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 (62 page)

BOOK: Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
12.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“I think he needs something to do. Not a full-time job. Occasional. Varied. Not too much like his old job.”

“That…will take some careful thought.”

Ivan hoped their long trip had given Gregor time for that thinking. He couldn’t help noticing, in retrospect, that despite the reported outbreak of Imperial sarcasm, it
had
been the Illyan Plan for the Arquas that Gregor had finally adopted, more or less. And that it seemed to be working, so far.

Tej, still reading—Mamere could be chatty—went on: “Oh, good, the new ImpSec building has been dedicated.
Not
built opposite the old one. They found another site. With fewer holes under it.”

“There’s a kindness,” Ivan put in. “Miles used to say that the one advantage of working in ImpSec HQ was that you couldn’t
see
ImpSec HQ.”

“They got Simon to cut the ribbon, ah, that’s sweet. She says they wanted to name it after him, but he declined the honor very firmly, so it’s going to go nameless for now.”

“I suppose they can circle back after he’s dead…” Ivan plowed on to his next letter. “Huh. Aunt Cordelia writes to me?”

“I really enjoyed meeting her and your Uncle Aral, when we stopped at Sergyar,”

said Tej.

“She says she liked, you, too. And to be sure to allow time to stop again on our way back. She seems to assume we’ll be let to come back—that’s heartening. Simon and Mamere dropped in on their way home, too, evidently. Probably what triggered this.
Simon and Aral enjoyed their trip out to see the new settlement…so glad for a chance to catch up with Alys…heard all about their nice visit to Beta Colony
, yes, Mamere wrote me all about that, too…
what?

“What what?” said Tej agreeably.

Mamere hadn’t written her only son
everything
about her trip to Beta Colony, evidently. “
She
took
Simon
to the
Orb
? Or was it the other way around…? No, I guess not. Female collusion, I bet.” He read on, his face screwing up, then demanded of the auntless, and therefore blameless, air, “Why do you think you have to
tell
me these things, Aunt Cordelia?”

Tej’s lips twitched. “So what does she tell you?”

“They signed up for some sort of one-week deluxe instructional course. That doesn’t sound too…Role-playing? Because Mamere thought it might be easy for Simon to get into, on account of having done covert ops in his youth. And the first day was pretty rocky, but once she persuaded Simon to stop treating the mandatory psychological interest survey as a hostile interrogation, things smoothed out…and…Thank God, now Aunt Cordelia switches to telling me all about Commodore Jole’s new sailboat—the Sergyaran seas don’t dissolve human skin the way Ylla’s do, happily. He took them all out for a sail, good. And no one drowned. Much better.”

“Better than what?” Tej was still laughing at him, he feared.

“Just—better.” Ivan took refuge in what dignity a man wearing nothing but shorts and sipping fruity girly drinks could muster. And also in the drink.

“We should go to the Orb, on the way back,” mused Tej. “I mean, it’s famous for its erotic arts instruction, which I’ve already had, but I’ve always wanted to see it.”

Ivan was torn. “Yeah, so have I, but…what the hell is the
mandatory psychological interest survey
? Nobody ever mentioned that before.” Not even Miles.

Tej brightened. “My Betan tutors told me all about that. It’s not like a multiple-choice test—it’s more like a brain scan, while they run all kinds of images and stimuli past you, and then put the response-data through their analysis program. They pitch it to the customers as a way of helping people with limited time sort through the menu of offerings to find what will please them most—and it does do that. But it also screens for problem customers.”

“Are they turned away?”

“No, no. They just get a different level of supervision. They mean a lot of varied things by
problem
, you see. Some people are very distressed by insights that the survey reveals about them, things that they didn’t want to know, and then they have to be sort of gently talked down.”

Ivan considered this, warily. “I think Simon already knows everything about himself that he doesn’t want to know. He never seemed much given to self-deception. All those years of non-adjustable memory.”

“I can believe that.”

But a new reason for
some people
not to talk much about their visits to the famous Orb glimmered in Ivan’s mind. The
next
time he caught up with Miles….

Speaking of that devil. “Ah, here’s one from my cousin, Lord-Auditor-and-don’t-you-forget-it.”

“Oh, those are always very interesting.” Tej perked up.

Ivan read for a minute or so, his lips parting. “Oh, my God. The investing angel who bought the old ImpSec site from the Imperial government? Turns out to have been my clone-cousin Mark Vorkosigan.”

“For a Betan dollar?”

“No, not that much nepotism. But he bargained them way down by accepting all legal liabilities. Apparently, his engineers found a way to raise the building back to ground level again!
And
stabilize the subsoil. It took several months, but they got it up pretty much whole.”

“That must have been almost as bizarre a sight as sinking it was. But…” Her brows drew down. “What in the world is the man going to do with an ugly old government building? It was pretty much gutted, wasn’t it?”

