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Captain Vorpatril's Plotbunnies (2)
ImpSec
bracketyjack
II
“I should mention, in a personal communication I received from the Viceroy of Sergyar last night, Aral says he doesn’t remember ever ordering anyone to blow up Vordarian’s ImpSec building. Such a decision ought to have made it up to his level, he said, but in the confusion of the times, it’s perfectly possible it didn’t. And, ah, a few other remarks about excessive initiative in subordinates, but they’re not pertinent here.”
(Ch. 24)

It had been a while—three months at least—since the bedside alarm  had woken Aral and Cordelia, and their snapped-open eyes met with grim surmise as Aral propped himself on one elbow, hit the dimlight switch, and tapped the accept.

“What is it, Captain?”

“A message from His Majesty, my Lord, marked Personal and Immediate.”

“Send it through, then.”

“It’s more than two hours long, my Lord.”

“It’s what?” Aral shook his head to clear it. “Alright, Captain. Send it to the main console in three minutes, and get some coffee brewing, would you?”

“Of course, my Lord. Three minutes it is.”

Rising from the warmth of the bed Cordelia snagged from its hook a snug, very comfortable, and enforcingly modest robe that Alys had given her. “There must be some fat holovid files attached.”

Aral grunted. “Who knows? I thought things had just about quieted down again after all that Cetagandan crap last year. Except for Ivan, I suppose, and all those colourful Jacksonians he’s managed to relate us to.” He belted his gown. “At least neither Miles nor Mark are on-planet.”

Cordelia grinned at him. “There’s that. Though Ivan’s suddenly made good on his everlasting promise, so perhaps we can hope.”

“Heh. More likely to be something galactic. Or someone kicking the bucket under the wrong circumstances, I suppose.”

The routine of emergency awakenings was familiar, and by the time they were seated before the comsonsole they had steaming mugs in their hands and, unasked for, plates of comfort food in case it was really bad. And it might be, Cordelia thought, as she took in Gregor’s appearance and the wild light in his eye, but his first words were a reassurance, of sorts.

“Aral, Cordelia—I’m sorry to disturb you but I require your knowledge and advice.” One hand smoothed his hair. “No-one is dead, rather astonishingly. So far, at least. We may have a biohazard problem of anything from grades 2 to 5, but that remains to be determined and there’s half-a-reason to hope it’ll be only a 2, and controlled. And we have a veritable treasure trove of Occupation loot to investigate.” He visibly drew a deep breath, a rare thing for Gregor, and Cordelia’s stomach turned amid her astonishment at what he’d already said. Biohazards and Occupation loot? Something haut as well as ghem, in that case. Gregor’s hand was still smoothing his hair, not a good sign. He glanced aside, then back. “This may make things clearer. Or not. It’s public footage of what I have just had the … undeniably pleasurable terror of witnessing. In the company of Simon, who so far as I can tell has screwed up but good, as well as Alys, a very muddy Ivan Xav, and the new Lady Vorpatril.” His face took on a look Cordelia had never seen, combining glee, rage, and exasperation. “Enjoy.”
“What the—“

Aral’s curse was cut short by the promised public footage, which showed, unmistakably, Cockroach Central, gleaming blackly from what had obviously been heavy, recent rain—the streets were still puddled. More puzzling were the floodlights and mounded earth in the little park in front of that gargoyled, windowless façade, and the swarm of people and equipment the lights showed slowly freezing from their scurry into an observant ring. A commentator’s voice cut in, stressed almost to hysteria.

“And in case you’re just joining us, this is the scene right now at the headquarters of Imperial Security. About six hours ago there was an encounter of some kind between the Streetguard and someone, and then a significant explosion under Kaminsky Park. Since then ImpMil resources have been pouring in, as you can see, and have rescued a dozen people at least from what must be a bunker of some kind under the park. What’s going on we don’t yet know, but the rumours relayed to me by my colleagues on the ground are that treasure-hunters—and yes, you heard me right—that treasure-hunters of some kind, tunnelling under the park, became trapped by that underground explosion. My colleague—hold it. What did you say? … Oh fuck a duck, so it is.”

