Some want planets. Some simply want norm-space routes or scientific advances. If Miles is going to work for one of them, if Miles is going to command a ship, then he needs to be able to convince other people of his unending genius. He'd been able to do it as Admiral Naismith, but he needs to be able to do it as Lord Vorkosigan. And Lord Vorkosigan needs to be something other than the treasonous mutie lord if he's going to be able to do anything.

Gregor's promised him an Imperial patronage for any serious endeavor, which helps Miles's ego, but he needs more than that. He needs a plan.

Luckily, he has six years before he has to convince anyone of it. That should be more than enough time.

 

3.

The coursework isn't the hard part. The hard part is his classmates. Most of them are from the District. It's about equal on if they primarily hate him for mutation or are scared of him for being Vorkosigan. They worship his father. They respect his mother. They don't know what to make of Miles. Miles had tried to win them over as their mutie lord, but then there'd been the treason. Aral's father had lasted only a few more months as Prime Minister after that before handing it off to Quintillan. Miles is the reason for the Count's disgrace, on top of being a mutie. He's not popular back home, to say the least.

But Gran'da hadn't drilled Miles in being Vor for nothing. He keeps his chin up. This is his District and he's going to be the Count one day. It's his job to win them over. And if he can't do it in the classroom, he'll do it with what he does once he graduates. But he has to lay the groundwork here. He has to prove himself to his liegepeople or he'll never be anything more than he is now. And Miles will never settle for that. He's going to serve his District. He's going to serve Barrayar. He'll put his name right next to his father's and grandfather's. He's not going to be the Vorkosigan who fails. He's not going to be the Vorkosigan who settles. He's going to use everything he can, everything he is, to help his people. He can't call himself Vorkosigan if he doesn't.

Miles has a decent grounding in astrocartography, but best of all, he's got stories from his mother. He knows the worst part of being a working astrocartographer is dealing with the boredom. The only thing a survey ship has in abundance is down-time. Dealing with that is about as important as his coursework, as far as he's concerned. He's never going to get anywhere if he can't stand being stuck on a ship with the same people for ten months at a time.

Miles considers his options and then joins the drama society. If there's anything Barrayarans love, it's Shakespeare. And he's already planning his ideal crew mix; he wants a lot of Komarrans and galactics. Komarran jump pilots aren't allowed to jump on this side of the Komarran hub, but that just means he'll need to find others to fill out the crew. It won't be too hard; Komarrans love spaceships like Miles's grandfather had loved horses. He'll want some Betans, too, for experience.

So Miles stocks up his repertoire with some galactic favorites. He is determined that he is going to be good for interplanetary relations. He's got to justify the promised Imperial interest somehow, beyond just that Gregor is playing favorites and wallowing in regrets. Amateur theatricals help Miles with his classmates, so they'll probably help with his ship-mates, too. And if all that fails, at least Miles already knows which plays to lay in stock as holos. Having a variety of entertainments is important, Miles's mother had told him. Then she'd added a few more comments about Barrayarans, while Miles's father tried not to laugh. Miles's father had had military discipline to rely on when he'd spent years away from home; Miles isn't going to have that, and his crew mix is going to be very different from his father's, so he figures putting on plays is a better pressure relief valve than judo tournaments.

But he does start studying judo more carefully as well, just in case.

 

4.

It takes twenty years. It's twenty years of searching, twenty years of ship improvements, twenty years of wearing out his luck, twenty years of desperation. It's twenty years of coming home with scientific advances. It's twenty years of coming home with failure. It's dealing with family matters while in space, and ship matters while on planet. He'd even gotten to meet his illegal clone. It's all-consuming. It's all-encompassing. Miles loves every minute of it. He's in his element, he can't imagine having done anything else with his life. He could have been another cog in the Barrayaran military, or he could be out here, where no one else has ever been before, making his mark. Space is big. Miles is helping make it a little smaller.

But the failure eats at him, that maybe he was wrong, that maybe there was no way for him to be right. Maybe there's no other wormhole to find. But there has to be. Miles is certain of it. There was an original wormhole to Barrayar. There's the new wormhole to Barrayar. There's got to be a third one.

When they finds it, it's four weeks from Barrayar in norm-space. When they find it, at first Miles is certain his navigator is playing some kind of terrible joke. But she's not. The wormhole is there and it's stable.

Miles stares into space for a long time, even though he can't actually see it. He feels like he can. It feels like victory.

"Let's go through," Miles says. They send off a message back home. They send their final letters through in case they don't return. They leave a buoy emblazoned with the ship's name, designation, and full crew list.

And they jump.

 

5.

Astrocartographers share their maps. It's the only way this can work. But Miles doesn't need a map to know he's in the middle of the home system. He's had this map drilled into him from the first day of his training. They've come out a few million kilometers from Saturn's orbit. Earth's only a handful of days away in norm-space.

They've done it. They've actually done it.

But underneath Miles's elation, there's a hint of disappointment. He's done it. He's achieved his life's work. He's going to be famous for this for eternity. He might even come out ahead of his father in some of the history books. On this date in the glorious reign of Gregor Vorbarra, Miles Vorkosigan, captain of the Vorthalia's Folly, began a new galactic century. He's never going to top this.

But he gets himself over it. Half of his crew are Komarran. They're all crying. Miles pats them all on the shoulder and heads to the mess. They're going to toast victory. And then they're going to go home and cause every single simmering political problem on Barrayar to explode in an instant.

Because they found it. They found another way.

Miles started his public life by committing treason. It only makes sense to cap it all off with something else to shake Barrayar to its very foundations.

It's a pretty great legacy, if he does say so himself.