The coffee arrived first, accompanied by a tray of almond and apricot pastries and tiny teacakes. Snagging a cup of coffee, Ivan positioned himself directly in front of the tea trolley. He was starving. When the fourth pastry disappeared into his mouth, Kuzin called for a second tray.
So when By appeared at the door, flanked by a pair of ImpSec men who promptly arranged themselves against the wall alongside the two others already present, Ivan was feeling considerably more human than he had for hours. "Ah, come in, By," he called cheerily. "We were just sitting down to, er--what would you call this?--late afternoon tea?" He handed him coffee. "Coffee?"
By took a long gulp. He managed not to spill any though his hands were shaking. Ivan supposed he was used to it: tremors were a common side effect of a range of recreational chemicals, both licit and illicit, with which By was no doubt well acquainted. As soon as the coffee hit his system, he brightened perceptibly. Ivan could tell by the intensification of his aura of pernicious insouciance. For his part, Ivan had been feeling hopelessly uninformed since he'd dropped By off at Saint-Fiacre, a situation he meant to remedy right now.
"There's no such thing as a free late afternoon tea. My price is the story: I want to you to tell me exactly what's going on. All of it."
By crossed his legs over the arm of his swivel armchair, gazing consideringly at Ivan. It was evidently the first time he'd looked at him properly since the press, because he said, "Did you use blood to stick glitter in your hair? How hardcore--if strangely charming in a Fusion sort of way: Old Barrayar Meets the Galaxy, Body Fluids and Stardust--you might set off a trend."
"Only a useless town clown like you, By, would even think to stick glitter in his hair. It's glass. Then I hit my head after. The glass must have cut me." Ivan had expected the rainstorm to have washed off the blood; the municipal guard certainly hadn't been alarmed. But maybe he was bleeding again? He resisted the temptation to touch his hair to find out.
"You hit your head? Amazingly, I couldn't actually tell--or maybe not. How did you do it?"
"I don't know; I was knocked out." There were some things you didn't want to talk about. "Tell me what's going on before I give you a demonstration."
"Goodness me, aren't we tiresomely persistent!" By peered at his coffee, pretending to consider. "Cruelly so, to stoop to such a threat."
Ivan made a noncommittal gesture.
By cradled his cup possessively. "All right, I shall tell you what I can--though I'd imagine there's a great deal more I can't tell you, simply from counting the gaps between interviews."
Ivan noticed he'd said "I can't tell you" rather than "I don't know". He also noticed the glance By sneaked at Kuzin. Ye gods, the day By became fully comprehensible was the day Ivan was going to lose the will to live.
"Remember those WANTED posters our man Pruvot prints? Catch-the-robber is apparently not as popular as it once was; it's losing originality, he thinks. He was told they'd try playing for higher stakes to really enliven the crowd."
Ivan was incredulous. "It's one thing to stage cattle theft for fun and profit, but he truly believed they were planning a fake rebellion? Is he stupid?"
"Which is exactly the response he was told to expect from PubSafe. They've been giving him a hard time already: he's been dragged through the Indecent Publications Tribunal a few times over the posters and the sham stories in the Saint-Fiacre Courier. Doing this on the quiet, he insists, was supposed to be the perfect opportunity to show them there wasn't anything worth their worry. What better way than a success to convince them to get off his case?"
"So, he is stupid."
"Or Vortaine's man was persuasive. Then again, I merely repeat what he told me," Byerly replied fastidiously, "in between copious weeping over my sleeve. I didn't have the pleasure of attending his fast-penta interrogation."
Ivan zeroed in on a single word: "Vortaine? Cyril Vortaine?"
"Indeed, yes. Did you doubt me? I feel strangely insulted." By was still lying, Ivan could tell. But about what?
"It's just--don't you think it's odd for Lord Vortaine to lead a rebellion? Three years ago it would have made perfect sense, but now?"
"Why three years ago?" interjected Kuzin.
"Oh, having one's District whipped out from under one by a nephew while being fifth in line to the throne seems as fair a rationale as any for discontent," said By. "These days, with Emperor Gregor and my Lord Auditor Vorkosigan popping out sprogs in batches, Vortaine's rather further down the list."
Kuzin nodded; he must have known all this already. "Hence his attempt to discredit the Empress and characterize the Vorkosigans as galactic mutants."