There was a pregnant pause while Aral and Cordelia looked at one another, eyebrows high, and the view hastily shifted from park to building. Which … was tilted. No, tilting. And … sinking. A chastened voice resumed.

“I’m terribly sorry for my profanity, but I hope you’ll forgive me. ImpSec HQ—the most notorious building on Barryar, Cockroach Central itself—is apparently being swallowed by the planet.”

Good recovery, Cordelia thought, as the man’s improbable words were borne out. Those monstrous, useless front steps had split down the middle, the bronze doors had cracked free, and the building was undoubtedly subsiding. Slowly the famous gargoyle frieze disappeared, then most of the first floor, and a new spectacle was added, of uniformed ImpSec men rapelling to safety from the roof.

“I knew there was more than one reason having no windows was a really bad idea.”

“Heh. I am increasingly amazed that Gregor said no-one had died. Mmm—what have we here?”

The image cut to one from a vidcopter that must be rather lower, with its camera at full zoom, showing a crescent of figures watching the … inhumation? Swallowing? Experienced eyes had no trouble picking out Gregor, centremost, surrounded by Alys, Simon, Guy Allegre, Duv Galeni, and Ivan ; first-stage deduction confirmed Lady Tej Vorpatril, her parents, Shiv and Undine Arqua, and after a moment’s thought Byerly Vorrutyer.

“Who are the muddy engineers?”

“Senior’s a man called Otto. Guy spoke very well of him. The junior I don’t know.”

The screen split to show both the crescent of faces and the slowly disappearing monstrosity the first Lord Dono Vorrutyer had inflicted on Barryar. Both of them twitched as they saw largely silent observation interrupted by Simon, his hand twice leaping to his mouth to stifle what could only be hysterical giggles. Aral rubbed his forehead.

“First approximation, dear Captain? Simon’s new sort-of-in-laws have managed to please him, entirely inconceivably. At a cost of several billion marks, at least.” He frowned. “Though perhaps offset if there really is Occupation loot involved.” He barked a complicated laugh that Cordelia appreciated. “I always knew a fair amount had gone missing but I didn’t think much was still on Barrayar.”

“Mmm. The biohazard must be responsible for the, um, sinking.”

“I’d imagine. Consequences?”

“Insufficent data.”

“Mmm.”

They watched in fascinated silence as another storey disappeared and Gregor was persuaded by fretting Armsmen to depart the scene. The chastened commentator’s voice cut in again, and out as the footage vanished and a more usual image of Gregor reappeared, his eyes less wild and a coffee mug clutched in his hands.

“So there you have it. I’m down one ImpSec HQ. Literally. Quite how this has come about remains a puzzle, but in so far as I understand events at all”—he took a deep breath—“they centre on Ivan’s—and my, and your, after a fashion—new in-laws. To be as precise as I can, Ivan Xav’s new grandmother-in-law, Lady Moira ghem Estif, who was awarded to Ghem-General Estif of the Occupation Junta about five years before we kicked them off-planet, knew there was a bunkerful of loot stashed in the haut lab where she used to work. And Shiv Arqua, Ivan Xav’s new father-in-law, saw that this might be handy in dealing with the little problem of his conquest by House Prestene. While Lady ghem Estif also happened to know about some Terran-developed biotool that creates tunnels without any detectable noise or vibration”  A hand swept hair. “The perfect storm. Also literally, as it’s been junking down for twelve hours or more, which helped no end when the explosion buggered a main storm drain. And made yet more perfect, if I guess right from what he’s been able to say, by Shiv Arqua managing to make Simon a bet of some kind. And playing Ivan Xav into the middle of it. Not to mention implicating Alys, who has with my full approval received the Arquas.” Imperial hands swung wide. “Can you imagine such a, a … clusterfuck? And to cap it all, the loot turns out to be very real. Ivan Xav grabbed this.” He took a box from the desk he was leaning against and flipped it open, removing one tray, then another. “A set of seal-daggers of the Counts Palatine during the Occupation. All sixty of them, in mint condition. Provenance, anyone?” Gregor’s voice almost cracked. “And that’s the least of it. A trove of documents, including holograph letters between Ezar and Xav, several dozen boxes of Ninth-Satrapy gold coinage, and who knows what else? Two large chambers packed with the Junta’s considered pickings—art, artefacts, specie, jewels, and an Alys-wardrobe of clothing. Tens of millions of marks, at the least. Hundreds. Could be billions. Who knows, with this story to back it up?”

