Read Captain Vorpatril's Alliance Online

Authors: Lois McMaster Bujold

Tags: #General, #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #on-the-nook, #bought-and-paid-for, #Space Opera, #Adventure

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (36 page)

BOOK: Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
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The panic simmering at the back of his brain seeped out. In a suddenly smaller voice, he said, “They, uh…seem to have come here with some idea of picking up Tej and Rish. And taking them away.”

Mamere looked back at him. “And how do you feel about that, Ivan?”

A rather long silence fell, before he managed, “Very strange.”

Lady Alys’s dark brows quirked. “Well, that’s something, I suppose.” She sat up more briskly. “In any case, clearly we must have them to dinner at the earliest possible opportunity. It’s the correct thing to do. And there is so
much
to catch up on.”

“Uh, they’re all asleep now. Jump-lagged.”

“Then they should be both refreshed and hungry by early this evening. Tonight, then. Very good. I’ll send Christos with the car—you will of course meet them at their hotel and help escort them.”

“Uh, better make that two cars. Or a bus. And isn’t this short notice for you?”

“I’ve put on receptions for hundreds at less notice. My staff is perfectly capable of handling a private family party of fifteen.”

Surreptitiously, Ivan counted on his fingers. “I make it fourteen, isn’t it? Even including Simon and me?”

“Byerly will no doubt wish to squire Rish.”

Thus saving steps for ImpSec, too. Mamere was well aware of
every
angle. Ivan managed not to choke. “Just…don’t invite Miles. Or let him invite himself.”

On any less-elegant face, that lip-pursing could have been called a retrospective grimace. “I promise you, I am capable of controlling my guest list. Anyway, I believe he’s still on Sergyar. Although I shall miss Ekaterin. Another time.” She waved a hand that was either airy, or threatening, Ivan wasn’t sure which.

Ivan ran beleaguered fingers through his hair. “Yeah, and I came in to the office this morning—
late
, because of last night—to find some ImpSec captain with a stick up his butt giving
my boss
a hard time over all this…It’s
not helpful
, I tell you.” He drew breath. “Galactic Affairs fellow. Who seemed not to be talking this morning to Domestic Affairs, if you know what I mean. It put me in a quandary. Are they all flying blind over there at Cockroach Central, or does Allegre want to keep his angles of view independent, or what? I
hate
getting sucked into these weasel-traps.”

Simon Illyan leaned into the vid pickup, and advised genially, “Call Guy Allegre and
ask
, Ivan. If it’s the first, he’ll want to know, and if it’s the second, you need to know. He’ll talk to you.
Briefly
, mind.” The amused face withdrew out of focal range. The reflective voice drifted back: “Though good for the G.A. man for tackling an admiral, stick or not. It’s the backbone one wants to see in an agent…”

Ivan shuddered.
But I don’t want to talk to Allegre.

“Very sensible,” approved Lady Alys. “And I’ll call Tej and Rish. Carry on, dear. I’ll have Christos contact you later with the details for transport.”

She cut the com. Ivan sat a moment, gathering his reserves and wondering when, if ever, he was going to get back to Ops business this morning. And whether any of this could be classified as making personal calls on office time, and if he was somehow going to earn a reprimand for it. He sighed and punched in the next code.

“Ah, Ivan,” said General Allegre, neutrally, when he’d been gated through by the secretary. Guy Allegre passed as a stocky, middle-aged, normal-looking sort of senior officer, with a normal wife—well, she worked at the Imperial Science Institute—and children in about the same age-cohort as Desplains’s youngsters; it took a while knowing him to realize how ferociously bright, and brightly ferocious, he really was. “We may have a place opening up on our fast courier next week—is that request obsolete now, in view of this morning’s news? Last night’s news, I construe, from your point of view.”

“Uh, I think so, sir. It’s all very up-in-the-air right now. But this is related. I seem to find myself dealing with two of your people who aren’t dealing with each other—” Succinctly, as instructed, Ivan described the conundrum with Byerly and Captain Raudsepp.

“Hm, yes,” said Allegre. “I’ll have Raudsepp apprised.” That, and the general’s lack of irritation with Ivan taking up space on his comconsole, was rather a clue that Raudsepp must have been working in the dark re: Byerly. “Good you asked.”

Right.
“Simon said I should.” Just in case Ivan needed a little more shielding.