"It's too late," Ivan pointed out in reflexive self-preservation. "He'll never get the Counts to rescind their confirmation of Laisa's brood. As for the Vorkosigans, it's teratogenic," Ivan felt compelled to explain. "Miles's children are clean; that should be evidence enough."
"My poor, simple Ivan, I'm afraid you vastly overestimate the average Barrayaran education," said By. "A natural consequence of spending all the Government's money on Komarran terraforming instead of schools and hospitals, I think you'll find." To Kuzin he continued, "Which rather leaves my dear cousin here in a difficult position. In his defense, he's not foreign, not retired, and not a mutant. Idiocy, on the other hand--Is mental capacity a criterion?"
Kuzin, studying Ivan, tracing the rim of his coffee cup with a finger, took his prerogative not to answer.
In Ivan's head, the details were starting to shuffle into position: "Is that why you're suspicious of me--you think I'm behind Lord Vortaine?" It was hard to seem insignificant when you were the focus of attention of the room at large. Ivan tried his best. He resisted the urge to surreptitiously look around for somewhere to hide.
Kuzin ignored this question too. "If you persist in going about with your 'cousin' here, you know what people will think."
"You mean: '…who people will think you're behind'," said By, radiating enough evil glee to power a small dreadnought.
Ivan spluttered and choked on a mouthful of cake.
"Lord Vorpatril, you may know of a certain tradition for men in the succession who cultivate Vorrutyer hangers-on: Emperor Dorca the Just had his Count Pierre 'Le Sanguinaire' Vorrutyer--"
"He was the Chief of Staff--" protested Ivan.
"--who shared his brother-in-law's tent on campaign," said By, "while his sister was locked away in the Residence's tower room."
"--Mad Emperor Yuri had his Lord Dono Vorrutyer--"
"He was the Imperial Architect--"
"--who engineered his patron's rise to the throne and went mad with grief at his death. Such touching fidelity, to be sure."
"--Prince Serg had his Admiral Ges Vorrutyer--"
"He was his military advisor!"
"Goodness, Ivan! Whenever I think I've plumbed the depths of your idiocy, I discover there are new frontiers to explore. Do you truly believe, returning victorious from Escobar, they'd have disbanded their support and gone their separate ways without a longing glance at Emperor Ezar's inconveniently intact throat?"
So Kuzin had answered Ivan's question after all. "You don't think I'm behind Vortaine, but you do think I'm going to take this opportunity for a coup of my own?"
"That's one fairly obvious interpretation, yes."
"Well, it's wrong. No one who knows Gregor would want his job." Ivan underlined the finality of that statement by popping a pastry into his mouth, whole.
Kuzin said, not breaking stride, "With all of you ruled out, Lord Vorpatril, it's not so impossible for Vortaine, even now, to claim the Imperium for himself."
"Excuse me," protested Ivan, swallowing hastily, "but on what grounds did you just rule me out?"
"Moral degeneracy," said By. "Do keep up!"
Ivan appealed to Kuzin: "Surely not!" He could feel six pairs of eyes boring into his head. Not to mention other parts. He wanted to squirm.
"Do you think the truth matters so long as Vortaine can muster a case against you that the average prole will believe? Lord Vorpatril, you refuse marriage, through no lack of willing families, yet you are known to conduct a series of love affairs with both married and unmarried women, you publically support a degenerate's--an ex-woman's--claim to the Vorrutyer Countship, and you're called on at all hours by this 'cousin' of yours."
The disconcerting conversation was tying Ivan up into knots, which sensation was not improved by his certainty that By was relishing every moment and that Kuzin was recording every word to go in his file. "I thought we were discussing Lord Vortaine and his claim for the Imperium," he said, to prevent any further discussion of himself, "and while you've shown that it's possible, it doesn't seem likely. The fact remains that Lord Vortaine doesn't have a chance without the troops."
"Nor without friends, either," said By, suddenly serious, "and he doesn't have enough friends."
"What about all those names you gave up, the ones downstairs?"
"I said 'friends', not jackals spiraling in to seize an advantage when he's hung out to dry." He added to Kuzin, "Never mind Vortaine, those are the ones to keep your eye on."
"We have them quite in hand, thank you. But you're both still thinking in terms of a coup."
"So?" said Ivan. "We've had a coup or attempted coup every generation since Dorca's Unification. In fact, we're due for a nasty one about now."