Gregor took a deep breath, while Aral and Cordelia held theirs.

“My Vicereine—Cordelia—please remind me why coming the Red Queen is a bad idea. And my Viceroy—Aral, truefather—please advise me what I should do about your liegeman and mine, Simon.” Another breath. “There are more dimensions than I can readily count. As Count Vorbarra I am royally pissed that a biohazard has been released in my District. Lady ghem Estif, who is largely responsible, insists it has biolocks, and she is haut, so it probably does, but still. As C-in-C, I am down a critical military installation and as Emperor up by however many marks it turns out to be. Guy’s going to be horribly distracted, and three of the people I might turn to are compromised, one way or another. Only pro tem, I devoutly hope, but nevertheless. And Miles is for once not interfering, but off-planet when needed.” There was an edgy pause. “Though I can readily imagine his being of no use at all until he’d finished giggling. Much like Simon. And I’m going to need solid counsel just as soon as anyone can get it to me, so a swift reply please, however bemused.”

A swipe of the hair.

“Oh, and there are a couple of specifics, more to Aral than Cordelia. That holovid commentator’s summary was right enough from my point-of-view. The thump of the underground explosion woke Laisa and me, so it must have been big. The first reports were from Lord Vorbohn’s men, who’d chased some suspicious activity into a tunnel dug from a garage, and suffered the explosion.” Another deep breath. “As I now understand it, Ivan Xav’s grandmother-in-law’s tunnel-boring biohazard uncovered, among other things, a lost ImpSec sergeant called Abelard, dead underground for some thirty-odd years, so let’s call it during the Pretendership, who had, it seems, perished while wriggling towards ImpSec HQ with a substantial quantity of plastic explosives strapped to his back. Until a stunner beam hit them. Any light you might be able to shed would be appreciated.”

Cordelia’s brows drew down. “Can you?”

“Doubt it.” Aral grunted. “I certainly didn’t order it. I’d only have had to build a new HQ.”

“The old one was excessively ugly.”

“A new one would have been excessively expensive.” Aral’s voice was dry but Gregor was speaking again.

“The second thing is more peripheral but nastier. My understanding is very sketchy but it seems the Arquas were getting away with their raid on the bunker until their contractor to ship the stuff played them false—a resident Komarran called Imola. It was his people who attracted the Streetguard while stunning one of Ivan Xav’s in-laws, and who opened fire in the tunnel.” Gregor’s face was very grim, and Cordelia saw rage coming to the surface again. “They’ve all been dug out alive, surprisingly, and except for the scale of damage that’s all straightforward enough. But it seems Ser Imola’s smuggled goods are more often involuntary cryocorpses, and his cover the repatriation of accidental deaths among visitors, including Komarrans and Sergyarans. Kidnap-to-order, in fact, with ­reversible murder thrown in, plus slaving.” Which accounted for Gregor’s rage, even without the rest of it. “The charge-sheet will be long and very capital. But we’ve got hold of only one hydra-head. Who else is using this filthy trick? Raudsepp’s on it at this end, and will be pursuing to Komarr, but I’d like you to get ImpSec Sergyar to start looking, hard.”

A rather harried look aside, and a nod.

“I must go. Gerard will append as much holo as we have and whatever clarities may emerge in the next hour. But no more than that, Gerard. I want this on its way.”

As Gregor swept away the familiar face of his Armsman filled the pickup. He was usually as dry and wilfully bland as Pym, but tonight even he had a certain air of bemusement.

“My Lord Viceroy, my Lady Vicereine. I believe m’Lord covered all the salient points, but there are things coming in all the time. Most importantly, perhaps, the testimony of Lady ghem Estif is that the biological agent used is something called a mycoborer, developed by GalacTech, a Terran company, as a construction tool but not yet properly tested or licensed. It is activated by ammonia, is self-limiting when properly used, and has a suicide-gene. It is also sterilized by heat and saline solution, which may be fortunate as the question of where the, ah, displaced earth is going has been answered by Colonel Otto.”

His fingers played on the console and more holovid cut in—the river ravine, somewhere below Vorhartung Castle, with a dark geyser of mud jetting ferociously from the rock to crash into the turbulent—and increasingly turbid—river below. The flow-rate was … significant, and while the footage ran for several minutes never slackened.

Gerard’s face re-appeared.

“It is now possible to jump quite safely from ImpSec’s roof to the ground, but the rate of descent has slowed considerably, and that, ah, discharge into the river has slowed too, so the more seismic part of events may be coming to a close.” He sighed gently to himself. “The more human part, however, continues apace. Two of the very many vidcopters came within an ace of colliding and m’Lord has ordered stingships to ground the lot of them. He has also indicated that the Arquas, tout court, with Lord Ivan and Lady Vorpatril, should be sequestered in the empty apartments immediately below that of Lady Alys.” He glanced away. “M’Lady?”

“I just wanted to add my marksworth to Aral and Cordelia, Gerard.”

Laisa’s eyes, Cordelia saw, were sparkling, her face flushed as she displaced the Armsman.

“I would say Barrayarans!, but Jacksonian! seems more to the point.  Perhaps it’s synergy. And while I can’t say I regret that appalling building, given that no-one has died—yet—Gregor is angrier than I’ve ever seen him. The damned mycoborer, yes, and this vile Imola fellow, but beyond that it’s shock, I think, at being so badly blindsided, and by Simon.” She took a breath. “Other things being equal, I think it might be a good idea if you were to invite Simon and Alys to visit Chaos Colony. As the first stage of a long and richly deserved galactic holiday. And on those same lines, the name of a very distant, very peaceful, and very unimportant planet to which Ivan could be posted as miltary attaché would also be appreciated. I’m pretty sure it is all just a … a … that there was no intent, but absence will nevertheless make the heart grow fonder rather faster than presence. Conversely, I’ve sent Miles a message asking him to get back here soonest. Gregor is going to need more people than me to vent at, and the pool just got a lot smaller.”

“Heh. Quick thinking.”

“Isn’t it? I’m so glad Gregor found her.”

Laisa’s fingers drummed briefly on the comsonsole before she resumed. “In the longer term—about which no-one is able to think much just yet, so I’ve been trying—I have some hopes that this might prove to be the comedy it seems. The footage of Cockroach Central disappearing is going to be very popular, not least on Komarr, but the efficiency of the rescue will also command respect. Colonel Otto front and centre for that, I fancy. And the contents of that bunker are going to be a wonderful distraction, while Imola will be a less wonderful but probably more important one. Also not least on Komarr. But there’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge yet. And mud and mycoborer, to the sea.” She shook her head. “What Barrayaran metaphors. My brain’s spinning. But I did have one other thought, perhaps crazy but maybe not. That building went down intact. Lord Dono may have had the aesthetic sense of one of his gargoyles but he knew about structural redundancy. And if it went down intact, could it come up intact? Half-way, anyway—I’m damned if I want it back on the skyline, or if I’ll miss this chance to get ImpSec into a sane working environment with some daylight involved.”

She took a breath.

“And then there’s the financial impact of rehousing ImpSec and of sorting out the old site, which is going to leave a hole in this year’s budget even if the loot makes up for some of it in the next. I’m sure Guy will have a thousand objections, but once the old building’s stripped of data and whatever’s in those evidence rooms, what makes business sense is offloading it pronto, with all legal liabilities, at a—ha!—bargain-basement price if necessary. So I think we may before long be in want of a buyer—someone who has the financial clout, the connections and flexibility to deal with the combined engineering, cleanup, and sensitivities required, and existing security clearance, just in case. And, of course, someone who might get a kick out of owning Cockroach Central, albeit in a rather interred state, and out of doing the Imperial Government a sizeable favour.” Her sudden smile was dazzling. “Perhaps you’d pass the thought along to Mark and Kareen?”

The smile faded while Aral spluttered slightly and Cordelia softly clapped.

“For now, though, just get Simon and Alys out of here as soon as they’ve been debriefed, please. And remind Gregor to look after himself as well as everyone else. He’ll cope—he always does—but after this he’s going to need some space to chill. I wish Beta was closer—I’d drag him to The Orb—but South Continent will probably have to do. Those Hills of Madame D’Aubade’s sound nice. Long walks, lots of food and sex, and even more sleep.” She glanced aside. “Awk. Gotta go—Boriz Vormoncrief is here in Officially-Enquiring mode and Gregor will bite him if I don’t head him off. Back to you, Gerard.”

She was gone in a flare of skirts and Gerard reappeared, looking approving.

“I would personally endorse all m’Lady said, my Lord and Lady. M’Lord needs some peace and quiet, and I’ve been, ah, scheming with her to clear his diary for a few days. I would also concur that it is Captain Illyan’s, um, inadvertent complicity that is … distressing him most.” He became brisk. “Be that as it may. Colonel Otto’s latest hypothesis as to what actually happened is, I quote, ‘the mycoborer and the rain turned it all into a damned great mud sponge and Cockroach Central squeezed it dry’, which seems clear. The descent—and the discharge—seem to have stopped. It remains the case that no-one has died. And preliminary observation of House Cordonah tends quite strongly to confirm that Lord Ivan’s marriage to Lady Tej was just as it seemed, however it may have been seized upon by the Baron and Baronne. All are clearly aware that thay are being observed but the vigour of their language does not suggest any, ah, put-up job. Lord Ivan’s explanation of consequences to his … circumstantial dependants is worth including, I think.”

The image shifted again, to the slightly grainy quality of temporary surveillance cams, and Aral and Cordelia listened with appreciative fascination to Ivan laying down not so much Barrayaran law, though that was involved, as much tried Barrayaran sensibilities. He had House Cordonah, colourful and otherwise, rapt, not to say occasionally quivering at a turn of phrase, but his hand throughout clutched that of his wife, who was, Cordelia noticed, clutching back.

“Interesting.”

“Isn’t it, dear Captain? If I’d known marrying him to a Jacksonian princess and sinking Cockroach Central would do the trick, I’d have tried it long ago, if only to oblige Alys.”

Cordelia batted at Aral’s arm, but Gerard was back yet again.

“Time is passing, my Lord and Lady, and this message should be sent. I’ll add only the holovid we have of the contents of the bunker—an unedited personal cam, I’m afraid, but all there presently is. Oh, and my prayers, with m’Lord’s, for a swift reply. With all appropriate salutations, of course.”

“Aren’t Armsmen wonderful? I wonder how Pym would have coped with all that?”

“Dryly, no doubt. Still, let’s see what all the fuss was about.”

The personal-cam footage was initially dizzying, but things became clearer as what must be a man on a grav-sled slipped through the rescue-hole in the roof of the bunker, set down in a space by a wall pierced by another smaller hole, and began systematically to walk around, opening boxes and offering a murmured commentary.

“This will take weeks, but let’s see. Ah, documents. “‘Dear Xav … yours in blood, Ezar.’ Dear God. ‘Dear Ezar …’, ‘Dear Dorca …’, ‘Dear Pierre …’ Huh. I don’t suppose many people thought of Le Sanguinaire like that. More letters and what look like personal papers. An imperial archive. Nothing obviously govermental, though who knows? A lot of clothing, male and female. Imperial dress uniforms. Ah, the specie. Ninth-Satrapy seals … ten, twenty … forty boxes. Eight tons. A billion marks right there. Oh, paintings. Terran, Terran, Betan, I think, doubtless worth a mark or three. Terran. Oh my, Vorsamos, a good one. And another. No—a triptych. It must be Before, During, and After the Storm at Vorkalloner Borealis—the present Count will be pleased. Some more good stuff—someone had an eye. But the ghem do. Mmm, what’s this? Bioseal—leave well alone. And another. Labels? Not apparently. On to a less hazardous pile, and … rubies. More rubies. The old Vorfolse mines, I dare say. He’ll be pleased too. Emeralds. Diamonds. Topaz? Odd—didn’t know the ghem valued it. Or Tiger’s Eye. Never did know what a tiger was. Amethysts. Beryl. Onyx. More hundreds of millions, but best as a trickle, not a glut. Oh I say, a seedbank. North and South Continents. Someone ought to be pleased. More fabrics. Oof, that’s heavy. Gold again? Or stone? Yes, statuary. And … oh my. It must be … and it is—the Vorbarra Hall of Ancestors. Yes, life studies in stone and death masks in plaster. Dear God. Rasputin Barra was among the Firsters. I think the next exhibition at the Imperial Museum just got decided.”

With some regret Cordelia muted the sound as the improbable inventory continued.

“That holovid commentator had it right, love. Fuck a duck, indeed. As did Gregor in calling it a clusterfuck. I can’t remember the last time I heard him swear. Is that a technical military term, by the way?”

“Oh yes. Time-honoured. And this certainly qualifies, despite all that loot. The perfect clusterfuck, perhaps.” Aral rubbed his forehead. “I’ll guarantee this—Simon has recovered further and faster than we’ve allowed, and he got bored. Otherwise Shiv Arqua could never have inveigled him as he must have done. I agree with Laisa about getting him away for a bit to let Gregor calm down, but what he needs isn’t a holiday, It’s a job. Beyond that … I don’t know. It depends on Ivan. Or rather, Ivan Xav, apparently.”

“Yes. No-one’s going to say ‘Ivan Xav you idiot’. Nor should they. That was love we saw, Aral dear. The Real Deal, at last. And you have to admit, falling for a Jacksonian princess-in-distress with a haut grandmother and a royal-blue babysitter is … promising. As was that mass scolding, which will also have reassured Gregor when Gerard got it to him.”

“Mmm.” Strong fingers drummed. “It’s a sort of unconscious Miles, isn’t it? He’d have known he was lured by the temptation to steal a few billion marks literally from under ImpSec’s nose and made sure it all got presented to Guy afterwards. Ivan … Ivan Xav drifted into it because he has the knight-errantry, in his own fashion, just not the mother wit God gave even the radial fauna.”

“No fair.” Cordelia grinned. “He’s held out against Alys and found a woman who clutches him back. No mean feat. And if it’d gone that wrong on Miles, people would be dead.”

“Point, dear Captain. Points. I still can’t believe no-one was killed. I never had such luck.”

“No.” Her hand sought his. “Things must be improving.”

“Heh. Belike. But if Ivan Xav has learned … accidentally learned sufficiently excessive initiative to precipitate this … well, Miles will be quite jealous and life will be unusually interesting for a while.” He shook his white-maned head repressively. “I’m glad for Ivan, of course, but the whole thing’s a result of excessive initiative by subordinates, starting with Byerly Vorrutyer and marrying the girl, and spreading to Simon not wanting to bother Guy with his idea about the Arquas. Even that poor dead sergeant with the bomb, probably—people kept doing things, with the best intentions, when they should have sat still or reported properly.”

“Don’t tell me—‘we took a vote’, remember? And I don’t think it’ll help Gregor much, but you could tell him, I suppose, after I’ve dealt with his Red Queen impulses. Not that they’ll have lasted—poor boy.” She gave a rich laugh. “I do wish we could have been there with him to see it sink, Aral. They should have had champagne. And a band playing a dirge.”

He gave her a stern look but she shook it off.

“Truly. Two hours ago we were wondering what catastrophe had happened. But it’s only a clusterfuck, and with no-one dead there is a funny side. A very funny side. And a lot of upside, actually, besides getting rid of the eyesore, and the loot.”

“Oh?”

