Captain Galeni double-checked the name, written in the Barrayaran Russian script, and pressed the buzzer a second time. This time, Ivan's face appeared on the viewscreen. "Oh, Duv, hi. Just give me a minute and I'll be right down."
"Overslept?" Duv said drily, and Ivan grinned at him.
"It is my day off, after all. I'd invite you up, but it's a complete mess up here. My cleaning service have taken their Winterfair holiday early this year."
"I'm fine here," Duv said, looking around the palatial lobby of Ivan Vorpatril's apartment building, much grander than his own budget apartment two blocks from ImpSec HQ. He'd only arrived here in Vorbarr Sultana nine days ago, but somehow Ivan had found out and had called him up and invited him to go sightseeing. He'd seen all the sights when he'd first come to Vorbarr Sultana as a graduate student, but he'd been surprised and pleased to be asked. Most of the people he'd known then had moved on, and those who remained were not so eager to spend time with with a captain in Imperial Security as they had been to socialise with a fellow academic, and he'd missed the sight of friendly faces.
He took a seat on an elegantly upholstered chair and waited, but before Ivan arrived, the outer door opened and a woman came in, short and middle-aged in a long cultured fur coat. She reached for the comm panel, touched a code and said, "Ivan, dear, I'm here."
Her accent was the highest of high Vor, a level sharper and crisper even than Ivan's. The immediate resonance for Duv was with the cruel Vor ladies from the subversive holodramas his father had given him to watch as a boy, the wicked witches of his childhood, but here on Barrayar that accent would command the instant respect and obedience of thousands. And the resentment of thousands more, he added to himself.
"Ivan, answer your comm," she repeated. Duv was about to speak when Ivan himself dropped out of the lift tube, neatly dressed in civvies Duv suspected were hand-tailored.
"Hi, Duv--oh." Ivan blinked at the woman, and once they were together, Duv saw that her face was the feminine and more beautiful version of Ivan's own. "Maman. What are you doing here?"
"I left a message for you at work yesterday," Ivan's mother said. "I would like you to come with us on a little outing."
"I left work early yesterday, I didn't get your message," Ivan protested. "I'm sorry, Maman, but I already had plans for today." He gestured to Duv, who had come to join them, and Ivan's mother looked at him for the first time.
"Ah--good morning," Duv said to them both.
"Maman, may I present Captain Duv Galeni," Ivan said, as formally as if they were at a ball. "Duv, my mother, Lady Vorpatril."
Duv was not entirely sure of the etiquette for greeting a Vor lady, but he bowed his head stiffly and said, "Honoured to meet you, my lady."
"Captain Galeni--oh, from Earth, of course," Lady Vorpatril said, smiling at him suddenly, revealing just where Ivan had acquired his charm. "The pleasure is mine, Captain. My son has often spoken of you."
Ivan was looking a bit awkward. "Maman, he's just arrived in Vorbarr Sultana, I was going to show him around a bit today, see the sights."
"I see," said Lady Vorpatril. "But I do need you this morning. Aral and I are on our way to the Sword Memorial to burn an offering, and I think your presence would be useful."
There was evidently some coded meaning in that, for Ivan said, "Oh. Um--"
Duv took a step back. "We can arrange some other time," he offered.
"I know this is your only day off for weeks," Ivan responded, also stepping away from his mother and looking worriedly at Duv. "But..."
"The Sword Memorial?" Duv said curiously. "I haven't heard of that one, I don't think."
"It's to the fallen in the Second Cetagandan War, and mostly to the crew of the Sword. My Da served on that ship," Ivan explained. "He escaped, but most of them didn't. Maman says he always used to go and burn an offering for the others... oh shit, it is today, isn't it?"
"Language, Ivan," his mother said. She turned to Duv. "It is normally closed to the public. But perhaps you might care to join us? If you're seeing the sights, it is of considerable historical interest. We would be very pleased to have your company, and you and Ivan could go your own way afterwards."
It startled Duv that she would know enough about him to dangle that hook, and so he did not instantly refuse.
"That would work," Ivan said, "And it is very historical and all that." He paused, looking back at his mother. "But if Uncle Aral is with you...?"
"Captain Galeni is ImpSec, that's not a problem. And he would be welcome," Lady Vorpatril said firmly.
It took a moment for the mark to drop in Duv's mind. Ivan's Uncle Aral. Count Aral Vorkosigan. He swallowed. He'd heard through ImpSec that both Miles and Mark were on-planet, and the official news bulletins had sententiously announced that the Prime Minister was recovering well after a heart transplant, but that was as close as Duv had intended to get to the Vorkosigan clan, this time.
Ivan dropped his voice. "Uncle Aral won't bite you," he said. "He likes you. And if you come then neither of them will lecture me about whatever it is they think I've done wrong this time. Come on, Duv."
"All right," Duv said, equally low. "But you'll owe me." But of the Vorkosigans, the Count was the one he felt least concerned about meeting again. He'd be perfectly happy never to encounter Mark again in his life, and though he liked Miles, it was noticeable how spending more than five minutes around him led to attacks, kidnappings, things blowing up and career disaster. By contrast, Count Vorkosigan offered nothing worse than the occasional fraught conversation. After Earth, he'd been summoned to Vorkosigan House for an interview with the Vorkosigans that had lasted hours. It had been nerve-wracking, though they had been kind to him, but at least it meant this wouldn't be the first time they'd met.
They went out to a sleek black groundcar, which was waiting outside the building with, Duv noted, no attention whatsoever to parking regulations. A brown-liveried driver got out and opened the rear hatch and handed Lady Vorpatril in. Ivan waved Duv in next. Struggling with the rival needs to straighten his spine as if he was on parade, and duck his head and bend over to get into the car, he cracked his skull on the edge of the roof. Blinking dizzily and trying not to swear, he crashed into the nearest seat, and discovered too late that he had landed almost on top of Count Vorkosigan.
"You'll addle your brains if you aren't more careful, Ivan--oh," said Count Vorkosigan.
"Sir," Duv managed.
Lady Vorpatril spoke smoothly, appearing not to have noticed the mishap. "Ivan was intending to take Captain Galeni sightseeing today, and they thought they would start by coming with us to the Sword Memorial. I believe the Captain is newly arrived in Vorbarr Sultana."
Ivan, hopping into the groundcar and taking the remaining seat next to his mother without any unfortunate accidents, said quickly, "If we're a bother, Uncle Aral, then Duv and I can go off on our own." There was a faint note of hope in his voice.
"You're both very welcome," Lady Vorpatril said before Vorkosigan could answer that.
"Captain Galeni, of course," Vorkosigan said, and he sounded genuinely pleased. Though he was a politican, Duv supposed, and could sound genuinely pleased at meeting almost anyone. "You're stationed in the capital now?"
"Yes, sir, at HQ. Analysis."
"Locked down in the basement there," Ivan put in. "I don't know how you stand it. I had to go down there once. I thought I wasn't going to make it out alive."
"Analysis," Vorkosigan echoed. "That sounds very suitable. It's a good opportunity for you. Learn everything you can from Simon; he'll teach you what you need to know."
Count Vorkosigan gave a nod, and the groundcar pulled away, and with it any hope of escape. Though Duv wasn't entirely sure he wanted to escape, despite Ivan's obvious discomfort.
"So, after all your studies, you must know about the Sword, Captain," Vorkosigan said after they'd been driving for a few moments.
"I've heard of it," Duv said, "but it's not been the focus of my work." And he certainly wasn't going to pretend to expertise when someone who'd been present was sitting next to him.
"You know more than most, I daresay," Vorkosigan said. "It was a fiasco from start to finish. Anything that ends up with that many dead usually is. They'd ignored all the warning signs, the intelligence failure was catastrophic--it all could have been avoided with a bit more care. And then they didn't want to admit I was there in the official record for several years afterwards, because I was so politically radioactive after Komarr. But Padma kicked up such a stink about it, they had to acknowledge the General Vorkraft, and me, in the end. I was glad for my men's sake."