"While that may be true, the evidence suggests what Lord Vortaine's planning is a revolution, for which all he'll need is support from the common prole--no troops, no Vor friends necessary. ImpSec looks at all possibilities."
"Actually, at the moment you're only looking at the one possibility," By pointed out, "a highly improbable one, if I know Vortaine at all--which I do better than either of you. Granted, the Vortaine's District votes Conservative, but what you're suggesting is off the lunatic fringe: it's beyond Count Vormoncrief, beyond even my cousin Richars, may he enjoy Lord Vorbohn's hospitality for years to come. Vortaine must know he has no chance of success--and he lacks the imagination and sense of romance to proceed despite certain failure. Did he confess ambitions for the Imperium?"
Kuzin said nothing.
By winced dramatically, as if Kuzin's silence were physically painful. "One can't help but have the feeling someone didn't think to ask."
Cyril Vortaine was delivered into Kuzin's office by another pair of ImpSec men. "Vorrutyer!" he exclaimed as soon as he caught sight of By, whose request to be returned to his cell had been politely but firmly denied. "What happened to you?"
"I, er, fell down the stairs."
"You fell down Vorgorov's stairs all the way to Port Vortaine?"
"It was a long flight."
No one laughed.
"So they got you too, eh? And, er, you told them about… things?"
By looked distinctly uncomfortable. So underneath the nastiness he wasn't entirely heartless, after all. The novelty of that concept made Ivan's head hurt, despite the synergine in the coffee.
"Ah, well," Vortaine continued, "no hard feelings--and none on your part, I hope. I shouldn't have got you involved, and for that I'm sorry. Now, now, don't look like that! ImpSec are efficient; it's not your fault."
Ivan couldn't take any more of this. He'd instructed Kuzin, who'd already faded professionally into the background, to say nothing at first, so Ivan would have to be the one to speak. He poured coffee for Vortaine, whose hands were released by Kuzin's men at a nod, and asked his one prepared question:
"Lord Vortaine, did you know Commissioner Vorinnis burns offerings in his office?" Then, "Sugar?"
"No, thanks. Can't tell what Vorinnis puts in the stuff." He took his coffee and the chair beside By. "It doesn't surprise me, though it's against fire safety regulations. Mind you, that's probably why he does it." He eyed his coffee suspiciously, gave it a good long sniff, sighed in resignation, and drank.
"I thought you might say that. So is the Port under the Count's authority, sir?"
Vortaine harrumphed. "Count's authority! All the ports--Port Authorities now--are run by Administrators sent down from the Capital. It's the New Barrayar nonsense."
So Port Vortaine was, indeed, nationalized. Ivan understood this to have been the state of affairs--more or less--since Dorca's Unification. Centralization of sovereignty was the point of the bloody process. Nevertheless, he grinned encouragingly. "So what's Commissioner Vorinnis done to upset the Vortaine's District authority?"
Vortaine squinted at him; something must have rung a bell. "Ivan Vorpatril, aren't you? Lady Alys's boy? Your mother has influence with Vorinnis. Now ask her to do something for a dead man. No, no, don't fuss, Vorrutyer. Tell her--She's got to persuade Vorinnis that, though he might be exempt from the Count's law and custom, no Vor is exempt from his customary duty. Look. Look at this."
He shook out a folded flimsy from his breast pocket and shoved it at Ivan. It was a table of Occupational Health and Safety figures.
"I'm impressed Vorinnis releases his figures to you," Ivan murmured, visualizing the data springing up from the flimsy as a series of holocharts.
"He doesn't keep figures!" Vortaine snarled. "I compiled them. Worked back from hospital and cemetery records. These three--" he pointed "--District men who died falling off dodgy scaffolding on Vorinnis's building project last month. If he'd followed the workplace safety regulations, they'd have survived. That blip there--trampled in a leak: overcrowding…"
He continued to point out what he considered particularly egregious cases. As he spoke, his eyes were glazing over, his expression faraway. Ivan fancied that for each of the numbers he knew a name, saw a face, recalled sending a hamper to the family.
"And that's not the worst of it. Now you tell me it's more than carelessness in the interest of meeting his targets. He flaunts his disdain for fire safety. I know people laugh at me--not to my face, mind you, not yet. But I'm only protecting the people of my District. It's the duty of every Vor. It's especially my duty, as he who represents the Count before he's come of age. I don't claim to do anything new--we've always protected our people with law and custom. What does it profit Barrayar to gain worlds and lose her soul?"
Ivan gave up trying to digest his tirade. He said instead, "I'll pass your request to my mother, I'm sure. I only wondered, sir, it sounds like your quarrel is with Vorinnis, but--well, I've read your pamphlet, and it's aimed at the Government. At Gregor in particular. Why bring the Imperial family into it?"
"The Emperor's wife is a galactic--"
"A Komarran, all right--it makes no difference. I know galactics; I've served in the Fleet; I've served under Kanzian. I expect in Vorbarr Sultana you're as good as galactics already, but the Barrayar I know and live on doesn't suit your galactic-style governance. Production targets! Terraforming Komarr when the countryside has no comm net or running water! Better to develop at our own pace, in our own way. Vorinnis--now he'd fit right in on Komarr; he might be all right in Vorbarr Sultana. Not real Barrayar, though, not here."
"So you're protesting Gregor's placement of Vorinnis? Gregor encouraging his man's repudiation of his customary duty in order to accelerate galactic-style development?"
"Encourage? No. The Emperor's busy in Vorbarr Sultana. He's lived there all His life, in the Residence--it's another world: it's hard to see the real Barrayar from there."
"Why didn't you petition him? That's what I'd have done," said Ivan, although from By's snigger he knew as well as Ivan himself that he'd do nothing of the sort.
"For what?" said Vortaine. "What would you think of a man who cries to the Emperor when someone burns offerings in his office? Or overcrowds his dormitories? I can't trouble the Emperor with that. The Count should have authority in his District."
"Sir, I still don't quite understand your alternative: foment rebellion and--Overthrow Gregor? Impose the Vortaine's District legislature throughout the Imperium?"
"Are you an idiot? I don't want a rebellion."
Kuzin could hold back no longer. "How do you explain your pamphlet, then?"
"You've only to ask Vorrutyer. I wanted to make the Emperor see--in a way I can't as one man complaining. Each man's voice adds strength to our cause. I wanted Barrayar to remind Him of Himself. All very clean, very quiet, well-behaved; I wanted Him to see, to remember. You repeat, Vorrutyer, what I told you."
If Vortaine had discussed all this with By before, presumably at Vorgorov's party--and Ivan was more inclined to trust Vortaine than By, all things considered--then By had been lying to Ivan the whole time. "You knew!" he accused, forgetting Kuzin's presence entirely. "You knew everything all along--it had nothing whatsoever to do with the Budget. And you knew I was involved with the Budget so you spun me a yarn about that. You manipulative little--little insect! I was wondering how you talked me into this."
"Naturally I knew," By said reasonably, though his wary eyes were fixed on Kuzin. "You were hardly likely to come with me otherwise. Face it, Ivan, if I'd told you the truth at the start, you'd have said the Emperor deserved a nudge from the populace, with that expression of idiotic self-satisfaction on your face, and then you'd have picked me up and put me out like the cat."
"I dispute that," said Ivan. He tried not to imagine how pleasant life would be if Xav actually let him pick him up to put him out. "Are you implying I'd have let a revolution just--happen?"
"Indeed. Because you are an idiot who doesn't think. When the tidy little protest erupts into a demonstration and then revolt you might realize, by which time it'll be too late."
"Oh," said Ivan. Count By in as another person who understood him better than he did himself.
"There, I knew you'd thank me in the end." Then turning to Vortaine he said, "I told you earlier, Vortaine, and I'm telling you again: you're being pigheaded about this. Did you think ImpSec was going to let you get away with it? Did you not even stop to consider that Pruvot might be watched? He's been in trouble with PubSafe before."
Vortaine drew himself up in his chair and said, with such awesome dignity that Ivan had to force himself not to roll his eyes, "I do it for Barrayar. It doesn't matter what happens to me."
God save Barrayar from earnest men.
"It matters," said By. Was it Ivan or was the accustomed edge gone from his voice? "It matters to… What happens to your District when you're gone?"
"The Count my nephew will continue my work--his mother guides him well. I've no doubt in time, when he consolidates his position, he'll be as fine a Count as his late grandfather."
"Though I assume you don't mean to say your relations support you in this venture? I only ask because our ImpSec friends here--" By waved extravagantly at the not-particularly-friendly-looking ImpSec men lining the walls "--have an unfortunate tendency for jumping to conclusions."
"My family share my ideological and moral position." Vortaine's tone implied that anyone who did not was therefore immoral. "Naturally they encourage me to see to Vorinnis. How could they not? But they know nothing about the specifics. I have the sense to keep my family out of it."
"Good," said Kuzin. "Because we'll be talking to them next."
"I wasn't aware you had them here," said Ivan, who was starting to get a bad feeling about this: the sooner Kuzin finished with Vortaine, the sooner he'd begin on By.
"Not yet," said Kuzin.
"Then I was wondering if we could invite Commissioner Vorinnis to our tea party first?"
To Ivan's undying shock, "He's right, you know," added By in support. "You'll want to get to the bottom of Vortaine's grievance against Vorinnis before anything else."
"Very well, why not? We'll do it your way," said Kuzin in the expansive tone of a man who'd had his fill of synergine-laced coffee and cake. He ordered a third tray and a second carafe of coffee, which, again, arrived before the interviewee, in this case Vorinnis wrapped in a quilted dressing gown.
"Commissioner Vorinnis, come join us!" said Ivan, waving him to the chair furthest from Vortaine. "Lord Vortaine here has been complaining about your conduct."
"Evening." Vorinnis greeted the room at large with a minute nod. "I'm not surprised." He took the offered chair, eyeing Vortaine with evident, and returned, hostility.
"But why antagonize him, sir? He's Count Vortaine's Heir and Voice. Wouldn't things be easier if you dealt well with each other?"
"Playing devil's advocate, Ivan, does not become you."
Ivan busied himself pouring coffee, the better to hide his blush. "You are quite right, sir, to be sure. Still, some would consider it a valid question."
Vorinnis swept the room with a swift glance as he accepted the cup from Ivan.
"I don't deal well with traitors."
As he stirred his coffee the silence was absolute.
Then Vortaine shook off By's restraining hand from his elbow. "How dare you--" he began, and Ivan could see as well as anyone what was coming next. He looked around the room to assure himself there was nothing remotely resembling two swords for Vortaine to seize. By was doing the same. A pair of ImpSec men closed about Vortaine.
"That's a serious accusation," interjected Kuzin, using officiousness to keep control of the situation.
"Offensive, some would say," By joined in. Ivan wasn't sure he was helping.
"And not altogether accurate--or at least premature. Lord Vortaine has been detained on suspicion of incitement to sedition. Until he is formally convicted by the Council of Counts, he is within his rights to challenge your accusation."
"I need no conviction to tell me what he is. Has he been complaining about me? Yes, how dare a nobody stand up to the beloved Count's Heir! Surely that's the very disloyalty he's being accused of. Well, this isn't my District and he isn't my Count's Heir. I haven't sworn to serve him or obey him, but I have sworn to my Emperor and he'd do well to remember he's done the same--"
By waved his hand in a superfluous gesture. "Forgive me for asking--not being a military man, these things confuse me, you understand. Were you not released from your oaths when you left the Service?"
"From the letter, yes. But a man who can be released from the spirit of an oath at a word, a man who doesn't feel a continuing sense of duty to his Emperor, I--"
He shook his head, so controlled that it passed like a tremor, and his face tightened in an expression that Ivan interpreted as intense disgust. Ivan knew that Vorinnis was embarking on one of his occasional spurts of eloquence, from which nothing and no one could dissuade him. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.
"--I think he must be just the sort of man who can say the phrase 'Loyal Opposition' with a straight face. What is a 'loyal' opposition? How can a man be loyal when his every deed, his every word, his every thought, every principle by which he conducts his life and duties necessarily opposes the very Emperor he claims loyalty towards? Every man in the Loyal Opposition is a traitor, to Emperor Gregor, to Unified Barrayar herself, and I need no conviction by the Counts to tell me that. You know me, Vorpatril, you know who I am, what I'd do."
"Sir." Ivan nodded, though he was starting to have his doubts.
"Do you believe I would defy any Count or Count's Heir, no matter of which District, for self-interested motives?"
"Of course not, sir." Self-interest was not a concern--rather, it was earnest, but misguided, loyalty to Gregor, and he was fairly sure he was being proven right.
God save Barrayar from earnest men.
"No, I only want Barrayar to have a future. I want for Barrayar the future I fought for.
"When Vordarian seized Vorbarr Sultana I was on leave from the Fleet. I could have stayed put: defended my home, protected my mother and sister--we all believed after the Vorvolynkin's District the Vorinnis's District was next. But when Admiral Vorkosigan--" he was lapsing into the past, Ivan noticed; nobody called Uncle Aral just "Admiral" these days "--summoned the Emperor's loyal troops, I answered that call. I mobilized as many men as I could find from my ship for Vorkosigan. I fought for Vorkosigan because I wanted Vorkosigan's Barrayar.
"Vordarian's Barrayar was the old, feudal Barrayar, stuck in the rut of tradition where power was meted out through tracing family trees and marrying princesses, where a man blindly followed his nepotistic self-interest in the name of duty. Vorkosigan's Barrayar is the new Barrayar--a Barrayar where a man rises or falls on merit, where a man may hold power and authority without name or lineage, where an earned rank means more than hereditary titles like Emperor or Count or--" he sneered at Vortaine "--Heir. That was the Barrayar I fought for, the Barrayar your father, Captain Lord Vorpatril, died for."
Ivan had always understood his father to have died in an act of idiocy--he supposed he took after him in that regard--but maybe Vorinnis had a point. After all, he'd served with Ivan's father and afterwards been a friend to his mother, while Ivan himself knew no more than hearsay, had no more evidence than a plaque in the street. Interesting, though, that Vorinnis fell for Uncle Aral's sleight of hand. Uncle Aral wasn't so politically antithetical to Vordarian, after all: by breaking the power of the Ministries, he necessarily elevated the hereditary Counts--but because he loudly and publically appointed his veterans into Administrative positions, everyone only noticed that Vorkosigan supported the troops.
"All through Vorkosigan's Regency he worked tirelessly for that vision of Barrayar; and later during his term as Prime Minister--we all knew Emperor Gregor was a tame young man whom the Vorkosigans raised as their own."
Ivan wanted to protest that he'd got the relationship between Uncle Aral and Gregor completely wrong--until he remembered that neither had had much time for Ivan, and politics were the source of all those terrifying things he avoided whenever possible, so he really couldn't know. Maybe it had been as Vorinnis saw it.
"Now that the Viceroy's retired to Sergyar, the Emperor could do with a few men who have His interests at heart. He allows the so-called 'Loyal' Opposition to go too far--look at Saint-Fiacre! But that's not the limit of Vortaine's ambition--a return to the old Barrayar, in his District if that's all he can have: his Barrayar is Saint-Fiacre writ large, a planet coddled, cosseted, weak, where he indulges his old-woman tendencies by straitjacketing the populace with legalities, calling it his duty to his people. Well, in Vorkosigan's Barrayar the man who would set himself on fire with a death offering, the man who would fall off scaffolding--it would be best for everyone if they died before they were allowed to breed."
It was strange how Vorinnis, who considered himself a Progressive, was reverting to that old Time of Isolation practice--except instead of cutting out mutants from the gene pool, it was incompetents--while the Conservative Vortaine was advocating a galactic-style protest movement that would no doubt have set off a bloody rebellion in the Old Barrayar he was nostalgic for. It was all too political for Ivan, too dangerous to think about.
"The man's gone mad at last," said Vortaine, who was no longer furious, but looked, if anything, bemused. "Must be a fair swish of Vorrutyer in him. 'Better off if they died before they were allowed to breed'! I'm only relieved you're not in line for a countship."
"Are you relieved, indeed? Then look to your own family: your nephew the Count agrees with me in every regard. The Lady Vortaine is a sensible woman; she's raised him well--and she has but encouraged me in my intent."
"Do you insult my family too? Delusional! Why, Sonya has been urging me to resolve the--huh, what she calls the 'inconveniences at our Port'--from its root cause. For the past six months she has, ever since it's come to her notice."
Vorinnis's gaze flicked down; when he looked up again his eyes were suddenly soft. "Perhaps Lady Vortaine is compliant with you out of fear: she must know her young son is the only obstacle between you and the Countship."
Ivan thought he had a good idea of the situation by now. This was by no means the first time he'd seen it happen: a woman in a weak position between two powerful men could only hope to improve her chances by playing them off against each other. He wouldn't be surprised if Lady Vortaine had incited both men to ever more ridiculously extremist stances in hopes of just such an eventuality--except it mustn't have seemed ridiculous to the men who'd died on Vorinnis's construction site or those awaiting processing for days on end at Vortaine's overcrowded municipal guard station.
"Now," said By to Kuzin, "is the time to talk to Lady and Count Vortaine."