“Oh yes. Laisa saw it. That footage is going to humanise ImpSec, while sane—and much more efficient—working conditions, in a nice, new, entirely unthreatening and light-coloured building will begin to work their magic. Win–win. Some temporary loss of administrative efficiency but a long term gain, and politically … invaluable, actually. No-one could have planned it, but assuming the mycoborer does have proper biolocks, it could work out extremely well. Keep Simon and Ivan out of it off-planet for a while, get Miles and Mark on-planet, and publicly deport the Arquas in a show of stone-faced imperial restraint without mentioning the 10% finders’ fee on historical artefacts to which I imagine they’re entitled. Less costs incurred, of course. But enough to be a war-chest, surely, especially with a little help. Simon’s plan must have been a secret alliance of some kind, and events now provide a fantastic cover.”

Aral’s eyes narrowed in thought. “Mmm. Yes, maybe so. And I take the point about ImpSec, dear Captain. So will Simon, when he calms down.”

“So I’d hope. Still, we’d better record a comforting reply for poor Gregor. And arrange a press-release before that footage is broadcast here.”

The thought struck them both simultaneously.

“I wonder how the headline writers managed?”
 

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I think my favorite part about this one is Laisa being the competent business executive onscreen. Of course it would occur to her to get Mark and Kareen to invest in Cockroach Central.

I thought so, and the glimpse of a business sensibility amid the imperial heartland seemed interesting too. Plus I like showing her growing into her unexpected job as empress.

The contents of the bunker were fun to enumerate as well, and left me thinking. Fine art on Barrayar? With the Franco-Russian heritage there must have been a fair dose of painting genes, and while I'm sure there's a lot of turgidly romantic art (The Maiden of the Lake and what not) there could be some amazing stuff as well. Daring modern renditions of 'Lady Vorkosigan Goes Shopping', 'Lord Vorkosigan Receives a Proposal', and who knows what, as well as a nice line in imperial and countly swagger portraits.

Fun administrative details and all -- especially, as you have noted, that scan of the loot. Surprising that Gregor didn't ask Aral and Cordelia to come for a visit :-)

Yes, I had fun with that catalogue, and it prompted some thoughts about Barrayaran fine art. Vorsamos is clearly a sort of Turner. Vorpicasso, anyone? The mind boggles ...

More later. But:
“This may make things clearer. Or not. It’s public footage of what I have just had the … undeniably pleasurable terror of witnessing. In the company of Simon, who so far as I can tell has screwed up but good, as well as Alys, a very muddy Ivan Xav, and the new Lady Vorpatril.” His face took on a look Cordelia had never seen, combining glee, rage, and exasperation. “Enjoy.”

Oh, I love that sequence. undeniably pleasurable terror . Were you influenced by your work on FFoG? Back to reading.

inhumation On this side of the pond, I have a pretty good working vocabulary. Didn't include this. You're as much fun to read as Nero Wolfe! :-)

Always glad to add a word to someone's vocabulary. Exhume is better known, of course, and we tend to say inter rather than inhume, but you do find inhumation in archaeology.

stifle what could only be hysterical giggles.
[chuckle]

“Isn’t it, dear Captain? If I’d known marrying him to a Jacksonian princess and sinking Cockroach Central would do the trick, I’d have tried it long ago, if only to oblige Alys.”

I'm not sure I totally believe this, but I believe the sentiment. :-)

Not meant to be serious -- just Aral teasing.

Minor gripe: Cordelia asking Aral about "clusterfuck". I admit, you needed it for the interchange. But. Cordelia not knowing about it? Zero. OK - I don't know what else you could have done. And I liked the interchange. But.

I didn't mean to imply that Cordelia didn't know the word. Again, a form of tease, about it being an official military term. I had in mind the moment when the word features with a general at the end of Eastwood's Heartbreak Ridge (which I thought underestimated and misunderstood by the critics). And perhaps some sense that it's a very Barrayaran term but not an especially Betan one -- they wouldn't care to admit they had such things, I fancy.

I don't have anything more to add now. Except. I liked it. I really did like it.

Good! Glad you did -- it was fun to do.

Heh, not that I was aware of. Just Lois's whole scene, given everything that's been said about Cockroach Central over the years, and the sense of being lumbered with the thing despite all its horrendous faults ... and then, down she goes, so stately, and even Simon (especially Simon) is on the verge of genuine hysterics, in every sense. Beautiful, as well as hilarious.

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