Allegre nodded. “Vorrutyer does good work, on his level. It may actually have been a bit too much good work, lately. Domestic had been thinking of standing him down for a while, but then this came up.”

“How can someone do
too much
good work?”

“Well, irregulars.” Allegre gave a vague wave, and adroitly changed the subject: “How is Simon, these days?”

What,
another
family snitch-report? No, that was unfair. Guy Allegre had been Head of Komarran Affairs for some time directly under Illyan, until his promotion into his chief’s abruptly vacated shoes four years back. And he’d come up, as a young officer, entirely in Illyan’s ImpSec. His interest was personal as well as professional.

“His health seems quite good.”

“Glad to hear it. Any new interests? I thought he could use some.” Allegre added diplomatically, “No reflection on your lady mother, of course.”

“Do you two talk much with each other? Consult?”

“As needed. Ex-Chief Illyan has been very properly circumspect about jostling my elbow, bless his wits. No need to send him to Sergyar like your uncle to get him out of the range of other people’s ingrained habits. Although I suppose Simon’s medical situation served much the same function of distancing him from his old command.” Allegre’s eyes narrowed in thought. “I wonder if he’d like to visit Aral? I should suggest it. D’you think your lady mother would be willing to travel? As long as it doesn’t create unhealthy excitement among the conspiracy theorists. Although that could be made useful, too…” Something else on the general’s comconsole desk was signaling for his attention, Ivan guessed by the shifting of his gaze. “Is that all, for now?”

“Yes, sir.”
For now.

“Thank you, Captain Vorpatril.” With a move of Allegre’s hand, Ivan was dismissed from his attention and vid plate.

*
 
*
 
*

Tej watched Rish, trailing all the younger Arquas, lead them to the hotel lift tubes for what was billed as a short walking tour of the immediate environs, planned to end up in the hotel bar to await their transportation to Lady Alys’s. She’d really wanted to give the
whole
family an emergency briefing on Barrayar before they went to dinner—if she would be permitted to get a word in edgewise—but a private talk with Dada and the Baronne and Grandmama would have to do. Rish had promised to fill in the others as best she could.

She touched the door buzzer to the sitting room and was bidden to enter by her mother’s voice. She slipped inside to find the elder Arquas-plus-one gathered around a low holovid table that was at present displaying what looked like a large-scale city map. Grandmama touched a control; a dizzy blur, and the map settled again.

“It’s just not
here
,” she complained, a querulous note in her usually well-modulated tones.

“They can hardly have moved it,” said Dada reasonably.

“No, they seem to have moved everything else, instead.” Grandmama looked up. “Ah, Tej, good.”

“Were you able to arrange the early pickup for us?” asked the Baronne. “Did you explain that Mother wanted to see a bit of the old city that she used to know?”

“Yes,” said Tej. “Lady Alys said that Christos would be very pleased. Apparently, as part of his training as a driver he had to memorize every street in Vorbarr Sultana, and he doesn’t get to try out the odd bits very often.”

“Local knowledge might help,” said Dada.

“What are you looking for?” Tej settled herself between Dada and the Baronne, and received, unusually, a welcoming hug from each. The Baronne was not normally physically demonstrative, and would probably get over it in a day or two; she must really have feared for Tej, during their uncertain odyssey roundabout from their lost House to Earth to Escobar to here. Tej would have feared for them, too, if only she’d known they were still alive; it was hard to guess which feeling was worse.

“An old Vor mansion that went by the peculiar name of Ladderbeck Close,” said Grandmama, peering once more at the vid display. “At the time of the Ninth Satrapy”—the Cetagandan name for what the Barrayarans dubbed
the Cetagandan Occupation
—“it was where I worked.”

“Worked?” said Tej, interest caught. As a child, she had taken her grandmother as she appeared, and hardly wondered about her long past life. “I didn’t think ghem generals’ haut wives
worked
.”

The Baronne’s eyebrows flicked up. “Not in some dire little shop, Tej.” The Baronne had not approved of that ploy, when she’d heard of it.

Grandmama’s fine lips thinned. “You understand, when I was…detached, from the haut, I was already a fully-trained geneticist. I simply missed the cut, and not by very much—but it was always harder for us girls from the outer planets to compete with the haut women from Eta Ceta itself. They always had access to the very latest developments, you know. I was matched with General ghem Estif precisely
because
he was being assigned to the Ninth Satrapy, and the ongoing Star Crèche program here wanted a reliable laboratory assistant. The prior woman having been killed in some horrible bombing by those dreadful guerillas. She wasn’t even targeted; she just chanced to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Grandmama sniffed disapproval; Tej wasn’t sure if it was of the guerillas, their tactics, or their failure to recognize the significance of their inadvertent victim.

“The
Star Crèche
had a presence on Barrayar? Did the Barrayarans know?” Ivan Xav had never mentioned such a thing, nor had she run across it in her recent reading. “Whatever were they doing here?”

Grandmama waved a dismissive hand. “Just the obvious—assembling a complete gene survey and library of the human occupants of the planet. Barrayar’s so-called Time of Isolation was a unique natural genetic experiment, not to be wasted. The hoped-for prize of course would be some novel mutation or set of mutations that might be extracted and incorporated into higher gene bases, but alas in twenty years of survey—sadly underfunded and undersupported for the scope of the task, I must say—we only found some novel genetic diseases. Six hundred years was perhaps too short a time for new strengths to develop and be filtered into the population. It’s really too bad the place was rediscovered so soon.”

Some Komarrans thought so, too, Tej was reminded, if for rather different reasons. “And you had a—a what? A laboratory in the old mansion?”

“Under it, to be precise. The building had been some count’s residence in a prior generation, had fallen to lesser family members, and was appropriated by the satrap government. The haut Zaia, our team leader, was not best pleased with it, but it made a suitably discreet entrance to our actual workplace. The laboratory itself was good enough, for its day. Proper biohazard barriers and all.”

Tej hesitated. “If it was just a gene library, why did you need fancy biohazard controls?”

“One never knew,” said Grandmama, vaguely.

Tej tried to process this. It stuck, rather. “Huh?”

“That slack-jawed expression does not become you, Tej,” the Baronne pointed out. “Do keep up; this is important to our future.”

Actually, it all seemed to be about the past, so far. The creakily ancient past, at that. Tej suppressed a sigh and tried to look attentive. She really had to get on to telling them more about Lady Alys before…

“Well, we were dealing with the
ghem
, dear. The haut Zaia kept her own supplies there as a matter of routine precaution.” Grandmama pursed her lips, and went on, “What we had here in Vorbarr Sultana was only a regional outpost, mind you. Our main facility was that orbital laboratory, the one that was sent to burn up in the atmosphere during the scramble of the withdrawal. I only visited it once, being too junior to be assigned there myself. Much better equipment than we had downside. Such a waste! Although at least we salvaged all the data out of
that
one.”

“Which brings us,” Dada rumbled, “back to your young man, Tej.”

“What?” Tej managed to close her mouth, this time.

“You’ve had some time to study him. What are his handles?” said Dada.

“Handles?”


Tej
,” said the Baronne impatiently, but Dada waved her down.

“For example,” said Dada, “does he hanker for power? Prestige? Wealth?”

“I don’t know.”

“How can you not know something so basic as
that
?” said the Baronne.

Tej shrugged. “I gather that his mother is wealthy—she owns the building his flat is in, and hers, and others besides, and I don’t know what-all-else outside of the capital—and he’s an only child. And he has some kind of trust fund from his paternal relatives. And his officer’s pay, which is what he mainly lives on.”

“That’s not quite what I meant,” said Dada. “Many who are rich want more, perhaps for some purpose or obsession.”

And what would Arquas know about
that
, ha. “I think Ivan Xav cares about comfort more than display. I mean, he keeps up with the expectations of his Vor class, but I don’t think it’s because he’s interested in them so much as…it’s just easier.”

“What about business training? Does he have any? Import, export, trade? Could he, for example, put together a large or complex project?”

“Well, I know he works on military budgets with Admiral Desplains. Those are large and complex projects.”

“Hm.” Dada drummed his fingers on the sofa arm. “You see, despite the unavoidable need for local partners, I’d like to keep this venture in the family if we can. My old contacts here are…less reliable than I’d prefer. And, in some cases, perhaps a bit too old.”

Venture?
Tej wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that. His eye, nonetheless, had brightened during this conversation, edging out that scary look of weariness and defeat that he’d had when talking about Eric and the loss of the station, so out of place on his broad, beloved face. “What kind of venture do you have in mind on Barrayar, of all places?”

BOOK: Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
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