"You're in the official histories now," Duv remarked.
"Oh yes." A little smile quirked Vorkosigan's mouth. "It was amazing how fast everyone discovered that the General Vorkraft had been full of heroes, after I became Regent. At least, after Vordarian, when it settled down. Before then it was 'Vorkosigan's Leper Colony'. Very malleable stuff, history, especially when politics get involved."
"I've noted the phenomenon," Duv said, straight-faced. Ivan shifted in his seat, but Vorkosigan's eyes glinted.
"Quite. Anyway, it was a mess. The Sword was taken completely off-guard when the Ceta ships appeared through the wormhole. Only two of them, but much more heavily armed than the Sword. We'd been in the region hunting pirates, and we picked up the Sword's distress call. Only got there in time to pick up the survivors, sadly, but we did finish off the Cetas. It wasn't our doing, for the most part--the Sword had all but destroyed one of them, and the other ship was damaged, and they thought it was all over and they'd won. Your father--" a nod to Ivan "--deserves most of the credit for that, I believe. Not that he wanted to admit it, but it was fairly obvious." He closed his eyes for a moment, and Duv suspected he was back there now. "I have no idea how he made it to the lifepod, with his injuries, but when he came around in our sickbay he was still trying to give orders. Captain Vortala had been killed early on, and command devolved to Padma. He fought that ship to the last gasp." Vorkosigan leaned forward a little. "I've seen many acts of heroism in my life--" his gaze touched Duv briefly "--but I've never been prouder to call Padma my cousin than that day."
Lady Vorpatril had an odd expression on her face at these reminiscences of her long-dead husband, something other than the simple pleasure Duv might have expected at hearing his courage praised. What stories did she have to tell, he wondered. Ivan looked rather blank, making Duv suddenly wonder whether everyone in a patriarchal society was condemned to be compared to their fathers forever.
The groundcar turned suddenly off the main road and stopped at a pair of large wrought-iron gates. The driver spoke through his window to a guard, and a moment later the gates opened for them.
"The memorial was built on Count Vortala's private estate here," Vorkosigan explained. "The captain was his nephew--the old Count, this was--and he put it up when it seemed that there wasn't going to be an official memorial to the ship and her dead. It's private land, but it's always open to survivors and families. Though the usual crowd has thinned down, over the years."
The groundcar wound up a lane that seemed to have rather more potholes than was usual even for Vorbarr Sultana, and they all braced themselves against the jolting until it came to a halt.
"Count Vortala built it on the highest piece of land he owned in the capital," Lady Vorpatril explained. "As a rather pointed gesture, since there wasn't a public monument. You can see it from some distance away, though the trees have grown up around it lately."
As they got out of the groundcar, Duv discovered the real reason why Lady Vorpatril had been so insistent that Ivan come. They were not at the memorial. Instead, a winding footpath led away up the hill towards it. And though he had seemed no different inside the groundcar, as soon as they began to get out it was clear that Vorkosigan was still convalescing from his illness. Lady Vorpatril gave her son a meaningful look, and Ivan helped Vorkosigan out of the groundcar and then stuck close beside him. Count Vorkosigan looked faintly annoyed, but allowed Ivan to hover watchfully over him as they set off up the path.
This left Duv with Lady Vorpatril, who also took his arm lightly, and they followed up the path at Vorkosigan's slow pace.
"I never had an opportunity to tell you in person how grateful I am for the help you gave Ivan on Earth," Lady Vorpatril said. "I am in your debt, Captain."
Duv looked at the trees. He had hoped to be finished with talking about Earth and what had happened there, after four years. "I--it was my duty, my lady, that's all."
"I daresay Padma would have said the same about this," Lady Vorpatril responded. "And yet here we are."
"Did you--was this before you were married?" Duv asked, hoping to get back to the more distant and academic subject of the Sword. Belatedly he supposed this might be as painful a memory for Lady Vorpatril as Earth was for him. But her answer was serene.
"We were betrothed, then. It was a long betrothal, because of who Padma was, but I was planning the wedding when this happened."
Duv tried to decode that, but failed. His confusion must have shown on his face, for she explained, "He didn't dare marry until Gregor was born. This was just before. I remember Aral sent me a long vid-message from the General Vorkraft, which was the first news I had of this. He told me not to worry six times before telling me what had happened; I was beside myself by the time he got to the details of how Padma was." She gave a light laugh. "I was very young then. Anyway, Captain, I'm sorry to have interrupted your morning. But as you see, Aral's not at all well yet. Cordelia couldn't come herself today, but she wasn't happy about him coming here without a few people to ride herd on him. He just orders the servants and Armsmen away, but Ivan--" a fond look came into her face as she looked at the pair ahead on the path "--is as stubborn as his father was, sometimes."
Duv tried not to blink at this sudden new domestic perspective on the Vorkosigans. "I understand," he said. "And--well, I would never have had the opportunity to come here otherwise."
"Perhaps not. You must point this out to Ivan, and he can take you to places you might not otherwise see." She smiled, politely social. "And are you comfortable here on Barrayar? There seem to be more Komarrans around in the capital, these days."
"Yes, my lady," Duv said automatically, though he wasn't sure of the true answer to that yet. Being posted on Komarr hadn't been precisely homelike, since in his uniform he was a focus for constant low-grade hostility that became overt when it was clear he was a Komarran himself, but at least the places had been familiar. He knew at gut level how to move in the domes, where to find things, what to pay attention to and what to ignore, the light and spaces and shapes of the architecture were part of him. Here he was entirely unremarkable in his uniform, at least until he opened his mouth, and was even shown a certain flattering respect due to his rank and ImpSec tabs, but he had to contend with open spaces like this one, and with all the chaos and constant surprises of Barrayaran life, with unfamiliarity everywhere. Going back to Komarr these past few years had made the culture shock on Barrayar worse, this time.
None of which he could say to this Vor lady. Though she surprised him by asking, "You don't mind coming up here, do you? I know many Komarrans are more at ease indoors."
"I went through basic training on Barrayar," Duv said, which wasn't precisely an answer, but seemed to satisfy her. They crested the hill--Vorkosigan, Duv noted, frankly leaning on Ivan's arm now and breathing hard--and came into a clearing open to the sky, looking across the city, and he managed not to flinch.
In the centre of the clearing was a tall stone pillar meant to represent a sword. There were benches around it, and Vorkosigan sat down. Ivan eyed him awkwardly for a moment, saying something Duv didn't catch, and then turned to Duv and his mother.
"D'you like it?" he asked Duv. "A bit masochistic of them to put it all the way up here, if you ask me. They should put in a road the rest of the way up, at least. There's all the names on the bottom, if you want to go and look."
"Ivan, would you please come and help me set this up," Lady Vorpatril said across this. She had been carrying a small bag up the hill, which she was now opening. Ivan grimaced at Duv, who gestured him to go and help his mother, and they carried the brazier over to a stone clearly placed for that purpose at the base of the monument. Duv watched them for a moment, then found himself moving towards Count Vorkosigan.
"Damn stupid place to put a monument," Vorkosigan said a bit breathlessly, in unconscious echo of his nephew. "It was always a struggle for the older veterans to get up here. Strange to find myself one of them, these days. Have a seat, Captain. They'll be a while." He gave a wryly affectionate smile. "Alys will want to lecture Ivan about something or other, I feel certain. She certainly had plenty to say in the groundcar before we collected you both. Best leave them to it."
Duv sat beside Vorkosigan on the bench, and found himself being shrewdly studied. "I expect you find the basements at ImpSec less unpleasant than most people," he observed. "For my part, I can't relax properly inside the domes on Komarr, and not just because of... history. Too enclosing. It's nice to get out today. Cordelia's been fussing over me constantly."
Privately, Duv thought that if you'd been ill enough to need a heart transplant, some fussing was warranted. The news media had been very circumspect about the extent of the Prime Minister's illness, which Duv had simultaneously approved of as a good ImpSec man, and disapproved of as a historian who had tried to make sense of events from the tame and controlled reports in the Barrayaran news. But here in the reddish Barrayaran sunlight, Vorkosigan looked distinctly unwell.
"You know, Captain," Vorkosigan observed after a pause, "if we'd been half a day later, it would have been too late. For Padma--and therefore for Ivan too, I suppose--but also for Komarr. The Cetagandans would have repaired their ships and taken possession of that jump-point, and they would have been able to bring a fleet through to Komarr. They had one ready. And we nearly were later." He stared up at the monument. "I remember that day. First thing, I'd been dealing with some disciplinary problems, and I was going to order some new manoeuvres heading in the opposite direction to work the crew out of their apathy, but Gottyan--my first officer, very competent, he died at Escobar--was worried about the reserve engines, so we spent the morning running engineering checks on that instead. And that's why we were near enough to respond to the Sword." He turned suddenly to Duv. "I think your life would have been very different, if I'd gone with my first plan that day."
Duv swallowed, picturing it. "If the Cetas had been able to get a foothold in Komarran space, they would have been welcomed." He fell silent, trying to think of things he could say about this to Admiral Vorkosigan. To the Butcher.
"Give me your analysis, Captain," Vorkosigan said, with a faint note of amusement in his voice. "I assure you, I've thought of it all before."
He took a deep breath. "Before the invasion the oligarchs knew that they were at risk of being swallowed up by either the Cetas or the Barrayarans. You--you made the Barrayarans look like the more attractive prospect." He forced himself not to pause or falter as he continued. "And without the massacre, a Ceta invasion might have driven Komarr to a closer connection with Barrayar. But afterwards, the Cetas would have had all the help they wanted."
"Yes," Vorkosigan said quietly. "But tell me this, Captain. If that had happened, would you be sitting in the Celestial Garden now, working for the Cetas?"
Duv went absolutely still. Convalescent or not, it seemed Vorkosigan retained his ability to cut instantly to the bone. Finally he said, "Perhaps. The logic would have fallen out the same, either way. But if I had, I very much doubt that I would be on speaking terms with Emperor Giaja or his close kin."
"Ah." Vorkosigan gave a satisfied sigh. "No, I don't imagine you would. The Cetagandan empire is very different." He looked up at the monument. "I think they're ready for us." He took possessive hold of Duv's arm to help himself up, and they walked slowly across the grass to the monument. "Do you want to be a part of this, Captain? It would be entirely appropriate, under the circumstances."
Duv looked at the monument and at Vorkosigan. "Yes," he heard himself say, "yes, I would."
Ivan gave Duv a wary apologetic glance as they reached the monument, gaze flickering between him and Vorkosigan. "It'll be over soon," he muttered in Duv's ear. "I'm sorry about all this."
Duv made a reassuring gesture. "It's all right." Talking to Vorkosigan wasn't easy, but it wasn't ever boring, either, and it wasn't an opportunity that arose often. Indeed, judging by the worried way Lady Vorpatril and Ivan were behaving around Vorkosigan, it seemed possible it was an opportunity he was lucky to have.
"Do you have a pair of scissors, Alys?" Vorkosigan said. "Captain Galeni would like to contribute something to the offering, because he's here and not in the Celestial Garden."
Lady Vorpatril blinked, her gaze flickering to Duv in a way that suggested that she hoped this made sense to him and wasn't a sign of mental decline. Duv nodded blandly.
"Certainly, Captain," she said, and produced a small pair from her handbag. Duv cut off a tuft of hair and put it in the brazier with the others', and Vorkosigan lit the offering and stood back. Lady Vorpatril moved closer to Vorkosigan, and he put his hand on her shoulder gently, a surprisingly intimate gesture. But they had both known the dead here. Duv stood back a little awkwardly until the flames burned down to nothing and the bright metal cooled. Then Vorkosigan picked it up and, catching Duv's elbow for balance, lowered himself to his knees to pour the ashes out onto the ground at the base of the shrine.