“Stripped more than gutted, I gather. Surprisingly intact. Mark Vorkosigan Enterprises’ new headquarters? He needs one. No…” Ivan scrolled on. His lips drew back in an uncontrollable grin. “Ooh, snarky, Miles! I just
bet
you’re upset…”

“Come on,” urged Tej, grinning as if he were the best show in town.

“Mark’s turning it into a theme hotel, restaurant, and nightclub. With an espionage museum, very educational. He plans to sell ‘the whole ImpSec experience’ to the tourists, both backcountry and galactic, apparently.”

“Will people
pay
to sleep in old ImpSec cells and offices and things? I mean—it seems more like a place people would have paid to get
out
of.”

“That was then, this is now…oh, my. Oh, you’ll have to read this. Miles is
so
pissed, but he can’t say so directly, because, Mark. The grand opening is in a couple of weeks. And it’s already booked solid for the first two months.” Ivan couldn’t help adding, after a moment of somewhat skewed beatific vision, “I wonder if there’ll be an
Adults Only
section…? Because, Mark…”

He wanted to go back and start over right then, just to savor the letter on all its levels, but there was more, taking another direction. “Oh, no, Miles and Ekaterin have decanted another one. Going into production, coz? I suppose you are. Still trying to outrun…everything. And pictures. Why? Babies all look alike, I swear…”

“Ooh. Send over.” Tej held out a demanding hand; he extended her his reader, now displaying flat scans of what, he was assured, was a baby girl, one Lady Elizabeth Vorkosigan. His newest niece.
Uncle Ivan
, good God, the urchins would probably be up to
calling
him that by the time they got home to Vorbarr Sultana. And
Aunt Tej
, as well, now.
How is it I can have my identity changed by something I didn’t even do…?

He cautiously considered the sobriquet
Da
. That one, at least, might be his own doing…

Tej was not, thankfully,
goopy
the way some women got when presented with baby pictures. But the look in her eye was curious, and, when she raised her face to his again, speculative.

“One wouldn’t,” she said neutrally, “want to start an infant in a replicator here, and then have to drag it, decanted or otherwise, back through all those stressful wormhole jumps to Barrayar. More sensible to wait a bit.”

“A bit,” Ivan agreed. The memory of so comfortably
ignoring
his thirty-sixth birthday drifted across his mind. But some deadlines demanded attention. “You know…I’m going to be a twenty-years man in just four more years. That used to seem
forever
away, and now it’s…not.”

“What does that mean? In Barrayaran. Or Vor, as the case may be.”

“MilSpeak. Yet another dialect for you. It’s the time a mid-grade officer like me either takes early retirement—not all that early, really—or retakes his oaths and gets serious about tracking for high command. They used to encourage men to stay in, but they don’t so much, these days. They’d rather have new young fellows with new young training.”

“So…what do you want to do? Or do instead?”

“Opting out would be a sure-fire way to avoid unwanted promotion.” He tried to remember his early military idealism, before the glitter had worn off. In retrospect, he wasn’t sure it had been idealism so much as a burning hunger for a status to overawe his fellow obnoxious eighteen-year-olds. Which…seemed much less important, now.

“Is that your answer, then?”

“Might be. It also depends on the alternatives on offer. The consul thinks I should consider the diplomatic corps. That’s—really not an unusual second-career path, for a twenty-years man like me.”

Tej’s lips curved up. “There’s no one like you, Ivan Xav.”

Ivan decided not to argue with this flattering viewpoint.

Tej tried it out in her mouth. “Ambassador Vorpatril?”

“Ambassador and Lady Vorpatril—they like you to come as a set. And they’d fall all over themselves for your language kink. But there’s an apprenticeship first, even if I were fast-tracked. Unless we were sent to the backside of nowhere.” He looked around, and added conscientiously, “Again.”

Tej let her gaze pass over the golden Yllan landscape, the odd but lovely deep blue-green for-want-of-a-better-term vegetation—much the color of a very chilled Rish—the wide, shining, corrosive sea. “Well,
someone
has to be,” she allowed, judiciously.

“It could involve a lot of wormhole jumps.”

“Mm, but only once every few years. I could…steel myself. And it would keep us far away from
both
our families.”

“I can see the appeal…”

In all, in truth, it was a problem for another day, Ivan decided. When life and chance handed you an afternoon as idyllic as this one promised to be, it seemed profoundly ungrateful not to
pay attention
.

Ivan ran a toe up Tej’s shin, and began attending.

BOOK: Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
12.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Adversary - 4 by Julian May
Deadly Spurs by Jana Leigh
Not Pretty Enough by Admans, Jaimie
Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui
Dead Iron by Devon Monk
Winter Storm by John Schettler
A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee