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On the Desk of Simon Illyan

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Vorkosigan, I await your full report with eager anticipation. I’m particularly curious to hear you explain how by any stretch of the imagination the directive “Evaluate the level of Cetagandan presence in Hephestian space” might be interpreted as “Embroil the entire Dendarii fleet in a squabble over the Sounisian succession, incidentally blowing your cover and winding up in an Attolian prison to boot.” This had better be good.

- S. Illyan



“…as Eddis still holds a controlling interest in the Tas-Elisa wormhole and the sole major Hephestian spaceport, it would have been virtually impossible to avoid contact with her people, and we made no attempts to do so. No doubt remembering the degree to which she relied on Dendarii assistance to smuggle supplies and provisions past the Sounisian and Attolian blockades during their recent war, the Queen of Eddis herself requested our assistance in what she termed a hostage rescue situation. Recalling, as ever, the importance of economy, and reasoning that this was a better opportunity than most for assessing the situation on the ground, I accepted the job without hesitation. Financially, it was an unmitigated success (see Appendix A). Politically, I may begin by saying I had no possible way of knowing the hostage in question was the missing heir to the King of Sounis….”

“…my subsequent separation from the rest of the fleet was entirely accidental, and the weeks that followed were devoid of concrete strategic interest. I will note, however, that there are worse ways to take the measure of an as-yet-uncrowned monarch than an incognito cross-country journey with him and his de facto political and military advisor….”

“…and so you can understand our arrest was a calculated tactical decision, and the King of Attolia dropped the charges of attempted assassination the moment we had revealed our identities. Or, I should say, the moment my companions had revealed themselves—I introduced myself as Naismith, naturally, and reminded him of the services the Dendarii had performed for his cousin. Evidently Attolis was unmoved by family feeling, and evidently he is not quite so easily taken in as he takes some pains to appear, because no sooner had my companions been released from the prison than I was led a far more secure cell and invited to make myself comfortable.

“I have spent considerable effort trying to determine how I betrayed myself. Clearly I said or did something indiscreet <<AV - don’t think I haven’t noticed your pointed lack of commentary, Simon>>, but I can’t work out what. The magus did say something about vipers, and how he was damned if he’d ever set off across those mountains again with anyone who wouldn’t submit to a complete gene-scan and present at least three forms of reliable ID, but as these remarks were directed at the King of Attolia, I couldn’t be certain how to interpret them.

“There followed an interminable wait until someone bothered to inform the Queen of Eddis of what had befallen her pet mercenary, at which point I was released into a much pleasanter—and more informative—house arrest until they could establish my motives. At first the leading theory, in which I did my best to encourage them, was that I was enacting some sort of youthful rebellion against my family and homeworld, but before long they dropped that line of questioning and began to treat me as a Barrayaran agent. How I betrayed that, I have still less of an idea.

<<SI: Somewhat concerning. I must reconsider our assessment of Relius’ knowledge of offworld affairs.>> <<AV: Relius…the Attolian spymaster?>> <<SI: Minister of the Archives, technically.>> <<AV: “spymaster” too accurate for you, Simon?>> <<SI: …overly direct.>> <<AV: Have it your way, then. But no, I suspect this comes from a different source. Leave it to me.>>

“At about this point, the heir to Sounis left to persuade his barons to recognise him and stamp out a fomenting civil war. I observed that the intricacies of Hephestian internal politics are not dissimilar to Barrayaran infighting. In fact, what I learned of Attolia Irene’s canny handling of her own barons was reminiscent of Ezar’s management of the Vor.

<<SI - I did point out her potential as a candidate for Empress of Barrayar, as you may recall.>> <<AV - And I’m certain you recall my immediate veto.>> <<SI - She might have done well.>> <<AV - Or she might have poisoned Gregor at their wedding feast. Politically, she has promise—personally, I wish that Eddisian husband joy of her.>> <<SI - Eddis herself would have been an excellent choice. Pity about the engagement.>> <<AV - I hear she has a cousin?>>

“I had nothing but time on my hands, and I spent as much of it as possible in the company of my hosts. I was able to manage several audiences with Attolis Eugenides, whom I found an intriguing object of study. He’s an odd sort of man. Veers between terrific, terrifying energy and sullen defensiveness. The former I think goes a long way toward accounting for the abrupt downfall of the House of Erondites shortly after his coronation, and it explains some of Eddis’ wilder successes while he still served his cousin with what I suspect is still a stubborn, ingrained streak of loyalty sitting at odds with his new position. The latter trait I put down in part to temperament, in part to the shadow of his equally terrifying father—I mentioned the Eddisian Minister of War with interest and respect, at which he seemed to take offense—and in still greater part to self-consciousness over his physical disability.

“It occurred to me to ask why he’d never sought off-world treatment, if Hephestian medicine is insufficiently developed to provide either a convincing prosthesis or a genetically-grown replacement. I fear I may have offended his physician, Galen, who I learned afterward was present at this audience.

<<AV: Any relation?>> <<IS: A Komarran on Hephestia? Unlikely, but I’ll look into it.>>

“Attolis then turned to his wife, who was present, to suggest that she chop off one of my more convenient limbs, have me exsanguinated, and ship me home in a cryonic chamber, as he feared she’d gotten a bit out of practice since their courtship. I am all but certain this was just morbid humor.

“I was able to persuade them to put me in touch with the Dendarii, who had been reconnoitring Hephestian space, as ordered, and had found the Cetagandan presence much greater than even the monarchs of that planet had believed. With this evidence in hand, I presented a plan of attack to Attolis, who I hazarded had not intended to leave the newly-confirmed King of Sounis quite so high-and-dry as he’d made it appear. The actions of the Dendarii fleet in combination with Attolian, Eddisian, and Sounisian forces at the route of Oneia are laid out in greater detail in Appendix C….”

“…leaving me ample time to sound out the Queen of Attolia on her future plans concerning the Cetagandan Empire. I believe I may safely say that the peace between the three Hephestian continents is secure, at least for the time being, and that overtures of further cooperation between our planet and theirs could revive a once-successful military alliance against that common threat. I took the liberty of suggesting as much. With any luck, their temporary ambassador will be arriving at Vorbar Sultana in a matter of weeks….”



“…and you should take the opportunity to work on that abysmal accent of yours. Just don’t let it distract you from security concerns—our appointed negotiator seemed certain enough of his welcome, but you might remind him we don’t have a treaty yet, and if anything happens to that historically-insignificant hide of his it’ll be me who has to answer to Eddis and Sounis for damage to their magus. I don’t trust ‘Naismith’ any farther than you could throw him.

“And for all the gods’ sake, Costis, tell that midget to keep his blasted Vor eyes off my queen while you’re at it, I don’t care if he has a ‘type’. I had quite enough of it while that damned ghem-general Nahuseresh was fluttering all over her with his ‘not all the engineering of our haut-ladies could achieve your beauty’ and…”



MOIRA: Count Vorkosigan! It’s good to see you, Aral.

IMPSEC: Likewise. How fares the Magus of Sounis?

MOIRA: Far too old to be dragged halfway across the galaxy on the younger generation’s whims.

IMPSEC: I don’t believe that for a moment. It is still “of Sounis”, yes?

MOIRA: King’s Magus, yes; and the Queen’s of Eddis, pending the royal wedding; and the something of Attolia by now, probably. The liege-lord of my liege-lord, you know.

IMPSEC: How Barrayaran of you.

MOIRA: Gods forbid. That son of yours arrive home all right?

IMPSEC: He did, thank you, still smarting a bit over the loss of his cover.

MOIRA: It’s been kept very quiet—I believe I’m the only Hephestian without a royal honorific who knows, come to think of it. And we’re certainly not planning to drop it to the Cetagandans. I wouldn’t worry.

IMPSEC: That’s a matter for Imperial Security to determine. Which reminds me, it was you who worked out he was an agent, wasn’t it?

MOIRA: He was trying to convince us it was a spectacular case of wild-oat-sowing, which I could almost have believed, but a Vorkosigan, raising a private army? That’s outright treason. I’d never believe that of a son of yours. He told me I ought to meet you, you know. Thought we’d get along.

IMPSEC: *laughter* You didn’t tell him, did you?

MOIRA: Hardly. And besides, that’s all ancient history.

IMPSEC: Perhaps not. I always thought we should have pursued a more permanent military alliance, and it may not be too late. Barrayar and Hephestia have always had common interests.

MOIRA: Gods, those joint campaigns. Speaking of wild oats. And to think I haven’t been off-world since. You’ve gotten around, though. I’ve followed your career with interest.

IMPSEC: Have you, now?

MOIRA: Is that your cue to arrest me as a meddling Hephestian spy?

IMPSEC: No, that’s my cue to invite you to dinner at Vorkosigan House. We’ll catch up, and you can meet Cordelia.

MOIRA: Yes, I’d heard you got married. I look forward to the introduction. You haven’t told her?

IMPSEC: Do keep in mind, she’s Betan. She’s very…open. It’s refreshing.

MOIRA: I’m sure. *pause* How open, precisely?

IMPSEC: Oh, she’s going to love you.

MOIRA: I certainly hope so.

IMPSEC: We’ll make that a private dinner party, then.

MOIRA: If I can get away from my personal guard for the evening. Attolis sent him himself, though I’m honestly not sure which of us he most wants to keep a royal eye on. Decent soldier. A bit…earnest. He may take some shaking off.

IMPSEC: That’s easy enough. I’ve got a nephew with an abundance of experience at distracting diplomatic guests.

MOIRA: Excellent. Until then. Moira out.