"Such a waste," he muttered as Duv helped him back up. He turned to the Vorpatrils and gathered them by eye, then set off down the hill, not relinquishing Duv's arm. Duv caught the frustrated look on Ivan's face, consigned to his mother again, but felt no desire to change places. "I've seen a lot of heroism," Vorkosigan said again, "but sometimes, I wish I could avoid having to see any more. It tends to be a by-product of terrible situations like this one, of avoidable mistakes. I wish the younger generation could escape it, but they haven't so far. Even Ivan can't escape it, though he wouldn't want you to know."
"I've seen him in a tight spot," Duv said.
"I know. You're one of the few. And there's your own circumstances too. It seems our generation made too many mistakes to leave yours free to live peacefully. Perhaps you will be able to fix enough of them to give your own children a chance."
"I--I hope so, sir," Duv said quietly.
Vorkosigan gave a slow nod. He was growing breathless, and said nothing more on the walk down the hill. Duv watched him, finding himself unexpectedly anxious for Vorkosigan's comfort, making sure to avoid muddy patches in the path and carefully matching his pace. Vorkosigan leaned on him, and they made their way down to the groundcar, where the Armsman guarding it hurried to open the hatch. Duv stooped to help Vorkosigan in, then took his own seat.
"I'm glad you came today," Vorkosigan said to Duv as Lady Vorpatril and Ivan arrived. "Burning an offering isn't precisely a holiday activity, but it's not without interest." He smiled suddenly. "And I hope we can continue to be preferable to the Cetas."
Duv nodded in answer. In truth, he had no idea, objectively speaking, whether a Cetagandan conquest would have been any worse for Komarr than a Barrayaran one. But he knew himself to be too drawn to the Barrayaran way of doing things to have an objective view on that question now.
He was prevented from brooding over this by Ivan handing his mother in and sitting down, giving Duv another worried look. Lady Vorpatril was looking hard at Vorkosigan, as if she suspected Duv might have done something to him on the walk back.
"We'll drop you off back at your apartment, unless you've any objection, Ivan," was all she said.
"That's fine," said Ivan quickly. "We'll want my lightflyer for the afternoon."
Vorkosigan said nothing on the journey back, and Duv realised he was more exhausted than he was letting on from the activity. But he sat up a little when they stopped at Ivan's apartment, and said, "Have a good afternoon. And do us proud, Ivan."
"Yes, sir," Ivan said, eyes widening a little.
"It was a pleasure, Captain," Vorkosigan concluded.
Duv smiled despite himself, and followed Ivan out of the groundcar. They stood by as it drove away again, and Ivan gave a sigh of relief. "Not what I had in mind for this morning," he said. He gave Duv a quizzical look. "What was that about the Celestial Garden?"
"If that battle had gone the other way," Duv said, "then the Cetas would probably have taken Komarr. And then--well, perhaps then I would have ended up in the Cetagandan Imperial Service instead."
Ivan blinked rapidly at him. "You wouldn't have ever fought for the Cetas, Duv!"
Ah, Barrayarans. Hatred of Cetaganda was bred in their bones. "Not even if I thought supporting them was better for Komarr than fighting against them?"
That made Ivan fall silent. When he spoke, he sounded unexpectedly like his uncle. "They wouldn't have been better for Komarr," he said. "Not the Cetas."
"Perhaps not," Duv said, non-committally.
"Huh." Ivan looked at him a moment longer, and then, the seriousness fading from his face and voice, said, "So, where do you want to go? I think I need a drink and a rest after all that--do you want to get some lunch? There's a great place up in the New Quarter I discovered last month. And I'll tell you about the time I was held prisoner by half a dozen haut ladies and tortured into listening to everything there was to know about their grandchildren. I mean constellation-children, or something, they don't do families on Cetaganda in the same way, but it's all the same thing in the end..."
Duv smiled and followed Ivan towards the garage, letting his light conversation wash over him and thinking about the chances of history that had brought him to this place. It seemed there was yet another time a Vorkosigan's action changed his life. But here and now, he didn't think he could regret any of it.